Sunday, June 2, 2013

Building a Better Second Life

Building a Better Second Life
Tips for squeezing both better performance and more detail
out of SL through efficiently made content.

 We all have our complaints about SL. The lag. The lack of visual fidelity. Poor framerates. The unreliable scripts. The lag. The expensive land. The lag!

 I'm sorry to say there is no "silver bullet" to solve these problems. There is no single problem LL can fix that will magic the lag away. That's reality, and it applies to the virtual world no matter how hard you click the heels of your no-mod ruby red slippers, with 600 resize/texture change/colour change scripts in each, together.

 However, there are little things you can do to alleviate these issues somewhat. They add up, so the more people who follow these tips, the better SL looks and runs for everyone.

Use fewer (and smaller) texture maps!

 This is a big one that few seem to consider.

 Textures eat up bandwidth to download, processing power for the sim to retrieve them from the asset server and deliver them to your viewer, and then your videocard needs to store them in memory and render them. Too many large textures are one of the biggest reasons SL gets such poor framerates and why everything takes so long to rez.

Here's some numbers for you, to help illustrate why slapping 1024x1024 textures on everything is bad;

64x64 : 16kb
128x128: 65kb
256x256: 262kb
512x512: 1MB!
1204x1024: 4MB!

 Most people only have 512MB of VRAM and Second Life refuses to use more than that for textures regardless.

 There is a really bad trend with mesh content. People using 1024x1024 textures on every surface, large and small. Often only utilizing small sections of these textures, the rest being unused data that you never see when looking at the object in-world. This is usually the result of applying the same texture to every surface in the 3D modelling program, using offsets for smaller surfaces, then baking shadows and exporting the full 1024x1024 textures even though the model only uses a small visible area.

 What you wind up with is something like this;
 A tiny bit of texture detail, huge area of unused black space. Additional texture detail is then added via multiple similar textures, usually at 1024x1024 resolution

 I've seen this on everything from houses to drinking cups. I bought a bar counter, basically a wooden box, which turned out to have eight unique 1024x1024 textures. In the same bar set was a tip jar, a small drinking cup with a sign reading "Tips" leaning against it. It used three 1024x1024 textures, a 1024x512 texture and a 512x512 texture. Everything in the set was like that. When I rezzed the set in an otherwise empty sim, my framerate dropped from 75fps to 5fps and remained that way until I removed all of the textures. With the geometry alone, my framerate shot straight back up to 75+.

 From another store I purchased a simple, one room house. Not counting the two windows and the single door, the house uses eighteen 1024x1024 textures. Realistically, this house could have been textured with no more than three 512x512 textures and looked more or less identical.

 Outside of the "Daikatana arrow" you never see texturing that inefficient in a videogame, and that is a part of why much prettier videgames run much more smoothly than SL. The performance impact of so many huge textures cannot be understated. This is why so many people experience poor performance in mesh-heavy environments. Mesh is great, low-poly builds allow for better performance than we could get from sculpts and prims, but overloading builds with too many huge textures extinguishes any performance gain.

 So how should texturing be done? More like this;

 Notice how the artist has combined as many elements as possible into a single texture, leaving very little unused black space. This reduces the amount of texture memory your creation eats up while also allowing you to maintain higher resolutions for your textures. The texture detail in the upper right corner is no less a resolution, but now we're using a single texture map instead of, potentially, upwards of six.

 Combine textures, use ALL the space in a texture map and wrap it around the visible surfaces of your mesh. There is no reason not to do this!

 And don't think this only applies to mesh! Those of you who work in prims and sculpts should also consider using fewer, smaller textures and wrapping textures around surfaces using texture offsets.

 A good rule of thumb, if a surface is smaller than 10x10m, use a 512x512 texture or smaller!   I'll get more into avatar textures when I get to draw weight but avatar attachments almost never need textures larger than 512x512 and rarely need textures even that large unless you're using a single texture on a mesh that covers your entire torso or lower body.

I've cut all the 1024x1024 textures and all but one or two of the
512x512 textures from my own avatar's attachments.
 Do you lose detail? Sure, but it's barely noticeable. The increased performance you gain, on the other hand, is substantial.

I've moved things around a bit and changes the trees to mesh since this screenshot.

 At my own fantasy build in Aleph (warning, it is an adult sim so you may encounter NSFW content there) I have used a variety of tricks to remove over sixty 1024x1024's worth of textures and saw my framerates jump from single digits to over 30fps in the worst areas. With shadows on. I'm seeing around 50-60fps in the best areas of the island, up from about 20 before I went gung-ho on texture use.

Use fewer, more efficient scripts!

 Full disclosure, I am not a scripter. I go cross-eyed when trying to cobble scripts together from code on the LSL wiki. If I'm wrong about anything, it will be in this section, but this is my understanding from years of managing sims and working extensively with very skilled scripters in SL. I've run these same recommendations past some of SL's top scripters and they agree with my assessment.

 Every script is a virtual machine which uses memory and processor time.

 Every sim in SL has a set amount of memory set aside for scripts. Now, relatively recently, LL did some things which give sims more memory for scripts, but it is still not an infinite amount!

 While there is memory available, scripts compete with each other for resources so a lot of scripts will, at first, only result in scripts themselves running slower. When the scripts running in that sim exceeds the amount of memory the sim has available, the server has to start using the swap file and that slows the sim down drastically.

 There are tricks to manage the amount of memory each script uses, but generally speaking the more scripts you use, the more memory you're using. This is why single script resizers are encouraged over putting a resize script in every prim of an object.

 Memory isn't the only thing. There's also processor time to consider. This is how much of the CPU resources scripts are using. Believe it or not, sims in SL do not have infinite processing power. So the more of a server's CPU time scripts are eating up, the less CPU there is for other scripts in the sim. This can make scripts run slowly, or not at all.

 So, if you can combine scripts, that's generally a good idea. If you have the option of using multiple scripts or one single script to do the exact same thing, use one single script even if it's more work to write.
You'd be amazed at how many features you can cram into a single avatar without exceeding 500k of script memory.

 Granted, we don't all script. I know my own avatar uses WAY more script memory and time than it should, but just being conscious of your script use, whether for your avatar or for things you build in the environment, can help you see ways to reduce your scripting footprint.

  A good idea is to check new purchases for scripts you don't need. I'm primarily talking items that may have scripted features for resizing, retexturing, etcetera, not scripted features you would use in regular, every day use of the item.

 Make a copy to wear around SL, and a copy to keep in your inventory in case you need the scripts later. Delete all of the unneeded scripts inside the attachment. Some TPVs make this easier. I believe Firestorm has a "delete all scripts in selection" feature which makes this as easy as a single click. Now use the script-free version as the copy you wear and you'll be sparing yourself, and everyone around you, potential lag.

Build small!

 "Oh, Penny! You're such a broken record! Why do you always go on about this?"

Because it works!

 The call for "realistic scale" isn't some irrational desire for everything to be "realistic", this is about design and it is about resource management.

 Constantly people complain about the cost of land! "Land is too expensive! LL should reduce tier!" Maybe so, but STOP BUILDING SO HUGE AND YOU CAN DO MORE WITH THE LAND YOU HAVE NOW!

 You cannot resize land. You want more? You gotta pay!

 If you know that much then it is crazy to blow things up to the sizes most people build at in SL. Larger objects eat up more space! That's not rocket science, that's 7th grade geometry. You can fit four times as many 10x10m squares as you can 20x20m in a given area.

 Most people build to around double scale (give or take), far exceeding the scale of most avatars contrary to the belief that everything is consistently scaled to the "average" avatar size). This is partially due to the default SL camera, partially due to people just eyeballing things and not even thinking about scale. This means your average SL sim holds only 1/4th a sim's worth of content. Or, to put it another way, if you build to scale you can fit about four times more content into a given space.

 "That's not true, Penny! What about prims? When you shrink stuff it uses the same amount of prims! You'll just wind up with an empty looking sim!"

 If you ONLY use prim content made after the release of mesh, then you kinda, almost, have a point. However, that describes almost nobody.

 Before mesh arrived along with the prim size increase to 64, prims were restricted to 10m to a side. Because of that, legacy content made before mesh is often bloated with redundant prims, far more than this content would have needed were it made to scale. Sometimes as much as four times as many prims.

 Now that we have mesh this isn't an issue, provided you're building your own content or have the skills to cull redundant prims from old prefabs. However, mesh itself increases in land impact cost the larger it is.
When working with mesh, whether it's furniture or full buildings, you can substantially reduce the LI cost simply by shrinking it down closer to 1=1 scale. This makes it easy for anyone, regardless of skill level, to reduce their LI footprint simply by reducing the size of their mesh objects.

 "Enough to make up for the 3/4 land area you free up in the process?"

  You tell me.

 Again, here is an SLURL to my M&C fantasy themed build in Second Life.

 I'll post some screenshots below, but I encourage you to go visit the island in person. It's an adult sim, so there's likely to be NSFW content and avatars around, but still, it's probably the best example of building a large, detailed environment while increasing framerates and reducing Land Impact via scale that you're likely to see in Second Life.

 Wander around. Don't just look with your camera. Building interiors are all done as skyboxes, there's tonnes of secret areas. A lot you can't see just by using your camera to snoop from afar. You are able to walk from the arrival point all the way up to the mountain at the far end of the sim.

 Try to do that. Walk all the way up there from the starting point, see the sim firsthand, then open the Land Information window and see how many prims are still available.

 That's right. That entire build is (at the time of this writing) using less than 1/3 of the sim's "prims". I could copy the whole thing twice over and still have LI free to add a bit more. I didn't have to mod anything, aside from resizing, to reduce it's LI, either. Thanks to mesh, you can reap all the LI savings of scaling down just by reducing the size of mesh content.

 I freed up so much LI this way that if I increased everything in the sim to it's original size, I'd not only fill up the sim's LI pool, but I'd exceed it and be forced to remove some of the content I currently have out.

 On top of that, at it's current scale, the island only uses about 2/3 of the sim's area. The entire 1/3 of the sim on the north side is empty. Meaning I could put more islands there on the same level as the rest of the floating island structure.

  The issue a lot of people worry about in building to a more reasonable scale is that many of SL's avatars are huge and may not be able to squeeze into such small environments. This worry is exaggerated somewhat, again people tend to build to a much larger scale than even SL's avatars tend to be. I've not had one single person complain to me that the island has been too small for them.

   You can design buildings so that larger avatars can squeeze through smaller doors by making doorframes phantom, making doors into teleporters, etcetera.

  The only real issue is the SL camera. The default camera placement is just plain bad. It was set up in 2002 or earlier, and LL has never updated it despite the strides the videogame industry has made in third person camera placement.

  Thankfully, it's a problem that is easily solved. Here are simple instructions for getting a much improved camera placement, with explanations which make it easy for you to tweak the camera to your personal liking.

  Also, third party viewers have begun adopting better camera placement, starting with the popular Nirans Viewer, known for it's visual improvements to the SL experience.

 If you're concerned about having traffic rates affected, the example I give here has very respectable traffic, then there are also Doomed Ship and 1920's Berlin. Both popular RP sims which have featured being built to scale for years.

 Now, if you're selling stuff there is an understandable concern about people being able to use your content right out of the box. If you're worried, I'd recommend including large and small copies of your items and letting the customer decide which to use. Give them information to let them make an informed decision. Such as the LI savings.

  The up side is, since the LI of mesh is reduced at smaller scales you can use that as a selling point.

 Selling smaller attachments is less of a problem. You should always, always, design attachments around the smallest possible size simply to make it usable by the largest potential market. It is easy, especially with resize scripts, to make an attachment larger, but it can be incredibly difficult to squeeze an attachment smaller when it was built around a larger size initially. Rigged mesh is a different issue, but rigged mesh is less affected by scale and more affected by body proportions due to its less than perfect implementation.

Draw Weight.

 Now, I just want to wrap this up with a few words on Draw Weight.

 Draw weight is by no means a perfect metric for how much of a burden your avatar is on anyone's hardware, but generally speaking if you can get your draw weight down you increase the framerates for yourself and those around you.

  The average SL user is often at the mercy of content creators as far as their ability to do so, and a lot of content creators do not provide much in the way of options.

 I'm going to pick on a couple of examples here but these are items I use myself, I think the creators did great work, I'm just trying to draw attention to efficiency issues very, very few people in SL ever even think to consider.

I am the prettiest princess!
 There's me, out on adventures. I love this hair, I purchased it at Wasabi Pills, great shop. I've bought a tonne of stuff there. I do have a couple issues with it, though.

  See the dark hair band? That originally had a 1024x1024 texture. That's pretty ridiculous. It's just a shaded cloth texture. I replaced it with a 64x64 texture that looks more or less the same unless you zoom in so close it fills your screen.

  Credit where due, the base hair texture is only 256x256, which is reasonable. Most people use 512x512 or 1024x1024 which is horrendously excessive. The alpha layer on this hair, however, is 512x512 and that's not really necessary at all.

 Then there's one more texture! Inside my head is a box with a 512x512 Wasabi Pills store logo on it.
Neither the prim nor the texture are necessary, both are entirely hidden yet place just as much extra rendering burden on the videocards of everyone who can see me as if it were a giant box on my head.
 People love those store logo root prims. I'm guilty of it, too. back when I was making avatar accessories before I got all efficiency conscious. They're unnecessary and just add to the pile of things SL is trying to make your hardware render.

  One prim and one 512x512 texture might seem small, but my hair doesn't exist in a vacuum. Every avatar you see has probably at least one attachment like that. If you're in a sim with thirty avatars, that's thirty 512x512 textures dumped into your video RAM and thirty extra cubes your videocard is processing.

  Chances are, those avatars have multiple attachments like that. A pair of sunglasses, each shoe! Maybe a hat, or even the root prim of their shirt or any prim/mesh body parts they're wearing. Suddenly, in a sim of thirty avatars you're already exceeding your texture memory just on textures you never even see! That's before getting into the textures they're wearing that you can see! Let alone the sim itself!
Content creators can help by ditching this bad habit!

  Alright, now look lower! Not that far! See the metal chain on the leather weapon harness I'm wearing? (Great looking work, by the way, I got it at Dark Prophet Designs.)

  The chain is a set of sculpts. Each link is a separate prim. Not great, considering you could do multiple links in a single sculpt, but what really shocked me was examining it to find that each link in the chain uses a separate, yet nearly identical 256x256 texture for each half of the chain (mirrored on the other half). That's a total of thirteen unique 256x256 textures, which look identical. Even worse, each of those thirteen prims also uses a separate sculpt map.

  Now, I took the time to remake that chain using just one of the prims, and replaced the texture with a 64x64 texture that looks identical unless you zoom in so close the chain fills the screen. Later, I replaced the chain entirely with a single sculpt.

  What's more, the rest of the harness is loaded with 1024x512 textures. Nothing in the harness needs a texture that large to look good, especially with the quality of the design.

 Now, being someone who can do graphics reasonably well, I can make my own replacement textures, I can rip apart prims and put them back together more efficiently. The average consumer cannot. Most of them don't even think about these things, nor should they ever need to!

  The people who make these things can, and I'm hoping that by making these issues more widely discussed, more content creators will make a point of working more efficiently.

  Make it a selling point! Advertise how little your work adds to avatar draw weight! (LL really should have made draw weight marketplace searchable information.) When it's pointed out to people as a feature like that, it is likely to influence their buying habits in a positive way and we all benefit with the performance boost that comes with more efficient content and avatars.

 Another tip for reducing draw weight is replacing sculpts with mesh. Sculpts are horribly inefficient with polygons and content creators are generally able to create far more detailed attachments using far fewer rendering resources just by using mesh. So, if you ever have the choice between similar attachments, one mesh and one sculpted, consider going with the mesh version.

I have, by far, the lowest Draw Weight in this screenshot.
 At the time of this writing, my draw weight is 68,445, down from about 210,000 in January. I've managed to do this without anyone being able to see much if any difference in my appearance. I've cut out every hidden prim, every invisible root prim, every unseen texture, every redundant texture, every too-large texture and by replacing sculpts with mesh where possible. I'm sure if I replaced my remaining sculpts with mesh then I could cut my draw weight in half.

 My goal is to eventually reduce my draw weight out of the red (I think it turns to orange around 35,000), at which point I'll see if I can squeeze down to green.

 With mesh, if content creators start taking efficiency seriously, we can reach a point where there is no reason for anyone's draw weight to be over 35,000 and we can do that without sacrificing the quality of our avatars.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Recent Profile Pictures

Just because, a couple of my recent profile pictures. Both taken at Milk & Cream using my "Fantasy Overworld" windlight settings.

Both apparently taken in the ancient ruins area, too.

Speaking of my windlight settings, good news for Firestorm users. I recently spoke with one of the devs and they agreed to include my day cycle as one of the viewer's presets. It doesn't appear to have been added yet, but should be there in the next release I imagine.

My settings are already included with Nirans viewer and I've offered the settings to a couple other TPVs as well.

I'm still trying to convince other TPVs to adopt my camera settings, preferably as a new default but at least as an included preset, but so far only Nirans has added similar settings. I offer these settings for everyone to use, so if you'd like your favourite TPV to include them so you don't have to manually set them up every install, be sure to let the developers know!

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Why Second Life Fails

 I love Second Life, I wouldn't write about it so much, or spend so much time playing around in it, if I didn't. Of course, loving something doesn't mean blindly dismissing it's flaws, and Second Life has many, many flaws.

 So, I recently rebuilt Milk & Cream with a focus on making it as efficient as possible. I cut down severely on sculpted prims, used tonnes of mesh content, separated the mall and club area from the more detailed play area so that they wouldn't be sapping each other's framerates, etcetera.

 However, there is one tiny spot in the Milk & Cream play area where framerates drop through the floor.

 Inside an enclosed building furnished almost entirely in mesh, precisely where framerates ought to have been the highest, I found my framerates dropping to their lowest point. Where everywhere else I was achieving 30-40fps pretty consistently, inside this building my framerates dropped to an abysmal 5fps.

Why was that?

I began removing elements from inside the furnished tavern and watched my framerates. As I began to remove mesh furniture my framerate began to climb far more substantially than I'd have expected. I selected all of the items from one particular mesh set and removed them all. My framerates soared to 50fps.

Why was that?!

It wasn't the model work, which was fairly efficient, for the most part. Enough that the land impact cost was satisfactorily low.

I had a thought. I checked the texture sizes on the furniture pieces. Almost every single furnishing and decoration in this set used 1024x1024 textures. And not just a single such texture, no, even where only one texture could have, and should have, been used, the creator had broken the items into multiple textures, each 1024x1024.

 There was a wooden cup with some coins inside and a "tip jar" sign leaning against it. The wood of the cup was a 1024x1024 texture. The sign was a separate such texture. The cup had three tiny metal rings around it, sure enough the creator had textured these with a separate 1024x1024 texture.

 Every single item in the set was like this. The furnishings used in the tavern took up more texture memory alone than the entire rest of the island combined.

I kept the furniture in place and removed the textures, using the default plywood texture instead. Sure enough, my framerates jumped from 5fps to 50.

 This illustrates the most obvious, and yet somehow most overlooked, issue in Second Life. Texture maps eat up resources. Larger textures eat more resources. Most of the lag and framerate issues in Second Life are, in fact, due to use of excessively large textures.

 I contacted the creator and tried to explain the issue.

 They replied that they are a gamer and therefore knowledgeable about how videogames are made. With complete certainty they assured me that it was thelimits of SL's technology that were to blame, that all videogames use texture maps the size of the ones they used AND LARGER. They sympathized with my problem but they simply couldn't bear the thought of sacrificing quality for framerates. They hoped someday that technology would progress enough that everyone could run SL as well as gamers run Crysis 3 and Skyrim.

 That disconnect from reality is why Second Life fails to catch on.

 Many content creators cling to this delusion that all of SL's problems are due to either people using underpowered computers or LL's own failings in crafting the code upon which SL runs. This mistaken, entirely unfounded idea that SL itself is so bleeding edge technology, when it's really not and never has been!

 To be sure, many people do try to run SL on underpowered computers and there is a lot of issues with the code upon which SL runs. However, my computer has an i7 core, 12GB of RAM and a high end video card. I run Skyrim at full settings with the HD texture set add on. My computer is more powerful than the average gamer's.

 Why can I run Skyrim so well?

 Well, one reason is that the artists who created the art assets for Skyrim did not, in fact, use 1024x1024 textures on the 3cm wide metal rings of a cup that textured with five other 1024x1024 texture maps! Let alone larger!

 That simply does not happen!

Now, before you slip into the trap of dismissing all of SL's problems as simply a fact of allowing user created content, I say to you that Linden Lab bears the brunt of the responsibility here. They do absolutely nothing to prevent people from creating content this way, or providing people like you or I the ability to avoid such amateurishly made content.

What can they do? Plenty!

First of all, texture maps should count towards Land Impact costs. There is no reason whatsoever why content using so many obscenely large textures should have such low LI cost. This sort of hit to performance is precisely what LI exists to prevent. That it doesn't even take it into consideration shows just how poorly LL understands their own product.

 Second, textures always cost 10l to upload, regardless of pixel or file size. That's ridiculous. Larger texture files should cost more to upload. Costs should be balanced in such a way where smaller files cost less, however a single large texture costs less than multiple smaller textures, encouraging people to combine textures.

 Third, SL's building tools should be designed with the fact that they're mostly used by amateurs. There should be many helpful tips and tutorials that are entirely absent. When someone is uploading a 1024x1024 texture, they should receive a notice popping up asking them if they understand what that means. If they're importing a model with many such textures, another pop-up should appear pointing out the issues they will run into.

 Hell, this kind of information should be in the text people need to take before they can upload mesh models.

 In addition, LL could seriously enforce truth in advertising. The spot where we list prim counts for items on the marketplace needs to be updated to Land Impact. People are listing 100LI mesh models as costing 1 prim. Some of them are just confused and don't understand what "prim" means as opposed to object. Other people are simply being deliberately dishonest. Combine texture use with LI cost and allow customers to flag content which does not provide an honest LI cost for their product.

 Most of Second Life's problems can be blamed entirely on this disconnect between Linden Lab's development teams and the realities of how Second Life works. Everything from poor framerates and lag, to how expensive land appears to be are all a direct result of this problem.

 LL has struggled for years to address these issues and make SL more relevant. This, right here, illustrates where the change need to happen if they ever want to succeed.

 Rodvik, hire an art director. Make sure your management team listens to them when assigning priorities to developers like Oz. It is not the responsibility of your programmers to understand these things, which is why they need direction from well informed management. Management cannot be well informed unless they have a good art director explaining these things to them.

It is really that simple.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

More Vitruvian Shapes!

1.2 of the free Vitruvian Shapes set is now out and I've added two new shapes.

5'6"/171cm African Woman's shape.

4'11"/150cm Japanese Woman's shape.

This brings the total up to 12 shapes, 6 male and 6 female. I've also added a screenshot showing several full avatars using these shapes, compared to two of the Linden Starters.

The tallest Vitrvian avatar here is my remake of the SL "Action Male" starter at 6'3"/192cm. The original Linden "Action Male" on the left is 7'1". The fantasy style dwarf on the right is 5' even.

Just to reiterate, the Japanese woman shape, which is the second from the right, is 4'11"/150cm. She is 7 and 1/4 heads tall with wholly adult proportions. I kept with realistic, if idealized, proportions here, but I could reduce her head size and increase her leg length if I wanted to give her a 6' tall person's proportions while keeping her at a Japanese woman's height of 5-5'5" tall. I could probably cut several more inches while maintaining adult proportions before I ran into issues.

Just to entirely put to rest this common notion that you can't make good looking adult avatars shorter than 6' tall.

 A lot more is possible with the avatar than people realize, it seems so limited mostly due to the poor/broken interface. It's actually easier to accomplish attractive/realistic proportions in the 5-6' range than at the oversized heights people tend to use, because the limitations of the shape sliders are skewed against the sizes LL themselves encourage people to use.

 The difficult part is getting down to the smaller sizes in the first place. When you start with a 7' tall shape you need to adjust EVERYTHING, essentially creating a new shape from scratch, just to get down to the 5' range. And Linden Lab insists on forcing everyone to start with a 7' shape.

 Once you have a well proportioned 5' shape to start with, it's much easier to customize it within that range. This is why the appearance editor should provide multiple body types, all in different height ranges, for users to start with. That tiny, easily implemented change would make creating a custom shape much easier for users of all skill levels.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Mesh Content Creators, You're Doing It Wrong!

Mesh is filling SL, which is great! I've recently redone Milk & Cream using as much mesh as possible and already people are telling me how great their framerates are despite the detail and sheer amount of content around the island!

I get an average of 30FPS around the new island with these graphics settings.
Shadows, Ambient occlusion, depth of field, etcetera.

I got 5-16FPS around the old island, which was mostly sculpts.
However, in building this I noticed one common thread in mesh content being sold in SL. Mesh content creators are building at the same sizes as they did with sculpts and prims prior to the introduction of mesh import and using that size as the basis for their advertised Land Impact costs. (When they're not outright lying to their customers by stating the number of mesh objects rather than the prim/LI cost, but that's another rant.)

 "Well, of course they would! Avatars are still 8' tall on average, and the SL default camera is still stuck in the 90's! They have to work around that!"

 Sure, to a point. You have to remember, mesh content gains Land Impact cost the larger you make it. I've literally cut the LI cost of mesh buildings in half by shrinking them down to a realistic size as opposed to the size the creator sold them at.

I was able to cut the LI cost of most of the mesh content down anywhere from 1/3 to 1/2!
This means more content around the island, which is still occupying only 1/4th of a sim!

 Lower Land  Impact costs are a boon to content creators because customers are often looking for the most bang for their buck in terms of detail versus LI cost. Higher LI means people can't fit as much in their land, and land is expensive!

 Before people point out many SL users can't even resize a prim I'm going to agree and counter that it is simplicity itself for a content creator to include both an "efficiently sized" version, the LI cost of which is what they advertise, and a scaled up version for more typical SL users. This takes, literally, seconds to do and costs the creator nothing.

 I'd add that content creators should make it clear in their listings that all LI costs are of the efficiently scaled version, and that a larger version is included with a higher LI cost. Most mesh sellers already note how SL changes LI costs based on size so this is a minor addition to what they're doing already.

 Ideally, Linden Lab themselves should be pushing more efficiently made content by improving the starter avatars, default camera settings and Linden maintained environments such as the infohubs, but since LL seems intent on driving customers away it would benefit content creators to encourage the trend towards efficient scale because it allows them to do so much more, and allows for an SL that is more appealing to new users, who in turn become new customers of the content creators.

Don't you wish all of SL was this detailed? It could be!
 In providing both the efficiently scaled version and the large version of their mesh content (as well as an explanation of why they are doing this and instructions on how to improve the SL camera), content creators ensure that their customers have the choice to use what better suits their needs, and and customers get exposed to how they can get more for their tier just by scaling down.

"I want less land and fewer prims, for the same amount of money!"
 - Nobody, Ever

Most people are simply unaware of the issue. It's in every content creator's best interest to make them aware of how size does matter in affecting their SL experience.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Linden Lab Strikes Back Follow-Up

So, a week ago in my previous post I talked about LL's practices in dealing with reported SL bugs, and how they tended to ignore or dismiss many very valid complaints.

With this particular issue, the person who reported it was urged by Oz Linden to create a patch and submit it to the Jira, after which Oz turned around and closed the Jira telling the person not to re-open it or they would be banned from the Jira.

 Well, the reporter did not open it again. To the contrary, they decided to back out of SL development entirely.

However, another concerned resident did re-open the issue, probably because it is an issue worth being fixed. Or, perhaps because residents are simply increasingly tired of and agitated by LL closing bug reports and leaving the bugs unfixed with no explanation. In either case, a third party reopened the Jira with a plea that LL deal with the problem.

 Less than half an hour later, Alexa Linden closed the issue "Won't Finish".

 That evening, the reporter found they had been slapped with a two day ban.

 Yes, you read that right.

If you have ever submitted an issue to the Jira, or do so in the future, Linden Lab may ban you for it regardless of any actions you do or do not take after the fact.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Linden Lab Strikes Again

 Apparently the creator of my favourite SL viewer, the one I take all my best looking SL screenshots with, is bowing out. Niran will be releasing one more viewer once materials are ready and then backing away from SL viewer development for the foreseeable future.


 Well, the straw that broke the camel's back would be Jira issue Open-162, where Niran pointed out that the attachment coordinates for the SL avatar asymmetrical.

 What's this mean?

 Well, it means that when you wear identical attachments to both of your upper arms (or shoulders, or upper legs, or lower legs...) and give them the mirroring attachment positions, they should align symmetrically....but they don't. They're just noticeably off.

Screenshot from Open-162
 Now, this is no big deal to the average user, but it is a significant workflow disruption for content creators, giving us extra math to deal with, and making it difficult to automate things like mirroring newly created attachments.

 Niran brought this up to Oz Linden, who told him to submit a patch to fix it via the Jira. So Niran put in the work to create just such a patch and submit it, then Linden Lab immediately closed it. The first Linden to close it at least provided a reason, although the reason they gave made no sense as they were mistaking the actual problem with the symmetry of the avatar mesh.

 Seeing the misunderstanding, Niran opened it again, and several people provided comments trying to explain to the Linden how they misunderstood the issue.

Linden Lab concerned about realistic bodies?
Also, what does this have to do with attachment points?
 A few people did voice concerns that fixing this would break content, but these fears are largely unfounded. Yes, existing attachments would be shifted. Most users would never notice. Those who did notice would be able to adjust their attachments back into place in seconds, with very little effort.

 Niran even posted some scripts for automating such adjustments, but I'd say that's overkill.

  Even so, a second Linden closed the issue, with no explanation. Niran opened it again and so Oz, who originally told Niran to open the Jira and put in all this work, closed it with a message to Niran telling him he would lose Jira privileges if he opened it again.


 Hey, Rodvik, remember again how you asked why SL had so much trouble retaining users?

This should be a pretty strong clue for you. It's not specifically due to this single isolated issue of asymmetrical attachments, this is just a symptom of the overarching problem here. A problem that has repeated itself across the Jira time and time again.

 Our inability to make avatar arms long enough was reported, patches provided, only for the Lindens to close them with either no explanation, or with an explanation which did nothing but reveal that the person making the decision was not qualified to do so.

 How about our inability to increase female torso muscle sliders past 50? That was reported in a Jira the moment the bug crept into the viewer, several years ago. It was also handwaved away despite the fact that community devs took the time to report the issue and provide fixes.

 In fact, pretty much every single aspect of SL content creation is broken in some way, often multiple ways, and when the problems are reported, the response is almost always identical to this case here.

 All of this contributes, greatly, to how ugly SL is compared to contemporary expectations of 3D game-like environments. Contributes to how kludgy and difficult content creation within SL is. All of these problems compound on one another to negatively affect the performance, visual quality and ease of use new users experience when they log into SL for that all important first impression.

 And that right there is a large part (not the only part, but a large one) of why SL has so much difficulty retaining users.

Nothing works, it looks awful, and it runs like crap. And LL refuses to fix the underlying causes for that.

Friday, January 25, 2013

The Tallest Avatar Shape

I've often cited 8'10"/270cm as the tallest SL avatars can be.

That is the male mesh wearing a shoe clothing layer for the additional height that provides.

However, I was recently taking a closer look at that in an attempt to create an as proportionate as possible giant avatar. Using more accurate prim measurements, rather than the scripted rulers I usually use for cursory looks, I found the maximum height of the SL avatar is actually 8'8"/263cm.

Without the shoe layer height, the male avatar mesh maxes out at 8'3"/251cm.

As for how successful I was in creating a proportionate giant?

Avatars this size are more common than male avatars shorter than the yellow NBA figure in the middle.
The male avatar is far better for this than the female, as, without the shoe layer height, he can at least have his arms proportionately long when maxed out. Unfortunately this means you cannot make the arms longer than would be proportionate for an adult human of normal stature, most giants are depicted as either being gangly or having emphasized upper bodies, both of which require longer than average arms to achieve.

The avatar also had a short torso, even maxed out at 100 the torso was nearly half a foot too short for his body. This wouldn't have been so bad if the arms could be equally long respective to the legs to achieve that lanky, gangly look, like the giants of Skyrim.

Another odd thing, but maxing out the head size does allow for the giant to be almost exactly 8 heads tall, so there's really no excuse for all the pin-headed avatars.

 Still, it's not something I'd feel comfortable slapping the "Vitruvian Shapes" moniker on and it really highlights the limitations of the appearance editor that while you can make a shape over eight and a half feet tall, you can't give it the proportions of a figure that tall.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Doin' It 4 Da Shorteez

Inspired by the screenshot I took for the dwarf shape inclusions in the Vitruvian Shapes set, I decided to take the idea a bit further to see if I could better illustrate one of the points I'm often trying to make about scale.

 The largest avatar here is the minotaur. He's hunched over and pushed to the background of this group shot,  but he towers over the others at 8'8"/263cm when standing up straight. Mythological minotaurs are usually depicted as being anywhere from 6' to 9' tall. This is similar to the range in Tauren heights in World of Warcraft.

What's remarkable about that is that the SL avatar mesh maxes out at the same exact height, and a lot of male avatars in SL do exactly that! So the hulking giant in this screenshot is only the size of the tallest "normal" human avatars in SL. With the average human male avatar in SL being anywhere from 7'1"/216cm to about 8'/244cm, the minotaur isn't very imposing at all when tossed out into the grid at large.

 To take that comparison further, the human woman on the right is only 5'7"/170cm (although her high heeled boots push her up to 5'11"/182cm which is taller than the average North American man, unless he is also wearing 4" heels) and would be considered a dwarf compared to the 6'4"/193cm female starter avatars LL provides to new users.

 This means that, just using the base avatar mesh and no tricks, we could create an almost 9' tall giant which would stand eye to eye with the minotaur pictured here. Giants in mythology are generally depicted between 7' and 11' tall. The giants in Skyrim are also "only" 11-12' tall.

Average heights from life and popular culture.
The minotaur avatar was shrunk to average WoW Tauren size but also isn't crouching.
The NBA basketball player here is about the same size as the female starters in SL.
The male starters would look down on him at about 216cm.
 Enabling people to create intentional giants is not a new argument from me, so then what exactly is the point I'm trying to drive home, here?

 Well, the most often cited counter argument I hear is that the flip side of making human avatars human sizes is that we'd eliminate the ability for people to create intentionally shorter avatars, like, for example, dwarves and goblins.

 To that I say that the dwarf and goblin avatars in the first screenshot of this post clock in at 5'/152cm and 4'9"/145cm, respectively. The female dwarf shape I also include in my free shape set is also 4'9" and neither is the shortest I could have made them.

 It is difficult to maintain adult human proportions under 4'11"/150cm, certainly, but when you aim for dwarf and child proportions it becomes much easier. In reality this is true as well, as a 5' tall adult has notably different proportions than a 6' or 7' tall adult.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Vitruvian Shapes Update!

I've updated the full perm package set of Vitruvian Shapes to include brand new fantasy dwarf shapes in the Tolkein or RPG mold.

The dwarves are 4'9" for the female shape and 5' even for the male shape.

SL has a lot of giants, but not very many dwarves to be seen.

My usual bovine self is 5'10", the dwarf is 5' even.
 Also included are shapes I made to improve the SL starter avatars. One for the Commando, and another for the Gladiator. There are only male versions of these at present but I will be adding more shapes over time.

You can get the whole set over on the SL Marketplace HERE.