Pagan Traditions in Virtual Space

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.

barrellineup

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.

marshmellows

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

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.

thrash

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.