Update January 2nd, 2012: A new Beta of Exodus has been released, and I have an overview available. As such, comments on this page are closed. Please feel free to read, but comments are best related to the latest release, and posted on that page.
A new Second Life Viewer has been launched with an emphasis on in-world combat gaming and which includes mesh rendering capabilities.
Exodus has been developed by Clix Diesel, Genz Kitten and Ash Qin – all of whom are combat veterans in Second Life, and involved in ARK, a cyberpunk-oriented combat environment. As such, a lot of emphasis has been placed on the Viewer’s performance – something that is vital to the gaming world in Second Life.
The Viewer is currently classified as a Public Beta, so if you give it a try, remember that it may not be entirely stable, and your experience may differ from mine.
Installation and First Looks
Exodus is based on Viewer 3, and is available for Windows (32-bit and 64-bit versions), Mac and Linux. The installer will be familiar to anyone who has installed a Viewer, and offers not surprises. System folders are created and a shortcut added to the desktop a-la most Viewers.
Starting the Viewer displays 3.x-style login screen, complete with BASIC and ADVANCED modes (defaulted to ADVANCED). The Viewer doesn’t include the new Viewer 3.x log-in display for the Main grid, with its Destination Guide options etc; instead, the splash screen is a black background upon which is displayed the Viewer’s stylish logo and recent update notes.
On logging-in, the Viewer presents a Viewer 3.x look and feel with a few subtle differences.
The Sidebar includes two tabs dedicated to Exodus, one of which replaces the HOME tab, and has a stylised E as the tab logo. This provides access to the latest news from the Exodus team and displays the current Version number (in my case, 11.09.28.2), and a link to the Exodus blog. The second tab, bearing a familiar gears icon, provides access to the Exodus Preferences, of which more anon.
The toolbar button at the bottom of the UI has, by default: the Voice button, a client-side AO ported from Firestorm, a gears button providing access to a number of Quick Preferences somewhat similar to the Quick Preference found in Firestorm; and the familiar Gestures, Move, View, Snapshot and Search buttons. Unlike other V3 TPVs, Exodus has the Navigation Bar turned off by default, together with the Favourites Bar, and opts to use the Mini-location bar. The Advanced menu is displayed by default, as is the option to run multiple copies of the Viewer; and there are some dedicated menu options (see below).
The main Preferences floater (Me -> Preferences) offers few differences to the standard V3 Viewer – although it does include Kitty Barnett’s Spell Checker, first seen (for V3.x) in Catzip.
There is a further interesting – and experimental – addition to the Graphics tab. Where, alongside the HARDWARE and ADVANCED buttons, there is a SPECIAL button. This will display the High Dynamic Range (HDR) settings (currently called the Advanced Graphics Settings in the actual floater). HDR should be of benefit to machinima makers and photographers, as it allows for enhanced colour correction, etc. As Geenz explains in the blog post on the subject:
“HDR stands for ‘High Dynamic Range’. HDR doesn’t necessarily increase rendering quality on its own (after all, HDR is only adds a higher dynamic color range for us to do nifty things with later on), but it does allow us to add different effects into the render pipeline like, color correction, gamma correction, and scene brightness that’s completely independent from the rest of the environment.”
A further enhancement to the Viewer that is not so obvious (given it is automatically activated), is the FXAA, or “Fast approXimate Anti-Aliasing” function. This provides an alternative to the “standard” anti-aliasing process used with deferred rendering, and it is intended to make the process a lot faster and should present smoother results. FXAA is apparently a feature that Linden Lab are developing for the official Viewer, but the Exodus team have implemented it through their own efforts.
You can read about both FXAA and HDR in Geenz’s blog entry.
Combat players may also like the fact that Exodus has the Mouselook zoom functionality included, making target sniping, etc., a lot easier. The function works identically to v1.x viewers that include it: enter Mouselook, press and hold the right mouse button and use the mouse scroll wheel to zoom in / out (with the wheel depressed).
The Sidebar preferences can be accessed by clicking on the tab with the gears icon, or by clicking on the >> tab. This comprises a number of drop-down lists (see right) which provide access to a range of settings, some of which will be familiar to users of the likes of Phoenix and Firestorm, others of which are quite unique.
By default, the tab tends to open with the Chat Command Settings displayed by default (although on my version, the tab would sometimes switch between this and opening with all the drop-down lists closed).
The Chat Commands provides a breakdown of the chat command shortcut (“/dd” for setting draw distance, for example), defaults, together with an explanation of each shortcut – which can be set to any personal preferences.
After this, things get rather interesting. The next tab is Interface Settings. This reproduces a number of options commonly found in combat HUD systems. Given the intended use of the Viewer, this is a very good idea, and like the built-in AO, helps move functions from a reliance on server-side code execution directly to the Viewer.
Settings are available to customise your crosshairs, rangefinder and threat indicators. I confess, I’m no combat specialist (I’ve only ever visited one combat sim to my knowledge – and that was on Avination), but these look to be the kind of options combat players will find useful.
Coupled with this are the Minimap Settings, which provide a range of customisable options for tailoring the mini-map to suit your specific combat requirements (such as making it easier to identify friends and foes).
The remaining drop-downs provide access to specific Viewer functions, bringing them together under logical groupings: rendering teleport and sound settings (reproducing those options found in Preferences -> Sound & Media, and additional chat and display options that otherwise tend to be spread around a number of different tabs in Preferences.
Exodus includes a built-in Raid Advisor, allowing you to annotate and review raids / battles fought. I assume this is again to replace functionality provided in combat HUDs, or is an additional option combat players will find useful. The function has two options. The first is a new button on the Map – +RAID ADVISOR.
This opens a pop-up allowing you to enter a descriptive name for the region (e.g. a campaign name).
This opens a floater listing all regions you have raided (left), displaying the name you gave the region, the region and the number of times you have raided it.
There are buttons to export / import raid lists, but both buttons remained greyed-out when I tested them, so I’m not clear on the purpose – exporting / importing raids between avatars, perhaps?
Minimal Radar and Statistics
As with Firestorm and other Viewer 3 TPVs, Exodus includes the radar function in the Mini-map slider of the Sidebar. However, this is not always convenient to use. Nor is tearing-off and resizing the slider as a floater always convenient, as it can still take up a large area of the screen. To this end, Exodus includes a Minimal Radar floater. Accessed from the World menu, this provides a list of avatars within your set draw distance in a compact floater.
Similarly, the Help menu provides a minimal statistics display bar which can be used in place of CTRL-SHIFT-1. This provides a summary of time logged-on, current frame rate, bandwidth and draw distance plus simulator frame rates and time dilation.
Given Exodus is based on Viewer 3.0.6, mesh rendering is smooth, and the Build menu floater includes the new Land Impact measure to replace prim count / prim equivalency. The mesh upload option has been removed from the Build menu, at least until code for TPV mesh uploads can be provided / has been developed.
As Exodus places the emphasis on performance, I was curious to see how it performed on my usual PC – Q6600 2.4GHz quad core, 3Gb with an nVidia GE9800 GT 1Gb. With ultra enabled, the results were comparable to Firestorm Beta (non-mesh) with Draw at 360m and 4 others on the sim. With deferred rendering active and shadows enabled, the performance dropped to 25-30fps, faster than Firestorm, and most shadows rendered very crisply.
For a beta, a solid Viewer. Certain popular options are lacking – or at least, I failed to locate them, these being RLV (perhaps not so surprising, given the emphasis for Exodus is on combat), no Mu* poses (“:” for “/me”), and no OOC auto-closure – and I admit I’m a little surprised at these are (currently?) excluded.
I was also disappointed that the media filter is absent from the Viewer. As I’ve said with other recent Viewer reviews, the misuse of media streaming in Second Life tends to warrant the media filter being pretty much a standard requirement for a TPV given the number of people who don’t want to have to turn off media entirely in order to avoid running the risk of streams being inappropriately used.
Performance, however, cannot be faulted – and I was very pleasantly surprised at how well the Viewer ran on my netbook compared to the likes of Firestorm, which it consistently outperformed at the higher graphics settings.
The dedicated setting tab / slider in the Sidebar is a great addition, and makes locating a lot of options that can otherwise be scattered through tabs and sub-tabs in Preferences a lot easier and somewhat more sensible. That the slider can be torn-off from the Sidebar and used as a conventional floater is even better. How this will survive the future removal of the Sidebar from the Viewer is going to be interesting.
One thing that could possibly be improved is the View (Camera) floater – this is currently the V3.x default floater, and it is big. Given Exodus is intended for combat, I would suggest that smaller is better, and Firestorm might provide a more ideally sized View floater.
External grid support isn’t provided at present – there is no grid manager option for setting-up alternative access. Given there are grids outside of Second Life that support combat gaming (such as Avination), it might be useful to include a full grid manager option in a future release to allow the use of the Viewer elsewhere (providing said grids can support a V3.x-based Viewer!), as this could potentially increase the Viewer’s popularity and uptake.
The Viewer also isn’t listed in the TPV Directory (it doesn’t have to be), but has apparently been self-certified for use on SL.
All-in-all, a well-considered Viewer that feeds into a potential niche environment within SL that hasn’t been addressed to quite this degree by other Viewers. If you’re into combat gaming, or simply want to try an alternative Viewer that could have photography / machinima applications, well worth a look.