Suggestions to Linden Lab from an Old Timer

Viv Branch ManagerI am Vivienne Daguerre, and my rez date was April 12, 2004. I have been active continuously in Second Life since that day with no significant periods of absence. I have operated a business in Second Life continuously since 2004, Black Rose, and I own two private island estates which I purchased in 2005. In Second Life terms, I am as old as virtual dirt. I don’t play other online “games” and do not view Second Life as a game as much as I do a creative and social outlet.

I know that Linden Lab’s new CEO is receiving a stream of advice from Second Life residents. Why not throw a little more at him? I think he is up for it. Here is my advice.

1. Do not lower tier.

I think the biggest challenge to new people is to find and connect with other people. Second Life is big, very big, and surprisingly so considering the cost of land. Even with high tier prices, the drive for the core group of Second Life to create and share with others is strong enough that people are willing to shell out the big bucks for their own regions. That is an amazing fact in itself that must make “game” makers drool.

Great Hall DinnerMany want tier to be lowered so more people can buy land. I would strongly recommend not lowering tier for several reasons. I want Linden Lab to stay profitable, because I want Second Life to continue to exist, improve and grow. More important than that, if more people were able to buy more regions, the number of regions would increase. Already there are not enough people to populate the regions that exist now. People are spread out, isolated, and all clamoring for people to come and see what they have created. Some people want to be king, to have the world the way they think it should be. That is not a bad thing.

Barnard on Trial 5What is a bad thing is that there is too much space for too few people, and that makes us spread out and isolated. It makes it harder to find and meet people. Please do not increase tier, but please do not lower it.

2. Fix the event listings.

When you are trying to find people interested in things you are interested in, you naturally turn to the event listings. They are not much help. They are choked with club and commercial spam. No, I do not want to be a model or attend an “event” at your store to see your new releases. I do not care about who is best in red.

Fixing this would cost money. You need someone to actually pay attention to event listings and moderate them to enforce rules about commercial spam. It would be money well spent, because it would make it easier for noobies and oldbies alike to find interesting and fun things to do, and meet people with similar interests.

Mav on Horseback Galloping3. Make search more useful.

When we want to find something, groups, or events that interest us, you need to do all you can to help us do that. With event listings being choked by spam, we turn to groups to get notices about what is going on that may interest us. Make it easier for us to find groups of interest to us with the membership numbers clearly shown. We will find out how many are in the group anyway once we join it, and we can and do often leave after doing that, but why make us jump through that hoop? List the number of members clearly in search so we can find the most relevant and active groups to join.

4. Help us make interesting experiences for other people.

A friend and I have been working on a quest system for our sims to provide fun and free items to others. We have hit a couple of stumbling blocks that the experience tools would help with if they are ever released. Pathfinding is a good thing, and we are working on huntable animals, but we need more. Release the experience tools, and give us more scripting options.

Dom Forging a BladeHere is an example of something that takes people out of immersion and makes it less intuitive and more difficult for noobies. I wanted to make a blacksmith make a sword for you. To do that, you have to find coal and iron and mine it to bring back to him. After mining for a couple of minutes, you are given coal and iron. You return to the blacksmith, and you click on him. He asks, “Do you have the iron and coal I need?” Now you have to open your inventory, find the objects named coal and iron, hold down the control key and drag them from your inventory onto the blacksmith. That is simple enough to script, but it is clunky, and breaks the immersion.

We tried working on a quest hud that would eliminate the need to handle actual coal and iron objects and communicate through listens with the blacksmith. This is a very difficult task without arrays. Strided lists are awkward to work with. I don’t want to have to learn php and go out to a website to handle the data.

Second Life is not a game, but give us better tools to let us make fun challenges and games within it please.

Well there is my two cents worth Mr. Altberg, if you find time to read it.

Bridge

The Status of Mesh

I have been attending mesh office hours on the beta grid for some time now. There are usually four or five Lindens in attendance. Nyx Linden, Vir Linden, Runitai Linden, and Prep Linden are the regulars. I have seen a “Tester” (the last name of Tester also indicates a Linden Lab employee) who identified himself as Dan Linden. Today there was a new Linden make an appearance: Charlar Linden. Nyx introduced Charlar as the new product owner of mesh.

There has been a lot of optimism with the coming of a new CEO, Rod Humble, who has a strong gaming background. I don’t know if that is why there is a new product owner for mesh or not. There could be a multitude of reasons why mesh was assigned to a new product owner. However the fact that it was at least indicates that the coming of a new CEO has not changed mesh as a priority. The number of lindens involved would suggest the large team is active in bringing mesh to the main grid and that it remains a priority for Linden Labs.

To the frustration of many residents, Lindens at these office hours adamantly refuse to estimate a date or even rough time frame for release of mesh to the main grid. Content creators and Second Life business people need to plan the release of new products on a continuous basis. Some are wondering if they should be preparing new products using mesh on the test grid to have them ready for release with the coming of mesh to the main grid, or if they should continue to work using normal prims and sculpties. If mesh might come to the grid within a couple of months then it is reasonable for them to hold new releases for that time. But if mesh might not come for 3 to 6 months, then it would be in their best interest to continue using existing tools; no one wishes to go more than three months without a new product release. I do understand the hesitation of Linden Labs to estimate a date given the disappointment and angry backlash when the target date is missed. However that must be balanced against the needs of Second Life content creators and business people.

With that in mind I decided to attend the office hours to try to get a feel for where things are and to be able to make some kind of guess as to when mesh might come to the main grid. The first thing to look at is what is being worked on right now. There is a viewer 2.5 beta that you can download to use on the main grid with many new features. One of the new features addresses the problem of prim encroachment, large prims sticking out over property borders onto that of another person. Previously there was not much you could do about that. This new feature will enable you to return encroaching prims. With the coming of mesh they are increasing maximum sizes from 10 m to 64 m, and this will apply not just to mesh but to all types of prims. This is a welcome development, but one sees the need for a method to return large items across the property line onto your property. There have been some difficulties with the implementation of this, but it appears to me that this feature is nearing completion and is almost ready for the main grid.

Many people have asked at the office hours about new features, but the response has very firmly been that there will be no new features added to mesh before first release to the main grid. Current work is focused on fixing bugs and hammering out details to bring mesh to the grid pretty much as we see it now on the beta grid. They are working on things such as optimization of the rendering pipeline for mesh and textures, making the mesh import wizard and interface easier to use, and bugs that crop up such as mesh sometimes not appearing. This is what a beta test is for, to find problems and work them out.

There are also some decisions to be made about the calculation of prim equivalencies for mesh. With sculpties, it is simple: one sculptie equals one prim. Mesh is not like that. One mesh might equal one prim, or four prims, or 322 prims, or any number depending on several factors. The factors are the number of triangles in the mesh, the physics shape of the mesh, and the levels of detail (LOD) provided by the maker or calculated by the importer. There is a formula for calculation of the physics cost posted on the mesh wiki, but you need to be up to date on your calculus to even begin to understand the formula. Runitai Linden has indicated that they are tweaking that formula to reward good mesh and good LOD creation, and discourage poor mesh and poor LOD creation.

Linden Labs is exploring methods to discourage the import of 3-D content ripped from other games and content available at no cost or at cost from being brought into Second Life and resold without proper licensing permission. Linden Labs has had a DMCA process for some time to deal with theft of content in the world made by residents. Something more is needed to deal with the mass of 3-D content available on the web. Popular games such as World of Warcraft have had much of their content ripped. Should that content show up in Second Life, the developers of these games would have the financial resources available to pursue costly legal action against Linden Labs and good motivation to protect their product. They would no doubt be vigilant and quick to take legal action. From what I understand they are exploring options such as decreasing the anonymity of mesh importers, perhaps creating developer accounts or limiting mesh import to premium accounts or accounts with payment information on file. These things are being considered, but no decisions have been released.

I am sure that there are many more issues to be resolved before mesh can be released to the main grid that I am unaware of. I have been able to glean this much from attending the office hours.

I do not have an inner source of information. What I give you now is just my personal opinion. Given all of the above, I do not think that mesh will come to the main grid before March 2011. I don’t know if it will come to the main grid in March, and suspect that it may be April or May. It is clear that there is still much work to be done. I would certainly hope to see it on the main grid by June.

My advice to content creators is to experiment on the beta grid to learn the ins and outs of mesh creation and import so you are ready for mesh when it comes, but to continue to work with existing tools on the main grid to keep a steady stream of new products coming.

Mesh Open Beta Starts October 13!

Well the news it out! Jack Linden posted on the SL website that open mesh will officially start on October 13. You can go and read the blog here.

For a quick preliminary look at how to use Blender to export to Collada format and upload it to Second Life, have a look at Gaia’s excellent video on her Machinimatrix website. In that video she looks at general meshes and weighted meshes that can make mesh clothing or avatar parts move with your avatar skeleton.

On her website she also has excellent tutorials on how to use Blender to make sculpties if you are interested in that. There are also several other excellent Blender tutorials out there. Just google “Blender Tutorials” and choose what appeals to you.

From the thread in SL Universe, I was able to pick up some links to some websites that give you a basic primer in 3D modelling, a good place to start to pick up some of the key concepts and language. This basic understanding can be covered in an hour or so, and will make 3D programs a little less intimidating in their use of terminology.

The Guerrilla CG Project

A Modelling Ethic

I know there has been some anxiety about how mesh will impact on Second Life and content creators. Once we get into the open beta and can experiment, I think some of that anxiety will be lifted. A very simple program to learn is Google Sketch-Up and I would encourage people to have a look at it. I think it will be easier to use in some ways than building in world with prims.

Very few creators in Second Life can do it all. There are scripters, animators, builders, texture makers, sound specialists, and those with management, writing, machinima, DJ, and social event managing/hosting skills. All the skills are equally valuable and necessary to a rich SL experience for all of us. Find what you do and do it well!

A First Look at Mesh Import Using Blender

“Gaia” was a participant in the mesh import beta test, and she has posted a how to video on her website, Machinamatrix, on how to use Blender to create meshes and export them in the Collada 1.4 format which can be imported into Second Life.

On her website are tutorials and videos which will teach you how to use Blender from scratch, and how to make sculpties for Second Life. I am not sure if sculpties will become obsolete, or if there will be some cases where sculpties are preferrable to mesh.

I was very excited to watch her excellent video which shows some of the possibilities. You can rig body parts to attach to your avatar that can move along with your body parts. This will revolutionize clothing. You can create long sleeves that will move with your avatar’s arm, jackets and vests that move with the body, and more! You can make your own avatar!

I wonder if one can make objects that can be rigged for animation and animated without attaching them to your avatar. I look forward to learning more about mesh import, and as I learn more, I will keep you posted here.

NDA (Non-disclosure Agreement) lifted on mesh import beta!

Jack Linden posted in a blog today that the non-disclosure agreement is officially lifted on mesh import beta testers. You can read his blog entry here.

This means that those involved in the closed beta test can now officially talk about it, answer many questions we all have about programs they use, polygon limits, texturing, rigging and animation and much more. The blog links to a You Tube page showing 6 videos demonstrating mesh.

I have a thousand questions to ask! Well, ok, maybe five or six questions. I will be watching blogs for more information where we can find reports from beta testers and opportunities to ask questions.

Jack Linden indicated that open beta testing will come soon, and it will involve the use of a viewer made for that purpose and it would access a test grid and not the main grid. He promised in his blog entry more information in two weeks time, “The plan is to blog again in two weeks, when we’ll announce when the open beta will be available and talk more about the development process and the remaining work to be done.”

News from SLCC 2010, Mesh Import Still in the Works.

I did not see Philip Rosedale’s keynote presentation in person, but I have been able to pick up a few key things he announced at the Second Life Community Convention 2010 in Boston.

Of course my primary interest was to find out if he said anything about mesh import. Daniel Voyager was kind enough to present a brief synopsis of Philip’s speech. Apparently mesh import is still in the works and the plan is to have it in open beta by the end of the year. I am excited to hear this, but we do know that deadlines can be missed and postponed. Perhaps if we all write a nice letter to Santa Philip and mail it off to Linden Lab we might hope to have a little surprise under our Christmas trees in Second Life. Please Philip, tell me, “Yes Vivienne, there is a Santa Claus.”

Also of interest was the announcement that the Teen Grid will be closed. 16 and 17 year olds will be permitted to access the main grid, but at present time there is no access planned for those aged under 16. There was mention of some discussion with educators about potential solutions and applications for younger people.

There was more talk of fighting lag, increasing the number of avatars that can be in one place at any given time without crashing the region. They have reduced crashes on Viewer 2.0 by 50%, and working on improving sim crossings and fixing group chat problems are high priority at present.

A video of Philip’s speech has just been made available here.

ZBrush 4 is Out, and It’s Amazing!

I received my email yesterday with the instructions and links to upgrade to ZBrush 4. One of the things I like about Pixologic, the makers of ZBrush, is that they have given me free upgrades since I purchased version 3.1 a couple of years ago.

I am drooling over some of the new features. I cannot wait to play with Alpha Roll, available under the stroke pallet to modify your brush using the Roll and the Roll Distance sliders. You can load up an alpha, and lay it down in sequence to create rope or other interesting designs, and as you change directions, so does the alpha you lay down. See the video on YouTube. The Move Elastic brush looks great. As you push and pull the mesh about to make a shape, the polygons can get stretched unevenly, which negatively impacts on texturing your sculpty. The Move Elastic brush keeps the vertices more evenly distributed.

Not all of the new features will be able to be used to make sculpties, such as Shadowbox. Shadowbox gives you three planes on which you mask out a shape, and the mesh is created according to where they intersect on each plane. I experimented with resolution, til I was able to get to just over 1000 active points, and tried to export that using, but unfortunately Sculpty Maker choked on it and did not create a sculpt map. Perhaps someone else will have more success playing with it, but I suspect that this will not be a useful feature until (if and when) mesh import is implemented in Second Life. However, I was able to use Shadowbox to make a form, append a properly initialized sphere for sculpty making, and then use the ProjectAll button on the subtool menu to make it form to the shape created in Shadowbox. After then deleting the Shadowbox, the new mesh was successfully exported by Sculpty Maker to an uploadable sculpt map.

ZBrush is one of the lower priced 3D modelling packages and it permits you to directly paint and transfer textures onto your model and then make a texture from it that you can tweak in Photoshop or Gimp and upload to Second Life. Professional 3D modelling packages can cost $3,000 plus. ZBrush 4 costs around $600 US, but will go up to about $700 US in about a month, so if you are interested check it out now. There is a free trial of 30 days. Before spending the money, I would strongly encourage you to take advantage of the free trial. There is a bit of a learning curve with it, but the interface is still more intuitive than Blender and there are many excellent free tutorial videos on the Pixologic website and YouTube.

ZBrush exports models in .obj format. To be able to export to sculpty, you need to download Sculpty Maker from Shiny Life. There are videos available on Shiny Life that show you how to use ZBrush to make sculpties and texture them. These videos turned me on to ZBrush and made me decide to try out ZBrush.

On Shiny Life, you can also find some sculpty making in ZBrush tutorials by Pan Bunny. They are excellent, and even as one who has used ZBrush for some time I picked up a couple of things I did not know!

I would write more, but I feel the need to play with ZBrush 4!