Lust: loss, life and a little metaphor in Second Life

Had it not been for Miro Collas, I’d probably not have discovered The Sand Hills Country, Sei Ixtar’s powerfully evocative creation, for some considerable time. And I’d all the less for not having done so.

I often wax lyrical about the places I explore in Second Life, but The Sand Hills Country, covering the Homestead region of Lust, is deserving of everything I can say about it – and far more. It is not only a wonderfully immersive place to explore it is also one which I found – whether Sei (Sey to his friends) intended it to be or not – to be rich in metaphors, which adds enormously to its appeal.

The Sand Hill Country
The Sand Hills Country

On arriving at The Sand Hill Country, the first thing you notice is the custom environment Sey has created. I’m one for frequently using the viewer’s depth-of-field to create some atmospheric (or as other might fairly put it, “blurred” :)) images. With The Sand Hills Country, Sey has added horizon haze, together with a “skydome” for the sky, both of which create incredible atmosphere and feel to the region, giving it a rich depth (although the skydome colour might also be somewhat reproducible using windlight) All of the snaps in this article and on my Flickr stream accompanying this post have been taken using the defaults applied to the region.

The Sand Hills Country

A sign near to the arrival point (literally just across the road, at the bottom of the steps leading to a derelict house) is a notecard giver. This provides background information on the region, including the fact that autoreturn is OFF – so visitors are free to rez items when visiting, but are also asked to please clean things up before they leave.The description of the region is straightforward, yet also opens the door to allowing one’s thoughts to wander free:

A rural landscape overwhelmed by desert, but not only… Suspended between time and space, take a breath, explore, and enjoy this unique scene.

The Sandy Hill Country
The Sandy Hills Country

Looking around, it is hard not to imagine one has been transported back to Steinbeck’s dust bowl era and The Grapes of Wrath, although potentially with a bit more water here.  To one side of the region lay sand hills, ever-encroaching and washing against the edges of a lone farm. While wheat is still growing in the fields and sheep and cows do still graze, things are not going well; it would appear that people are up and leaving, as the shell of a house overlooking the wheat field testifies.

The poignancy of the imagery is evident elsewhere, be it in the nesting box with eggs within and a mother bird guarding the entrance or the old, silent, “nodding donkey” pumpjack. Such is the power of this imagery that it is hard not to view it as a metaphor for the whole of Second Life and our varying attitudes toward it. Many do see the platform as slowly dying, perhaps a victim of its own initial rapid growth as a result of premature exploitation; and this is perhaps mirrored by the encroaching sand in the region, and the broken pumpjack and shattered warehouse with the deserted house beyond. Everything is washed out, dull, empty. People have moved on, leaving vacant spaces in their wake. Certainly, I couldn’t help but find strong symbolism in the fact that the only real colour in this part of the region comes from a couple of lifebouys floating in the water…

The Sand Hills Country
The Sand Hills Country

Yet here is also hope for the future, crops are still being gown; sheep and cattle still graze, ducks swim and feed – and new life is still entering the world, as shown by a nest box filled with eggs and watched over by a mother bird; it’s almost as if nature is whispering, “There is still hope.”

I’ve no idea if any of this is intentional on Sey’s part, or simply the wanderings of my over-active imagination. And it doesn’t really matter. The Sand Hills Country is a beautiful and creative study, whether you are simply looking for a new place to visit and share, or if you are seeking a place which offers a rich vein of photographic opportunities or if you’ll feeling somewhat philosophical about (Second) Life, the universe or everything – or whether you feel a combination of all three.

Why not go see for yourself? I doubt you’ll be disappointed.

The Sand Hill Country
The Sand Hills Country

Related Links

With thanks to Miro Collas.

SL project news week 6 (1): servers, viewer, materials

Deployments for Week 6

A full set of deployments on the channels this week.

On Tuesday 5th February, the Main channel received the server maintenance project deployed to LeTigre in week 5. This has miscellaneous minor bug fixes and new features – release notes.

On Wednesday 6th February, the Release candidate channels should receive the following:

  • BlueSteel should receive code for materials processing. There is still no project viewer publicly available for this project. When one becomes available, notices will be posted on the Project Viewer page, the Tools and Technology Blog, and STORM-1905release notes
  • LeTigre should receive a new maint-server project to fix miscellaneous crash modes, and which  offers minor performance improvements – release notes
  • Magnum should receive an update to the interest list code and support for materials processing. The interest list update should specifically address the bot / bandwidth problem reported on in last week’s updaterelease notes

As ever, a forum thread has been created for the discussion of the deployment packages, or any issues arising therefrom.

In late 2012 some regions (noticeably Homesteads) starting experiencing issues related to their physics memory. Investigations by Simon Linden revealed that part of the problem lay with these regions experiencing repeated navmesh rebakes, with each rebake consuming server memory with the result that multiple rebakes were leaving regions in need of a restart. Simon also confirmed that not all of the triggers generating a request appear to be linked to the actual need for a rebake (altering some estate / parcel settings can trigger a request, for example), and developed a fix for the issue. Simon believes this fix will be promoted to a Release Channel this week, although it is absent by name and description from the release notes at present.

Viewer News

Viewer releases are again unblocked, with further development viewer (incl. CHUI) made at the end of the week 5. Currently, CHUI looks to be the next project in line to be merged to the 3.4.5 code (with the project version already merged to the viewer-dev 3.4.6 code). This could make CHUI the first of the current projects affecting the viewer to reach a beta viewer release, but the timescales and order are far from definitive at this point – so it is possible CHUI may still be delayed in reaching the 3.4.5 beta code.

Materials Processing

Further to the week 4 update, it now appears scripting support may become available with  materials processing, although a) it will not be in the initial release; b) there appear to be considerable concerns on the Lab’s side of things as to the potential impact. Speaking at the Server Beta meeting on Thursday 31st January, Maestro Linden said the option for scripted control of normal and specular maps had been removed from the original proposal out of concern for it being exploited and used to thrash the server and rendering pipeline.

Speaking at the Content Creation User Group meeting on Monday 5th February, Geenz Spad, who co-authored the original proposal and who is working on the viewer side of the project, struck a more conciliatory tone. While confirming script support will not be available for normal and specular maps, he commented that this is in part because normal and specular maps don’t “plug into” existing means to manipulate diffuse (texture) maps using scripts. He went on, “I’m not saying no one would add scripting for the *new* parameters. Just that it won’t make it as part of the first release; think of it as a ‘we didn’t have time’ sort of thing.”  Whether or not support for scripted control of normal and specular maps remains to be seen, commenting on the matter, Nyx Linden said, “That would be a feature request to submit after the first release :),” – so it is likely the Lab will see what the demand is like prior to committing to anything, one way or the other, again allowing for the network / rendering concerns which have been voiced on their side.

In terms of animating normal and specular maps, Geenz confirmed that all current methods of animating textures will work with the additional maps, which I had more-or-less confirmed through my own rough tests, as reported in my sneak peek at the (then) latest version of the pre-release materials viewer.

Back in week 3, I discussed the fact that normal and specular maps require a viewer to be running in deferred mode (“Lighting and Shadows” in the Advanced options of the Graphic tab in v3-based viewers) in order for their effects to be seen, and gave a short overview how deferred can be used without actually having to have shadows enabled. This post was followed by a short discussion on possibly renaming the option to something more obvious to users.

Well, it appears that someone is a few steps ahead of things on this. In the most recent versions of the pre-release materials viewer, Lighting and Shadows is renamed to “Advance Lighting Model”.

Materials processing: the option formerly known as "Lighting and Shadows" - soon to appear in a project viewer Materials processing: the option formerly known as “Lighting and Shadows” – soon to appear in a project viewer

It’s still a little bit of a mouthful, but it may help when it comes to explaining how materials processing works. As it stands a project viewer for materials might be available by the end of week 6.

Other Items

What’s in a Name?

Those who make  full permission items intended for use by other creators as a part of their products can often face a frustrating problem: finding themselves in receipt of a call for assistance about the items in which their products have been used – as it is their name recorded in the Creator field, rather than the name of the person who made the item itself.

While this can be negated in some degree, results aren’t always perfect, and requires no small amount of fiddling around when it comes to full perm mesh items. This being the case, there was some discussion at the Content Creation user Group Meeting on Monday 5th February as to how the situation might be improved through the introduction of an additional field which could sit alongside the Creator and Owner fields and  which would identify the person who utilised a full permission mesh in their own work as well as the maker of the mesh itself – so that support questions could then be addressed to that person. One suggestion has even been to call the new field “Support”.

However, such a change could have wide-ranging impact, both in the viewer and server, making it a potentially complex matter to implement. During the Content Creation meeting on Tuesday February 4th, it was clear that there were several views on the subject of how to handle things, as well as some discussion on the complexities of actually implementing it.

Commenting on the matter, Nyx Linden requested that if a consensus view can be reached on the matter – or if people do feel it is a pressing matter which needs more consideration / discussion – that it should be raised as a feature request on the JIRA (i.e. file a bug report, but put “Feature Request” in the title / subject), so that it is at least on the Linden radar.