Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Smaller Doors Anyone Can Fit Through

Or How to Enjoy the Benefits of Building to Scale Without Making it Impossible for Others to Explore Your Creation!

A lot of people tell me that they want to scale their builds down, but feel that if they do larger avatars will not be able to fit through doors in their sims. This is a very valid concern, but one with several very simple solutions.

 Before we get into the solutions, first remember that you can only resize a building that is either modifiable or includes a resize script (most no-mod houses do not, at the time of this writing, include a resize script). So your safest bet is to avoid buying no-mod.

If you build mesh houses/buildings yourself I'll say right away that the best solution is to leave the wall over the door phantom. Bam! Done! You've made a building that is more accessible to all sorts of SL users and a bit easier to rescale to better suite for your customers purposes.

 For those of you who have purchased your buildings and need solutions to the small door problem, read on!

The Physics Solution

Here is a mesh house I've shrunk down to about 1=1 scale. For reference, my avatar is 6'1" and the door frame is about a foot and a half or two feet taller.

So how is an 8-9' tall avatar going to fit inside that? EASILY!

 First you need to find out how the physics for your structure are done. Many mesh buildings use a shell of some sort, separate from the mesh model. Not all structures do this.

 If your building has no separate physics box, a quick solution is to see if the wall over the door is a separate mesh item you can simply set phantom. Even if it's connected to the wall on either side of the door you can set it all to phantom and put two invisible prims in its place.

 If the building is a single structure that can't be separated you may have to set the whole thing phantom and build the physics with prims, I'll explain that a bit more later.

In the meantime, let's reveal the physics prims for this house!

The prim physics boxes are blue! Notice how there's no prim covering the wall above the door! That wall is completely phantom so avatars of any size can fit. All of the interior doors for the house are the same! Leave that space blank and you have doors anyone can squeeze through.

 So what if your structure doesn't use prims for the physics? Set the building phantom and build a physics shell out of prims like I did for this house! If you also set the house itself to "no-physics" you can often reduce it's land impact considerably! The root object of a linkset must have physics so you may have to link the house to a prim first, set the whole structure to "no-physics" then set the prim itself to "convex hull" for minimum land impact.

 Remember to set the physics prims to "convex hull" to reduce their own land impact. After you've done all this you can often link the no-physics house to the convex hull prim shell for even more of a land impact reduction. The entire house in this example is 21 land impact.

Teleporter Solution 1

 Another solution to the small doors problem is to place a teleporter above the door! Just rez a prim above the door frame, where the physics for the wall over the door begins, like so.

 And one for the opposite side of the door as well.

Then you simply make the prims invisible and put a teleporter script inside each.

 If you want this to be completely seamless you'll need an Experience Key. This way when an avatar collides with the prim they will automatically be teleported to the other side of the door frame. They may not even notice the teleport.

 If you do not have access to an Experience, you can put a script inside the prim which informs the avatar colliding that they need to click above the door to "duck". Setting the prim to "sit when touched" and an old fashioned sit teleporter script will then be enough to achieve the effect.

 Success! A door anyone can pass through!

Teleporter Solution 2

 There is an alternate way to use teleporters to create doors anyone can pass through. That is to make the entire doorway itself a teleporter!

 I like to put building interiors into skyboxes (reduces lag, increases framerates, and gives me more freedom in building) and the entrances/exits for these skyboxes are teleporters disguised as doors.

 You can script your own or use a an existing door teleporter like Curio Obscura's "Anywhere Door".

 The "Anywhere Door" is a sit teleporter. You click the door to open, then click the open doorway to be teleported to the door's destination.

 My own sims now use an Experience based teleporter for a more seamless experience. You click on the door to open it and then simply walk into the open doorway to be teleported.

 And there you have it! Three solutions to the problem of doors being too small for giant sized avatars! I hope these examples help you out in your own sim building adventures, if you have any questions, leave them in the comments below!

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Reducing the Cost of Land by Scaling Down

The topic of land pricing in Second Life is a popular one on the forums and in everyday SL chat. Most people agree that land simply costs too much.

First off, hey, we'd all like land in SL to be cheaper! That would be great! Hell, I'd love for it to be free! That'd be awesome! But, in order to keep the lights on, LL has to cover their expenses and, according to statements from LL, land cost is where they get most of their money. Not the marketplace. Not premium accounts. Land ownership.

Now, there are arguments to be made for lowering the price of land to get more people buying land. I've made those arguments myself, but that's not what I want to talk about right now. Right now I want to point out that if you own land in SL, chances are you're wasting most of it without even realizing it! That's right, you own more land than you realize!

Here's the thing, from prims to mesh to avatars, everything in SL can be made larger or smaller...except land. If you want more land you have to buy more land. You can't go into "Edit Land", grab the little white box in the corner and stretch it all larger like a prim or mesh object. There's no "Land Size" slider you can adjust to make your land larger or smaller like an avatar shape. If you're paying for 512sq.m. of land that is all you get. If you make all of the content on that land larger, you are making your land smaller in relation.

Don't believe me? Here's an exercise, rez a cube and make it 10x10m. That's the size of a 33x33 foot room. Don't make any walls yet we're just doing an exercise here.

Ok, so there's are 10x10m(33x33') room. For reference, my avatar in this scene is 6'1" in those shoes. So slightly taller than average for an adult man in the real world. Now let's decorate, but we're first going to decorate with furniture at the typical sizes furniture in SL comes at out of the box.

Looks comfy, right? Keep in mind most men in SL are 7-9' tall, so significantly larger than my avatar in this picture. That's why I seem so small despite being 6'1". You can find women of all sizes in SL, tall and short, but it's extremely rare to see a guy shorter than 7' in SL, so most furniture in SL is made to accommodate men 7-9' tall. So let's see what happens when we resize the furniture to be 1=1 scale. That is, how large these items should be if we're assuming realistic human sizes for avatars.

Wow, my avatar doesn't look tiny anymore, and look at all this extra space! It's as if we suddenly have more land to work with! Almost twice as much space it looks like! I'd recommend avoiding no-mod furniture since you obviously won't be able to scale it down like this if you can't modify it.

 Now, with smaller items like furniture, you don't typically save much Land Impact by scaling it down, you're mostly saving space. A couple points here and there, but it's not usually a huge savings. But with buildings, on the other hand, if we reduce the typical SL house down to 1=1 scale we're often going to see huge Land Impact saves. I usually manage to cut the LI of a house or other structure down to half when I reduce it closer to 1=1 scale. Buildings also tend to be scaled up much more than furniture. Again, furniture is scaled up to accommodate 7-9' tall avatars, but buildings have to accommodate SL's awful default camera placement so people tend to make buildings, vehicles, etcetera more like double scale. If you make a room much smaller than 10x10m you're going to have a lot of issues with the camera, but we can fix this!

Click here for an article about the camera settings I've been using since at least 2007. They solve every camera issue you're going to run into when trying to build smaller. Better still, LL will be adding these settings to the official viewer in an upcoming viewer update, along with tools to change and save your very own personal camera placement settings! So look forward to that!

 And I'm not even saying we should all be building to 1=1 scale, so please don't misunderstand. Even with my improved camera settings I would not recommend making rooms much smaller than about 10x10 (but be honest, 10x10 is already tiny compared to most rooms in SL buildings) and I'd even suggest making ceilings a little taller than you'd find in real life. The key part of that is "a little", not a lot.

 By doing all this you should be able to free up about twice as much space and anywhere from 1/3 up to about half your Land Impact.

 And this is just one trick to getting more value from the land you're paying for. Just one trick that allows you to build more using less land. There's other tricks to, such as using rezzer systems that allow you to save environments as rezzable packages that are only rezzed on your land when you're using them, and using skyboxes connected via teleporter doorways to build vertically instead of horizontally to take advantage of the 4000m of space above your land.

I think LL should do more to showcase these tricks to people so that they can see the true value of the land they're paying for and maybe not feel quite so much like SL land is overpriced.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Better SL Living Through Modding - CRAnQ Scrapper's Retreat

I do a LOT of modding. It's safe to say I have modded every modifiable item I've ever purchased in SL, and so I'm going to be posting a series of articles where I showcase some of the items I've modded, how I did it, and what the benefits were!

This first article features a wasteland shack in a sim I was commissioned to build. It's the Scrapper's Retreat from CRAnQ. A gorgeous looking piece, but out of the box it has a few problems. Namely, it's 241 LI cost and the fact that it uses about 360MB of VRAM in textures alone.

 Up front I want to say that none of this should be taken as a negative view of the creator's work. It's a gorgeous looking building and, sadly, these issues are not widely discussed in SL's content creator community so a lot of people simply don't realize they're issues at all. What you should instead take away from this the awesome thing CRAnQ did, selling the building with modify perms! That is what allowed me to take this great wasteland piece they put together and make it even better, and I thank them for giving me that option.

 In addition, I hope that if they see this article they are able to see what I've done, see how it improves the SL experience, and are able to work these improvements into their future creations!

Reducing Land Impact

 Now, Land Impact cost is easy to understand for anyone who owns or rents land in SL. You only have so much so you want to reduce LI wherever you can so you can fit more content and more detail in your sim. Luckily, this shack is copy/mod so I was able to do exactly that, and easily!

 First, the shack comes with an array of light sources. They're scripted and add a really great effect but a nearly identical lighting effect can be achieved by replacing the 40 light projectors with 4, and giving the side projectors a light map that mimics multiple sources. (Maybe I'll show how to di this in the future!) I went the simpler route for now and just got rid of the light projectors and did some simple local lighting, but recreating the original light effect is on my to-do list.

 Second, the lightbulbs strung along the side were each individual objects. Even worse, they're sculpted prims! If you're not aware, each sculpted prim costs 2 land impact points when linked to mesh! I replaced those with a string light mesh I bought off the marketplace. Took seconds to swap them out. Saved a bunch of LI. In addition, the wall mounted lamps on each side of the roof used a prim sphere overtop a mesh lightbulb, possibly because they didn't know how to script fullbright/glow changes to only the lightbulb part of the lamp mesh. I got rid of the prims and just set the mesh bulbs to glow manually.

 All of this means I lose the scripted lights on/off feature but I don't really need it.

 Next, I realized that by setting the entire building to "no physics" and replacing the physics with an invisible shell of box prims set to "convex hull" I was able to save yet more land impact.  This doesn't always work, but it works often enough to give it a try and here it ended up saving me a tonne of Land Impact points.

 And finally, the building was way too large so I shrunk it down to proper scale for the sim, reducing the land impact even further. Larger mesh objects cost more LI because they retain their higher LOD levels over greater distances the larger they are. Most content is made around twice the size it should be if everything is to scale with inworld measurements. Shrinking your avatar to human sizes and adjusting your camera so it doesn't need so much more space for you to see properly really helps you save a lot of space and money. If you ever thought land in SL was too expensive, this is the easiest way to cut the cost of land drastically.

 Doing these simple things I reduced to LI cost of the structure from 241 to 123. About half. Still a lot for a single structure, but given the sheer amount of detail I'm a lot more comfortable with it.

Reducing VRAM/Texture Use

 VRAM/Texture Memory is less common knowledge in SL but I'll try and summarize. Your graphics card has a set amount of memory to use rendering what you see in SL. All the textures you see have to be in that memory to be displayed, but so much more relies on that memory so you cannot max your card's memory out on textures alone or you see massive framerate losses and "texture thrashing". Texture thrashing is when you see textures going blurry and re-rezzing. You also have to download all these textures, which contributes to lag and slow rez times.

 360MB might not sound like a lot of memory, but it's only one building in an entire sim and then you throw avatars and their memory use into the mix. My videocard only has 2GB of VRAM. It's a midrange card, a few years old. Newer, more expensive cards have up to around 8GB. Onboard graphics have very little, if any, dedicated memory.

 Following so far? Ok, good!

This scrap house is covered in various unique corrugated metal panels. They're not identical. Out of the box there's like 6-12 different panels each with it's own texture, spec map and normal map. All of which are 1024x1024.  Each texture uses 4MB of memory on its own and it's simple arithmetic to see how that adds up.

 What I did was remove every type of panel except 2. Then I copied the remaining 2 panels to replace each of the panels I removed. Not difficult, but a little tedious and time consuming. But worth it! I was able to reduce the memory load of the house from 360MB down to 207MB. Here's a screenshot from the marketplace listing showing the original texture variety so you can compare. Yes, it's a little more detailed, but that detail comes at a cost in framerates, lag, and texture thrashing. What's more, are people going to notice the difference? Those who saw this building in my sim before and after did not notice the change until I pointed it out to them myself.

 You might be able to do the same if you notice items in your sim are similar, yet use different textures! Many SL buildings, for example, will have nearly identical textures for walls, floors, etcetera, where the only differences are slight variations in shading or colour that most people will never even notice! You can compare textures in the preview window of the texture chooser tab of the SL editing panel and see if this is the case, then it's a simple matter of unlinking pieces, and copying the one instance to replace the pieces with the redundant textures! In some buildings this is easy, in some buildings all of the walls may be a single mesh object which means you'll have to look for an alternative solution, such as replacing the textures entirely with one of your own.

 I also noticed that this house used the same stair kit as another building I have in the sim, but different textures. I swapped out the stairs with the identical stairs from the other house to reduce the sim's VRAM load further! And other buildings in the sim also use corrugated metal panels, I replaced them all with one of the two metal panels from this house and probably cut another 100-200MB of memory out of the sim. All of this means visitors to the sim get to experience higher framerates, less lag, little if any texture thrashing and fast rez times!

 And I hope the rest of you are able to implement these ideas into your own homes, clubs, RP sims, and other environments and improve your own SL experience! I'll be posting more articles like this, showcasing modifiable content that I've purchased and found ways to improve. Until then, take care and keep fighting the good fight!

Monday, January 15, 2018

The No-Mod Rebuttal

My opinion on no-mod content is no secret. I will almost never buy no-mod and neither should you if you value your money, your land or your avatar.

 Okay, okay, there are exceptions. Scripts totally need to be no-mod or they are effectively full perm.  When I talk about no-mod I'm referring to objects. The prims and mesh.  I'm not suggesting scripts need to be full perm. Another possible exception would be items for closed gaming systems where modding could open them up to abuse and cheating. I'm not 100% sold on this as a simple examination of items in a game would reveal if they'd been tampered with but I'm generally willing to give this a pass as such items typically aren't used outside their game context. As for the rest...

When you buy no-mod you are giving up the right to personalize the object beyond whatever meager concessions the creator allows.

 You give up all of this and more when you buy no-mod and get nothing in place of it. Oddly enough, the seller gets nothing by selling you no-mod items either so why, then, is so much content sold no-mod? Well, there's been a few reasons given over the years and we're going to look at each of these reasons one by one and see if they hold any water.

"It protects my work against content thieves/copybot!"

 For over a decade this was not only the most common reason given, but the only reason given. There's one major flaw in this argument however: It is entirely, 100% false. It is simply not true. At no point was it ever true. The people who cling to this justification for no-mod simply do not understand how SL or "copybot" works. Some of those still clinging to this justification today know it's not true but are unwilling to admit they were wrong.

"I don't want my customers ruining my artistic vision!"

This isn't an argument. It isn't a justification. All it is is a declaration of the sellers own professional immaturity. If you're trying to sell anyone on the idea that no-mod somehow benefits the product this is certainly not going to change any minds.

"It cuts down on customer support I have to deal with from customers who break their purchases!"

Or, you know, you could box the content so that your customer always has a backup copy. You can also put in nice big letters "If you broke something, get a fresh copy from the box it came in." at the top of your customer support page. This achieves the exact same goal without crippling the item you're selling.

 And that's pretty much it. These are the only three justifications I've ever seen for selling content no-mod and I always point out the fallacies in these attempts at justification but the person I'm trying to discuss the issue with either doesn't reply at all, or simply restates their original argument as if repeating themselves will somehow lessen my rebuttal.

 How about you? Have you heard other justifications? Do you have some of your own that I might have overlooked? As no-mod becomes more and more prevalent (just try to buy a modifiable mesh body that isn't furry/anime these days, not to mention some of the frightening conversations on the topic over in Sansar discussion boards) I think it's more important than ever to make this a public discussion.