Pagan Traditions in Virtual Space

November 11, 2014 in New Babbage Steampunk by lokieliot

Eight years ago in the newly born steampunk city of New Babbage we did an experiment. An event was held to bring the fresh VR steampunk community together and get to know each other. Eight years later we are still holding the same event like some folk tradition started by the founders.

The event is based loosely on old long gone traditions of rolling burning barrels through streets of english towns. Some town still do this, though now carry burning barrels instead of rolling.

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The New Babbage Burning Barrel Race has always been a good indication on how much the Second Life platform has improved from year to year. Some years things are worst, while others are vastly improved as a large collection of particle spewing physical mesh objects are flicked down the texture heavy streets across region boarders past crowds of onlookers towards the finish line.

This year performance was rather spiffing with the CDN and HTTP pipelining and the Shining projects completion earlier in the year. Some experienced the CDN issues of slow or failed texture and mesh loading, but for the most part people had better than usual performance during the race. Nor did the regions crash unlike last year.

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Some people saw Marshmallows instead of fireworks due to complications with the CDN/http pipeline feature

 

Not satisfied with just throwing burning barrels down the streets, we also had an incident where a victorian shopping arcade caught fire and soon blazed out of control. With pieces of building collapsing all around, most of the towns people simply stood in awe of the spectacle, and when you reach that point where you are no longer thinking in turns of performance specs and are just drinking in the sounds, visuals and reacting to the moment with friends, then you are immersed and Second Life has taken you that step further. These are the moments i think all SL role-players strive to achieve, the moment when the memory of whats going on gets burned into your brain as a real shared experience. So this year will be remembered as “that year the old arcade burnt to the ground after the burning barrel race”. :)

Anyway, along with Second Life’s outstanding performance this year i also managed to film the whole thing and uploaded to ZippCast.
 

 

And for those who are interested, here is the first recording ever of the Burning Barrel Race on youtube
 

Scared to build bigger & better in Second Life

November 4, 2014 in SL Thoughts by lokieliot

The Vortex V5 is the last big build of 2014 and I’m now turning attention back to the steampunk town of New Babbage. I have three plots there which i spent a large part of 2013 and the beginning of 2014 working on. The old theatre, Opium den, Absinthe cafe and Factory are builds i am rather proud of. But i’m starting to question wether i made them badly, or perhaps more accurately described as being too detailed for Second Life to handle.

Every builder in SL strives to make the next project better than before. There is an element of geeky nerdy science to it where you have to learn not only how to model and texture a build, but also understand how the computer displays it. This is far from how things used to be with the plywood prims.

When i built the Imperial Theatre and Absinthe cafe i scaled up what i had learnt and built and textured to the best of my ability and finished with something i was really pleased with. That was until textures started to thrash. You’ve probably seen this in SL, a situation where you are standing int a room and the wall textures start to flicker in and out of resolution, from detailed to fuzzy, to detailed , back to fuzzy and on and on. It’s like a glitch in the matrix.

I first reported it as a bug back in May 2013 but since then its become even more apparent and most people are saying it’s not a bug but a hardware limitation. The viewer is running out of texture memory to store all the textures and so ends up in a constant loop with some textures trying to load into memory. The debate has become bigger as thrashing starts to spread with lots of suggestions to why it occurs and suggestions on how to fix or lower its effect.

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The Absinthe Cafe in New Babbage with its textures flipping out of focus

On one side of the texture thrashing coin you have the issue that some creators use big 1024 textures that fill up the memory quickly, and that reducing texture size would reduce thrashing. In some cases thats sensible, as you don’t need a 1024 size texture on something thats smaller than a ring on your finger. But in some cases a good detailed build needs a large amount of large textures, so what are we saying? stop building bigger better builds? have we reached the ceiling in regards to what we can build now in SL? On top of that you also now have Normal and Specular maps populating more and more builds tripling the textures used in builds.

On the other side of the coin you have the viewer code limitations. The SL Viewer only allows up to 512mbs of Video Memory to allocate to SL textures. While I’m frustrated having a graphics card with 4GB of ram thats just sitting there not being used by the one application i use the most, i can understand LL’s reluctance to just open it up. It would raise the ceiling of what i could build in SL, and i would build it right up to the new ceiling hight regardless of wether users on old low spec computers would just see thrashing everywhere. There is also a question of wether the SL viewer can actually handle having more texture memory available to it’s old code.

It’s easy to just expect Linden Lab to fix this with some fancy new idea to have SL servers convert and store high and low version of textures that are displayed dynamically  depending on detected hardware. After all it’s all the rage these days with web design to have content displayed depending on the device its viewed on. But i try not to take LL for granted these days and am grateful for every new trick they come up with that isn’t being saved for the ‘New Thing’. Plus there seems to be more and more situations that effect this so a clear answer is less and less focussed.

I stand in New Babbage watching the textures thrash on my proudest of builds, and i’m currently hesitant to build bigger better more detailed.

Nine Years invested in the virtual World of Second Life

October 21, 2014 in SL Thoughts by lokieliot

“When Linden Lab finally get round to releasing Experience Permissions i am gonna be SOOO ready.” Thats what i said on my rez day last year. Turns out i was far to busy with other projects when Linden Lab finally announced the Experience Tools Beta. I’ve reached NINE years, almost a decade of my life shared with virtual world existence. Still no sign of any cake from the Lab, i guess they really don’t do that anymore. I don’t mind since the Lab seems to have been very busy after the Ebbe liberation. 

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So as usual I’ve added to the ever growing faces of Loki over the years. This was the year i finally set to task at creating a replacement mesh body. Ever since mesh was introduced to Second Life people have been asking me when i would make a mesh body. Well now i have and it’s allowing me more freedom to craft great looking clothes much quicker. I also did some new experiments with hair this year and am actually a tad shorter in response to everyone wanting to be a more accurate size. This is the most i have ever messed around with my avatars shape and while the body is now meshed up to the neck  my avatars head remains the same head i’ve always had and still uses the default SL male avatar mesh. I also replaced my ears with mesh ears, not that you will notice under those surfer locks.

For the most part i think people still easily recognise my avatar and that the improvements this year are enhancements to resolution rather than replacements. What is essentially Loki has been preserved i hope :)

 

 

Exploring the future of my Avatars Shape – part 5

October 20, 2014 in Making a mesh by lokieliot

It has been nearly three months now since my last update on my Mesh Avatar, so where are we?

The Pixar Magic

Well first of all i explored having a more stylised avatar that was more characteristic of Pixar or Disney. This started off with some very cool results in blender and creating blend shapes for facial expressions was great fun. But SL can not transfer blend shapes to mesh avatars so i had to decide which fixed expression to use. I tried smiling, toothy grins, determined eyebrows but in the end settled on a sort of vacant whimsical faint smile.  Recently though i read that Linden Lab are actually looking into ways to allow creators to upload expressions with mesh avatars. Wether this will be for SL1 or ‘The New Thing’ only time will tell.

Another thing that took a while to get right was eye size and chin shape. It does not really matter how the model looks, but when you stand with a group of friends in their old default avatars there is a sense of being an alien and i felt ugly. in the end i had reduced the eyes to what i believed to be an acceptable size that did not freak people out.

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First experiments with creating a pixar/disney style head had rather large eyes but showed the sort of expressions possible perhaps with HyFy.

 

 

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Even without expressions the bigger eyes sometimes do a great job of conveying emotion.

I now really like this anime style avatar as I think it has real fun character and looks pretty dam kool. Im tempted to wear it as my full-time avatar, but I’m too loyal to the old face of Loki :) For High Fidelity though i’m definitely going to be using the Anime model along with the blend shapes to see if i can create a fun expressionate avatar. He’ll be like a dark haired HyFy mirrorverse Loki with black hair and toothy grin.

 

Letting others join the fun.

With the Full anime avatar finished it’s now time to move onto making it possible for others to use these avatars. It’s not a simple task of just giving people the avatar though, as others will want options to make their avatar unique and i need to supply them with those options as easy as possible.

Some ideas i had back when i first set out to make a mesh avatar have changed, either because they are too hard for me to do, or too complex to expect others to do.  I’ve also tried to think of different ways to make things possible. In the end i settled on a system i call the ‘SKNpod’.

SKNpod

 

The Good News

On release all my mesh avatars will be completely free for everyone to pick up and use. There will be four Mesh Avatars in total; Teenboy, Teengirl, Kid and Anime. There will be a free mannequin blender file from which creators can make their own clothes for the mesh avatars.

Each avatar has a built in menu accessible from the ankle. This will bring up options to change the visibility of your avatar under clothes you wear. You can also choose to have hands gripped or relaxed. You also have advanced options to reset your avatar or SYNC it with the SKNpod.

Although the avatars are free, in order to change skins and skin tones users will have to purchase the SKNpod and SKNpaks. With the pod you will be able to change your avatars Skin tone and also replace your avatars Skins with SKNpaks that i will be creating. If you are about to go out and play in the mud, you can step on the SKNpod, drop the dirty SKNpak on the small fold out table, click it and POW, your skin is now dirty. (sort of the opposite to having a bath)

The Avatars skin appears wet automatically if you go under water and slowly dries out in the sun. You can also overide and reset the wet feature for swimming pools.

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When you stand on the SKNpod, the camera pans round and the front flips down with a colour palette, simply select the colour then click the coloured square to transfer to your avatar. HULK SMASH! PUNY GOD!

 

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You will be able to collect SKNpaks for different occasions. All you do is place the SKNpak on the flip down table while you are stood on the SKNpod then click the SKNpak to transfer the new Skin to be worn.

 

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Clicking a secret point on your avatars ankle will bring up a menu of options to better fine tune your avatars look.

The Bad News

Seeing as this is a totally rebuilt from the ground up avatar it unfortunately will not be compatible with clothes created for the old SL default avatar. The Joint Rigs of the armature is different meaning you will have to settle for what i and others make for this avatar shape.  Sometimes you might find trousers and shorts that work, but its rare.

You can’t simply wear the meshy kid avatar with your default avatars kid sized shape. You will find it shrinks below what you currently are. You will need to record your avatars facial settings by number and create a new avatar shape from scratch to use with the mesh.

There is a viewer bug. When you take off or swap the joint rigged mesh avatar, it will bork your avatar and the only way to fix it is to relog. This is a problem that effects all joint rigged avatars apparently, so Linden Lab are working on a fix. They almost did fix it too in the latest maintenance viewer, so hopefully it won’t be long before this is no longer an issue. But i can tell you its added 10 times more work for me since overtime i upload the mesh avatar i have to then relog.

 

Creating for the old school crowd.

Now that I’ve been using this mesh avatar for the past three months i can’t take it off. If i do take it off i see my horrible old  blobby wrists, block feet, sloped shoulders, chunky arms. The Default avatar simply was not designed to be shrunk into kid size. But now i’ve created a  way to work around it. Creating clothes for this new mesh avatar is a breeze since i don’t have to shrink and smooth out the bumps, and the results are always better than anything I’ve done before. Plus armed with a better understanding of LSL scripting i’m able to add fun features to clothes.

clothes

Clicking the V4 T-shirt’s back will allow you the option to have with or without Longsleeve shirt under short sleeve shirt.

But i still have to think about my friends who don’t feel right in a mesh avatar after all i’m first to admit that my Mesh Avatar shapes will not suit everyone. So i have to continue offering my clothes designs for the old default avatars alongside the new mesh avatars and thats the next part of the project. I’m in the process of figuring out the easiest ways to create a piece of clothing for my mesh avatar which is already super easy, and making the same piece of clothing for old lumpy default avatars which in comparison is very very hard.

messmesh

Being an oldschool kid in SL can get seriously Meshy.

Originally this last part of the process was just an afterthought, but after a few unsuccessful tests I’ve now decided i really need to sit down and think it through. I have a few ideas. It just seems ironic that after setting out to replace the old avatar with a new better one, I’m back where i started in a way.

Putting the Cyber Grunge into the Vortex VR Club

September 23, 2014 in The Vortex Club by lokieliot

So the V5 opened up on monday and for 12 hours straight the dance floor was packed, uncovering bugs and issues i need to fix, while also highlighting what happens when we reach the limits of the platform XD.

Science Bit

The New Vortex club is simplistic in its shape and low in textures,  but that low resource is cancelled out by materials. For every texture you see, there is also a Normal made and a specular map needed to download in order to show bumps and shiny stuff. It’s hard to gage how well a build performs in Second Life. What is it that causes textures to blur out, or causes you to crash? is it the stuff around you or the people around you?

Overall the New fifth version of the Vortex club is half the land impact of the previous prim version, thats including the City street section. It’s basically simple cubes of mesh but with material mapping giving the illusion of lots of detail. I had a lot of fun exploring how light bounces off surfaces such as windows and i used an old technique to create the illusion of reflections in wet puddles. Finally we have the tools game devs have had for decades and it’s been fun experimenting with wet roads, dirty road sides, Glistening windows and changes in surfaces.

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DrawBack

While the texturing looks awesome, and i did try my best to optimise the use of textures, it does fall victim to the evil Texture Thrashing Issue in #SL. If you don’t know what that is, it’s when your viewer downloads a texture, loads it in high rez, then repeatedly goes blurry, then focussed, then blurry then focussed. It’s as if the viewer feels the need to download the texture over and over again, which is stupid. If it’s in the cache then why is it reloading?. This happened worst on the dance floor at the vortex, which seems even more stupid because its the one texture we are all looking at the most, so you’d think it would never feel the need to reload. I pray it’s someday not an issue.

UPDATE: It has been brought to my attention that the textures are probably being dumped due to my graphics card filling up. How the SL viewer manages how much graphics memory the Mac Viewer can use is another issue entirely. As far as i know, the SL Mac viewer is using 512mb of my 2GB dedicated card.

FeedBack

The response has for the most part been very positive commenting on the detail and atmosphere. Some not realising this sort of thing was possible in Second Life which is encouraging. Others have commented on the scale and how it feels bigger on the inside than it appears on the outside. Some have said it looks ugly from the outside which i guess is fair since i did not really consider how its viewed from outside.

End of the Day

So the open party was a blast even if i did repeatedly crash and Linden Lab restarted the region half way through the party hehe (just like old times). I managed to stay up for part of Trever Flumes Live acoustic with was awesome before i had to go to bed. Now i just need to get my Oculus DK2 working on my Mac so i can see how it looks up close.

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I made  quick video showing the New Vortex, but it’s got to a point where you need to visit places in virtual person.

 

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