Exodus: updates and the future

The combat-dedicated Exodus Viewer received a series of updates this month, as did the Exodus website. This article outlines the most recent, for releases 11.10.10 (b) through to 11.10.31 (b).

Most of the changes take the form of small tweaks and additions, but which themselves all bring Exodus even closer to matching the capabilities of more established TPVs. These include:

  • MU* poses (i.e. use “:” instead of “/me” for emotes)
  • Out-of-Character (OOC) auto close (so the closing “))” is automatically added when you commence typing with “((“)
  • Option to display emotes from yourself and others in italics on your screen
  • Option to disable Viewer tag detection (Sidebar Preferences tab, under VARIOUS PREFERENCES)
  • Additional chat line commands added:
  • The “rezplat” command has been added to the command line shortcuts, and supports prims up to 64m in size (so “/rezplat 64” will rez a platform 64x64x0.5)
  • Active gestures are now listed in Inventory in terms of their key assignments (where applicable) – such as “XXX Active on F12”
  • The THREAT INDICATORS option (SIDEBAR -> EXODUS PREFERENCES -> INTERFACE SETTINGS) now includes options show / hide Friendly and Hostile indicators
  • The Raid Advisor (ALT-R) now has working import / export buttons which allow the details of raids to be exported (backed-up) either to a file on your computer, or to your Inventory (where they are located in #EXODUS -> #RAID ADVISOR BACKUPS)
    • Raids are exported individually to either a file or an inventory item
    • Exported raids can be deleted if required & restored using the IMPORT button
    • Raids exported to inventory can be passed to friends; double-clicking on a raid stored in Inventory will restore it to the Raid advisor
  • The mini-location bar will be displayed when using Mouselook (and will toggle on/off automatically when entering / leaving Mouselook if the full navigation bar is displayed in third-person view)
  • The “i” icon in the navigation bar / mini-location bar now open the ABOUT LAND floater
  • Display names are now disabled by default
  • Nearby chat window auto-resize feature
  • Edit menu item on worn attachments, to automatically select/edit attachments that are hard to select
  • Exodus now uses a dedicated cache location, rather than the default Second Life location
  • Support for the new Neck attachment point has been added
  •  Syntax highlighting for /* */ style comments added

There are also a number of issues and bugs that have been squished, details of these can be found on the Exodus website itself for each of the releases made this month.

Help Updates

One of the more noticeable additions to Exodus comes in the form of a new Help option – and which harks back to the days when we actually had live, in-world help available to everyone in SL. This is the ability to launch an IRC connection to the Exodus Viewer Support Chatroom. clicking on the link with open a window prompting you for a nickname (your avatar’s name is automatically entered, but you can change this if you wish). Clicking CONNECT opens the support chat:

Exodus Support Chat

The chat applet supplies a warning that support may not be monitoring the channel all the time, so replies may take a few minutes – which is fair enough – but I found enquiries were responded to very rapidly once a question was asked.

The IRC chatroom includes the option of private messaging others who are logged-in: left-click on a name and select the PM option from the menu that appears. Icons are used within the chat window to distinguish support personnel:

  • White spanner on a red circle – Viewer developer
  • White question mark on a blue diamond – Viewer support

This is a major step-up from “traditional” means of in-world support, and is doubly useful given that the chat applet is also embedded in the Exodus website – so if you don’t want you in-world view blocked by the chat floater, you can simply log-into the chat. Considering the issues inherent in using Group chat, etc., this move on the part of Exodus really raises the bar on providing support. There is currently a slight bug in the chat client when displayed in the Viewer, however; pressing “/” or SHIFT-? causes the cursor to re-focus on the local chat in the Viewer, but other than that the integration of the IRC client and the Viewer is very smooth.

Advanced Graphics Presets

Another major change with the latest release is the inclusion of both a presets option and the ability to import / export presets in the Exodus Advanced Graphics option (PREFERENCES -> GRAPHICS -> SPECIAL).

This allows personal presets to be created and saved and easily reloaded. Additionally, the export options allows you to back-up your personal presets to your computer or save them to your inventory. Presets saved to Inventory are stored in #EXODUS -> #ADVANCED GRAPHICS PRESETS and can be shared with others.

Exodus Advanced Graphics presets

Saved presets can be deleted, if required. The IMPORT button will allow you to restore any saved presets saved on your computer, while double-clicking presets in your inventory (either saved there or passed to you by a friend) will automatically restore or load them to your preset list in the Advanced Graphics floater.

In a further move to make the newer graphics options accessible, the Exodus Advanced Settings have been re-written so as not to required deferred rendering being enabled.

Continue reading “Exodus: updates and the future”

Reflections on The Looking Glass

The Looking Glass is the joint creation of Marcus Inkpen and partner Sharni Azalee, and is located on their sim of Horizon Dream. It’s a fascinating mix of elements brought together in an inspirational and highly photogenic feast for the eyes.

The Looking Glass

The arrival point sits on a small quay in one corner of the sim. From here you are free to wander and explore the region – or if you wish you can click on the Mystery Gift box and receive a clue designed to help you on your way to fining the gift itself. The clue is given as a verse from a poem:

The fields are all dried up, the corn’s all gone dead,
So he pulled up his post and to the shore he did head.
There are no crows there now, to bug him all day,
So he tries his best to scare the seagulls away.
An old crumbling tower lends his new home some shade,
And a little bird sings to him until the daylight does fade.

A sign swings from a post beside a rickety set of wooden steps leading up from the quay to a small town of indeterminate age. Here are discrete stores where you can purchase various creations by both Sharni and Marcus – some of which are in evidence around the sim itself. Careful where you walk however, as an exposed manhole cover hints there may be things going on below ground as well as above.

Wander through town and you’ll eventually come to the Looking Glass Amphitheatre, an open field where stands an ornate glass stage and a grand piano – a place for dances and other events. From here you can return to the town and climb the stairs to the huge Clock Tower that dominates the hill behind the town – or you can take a more direct route up the rocky side of the hill to reach it.

The Clock Tower and hall

The Tower’s hall is a gallery used to display work by other SL artists. During my most recent visit it featured a display by Skusting Dagger.

Several options for exploration offer themselves to you from the Tower, which you take is up to you. For my part, I walked out along the “bridge to nowhere”, as I call it, to appreciate Marcus’ imaginative sculpture La Mer. On my return, I headed up to the Temple Ruins – a place better reached by teleport, or by flying, admittedly.

La Mer by Marcus Inkpen

The Temple ruins is referred to as a particle stage, and is used to hosts various events on the sim; the most recent being by InterfaceD Dreamscape who presented a particle show, with music by Novulino.

One of the delights of The Looking Glass is the juxtaposition of themes and ideas: the town area seems to be old, but has hints of it having somewhat modern setting: the pool table in the bar, the television aerials poking up from chimney and rooftops, the no parking signs, and so on. As one walks through it, one cannot help but feel that while it may once have known better days, it is now running to seediness and no-one really cares about it any more.

That no-one cares is evidenced by the Forrest theatre, which appears to be still in use, despite having threadbare carpets, smashed glass in the front doors and the domed windows above, while the stage itself is exposed to the sky thanks to a partially collapsed roof, while the walls at the back of the building are broken and ruined. Whether the damage is the result of age and disrepair, or the result of a possible fire, is yours to decide..

Elsewhere, the buildings suggest something more medieval in tone, or at least leaning towards fantasy – something that is heightened by the wonderful Floating Islands that form a peaceful retreat within a peaceful sim. There’s even a touch of The Waltons, with a small farm-style layout from The Looking Glass Victorian Cottage range.

Wizard’s Retreat with Sky Gardens beyond

The mix means that The Looking Glass is very photogenic and makes an excellent subject for machinima; in fact it has already been the backdrop for a film by the ever-talented rockerfaerie on YouTube (aka ColeMarie Soleil in SL). If you are going to be taking photos of the sim, I’d recommend that you set the Sun to sunrise to generate the most dramatic results. At least it worked for me, I think – although I’m admittedly far from an expert in such maaters, and useless with Photoshop when it comes to post-processing.

The Sky Gardens

The sim may not be as complex as somewhere like Alpha and Omega Points, and when not hosting a live event, may appear somewhat quiescent – but to me, both of these facts actually enhance its appeal.

But this doesn’t mean there is not to discover. Even when you’ve finished above ground and taken a trip up to the Floating Islands or the Floating Victorian house, there is more to seek out – if you can find it. Just what is the history of the hidden throne room? And romantics won’t want to miss the crystal garden. I would offer a word of warning, tho, should you find your way underground; the teleport at the town’s manhole can be a little brusque in helping you back to the surface!

As well as exploring, this is a place one can come to when one simply wants to be in-world, but without the pressure of needing to “do” something; the sim invites you to wander, to sit and simply enjoy. It’s a place I come to when feeling reflective. It’s also an attractive visit because it is not only a work that expresses the talents of two well-known SL artists, it is a work that actively promotes the work of other artists as well.

Floating Victorian House

I have to admit I very much like the way in which products from The Looking Glass are presented as a part of the overall build – it is subtle but highy effective and demonstrates very clearly both the build quality involved and how the products can be used. It’s also a clever strategy in that it doesn’t leave items like vendor boards sticking out like sore thumbs. If you do see anything you particularly like, be it a house, a bridge, a street lamp or item of interior decor, it can be found in one of The Looking Glass stores in town. I have to admit, I’ve been sorely tempted by the Floating Island range, given the latest iteration of my own home is built into a floating rock. Truth be told, the waterfall from the Floating Island range still does call to me whenever I visit!

Lighthouse with the landing point to the right, and the Floating House beyond, left

Whether you are looking for a place to visit, somewhere to film or an inspirational location for your photography, The Looking Glass is a fabulous place to visit. Exploration here is easy, with an edge of mystery, and there is much to see and enjoy without it impinging on all your time.

Definitely worth a visit or three!

MOSES in major upgrade

Last week saw the US Army’s MOSES virtual environment, operated by the Simulation & Training Technology Center (STTC), out of Florida, undergo a major upgrade.

During Wednesday and Thursday the 26th & 27th October, the MOSES system was offline to enable the environment to be migrated to a new server platform and network with the capability to support thousands of regions.

Prior to the upgrade, participants in MOSES were advised to create full OAR backups of their estates as an additional safeguard against mishaps in the migration process. Users were also informed that post-migration, all of their landmarks would need to be deleted and replaced, as the MOSES world centre had been relocated to allow for future hypergridding activities.

The migration also gave the STTC the opportunity to re-arrange MOSES into a series of sub-continents focused on the larger projects hosted on the system, with individual regions within the sub-continents renamed by either estate or project name. The sub-continents themselves remained connected to one another by means of water sims and open spaces, in order to continue to present MOSES as a single continuous mass of land and water.

In the lead-up to the migration, the STTC monitored two regions on the MOSES grid in an attempt to broadly determine resource use in an attempt to help determine baseline requirements within the new hardware set-up. Commenting on this monitoring, Douglas Maxwell, Science and Technology Manager for Virtual World Strategic Applications at the STTC commented:

“We have been observing 2 sims that have roughly the same amount of prims (10,000).  Testing has revealed these heavier sims requires at least 50% of a processor and 1Gb of ram to support a meeting of 20 people.

“The current processors are 4-5 years old, so we will need to conduct virtual machine testing on the new cluster to determine how to allocate CPU resources.  However, the memory needs should be consistent.  We will be allocating a minimum of 8Gb to each virtual machine giving us a theoretical prim allocation of 40,000 prims to each sim.  These calculations are very rough as they don’t take into account texture sizes and script activity.”

The older hardware appears to have been dual-core HP servers supporting approximately 120 regions running on 60 CPU cores.These older servers are still used within the new set-up, but are now restricted to providing open water and spaces connecting sub-continents. The new servers average 8-core servers with 64Gb of memory and 80 GB hard drives.

While MOSES was back online on Friday 28th October, the migration work was continuing, with the expectation it would take a few days to complete. However, as of Friday 28th, users were being invited to log back into the system to attend the weekly MOSES Office Hours and try-out the new sims as they became available.

MOSES is still accepting new accounts from suitable parties. These are obtained via the MOSES website, and are vetted by Douglas Maxwell for suitability. While priority is obviously given to military projects, proposals don’t have to be within the military arena in order to gain access to the system.

There are a number of points to consider when applying to use the environment:

  • MOSES is a professional environment, and everyone is expected to maintain decorum. There are no casual users
  • MOSES is a research and development environment, not an operations environment, and as such, subject to software and hardware upgrades that may disrupt use
  • Full region backups from MOSES to local hard drives is fully supported. As Douglas Maxwell puts it, “What you put on MOSES, you own free and clear.”

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Land sale in fact sees 689 private regions added to SL

Tyche Shepherd has issued a revision to her initial findings following last weekend’s land sale by the Lab.

When first surveyed, some 30 minutes after the sale had finished, it appeared that some 322 private regions were added to the grid, leading to a net gain of some 311 regions.

However, a later survey revealed that in fact a staggering total 689 regions were added to the grid as a result of the sale and sims returned to use, leading to a net gain of some 508 private regions after accounting for losses.

Of the total number of sims added to the grid:

  • 464 were open to public access, and so could be surveyed with:
    • 343 being full regions
    • 117 being homestead regions
    • 4 being OpenSpace regions
  • 225 remain closed to public access and have yet to be surveyed as to type

The 464 accessible regions were purchased by a total of 381 individual estates with 252 purchasers having no other holdings. Only five of those purchasing multiple regions brought more that 3.

The revised totals are liable to be the focus of further debate around the “new” and “used” land markets – and those seeking to offload sims to other users may well feel every harder done-by on seeing these revised figures. Those who have paid the set-up fee, and who that have to recoup that on top of the cost of tier might also be aggrieved by these results as well, particularly if the new sims coming into the grid as a result of this sale are used within the commercial / residential markets.

It will be interesting to see what the overall impact of the sale turns out to be in terms of LL’s thinking. 689 regions does make even more of a powerful case for the set-up fees to be reduced (if possible) to something reasonably sensible, as I ruminated on when reporting the original figures released by Tyche.

Of course, the precedent for lowering set-up fees has already been set. Leave us not forget the fee for a full region was once $1675, so on the surface at least it’s not unheard of for LL to adjust this figure in line with costs. As such, it is something the company may opt to do again, and it is certainly more palatable to them than lowering tier, as some are calling for within the community.

Tier is something that will have to be reviewed; the case for reductions being needed in the future is growing. but for now, given the outcome of last weekend’s sale and that it is a) it is easily reproducible as a promotion and b) will likely achieve the same level of success if repeated in a few months time should a boost in revenue be required, one rather suspects LL may well sit on their laurels for a while longer and not hurry into any moves as regards tier or set-up fees just yet.

LEA land rush: October 30th

On Sunday October 30th, the Linden Endowment for the Arts (LEA) will be holding a land rush.

This is for two sims that will form a part of the LEA Land Grant, which will see a total of 20 sims made available through the LEA for art projects for a period of 12 months.

The deails of the land rush are as follows.

  • The land rush will take place in two parts:
    • Part 1: 10:00 SLT for LEA28
    • Part 2: 16:00 for LEA29
  • Those wishing to participate in either part of the rush must join the LEA Special Events Group in order to receive the announcement of when each part of the rush commences
  • Both sims will remain closed until the commencement of each part of land rush
  • At the start of each part, an announcement will be made stating the region is open. Participants should then:
    • Make sure they are wearing the Special Events Group tag
    • Teleport to the region open for the rush
    • Locate one of the big red buttons and press it
  • Successful participants will receive a notifcation that there claim is successful and once the rush is over, they’ll be invited to join the LEA group and will be able to start building.

The land rush will be repeted every two months throughout the year the programme runs, so anyone failing to make a successful claim will be able to try their luck again at the next land rush.

Mesh parametric deformer: the who, what, why and where

As currently implemented, mesh presents a number of problems for those wishing to design or wear mesh clothing. As anyone who has designed or purchased mesh clothing is aware, getting it to fit our avatar shapes in all their rich variety is no easy task. Purchasers can only modify the clothing to a limited extent before they may have to start modifying their shape to fit the clothes, while clothing designers are faced with no alternative but to provide outfits in a range of sizes and / or with various alpha layers to hide body part that might otherwise show through the mesh clothes and ruin their appearance. Hardly ideal situations.

Because of these issues, Maxwell Graf presented a means by which mesh clothing could be made to fit any avatar shape through the development of a Viewer-side parametric deformer. He even opened a JIRA on the idea which gained a lot of support from designers and consumers alike. Sadly, after showing a considerable amount of interest in the idea themselves, Linden Lab downgraded the JIRA  to a status “Someday / Maybe”.

While not actually killing-off the idea, the downgrading did mean that any potential solution defined by the Lab would not be forthcoming while they dealt with other, more pressing issues – and even then, they might not commit resources to development of a solution at all. When the downgrading occurred, it was widely reported – but there the matter might have rested were it not been for a comment made by one Karl Stiefvater, better known to many at one time as Qarl Linden.

“Anyone wanna fund an ex-linden to do it?”

Qarl made this apparently throw-away comment on the NWN blog. Cutting a long story short, the comment caught Maxwell’s attention and started a series of wheels turning. As a result, the Mesh Parametric Deformer Project was born, wherein if $5400 could be raised, Qarl would produce code to a given requirement that would provide a compromise solution to the clothing issue, and this code would be made available for adoption into SL Viewers. The project was set-up with the aim of raising the funding in 60 days, or of rolling forward until such time as this target was reached.

As it turned out, the project didn’t require even the initial 60 days; the target figure was achieved on the 24th October, just 20 days after the project was first announced.

However you look at it, this is an impressive achievement – and one which may have far wider implications for code and Viewer development in the future. So – whither next for the project?

Before answering that question, let’s deal with the issue of precisely what a parametric deformer is. Speaking recently on Designing Worlds, Maxwell Graf described it thus:

“[It’s] an invisible ‘cage’ that hovers slightly above all of the different points of your body in Second Life. What would happen is, when you put on an item of clothing that is made up of mesh polygons, it would slightly shrink-wrap to fit that cage, and the cage in turn would keep it a specific slight distance away from your body at all times, no matter where your body happens to move. The end effect of this would be that it would appear that whatever clothing you put on would shrink to fit your shape, no matter what that shape happened to be.”

This, he goes on to explain, solves a number of problems for both the user and the creator, “Primarily, the cage deformer, in a single layer, will make your clothing fit from a user standpoint, hopefully without an alpha map.

“From a creator standpoint, it will eliminate the need to do multiple sizes. It will [also] give you the option of rigging and adjusting the weights on your clothing or not – because this feature will be able to be turned on and off. So, if you still want to rig items you can, but if you don’t want to learn how to do that, and it’s extremely difficult to sort through all that, then you don’t have to.”

Maxwell Graf, speaking recently on Designing Worlds

Of Code and Viewers

The code itself applies to the Viewer – there is no additional code required at the server end of things. As such, the completed code will be available to any Viewer that wishes to include it.

However, this project should not be seen as a group of users getting fed-up with Linden Lab and marching off to “do their own thing”; nor should it been seen as some kind of “rival” to any potential Linden Lab may consider either now or in the future. Quite the opposite, in fact, as Max explained. “This isn’t something we wanted to make [into] some kind of statement like, ‘Oh, well if you won’t do it, we’ll do it without you!’ or anything like that.

“This was more a case that we understand that [LL’s] resources are limited, and quite honestly that stability is an issue with the [official ] client … But it’s also important that if the possibility existed to do this project and to move forward with it, then it could benefit everybody, and that was really the goal here.”

Mesh: can be messy

In other words, the project is being undertaken with the full knowledge of Linden Lab. Indeed, such is the openness surrounding it that the Lab have stated that, in lieu of them being able to identify an alternative solution they would wish to pursue, and providing the code Qarl develops does precisely what it is intended to do and he’s prepared to sign a Code Contribution Agreement (something Qarl has stated he would be OK with), they would be willing to consider adopting the completed code into the official Viewer.

That’s quite a positive piece of feedback. Of course, it doesn’t in any way guarantee LL will adopt the code, but the offer is certainly better than a flat-out refusal to have anything to do with it.

In fact, looked at objectively, the project is actually a win / win situation for the user community and the Lab. The user community stands to get something that is viewed as a major barrier to the more widespread adoption of mesh. LL stand to get the solution for, potentially, a fraction of the cost it might have otherwise cost them to develop internally.

As such, Qarl is the ideal candidate for the work. for a start, he is a known quantity within Linden Lab, having worked for them. He is also respected with the user community as a whole, and is known for bringing us the sculpty. Perhaps most importantly, he was the man who worked on the initial development of mesh rendering capability within the platform. He therefore brings a lot to the table in terms of his knowledge and abilities.

Not Just Second Life

But it is not just Second Life that will benefit from the development of a parametric deformer – and we mustn’t lose sight of this fact.

OpenSim has an SL-compatible implementation of mesh that was recently released in version 0.7.2. Like Second Life, this implementation suffers from the same issues around the creation and use of mesh clothing.

Given this, it is obvious that having a deformer available within the Viewer has enormous relevance to the OpenSim community, something that has been recognised by SL and OpenSim developer Judsen Jonstone, who has been working with Max and Qarl to engage the OpenSim community in the project. These efforts have resulted in a number of contributions for the project coming from the OpenSim community.

So the Money is In; Where Next?

Now the money has been raised, the way is clear for the work to commence. I asked Max when this was likely to be, if it hasn’t already happened, and whether he and Qarl had discussed a schedule.  “I think he will start immediately if he hasn’t already,” he replied, “He seemed pretty familiar with this type of feature, and that will make things easier.”

If all goes according to plan, the code itself will be written and available in four or so weeks. What happens after that is pretty much down to those Viewer developers that decide to adopt the code. This means that while it is hoped the code will start to appear in Viewers sooner rather than later, it’s not going to suddenly materialise overnight.

However, TPV support is as critical for the project as getting the code written, as they are more likely to be in a position to immediately adopt the code once it is available. With this in mind, I asked Max if there has been any feedback from TPV developers about the work. “Some of them are chomping at the bit for this just like I am!” he replied, “I know Phoenix, Exodus and Singularity developers have [all] expressed interest in it, and there’s the OS Grid as well.”

It Doesn’t End There

But it doesn’t just end with the adoption of this particular iteration of the code by the Viewer community. What is being delivered will allow you to wear a single layer of mesh clothing that will “shrink-to-fit”.

But what if it were possible to have a multi-layer deformer that allowed multiple items of mesh clothing to be worn, with each successive layer conforming not only to your shape – but also to the mesh clothing beneath it?

This would allow you to wear mesh pants, tops jackets, all of which would shrink to fit your shape and one another without any bits of clothing or your body “poking through” the layer(s) covering them. Indeed, with such a multi-layer approach, You could even wear a new mesh avatar – robot, gorilla, whatever is out there – and the mesh clothes you wear with your “normal” shape would instantly “fit” over the avatar shape when worn with it. Each layer would instantly and properly conform to whatever lay beneath it.

Exciting idea, isn’t it?

Well, this could well be the next step for the deformer. Whether it in fact happens depends upon how well-received the initial single-layer solution is received. “The layered/hierarchy system is something that would definitely be a second stage for this, though how readily that will be done depends on how this first one goes,” Max said in confirmation of this. “I do know it will be easier once the first system is in place, but not sure if its something that can just be easily dropped into place or what that will require.”

Should the decision be taken to go ahead and enhance the deformer in this way at a later date, then a new project will be established. However, until that decision is taken, Max requests that people stop making contributions to the current project because the goal has been reached.

When considering the future, it’s impossible not to speculate – as some already have – as to whether this might mark the start of a new approach to developing specific features for the Viewer environment, with other attempting the funded route.However, Max is clear that he hopes this isn’t the case. “I don’t think that this should set a new precedent or become the accepted standard for feature development;” he informed me, “We shouldnt have to pay for features like this as a rule. In this instance, however, I think it was a viable solution.”

Positive Reflection

Whatever the future – both in terms of what happens with regards to enhancing the parametric deformer once delivered, or on the subject of the funding of specific Viewer enhancement projects – one thing remains undeniably clear. Raising $5400 in just 20 days is remarkable; something Max himself is keen to acknowledge as we wrap our conversation. “I think this is a great statement by the community that we want to see SL continue to evolve into something more usable, and we want to help push mesh to be what it can be,” he said. “This is a positive reflection on how much we as a community really want to see mesh become more accepted here.”

For my part, I can only agree, add my congratulations all who have contributed to the project. Every who has should feel justifiably proud of their involvement. Kudos to all, and I look forward to reporting on he the work progresses in the coming weeks. I’d also like, in closing, to thank Maxwell Graf for his time and input in making this article possible, and also thank Saffia Widdershins and Elrik Merlin for contributions to this article for their permission to use material first broadcast in Designing Worlds.