Firestorm and Phoenix: updates and support notes

firestorm-logoThis week’s Phoenix Hour saw a couple of guests sharing the sofa with Jessica: Ed Merryman and Lette Ponnier, who would be joining Jessica and Phaylen in a discussion on matters relating to Viewer support. Ed actually heads-up the Viewer support side of the Phoenix / Firestorm group, and both he and Lette provide classes in using Firestorm.

To kick things off, however, Jessica ran though the latest status for both Phoenix and Firestorm before going on to pass comment on the new LL Viewer UI – which, at the time of her comments, was about to be merged with the Development Viewer code but had not actually been released for anyone to see.

The Viewers

Overall, not a lot has changed since my last report on The Phoenix Hour – the team are really waiting on LL to resolve issues their end before making any further releases of either Phoenix or Firestorm.

Phoenix Status

  • The mesh rendering code, supplied by Henri Beauchamp, is in the Phoenix code repository
  • The current graphic issues being experienced with the Firestorm Mesh Beta (and other mesh-capable Viewers) will be in the code for mesh rendering in Phoenix; Jessica estimated that around 50% of people using mesh-enabled Viewers are caught with the issue (basic shaders causing Viewer crashes)
  • This issues are Linden Lab issues, and as such, Phoenix is being held pending a fix or fixes from the Lab
  • The team have been working with LL with these bugs, and a version of Firestorm would be pushed to the Beta group to assist with further testing on the working being undertaken to fix things.

Firestorm Status

  • The next release of Firestorm is good to go, but again awaiting the GPU-related fixes from Linden Lab
  • All blocking issues from with the Firestorm project that might have delayed a release have now been resolved
  • There are still a number of targets the team would like to achieve prior to a release, but these are not blockers to a release; so if a graphics fix comes out of LL before all the targets have been reached, a release may still go ahead
  • Issues and fixes for Firestorm can be tracked via the project JIRA – although people will need to register in order to gain access
  • Focus has been placed on Firestorm locking-up and going into “(not responding)” mode and also inventory load times; Nicky Dasmijn has, in Jessica’s words, “Made a world of difference” to the issues
    • Jessica is convinced even those who didn’t have major inventory load time issues are going to notice a significant performance improvements as a result of this work once the new release can be rolled out
    • As an example of the improvements, she stated her own 72K+ inventory now takes around 20 seconds to load!
  • While the new mesh uploader will be in the next release, as per the last Phoenix Hour, there are some issues around the physics weight calculations for mesh objects (which are presumably being worked on)
  • New feature: Jessica revealed during discussions that a new feature has been added to Firestorm for the next release: right-click -> reload texture. This forces the server to re-send a given texture (worn or on a prim) which has failed to rez.

So to repeat: progress on both Phoenix and Firestorm has been good, but until the graphics issues are resolved by Linden Lab, there will not be any releases. As a side note, Jessica and Ed said the Lab themselves are indicating it will possibly take another two weeks of effort on the Lab’s part to resolve the issues – but this is not guaranteed.

New Official Viewer UI

Jessica expressed disappointment around the way in which Linden Lab has handled the  new Viewer 3.x UI, going so far as to state the view that working “in secret” on the UI was “Wrong. In so many ways”. Given the degree with which TPV developers working on V3-based code have been trying to make the Viewer more accessible and acceptable to die-hard V1.x users, one has to admit it is hard not to agree with her – although not necessarily for the reasons she cites.

Had the Phoenix team, for example, been made aware of LL’s plans, they could have made a choice as to whether to pursue the massive amount of effort they’ve put into creating a V1-style option for the Firestorm UI or whether to direct that effort elsewhere – such as in supplying even more help to LL in trying to resolve the current graphics problems. As it stands, a lot of effort on the part of the team may well have been wasted, and LL have run the risk of alienating TPV developers who might otherwise be well-placed to assist them with future issues.

However, the flip side to this is, of course, that the new UI hasn’t been developed “in secret” in the strictest sense. While the code may have been developed without much in the way of consultation with the user community, Linden Lab nevertheless do have over 18 months of considerable feedback from users on the Viewer 2 UI. They’ve also taken positive steps to better understand its limitations for themselves, as demonstrated at SLCC 2011. Ergo, the redevelopment work isn’t directly comparable to the situation that brought about Viewer 2.0, with the work being carried out in an apparent vacuum.

Support

The core of the show was devoted to support issues – especially in relation to Firestorm, but some of which also applied to Phoenix. This started with a review of the Firestorm courses the team offer, the schedule for which can be found on the Phoenix / Firestorm wiki, before moving on to the most common issues the support team deal with.

Bake Fail

Bake fail is the number one issue for the Phoenix / Firestorm support team, despite the fact it is not actually a Viewer issue per se. Rather it is a server-derived issue involving a communications failure, such as between the server and your computer, or the server and someone else’s computer / a group of computers. Typical examples of each are:

  • Everyone else sees you in an outfit you just changed into, but you still see yourself in the previous outfit = you have suffered bake fail
  • You see yourself wearing the outfit you’ve just changed into, but others see you still in your previous outfit = others have suffered bake fail.

Oz Linden has defined this problem as being the result of a series bugs within the rendering pipe (not all of them directly connected with bake fail itself) that have individually been treated with a band-aid at the time they occurred, with each bug causing the next bug in the chain. This has resulted in an issue that – as much as Oz has stated he’d personally like to see fixed – is next to impossible to sort out without significant time and effort (and risk) being put into the rendering pipe itself – a piece of code LL tend to treat with the utmost caution.

Once again, Phoenix provide a wiki page with information on how to fix a bake fail problem.

Back-up Your Appearance

Ed makes a point of expressing the value in making sure you make a “backup” copy of your appearance as far as you can – skin, hair shape & suitable clothing. If you have severe rendering issues, and REPLACE CURRENT OUTFIT isn’t available as an inventory option because it is grayed-out, drag the folder with the back-up from your inventory and drop it onto your avatar.

Blurry Textures

If your avatar bakes, then the textures go blurry, you rebake & go blurry, try:

  • Reducing your texture memory allotment by around 75% of the current setting
    • Firestorm: PREFERENCES -> GRAPHICS -> HARDWARE SETTINGS
    • Phoenix: PREFERENCES -> GRAPHICS -> HARDWARE OPTIONS
  • Reducing the number of HTTP concurrent requests by around 50% of the current setting
    • Firestorm: PREFERENCE -> GRAPHICS -> RENDERING
    • Phoenix: PREFERENCES -> PHOENIX -> PAGE 2 -> ADVANCED GRAPHICS
  • If both of these fail to resolve the issue, disable the HTTP Get function entirely (uncheck USE HTTP TEXTURES in Firestorm or GET HTTP TEXTURES in Phoenix, which are contained in the respective Viewer Preferences tabs defined in the above steps. If you disable the option, make sure you clear cache to avoid texture corruptions.
HTTP get texture options – possible aid in resolving avatar blurring issues

I See Grey People

An interesting tip from Ed Merryman formed a part of the bake fail discussion: if you see a grey avatar or avatars near you, don’t ask them to rebake – try changing your Group tag.

DNS Issues

Lette offer a number of solutions were offered for those experiencing a DNS related error on trying to log-in to Second Life:

  • Check your anti-virus software, some anti-virus software mistakenly view the Viewer as somehow harmful / trying to make an illegal connection and block it from doing so (some may even throw out a virus infection warning)
  • Try flushing your DNS cache
  • Change your DNS server to Google Public DNS or OpenDNS.

DNS errors appear to be on the increase across all Viewers, although why this should be isn’t clearly understood at this point in time.

The Phoenix / Firestorm Wiki

One of the best places to get help for either Phoenix or Firestorm is through the wiki. This includes details on basic troubleshooting, dealing with issues such as bake fail (as described above) and information on Firestorm classes, etc. The wiki also has a number of pages that cover broader issues and items, including:

Both of these pages are being continually updated, so people are asked to take a peek at them when encouraging issues.

The Phoenix Team Halloween Party

At 14:00 SLT on Saturday 29th October, the Phoenix team will be hosting its second annual Halloween Costume Party. Arrangements are still being made, but details and an LM will be sent out via the support group nearer the date.

See the show in full on Metamix TV.

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Linden Lab launch a land sale

This weekend, Linden Lab are running a Land sale for both full and Homestead regions.

Case submissions received between 12:01 SLT today, Friday 21st October 2011 and 23:59 SLT on Sunday, 23rd October, and which are approved will have their associated set-up fees waived.

This means someone wishing to have a full private region will gain a saving of $705 (+VAT in Europe) and someone wanting to have a Homestead region (subject to them already owning a full region) will save $280 (+VAT in Europe).

But how attractive is the offer likely to be?

The full details of the promotion are available on the offer announcement page and on the promotional wiki page. This latter page also includes instructions on how to apply for a region as well.

Key points in the offer are:

  • To be eligible for the promotion, applicants must:
    • Have a valid method of payment on file when placing an order
    • Follow LL’s Island Naming Guidelines
    • Place their orders between 12:01 SLT on Friday 21st October 2011 and 23:59 on Sunday 23rd October 2011; orders received outside of these times will not be processed
    • Pay all associated tier as part of the monthly billing cycle, together with any VAT required, with the first payment due on taking delivery of the sim (normally combined with the set-up fee)
  • Developed (themed) islands are not part of the promotional offer
  • In the case of Homestead order, you must own at least one full private island sim
  • The offer cannot be combined with any other LL promotional offer.

All common starting terrains are available as part of the offer. Regions should be delivered within 24 hours of order acceptance.

It’s going to be interesting to see the response to the offer – if only for bloggers elsewhere. Much ado has been made about SL’s impending demise as a result of a declining private region count on several fronts, so doubtless there will be some out there who will paint this as a move to try to reverse the slide (something I don’t actually agree with – were it so, one would think the offer would be extended over a slightly longer period).

It’ll also be interesting to see, overall, how much impact this offer has for those who already have significant sim holdings in SL, and to whom this offer is likely to have something of a greater appeal – especially where Homesteads are concerned. How much appeal it has to the private individual within SL, however, is still questionable. The problem with land “ownership” in SL isn’t so much the set-up fee (although that obviously hurts), it’s the tremendously high tier fees.

However, whether Linden Lab release figures related to this offer is questionable; it’s likely the answer will only come in time via Tyche Shepherd’s monthly Grid Survey.

For more information on land ownership in general see the following LL knowledge base articles:

Out of the closet: The Adult Community forum goes public

As Ciaran Laval reports, the Adult Community finally gets a visible forum section today.

This seems to be the latest step in Linden Lab’s long overdue acknowledgement that Second Life has a huge user base that engages in more “adult” activities, and does so despite mainstream media’s attempts to present us, tabloid-like, as a group that operates somewhere between the level of sleaze and the dirty brown overcoat brigade.

The Adult Content Forum itself isn’t actually that new – when Blondin was around, there was a closed-door Adult forum in which a selected few were able to participate. More recently (and possibly somewhat telling), since Amanda van Nuys (Amanda Linden) departed the Lab things have loosened-up somewhat.

  • There is an Adult section in the Destination Guide
  • At SLCC 2011, Viale Linden openly expressed a desire to see Adult content and activities better promoted
  • There has been – albeit laden with controversy and still awaiting a final outcome – an attempt towards establishing an Adult Gateway which can direct those coming into to SL who are specifically interested in adult activities towards suitable destinations around the grid.
Adult content in the Destination Guide – part of the opening up of Adult Content, which now includes an Adult Forum in the SL website

The new forum is subject to the usual Community Guidelines, which include specific warnings about posts keeping to the “General” rating, and that nude images, etc., should not be posted. However, this shouldn’t in any way hamper the use of the forum to discuss adult-oriented matters and themes – we all should be able to do so without resorting to the use of sexually explicit or vulgar language, etc. We are, um, adults, after all.

Whether or not the forum moderators will allow a little more latitude with this forum, however, should anyone stray near the edge, remains to be seen. Moderation within the forums as a whole has sometimes been akin to sledgehammer-to-walnut responses.

It’s going to be interesting to see how the forum develops now it is in the public domain. Coming on top of other moves by Linden Lab to make the Adult elements of Second Life more a part of the community as a whole and more obvious and easier for people to engage with at whatever level they choose, this should really be welcomed.

Kudos, Viale!