Niran’s Viewer 1.23.5 and more: daring to be experimental

NrianV Dean has been putting in a lot of work on Niran’s Viewer over the past couple of months, with new versions rolling-out fairly regularly. Many of these have experimental functions added to them – so much so that NiranV has taken to jokingly referring to the development work as coming from Niran’s Lab. He’s been keeping me appraised of updates and changed almost daily, but in-world projects and real life concerns of late have meant that I’ve not really been able to take Niran’s Viewer for a proper spin since release 1.13.

Releases 1.24 (Feb 14th) and 1.25 (Feb 15th – gives you some idea of the speed of updates!), have given me cause to play a little bit of catch-up. Release 1.24 was itself essentially a series of fixes and tweaks to the 1.23.5 release (also made on the 14th February), while version 1.25 adds version 0.2 of Qarl’s Parametric Deformer to the Viewer and includes some graphics related tweaks. You can therefore take this review as more-or-less a n outline of the key elements from all three of these releases (1.23.5 through 1.25).

If you’ve previously installed Niran’s Viewer – particularly 1.23.5, it’s probably best that you opt for a completely clean install of either 1.24 or 1.25, although I do comment on a couple of pre-1.23.5 updates as well.

There are two flavours of the Viewer EXE on offer – dedicated 32- and 64-bit variants. As Niran’s is compiled Large Array Aware, I’m not entirely clear on the difference, but I gather the 32-bit version of the EXE was a special request.

On start-up, there are no overt changed to the Viewer’s UI: as is common for Niran’s, the buttons are split between the left and right sides of the screen, the Navigation / Favourites bars are on, and the Destination Guide initially opens by default, as is common for most V3.2-based Viewers.Which is not to say the changes aren’t there.

Navigation Bar: Now You See Me, Now You Don’t

For those that both like to use the Navigation / Favourites Bar but at the same time find it slightly intrusive on their world view, Niran’s now includes a nifty auto-hide function. Enabled through PREFERENCES->VIEWER->UI SETTINGS, this will automatically hide the Navigation / Favourites Bar when the mouse isn’t positioned over it, and replace it with the Mini-location Bar. hovering the mouse at the top of the screen automatically displays the Navigation / Favourites Bar once more. Neat!

“Are you lookin’ (down) at me….?” – Camera Updates

On the subject of views, the Camera options have been altered. NiranV is keen to introduce more game-like elements to the Viewer – we’ve seen it with the experimental “Main Menu” (F1 – of which more below). Now with the camera, he’s replaced the traditional Front view with an overhead view. As a slight aside: does anyone actually use the Front View? I always tend to find myself orbiting the camera around myself.

Looking down on oneself

To me, the initial view is somewhat high, so many using the option are liable to find themselves using the Camera View Angle slider (PREFERENCES->ADVANCED-> CAMERA) to close the distance between themselves and their avatar.

Staying with the Camera and Preferences, 1.24 introduces something I’ve been waiting for in Viewers for a goodly while: the ability to alter camera offsets without the need to twiddle about with Debug options. As many know, I’m a firm convert to Penny Patton’s Camera Offsets for SL (if you haven’t tried them, you should), so it’s great to see a Viewer that includes the ability to change offsets on-the-fly through Preferences. Kudos, NiranV!

Camera offsets within Preferences

Staying with Preferences

Regular Niran’s users will noticed as well that the entire Advanced tab has been revamped in this release, with Camera, Movement and Mouselook options separated into their own button-activated sub-tabs. This also marks a departure from the more usual “sliding panel” approach seen to date within Niran’s Viewer with regards to sub-tabs (and which can still be seen within the Viewer tab, for example. Referring to this re-vamp in his blog, NiranV states the new button approach may be added to the Viewer and Advanced Graphics tabs should it prove popular with users.

Also new to the Viewer (from version 1.22 onwards), and found in the Advanced Graphics tab are control from the new Visual Auto-mute function, complete with colour-codes guides to possible settings.

Visual Auto-mute controls

Avatar Animations

Work has been done around avatar animations with this release. Most notably for those developing animations, release 1.24 of Niran’s provides full support for uploading .ANIM files, as supplied by Jonathan Yap (see STORM-1803). Niran also adds his own touches in the form of options to control how your avatar reacts when being rotated. NiranV has included a couple of videos to demonstrate the functions, and I’ve taken the liberty of embedding one of them here.

Build, People and Rendering

Having just completed a vast amount of work on an obsession of mine, which involved working with some relatively small cross-section prims, I found myself constantly annoyed at the way in which the white stretch anchors repeatedly blocked access to the red, green and blue X, Y, Z stretch points on a prim. NiranV offers a solution to this problem: providing WASD is set to movement (rather than starting chat), you can press and hold the X key to eliminate the white “corner” anchors to ease access to the X, Y ands Z stretch points.

NiranV has also revised the People floater with this release, replacing the FRIENDS tab with an ACQUAINTANCES tab, his argument being most people we have on our lists are more like acquaintances than true friends, and one cannot fault his logic on this in many respects. Also with this release, the Acquaintances List will show the full set of permissions you’ve set for friends (ability to map you, etc.).

Finally, and also coming out of Niran’s Viewer Labs, is a new rendering option that may have potential use in the future. NiranV explains it thus on his blog: “One thing big has been done here except Tofu´s new project which has been merged, it’s called worldspace semi-random macro-dappling, which creates random big darkness spots on a SIM and your Avatar depending on the sun position. Later this could be combined with the cloud X and Y movement to create a good but faked cloud shadow effect!” At present only the depth / darkness of the effect can be altered – but it will be interesting to see where this goes.

The Main Menu

Finally, Niran has been working on his Main Menu idea for the last few releases. I first covered this in my review of release 1.13. Back then I commented on the fact that using ESC to invoke the menu wasn’t perhaps the best choice, given that key is traditionally associated with the Camera. NiranV took this on-board, and the menu has, for the last few releases, been accessed by pressing F1. The style of the menu has also been changed, as shown below.

Main Menu – “compass”

The look is apparently borrowed from a popular video game. I’ll be honest and stay that while I have no idea how well it has gone down with regular Niran’s users, I actually find it jarring and incongruous compared to the rest of the Viewer, factors that tend to make me shy away from using it.


Niran’s Viewer is intended for high-end machines and continues to get tweaked in that direct and further releases come out. As such, it’s a little unfair of me to comment on performance in some respects, because my hardware is well below the recommended hardware specifications for the Viewer (the closest I get to meeting them is that I’m running a quad-core CPU). My graphics card in particular now struggles mightily with Niran’s if I attempt to use deferred rendering & shadows, a factor that has, sadly, prevented me from using the Viewer quite as much as I might otherwise like.

That said, I’ve put the Viewer to several hours of reasonable use, bouncing around the grid, trying different environments, playing with the settings (as some of the screen caps here will show!) and generally poking and prodding, and the Viewer has taken it all in its stride (albeit without deferred rendering). The changes NiranV is introducing to the Viewer are both novel and leading-edge. There are some that are very practical – for me, the camera offsets in Preferences are a great addition, and those wishing to make use of the Visual Auto-mute option will find the inclusion of both that as a set of sliders and the annotation for settings that goes with it as being of benefit. Other additions – such as the top-down camera view are potentially more specialised, and it’ll be interesting to see how popular these prove to be for a wider audience of user.

Related Links

Pathfinding prepares to blaze a trail on Aditi

Update: Linden Lab have made an initial annoucement regarding pathfinding.

In his December 2011 address, Rodvik touched on some of the work Linden Lab would be continuing through the early part of 2012  – such as performance and stability – and outlined some of the new features we can expect to start seeing in 2012. Of the latter, he particularly highlighted pathfinding, by saying, “For creators our first new feature for 2012 will be pathfinding. Because worlds feel most vibrant when they are full of life, one of our next focuses for Second Life is the ability to make high-quality “life” within it. So in 2012, we will be rolling out more advanced features that will allow the creation of artificial life and artificial people to be much smoother. For starters, in Q1, we’ll unveil a new, robust pathfinding system that will allow objects to intelligently navigate around the world while avoiding obstacles.”

NPCs: Alpha testing on Aditi soon?

Details of this new capability, aimed towards what are popularly referred to as Non-player Characters or NPCs, is now beginning to emerge.

Rand Linden has updated the pathfinding overview page on the SL wiki to provide initial information, together with an outline pathfinding API page. There is also a set of alpha release notes which suggest that people will be able to start testing the new capabilities on the Beta grid and include a bullet list of currently known issues.

The API and overview pages give insight into the LSL commands that are to be associated with pathfinding – most notably llCreateCharacter, described as, “Convert the current linkset to an AI character. By default, the character’s shape will be an upright capsule approximately the size of the linkset, adjustable via the options list. The linkset must use mesh accounting”, as well as associated commands intended to assist in various modes of movement (and evasion).

The overview page is interesting in that it gives more information on the fact that pathfinding will not itself animate an NPC:

Pathfinding is not an animation system. It does not provide a way to animate a biped or quadruped in conjunction with the new movement functionality. You must use existing methods to animate characters. Nevertheless, pathfinding enables more dynamic movement and provides a better system for controlling character movement than was previously possible. For more information on creating animations, see Animation.

The alpha release notes provide a list of the Aditi test regions however, at the time of writing none appear to be open to public use as yet – I was unable to access any of them earlier today, either via the World Map or via the use of the Address Bar within the Navigation Bar of the Viewer. The four regions in question are (SLurls):

  • PathTest1 (secondlife://Aditi/secondlife/PathTest1/131/101/23)
  • PathTest2 (secondlife://Aditi/secondlife/PathTest2/100/170/26)
  • PathTest3 (secondlife://Aditi/secondlife/PathTest3/103/127/23)
  • PathTest4 (secondlife://Aditi/secondlife/PathTest4/127/194/29)

Given they are on the Beta grid, the most obvious way of accessing them is to log-in to Aditi and use the World Map to locate them prior to teleporting.

According to the alpha release notes, the pathfinding commands will only be available on these regions, which appear to include various obstacles and courses NPCs using the functions can attempt to negotiate.

Pathfinding regions

A pathfinding tutorial is also in the offing, although the page for it is currently little more than a placeholder at present – again, expect more updates as they become available.There is also a wiki index page for a category of pathfinding, which should be of assistance in quickly locating the broader information on the subject as well as details of specific dedicated or associated LSL commands.

From this, it would appear that LL are pretty much keeping to the schedule outlined by Rodvik at the end of last year and that by the time you read this, the pathfinding test regions on Aditi may well already be open to public access. For those who are keen to get involved in the project, the updated wiki pages are worth keeping an eye on in lieu of more direct information coming through other channels, such as the blog or technology forum.