Monday, August 26, 2013

Shaping the future

Misty in Kreations mesh outfit - one of the better fits
I'm sometimes very frustrated by the feeling that Linden Lab don't understand their customers very well at all. I've known a lot of Lindens in my nine years in Second Life, and most of them (not all) have used whole different avatars when they swapped out from one style to another. Very few stuck with a humanoid avatar and tweaked it in the way that is normal for a resident.

Caliandris was based upon my avatar in Uru, as I arrived in SL in 2004 after Uru had closed for the first time. Avatars in Uru weren't as customizable as they are in SL, and gradually over the course of time I have refined her look, bought better skins, added mesh hair and prim eyelashes, bought better clothing.... I change my avatar more or less every time I log into SL - I change clothes, change hair, choose attachments appropriate to the things I am doing, particularly if I am exploring RP sims.

I'm finding the arrival of mesh clothing both fascinating and frustrating. Many of my costumes are rigged, but it isn't possible for them to deform to the shape of my avatar. Linden Lab wasn't aware that people would want to do that with mesh! That just staggers me.  I would say that the number one activity for most dedicated SL residents is changing their avatar... particularly if they don't build or create things themselves.  It's definitely the number one creative activity in SL, changing and dressing up the avatar.  Some people (like most Lindens) prefer to buy off-the-peg whole avatars and simply swap them out, but that's because most Lindens came into SL as a job, and people who enter SL with a work identity don't immerse in the same way that residents do.  They can't.  They are supposed to be working.  It makes a huge psychological difference to you if you have a working persona and avatar in SL.

LL introduced meshes, without realizing the potential for clothing, which means that at present, although it is possible to buy rigged mesh clothing, it is necessary for the creator to make the clothing in several sizes to roughly fit the avatars.  Thus in SL you have to make your avatar fit the clothing instead of the other way around.  The meshes usually come in different sizes and with textures which will make the appropriate part of the anatomy disappear, but even so.   I have tops which require me to set my arms to the minimum fat and minimum muscle to make them fit, even when I am wearing the largest size.  As the largest size caters for my relatively large breasts, it looks absolutely ridiculous and cartoony to have stick-thin arms.  Cold Logic is particularly bad for that I have found, although I like a lot of their mesh clothing.

It could be possible to deform the meshes to fit the avatar, and it was left to an external fundraiser run by Maxwell Graf to raise money to see if an external scripter (the ex-Qarl Linden) would be able to write the code necessary to make this work in SL. The difficulty is that people generate meshes for upload to SL in all sorts of programs, and they don't all work the same way.  And LL is needed to work to incorporate the program into the main viewer, because third-party viewers aren't allowed to create new applications which aren't in the mainstream viewer any more.

The project has been underway for many months, and the last I heard it was in Linden Lab's hands.  I hope they get on an incorporate it soon, because many of the mesh clothes I have bought would require enormous changes to my avatar to come anywhere near fitting.  In fact I have a whole cupboard full of adapted shapes I have made so that I can wear the mesh clothing I have bought.  The thing is, I have spent nine years on making my avatar.  It would be rather nice if I could deform the mesh clothing to fit my avatar, and not have to make it the other way about.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Media exploit affecting SL viewers

Firestorm viewer with preference window open
Cristiano Midnight from Second Life Universe has posted a warning to disable media in viewers, because there is some vulnerability that can be exploited to gain access to accounts.  It is obviously hard for anyone to post detailed information about an exploit without simultaneously alerting the small percentage of people who would like to benefit from such an exploit.  I trust the source of the information, though, and know that Cristiano would not have posted a warning without good reason.

You can disable media before logging into SL by changing your preferences in the viewer at the login screen.  

His second piece of advice is to uncheck the box which asks you to store your password.  Someone on the comments stream on SLU points out that you have to be alert to the fact that the viewer may automatically recheck the box if you don't keep an eye on it.  If you have been using the remember password facility, you should clear your cache too.  This can be selected in the preferences at the login screen, and then you should close your viewer and reopen it to trigger the cache to clear.

I don't know what the exploit may be, or how the viewers are vulnerable by using media on a prim or streaming media.  There has been a general warning not to use media on parcels where you don't trust the source, but I think that warning has been around for so long that people have started to disregard it.  If the vulnerability is even more severe than it was thought to be, it is very important to get the word out.  I don't know if anyone has been affected by the problem... but the best outcome would be that the vulnerability is fixed before that happens.

For those using firestorm, step-by-step:

*Start your viewer, uncheck remember password box
*Click viewer at the top left of your screen, choose preferences
*Preferences window opens.
*Choose Sound and Media in the left hand column - uncheck all the boxes for playing media and sound
*Choose network and cache in the left hand column - click to clear cache and confirm it when the pop up asks you to confirm.
*REMEMBER to OK the changes bottom right of the preferences window.
*Close the viewer by clicking the X and confirm.
*Restart the viewer, check that the remember password box in unchecked.  You will need to log in (making sure the remember password box is unchecked) to make the change to remember password stick.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Balancing act

Moving through some sims is like wading underwater
There's been a bit of discussion on the SL Universe forum about pathfinding and whether it adversely affects sims, and it reminded me that I have been meaning to have a five minute rant on the theme that everything in Second Life is a balancing act... you have to balance what you want to achieve visually and interactively with the performance you want to achieve.

Unlike games, where the background and a lot of the objects in a scene will be fixed and pre-downloaded to your computer, and where you may be prevented from moving into a different area, in Second Life currently everything is dynamically streamed to the user's computer.  This means that the size of textures, complexity of objects, number of avatars, amount of scripting all have an effect on how fast things render and how well the region performs.

It's tricky because the visitors to a sim will have different computers, graphics cards and nternet connections, and all of those may affect the rate at which things stream or render in world.  There is a world of difference in how quickly a scene renders if you have your settings on Ultra and if you have them set low - and how pretty or otherwise things will appear to you.  Many aspects of the user experience are not under the control of a sim owner or designer.

However, certain things have always helped.  If you use a limited set of textures and make them as small as possible, if you reduce the complexity of the physics for the mesh objects in a sim, if you use as few scripts and make them as elegant as possible, all these will help to make things as fast as possible.  Only you can judge whether having big beautiful textures is more important than being able to load the sim environment quickly.  It's all a question of balancing your priorities, and it requires thought and planning to make it work for you.

As I posted on that thread on the SLU boards, articulation of prims seems to me to be a pretty big sim killer.  It's one of the reasons that it is hard to use pathfinding in a realistic way, as there aren't a lot of animals which can be made to move around naturally without articulation. 

A few years ago I helped to build the Linden Homes sims, which included trees with (non-pathfind, scripted) birds and squirrels in them.  I pretty soon realised that these had quite a negative impact on the sims and so removed them in the sims I was dressing.  We later had a general squirrel strangling effort as the impact became clear. 

For those who haven't used it, pathfinding is a simple way to make animals and objects move around a sim without having to program the locations.  The idea is that the system makes a navmesh - this was explained to me as being like a tablecloth laid over the sim terrain and objects - which gives a pathfinding creature information about where the terrain and objects in a sim are placed.

This navmesh is what a pathfinding creature will navigate automatically if set up to pathfind.  Thus a creature set to follow avatars, will automatically follow anyone who comes close enough to it, and will automatically avoid obstacles and shouldn't disappear into the terrain.  You should always be careful about having objects penetrating the navmesh, especially those which have physical attributes. 

However, I think that a lot of the negative impacts reported for pathfinding are actually attributable to the articulation used for creatures which pathfind.  It's the reason I cheated with flexi-fur for the goats and creatures I made for the Wilderness sims.  Avoid articulation if possible.  Or at least, be aware of the impact that these things may have on performance and only rezz creatures which have it when necessary - don't leave them going in empty sims if you can avoid it.

I'm sure it sounds like I am a killjoy when I say that you have to be prepared to balance your need for impact and interactivity with the need for a sim to be usable, but much like a web page which takes too long to load, if you make a beautiful sim with interesting interactive content, which takes too long to rezz or is painfully slow to use, people will simply teleport to somewhere more comfortable.