Three years of Loki Mesh clothes – what i’ve learnt.

This week sees the release of my 3rd generation of mesh clothes almost marking three years since i first started using mesh to make clothes for small avatars. So what has been learnt in those three years? 

Its not simply make a shirt, weight map it to the provided Avatar Rig and import it. Well it might be that simple if my avatar was the default Second Life avatar shape. From the start i’ve had the challenge of my avatar being a child as my shape has been squished, scrunched and deformed to as small as possible. This makes it hard to work with. As an extreme example, get a piece of paper, scrunch it up into a compact ball then try and paint a beautiful landscape scene on it, thats what its like making clothes for a small SL avatar. What mesh allowed me to do was create a smooth surface to paint on. I could model clothing to fit my avatars size as if it was not scrunched up.

 

1st Gen Clothing

My 1st Generation clothes were kind of basic. I was just starting out in 3D modelling, a total newb to 3D and blender so the Shirt and jeans were big and kind of thick looking but still better than what had been seen so far in Second Life. I quickly discovered that i needed to make two shapes, one for male based avatars, and one for female based avatars because rigged clothes fit differentially on a female than the male especially around the hip and shoulders.

2nd Gen Clothing

For the Second generation i tried to improve on the previous and its here i discovered an odd problem. When you shrink the ‘fat’ or ‘muscle’ on the avatar the skeletal rig appeared to be wrong. Specifically around the shoulders. The pivot points of the shoulders would appear lower and lower in relation to the neck pivot point the small your avatar became. The result would be extremely sloping shoulders that gave odd overly rounded shoulder movement. I tried to remedy this with the 2nd generation shirts by adding fake bumps to the shoulders. The result was that when you were in a standing pose your shoulders looked more natural. The problem was when ever you reached up it looked like yo had a growth on each shoulder.

I also added a third shape after popular demand by teenage girl avatars who wanted the hint of womanhood bringing the contents of each pack to Male, Female, and Female with breasts.

NEW 3rd Gen Clothing

So it came to the time where i needed to start thinking of the 3rd generation line and looked at how to improve on things. Some things were obvious. Some things i wondered wether it would be possible. Some things such as liquid mesh and the mesh deformer looked like more trouble than it was worth. In the end i think the 3rd generation of Loki Mesh is more balanced. It improves on quality and efficiency taking into account the need for more detail and using the latest Sl features whilst considering the impact on you and your friends viewer performance.

pic1• Improved Modelling: My modelling has improved a lot in the past year, but instead of going all out mega detailed I’ve instead become more conscious of how the model effects its environment in world. Ive seen some clothes that are so high in poly count that you get wonderful wrinkles, pockets and buttons, but i also find these clothes have HUGE costs for your viewer to display which in a room full off other avatars mounts up. My 3rd Gen clothes seek to find a balance between good detail and efficiency in your digital environment.

• Materials: Not yet fully supported across all Third Party Viewers, the 3rd Gen Clothing is Materials ready. Each item has normal and special maps which boost detail giving light reacting curves and creases as if you are wearing a mega poly count mesh. Materials also give great opportunities for fancy effects such as glossy t-shirt transfers or shiny buttons. You do need Advanced Lighting Mode (ALM) enabled on your viewer to see Material Maps work though. This has led me to display with and without ALM examples on Marketplace listings.

• Texturing: I used to simply copy and paste clothes wrinkles from photos of jeans and shirts but now i hand model or draw every wrinkle and crease. Even stitching is drawn. Textures are a lot more realistic and detailed than previous years and while a few designs are inspired by retro nostalgic geekdom, most are original designs.

• LOD Efficiency: I’ve spent a long time getting the feel for acceptable import settings for Level Of Detail with my clothes. Some clothes have their LOD import settings way to high which results in unnecessarily higher display costs.

• Joint Rigged Shoulders: In my latest attempt to tackle the sloping shoulder issue i have done away with the tumour like shoulder bumps and instead looked into Joint Rigging. This tech is mostly used for entire avatar replacement allowing you to stretch and change the avatars skeletal shape. In the case of my Shirts i used an experimental method of Joint rigging the armature bones of the avatars shoulders to be higher while wearing the shirt. This in theory gives a more natural look and movement on small avatars.

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The Joint rig method is controversial though since the Second Life viewer can be a little unstable when it comes to adding and removing joint rigged items. Problems such as a spasmed stretched look can randomly occur if you keep changing your from one joint rigged item to another or simply removing the joint rigged item. All this can be fixed with a relog, but it would be better if the viewer was more stable.

HowToWearV3

My initial V3 T-shirts exhibited a BUG EYE problem that i attributed to a viewer problem but later turned out to be a problem with my rigged Shirt. The Armature skeleton used when rigging my clothes also has bones for eye positions and even though there is no eyes on my shirt, the position of those eyes is sent along with everything else when joint rigged. What i think was happening was my shirt when worn was positioning peoples eyes where mine are which on a lot of people are not in the same position or size, so they got bug eyed. Simply deleting the eye bones form the armature before import to Second Life fixed this problem and might be of help to others who experience this problem with their creations.

• Change of shape format and extra SMALL size: Small boy avatars are always made using the female base shape because female base shapes shrink smaller than male base shapes. So small boy avatars should be wearing the ‘Female’ version of my clothes for the best fitting. But this was not happening because small boy avatars think they will get cooties from anything that has female in the title.

The 3rd generation clothes hopes to avoid this confusion by changing the shapes to sizes. No longer will there be ‘Male’, ‘Female’ and ‘female Breast’. Instead it will now be ‘Large’, ‘Medium’ and ‘Medium with Breasts’ . I have also added a new ‘SMALL’ size which gives a lot better fitting and gets rid of the fat ring for those much smaller than i am.

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Not just Shirts, Jeans and shorts, but Backpacks with unfolding ridable Scooters. I have to much fun making stuff in Second Life

Continued Exploration.

Part of art and design is puzzle solving and over the years making mesh clothes for the little people of the grid has given me one more puzzle to solve after another. It never gets boring. Thank you to all those who buy my clothes, give me feed back and push me to keep aiming for impossible goals. I hope you enjoy the 3rd generation of clothes as i gradually bring out more designs over the coming months.

Check out the NEW V3 Range either on MARKETPLACE in at my INWORLD store

 

The Big Black Box Arrived – UPDATED #2

Was supposed to be working on new clothes today but something arrived in the post to change that plan.

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Im a virtual world geek, not really a developer. Maybe ill learn some use for oculus while trying to apply my skills learnt for the SL Platform on Unity3D. It’s fine that Linden Lab are working on making SL compatible with Oculus, but i figured i better try it out so i can see how this is going to appear & feel plus get some ideas.

 

First impressions

Its light, so much lighter than i expected and yet the bulk of the rift is plastic so i can see how they might make it even lighter for the consumer version. I wore my thin framed glasses during use and i expect when its time for new frames ill get even thinner ones and call them my oculus frames. The view still felt a bit out of focus, like how you would look through binoculars, i kind of wanted to adjust the focus but there is no such option on the device that I’m aware of. It was easy to hook up to my iMac, it really is a plug and play device.

 

Unnaturally Natural

When i first put on the headset in a cartoon mario style world i expected eye popping 3D to blow me away but was kinda disappointed at how ordinary things felt. Then a butterfly flew past my head and i turned to watch it fly by. This natural response to subconsciously turn my head and track the butterfly is the key to why Oculus is so special. It really does give you a sense of being in a place surrounded by digital objects.

I also tried out Half Life2. I found it odd that even with the low rez display i was noticing things i had not done so before. A boot on the floor, things just laying about, my eye would just catch site of something and i’d turn to focus on it in a way i had not done before. I got a greater feeling of the environment.

 

Naturally Unnatural 

I get motion sick quite easy, I’m not the traveling type and prefer to walk. I got a bit woosey quite quickly with Oculus and i put it down to unaccustomed movement and controls. As i look around in a very natural way my brain is then ripped apart by old style First Person controls.

My theory is that When we sit in front of the computer and play first person games our subconscious is quite happy in SIT mode and our awareness of the world and whats on screen all comes from that mode. In Oculus the subconscious is in sit mode but then starts thinking “hang on we are in stand mode or running, or .. wait what, where are we ARGH ARGHHHHH! ” and you start feeling woosey.

 

The UI Race

The Oculus is here, its shown whats possible and its given developers a huge problem to fix. Intuitive User Interfacing for truly immersive Virtual Environments. Pushing a button on a keyboard isn’t gonna fool the subconscious into thinking we are walking. So the race is on to come up with intuitive interfacing.

 

Second Life.

As for Second Life, i really can not wait to get an Oculus Viewer to try out on my island. To stand on Nemo beach and look out across to hawkings bay then look up at the lighthouse. It will undoubtably uncover how well i’ve scaled everything, will everything  look small or will it look like I’ve entered land of the giants?

There is a lot of speculation about how Oculus will be utilised in SL. Will it be more suited to short controlled bursts of experience in SL, or will it get adopted as a more productive building tool? As i move more and more to Blender and Photoshop for making SL content the actual inworld building element has changed to one of a more of a landscape artist or decorator rather than a builder. With this in mind perhaps Oculus could be a viable way to build a world.

I’ve already got two projects which i’d like to experiment with Oculus. One is T H E  W E L L 2 a horror experience that aims to really frighten users. The Other is a Steampunk Airship Battle Game.

Its exciting times for a Virtual Reality geek.

 {UPDATE 2}

So i’ve been playing with Oculus a bit more and something very profound occurred to me. In Half Life 2 i found that when i stood in front of an NPC character i had a real sense of engagement with a person. The Oculus strips away the sense or feeling of watching through a screen. First person games have this ‘observer’ quality to them, you feel like you are watching the events unfold through a shoulder mounted camera. I don’t think i need to explain how this extra sense of engaging with another avatar could effect Second Life.

 {UPDATE}

So i had a good mess around with the Oculus nuts and bolts and found the reason why things appeared out of Focus on some demos and not on others were because of screen resolution. My fault for not reading the notes. Oculus also comes with a handy configuration software tools. While there are two added lenses for short sited people, i still found it better to wear my glasses with the A cups.

I also found a video on youtube created to be viewed in 3D with the oculus. Now all we need is 360 degree video cameras and a web service to host them.

Materials Post Mortem

No content creator in Second Life can deny that the addition of customisable normal and specular maps has pathed the way to some outstanding visuals never seen before on the grid. The addition of this new feature has been rather swift and without to much troubles technically.

SL started sort of like minecraft where you used simple blocks to create complex constructions and before to long creators where using hundreds of blocks to create finely detailed items. In a way Linden Lab created a building system that was un sustainable not realising the consequences of giving users the freedom to do what they want and ever since have been trying to pull the reins. A large part of Second Life experience degradation is user generated like everything else in SL. The main reason behind the use of Normal and Specula mapping is to add pretend detail to simple objects there by reducing the display cost.

 

Environments.

One of the first experiments i did with materials was build a cave. The materials feature is amazing for creating wonderfully detailed environments that react to the projector lighting that comes with switching on Advanced Lighting Model. You can make a room thats only 10 land impact and with materials make it look more detailed than is ever possible with prims. The ability to control how much something shines and in which parts allows some fantastic effects. For example i made a cobbled path where each stone in the path looks raised, and slightly damp and in various parts the specular map shines brighter than the rest of the path simulating water puddles. The power to create that extra bit of realism is exciting.

But you need to switch on Advanced lighting model to see all this and this is where the frustration starts. The aim is that using materials will mean less need to mesh the detail into the model making objects cost less land impact and less display costs for the viewer. But for the most part many people even though their computers support Advanced Lighting Model (ALM) they choose not to switch it on due to the noticeable decline in viewer performance.

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Top: Brick wall with ALM off – Bottom: Brick wall reacting to a rotating light source in ALM

My New iMac apparently does not support ALM meaning it’s turned off by default, but it does work really well with ALM in an environment i have built as efficiently as i can. This says to me materials and mesh can work to create beautiful environments that can be experienced with smooth performance, we’ve just got to build them.

Another issue for environment creators is lighting. I find that the difference in the effect of having ALM switched on and off is extreme and I’ve spent hours trying to find middle ground between having a room lit well enough in ALM and not being too bright with ALM switched off. You could end up visiting a place and thinking ‘ouch this place is so horribly bright it ruins the place’ but in fact with ALM switched on you find its the most beautifully lit place you have seen in SL.

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Top: ALM Off looks very bright in that room thanx to the projector lights. – Bottom: Same room but with ALM switched on. much darker and moodier.

 

Clothing

Using materials to map wrinkles and creases to clothing has meant extra detail at lower land impact and display costs. There is a rumour that won’t die that Mesh Clothes cause lag. There maybe some truth in that, but it is not because they are mesh. Objects in any 3d environment cause ‘costs’ to your viewer. The bigger the cost the more of a drag it will be. It should be the goal of every content creator in SL to make stuff that costs as little as possible for the viewer to display. When it comes to clothing some creators just assume that the land impact does not matter because you will be wearing the object so it won’t count against the land. Fact is that object still has a display cost. I’ve seen some mesh jeans that are over 40 land impact and i know its possible to make the same size and using materials have even more detailed pair of jeans at just 2 land impact.

As a content creator I’m once again giddy with excitement at what materials allows me to do with clothing in SL. But again… you need to switch on ALM to see the benefits and in some cases the difference in how clothes look is extreme. This leads to some very hard decisions.

When it comes buying items on marketplace is the product displayed being shown with ALM switched on? Is it misleading to show the product how it looks in ALM? should i start showing all my clothing on marketplace with side by side comparisons of how they look with and without ALM switched on?

To get the best effect from the materials feature its best not to have shadows and highlights baked to the texture. But while this makes the clothes look better in ALM  it leaves the texture looking kinda bland with ALM switched off compared to others on the market. Should i perhaps then supply the user with two versions of every size i supply in the pack, one for ALM and one for those who can’t use ALM?

jeans

Left: ALM off shows just the plain jeans texture. I try to have a hint of the baked shadows. – Right: ALM on reveals the creases and folds from the normal and specular maps transforming the product completely.

 

Hidden Content.

So while i wait for my firestorm using friends to get materials feature, i will continue to experiment with materials and make clothes that use materials. But rather than simply upgrading Second Lifes visuals the way windlight did, Materials has possibly added a whole category of content that is not available to everyone in Second Life and threatens the notion of a shared experience much like when mesh arrived. But while mesh just needed TPV’s to add the feature Materials needs everyone to upgrade their tech. Below is an example of how some content can be visible to some and not others…

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A strange plain white prim reveals its secrets when switching on ALM.

Expanding the Loki Mesh Store

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Hmmm, should probably get a newer pic submitted to destination guide

Ok i got my business hat on for this post, if you don’t know already i have my own Mesh Clothing line. In fact it was over two years ago i started experimenting with mesh on the Beta Grid, and it’s coming up to 2 years ago that i released my first range of mesh clothes. Not only did mesh promise to allow us more detailed clothing than the skin tight rubbish of the past eight years but it also opened the doors for more ideas and features.

So after two years we have clothes that can be scripted, can glow and can have animated textures. We also have a bigger better Marketplace with the direct delivery system and item outbox. I think the biggest surprise for me was how much people are still using my in world store and its very important to my business.

 

Time for a change.

So here i am about to release my 3rd generation of mesh clothing (which ill talk about in a future post) when i suddenly realise that my store is now to small for the amount of products i have on display. When i started selling items in my store there was only a handful of products. Now there are over 400 and each are displaying full rezz 1024 textures in one small room. So many were starting to complain about the lag caused that i decided something had to be done before i released anything new.

To start with i re-uploaded all the clothing’s textures again at low rez for shop displaying hopefully cutting the texture lag right down. i decided to also split the store into 5 mesh parts so that the products were not all clumped together giving the viewer much more processing breathing space.

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creating the levels in blender

Ground Zero

everyone wants to have their stuff on the ground as it’s where everything happens, but the fact is the ground itself is laggy. The sheer number of objects on ground level coupled with the water effects add to performance degradation. long time users have learnt that moving your place into the sky way above and out of range of the ground boosts viewer performance so this was what i needed to do with my store.

 

Im a Material boy

Making the new store gave me a great opportunity to use the new Materials feature to see how it can enhance environments. On the first two levels of my store i use the materials for soft surfaces that reflect light. Where the materials feature really shines is on Level 3 the TimeRascals, where the brick walls shine slightly damp and the metal grating has extra depth. I want the store to reflect the products sold inside, at the cutting edge of whats possible in Second Life.

Adding materials has its issues, especially when you have to also consider the folks who cant use Advanced Lighitng Model. A lot of time was spent trying to get a balance between how the rooms were lit with and without advanced lighting. The difference can be huge and lead to one being dark and the other being bleached white.

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Normal and Specular maps help give polished shine to surfaces that reflect projected lights. Of course it looks completely different with Advanced Lighting Model switched off.

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The two upper levels reflect themed clothing of steampunk and sic-fi. The rooms also reflect this in their texturing.

The In-world Experience.

Continuing the ‘cutting edge’ theme i have tried to make visiting my store a pleasant comfortable and memorable experience that you may look forward to doing time and time again just for the fun of it. Not only have i tried to make it as non-laggy as possible but careful consideration went into how you teleport from the ground up and between levels. Parts of the store also use Temporary Attach demos making trying out products a pleasurable fun experience.

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Above the teleports is a representation of which level you are currently on. Its hoped this will give the visitor an idea of their surroundings.

Inworld stores are an important part of the SL Business package and while they might not generate the same amount of sales as the convenience of marketplace, they give your brand a presence that can be experienced leading to loyal repeat customers who have a greater sense of your brand.

So with my business hat firmly placed on my noggin, i invite you all to come visit my new store. Experience being shrunk and transported into a glass jar, Visit the store to try out the new Materials Feature in the latest SL Viewers and have a browse the efforts of my craft 🙂

LINK TO MY STORE HERE!