SL10BCC: My picks of the day – Saturday 22nd June

SL10BCC is well underway, with lots to see and do. Given the size of the event, trying to review everything on offer simply isn’t feasible, and some hardware issues at my end mean that I’m not in a position to do the kind of “region round-ups” I did last year.

So instead, I’m offering some personal picks from what’s on display by way of suggestions as possible stop-off points in your explorations.

Loki Eliot – Behemoth

Loki Eliot - Behemoth
Loki Eliot – Behemoth

Another exception to the “building up doesn’t mean building better” rule. Loki’s gargantuan creation is a masterpiece of mesh, storytelling and metaphor. Standing tall among the Wonderous exhibits, at first glance it might look like Godzilla about to tap the light fandango across Tokyo. Albeit admittedly a Godzilla carrying the oddest assortment of things on his back – pirate ship, broken aeroplane, quaint village, water wheel, and so on…

Of course the behemoth represents Second Life made pixel flesh, and the various items it carries stand as images of the many and varied uses to which Second Life is put by its users. There’s also the story which sits alongside the piece, as told by the folk living there (just grab a HUD at the entrance and let them tell you some of the tale) of how “the engineers” once started a project, which took on a life of its own, growing over time to become something huge, which some thought needed to be tamed and controlled, while others felt should be left free to grow in its own way…

Loki Eliot - Behemoth
Loki Eliot – Behemoth

However you look at this piece, it is brilliantly imaginative, and one of the real highlights of this year’s exhibits, one which is very much worth the time to climb and listen to (and don’t forget the little gifts along the way!).

At the base of the piece, you’ll find information on Loki’s SL projects, so if you’ve not come across him before, now is your chance to get acquainted with him. There are also a couple of storyboards demonstrating how the exhibit was developed, which provide insight into Loki’s creative processes.

You can also find out more about the piece via Draxtor Despres who, with Loki, has produced a wonderful video short which is itself deserving of attention, and which has a very subtle message of its own towards the end, which addresses those who tend to believe that the Lab is no longer paying attention to SL or working to enhance it still further…

Marianne McCann – Bay City

Bay City turned five years old in May 2013, so having a retrospective exhibit at SL10BCC is entirely appropriate, especially as it again presents a superb exhibition space (albeit one straddling two parcels) which demonstrates the value of a functional, clean build without the need for bling and flash.

Marianne McCann - Bay City
Marianne McCann – Bay City

Inside the main building is a complete history of Bay City, together with photos, maps and props, with key dates and events – happy and sad – duly noted and recorded. Outside is a rest area perfect for meeting friends, complete with a pool and a cute little tugboat rezzer for those wishing to play bumper-boats or have a little sailing session. The walls here are adorned with photos of some of Bay City’s notable residents, some of whom I’m fortunate to know as friends and acquaintances in SL.

Marianne McCann - Bay City
Marianne McCann – Bay City

If you are in any way interested in SL’s history, this is a very worthwhile stop-off in any travels you make around the SL10BCC regions.

Kokua catch-up

kokua-logoKokua was released on Friday 21st 2013, joining the in-development Black Dragon viewer (NiranV Dean) in becoming one of the first v3-style viewers to fully adopt Materials Processing.

I’ve been remiss in my coverage of Kokua’s development, which has been fairly steaming along over the last several months (the last update I gave was for Kokua 3.4.4 in January 2013), so this piece is a little bit of a catch-up on some of the major updates – such as SSB/A support – since then, starting with the 3.6.0 changes.

Straddling Worlds

Despite all the hoo-haw over the Lab’s move to sub-licence code libraries from Havok (a move which was incorrectly interpreted by some as being an attempt to stymie OpenSim), Kokua is one of the viewer which continues to happily straddle the SL / OpenSim divide by providing capabilities which work in both, as well as options specific to one or the other (such as SSB/A support for SL, and enhanced OSSL support and the ability ro disable SL’s build constraints for OpenSim use, for example).

Accepted onto the Linden Lab Thirty-party Viewer list in April, and listed in the Third-party Viewer Directory, Kokua avoids the Havok complication by providing pathfinding support without the navmesh visualisation capabilities (potentially no great loss to the vast majority of users) and by using the third-party mesh upload code for importing mesh objects, thus allowing it to comfortably span both environments.

3.6.0 Download and Installation

The Windows installer weighs-in at 36.3 MB, putting it towards the upper end of the installer list by file size, which is hardly surprising given the punch of extras the viewer includes. Installation itself was, for me, straightforward, the viewer neatly over-writing my previous version (I opted not to go my usual clean install route).

Firing-up the viewer yielded no anti-virus warnings from AVG Pro (which has recently being getting a little vociferous over SLplugin.exe of late with some viewer installations, despite having given it a pass in previous installs – the most recent flag going up with my installation of the latest SL viewer with materials support).

The current Kokua message of the day (MOTD) – coming from LL – raised a smile, using a little humour to underline the fact that SL users need to update their viewers.

A light-hearted reminder of the need for SL users to update to an SSB/A-ready viewer
A light-hearted reminder of the need for SL users to update to an SSB/A-ready viewer

Materials Processing Support

The release of Kokua 3.6.0 marks it as the first v3-style viewer to provide full viewer-side support for materials processing in for Second Life (if you’re on OpenSim, there are server-side updates required to make materials capabilities work, but there is already a preliminary effort to get these implemented).

The updated Texture tab of the Build floater
The updated Texture tab of the Build floater

If you’re not sure what materials processing means, please take a look at my primer provided for the SL viewer’s beta release.

As one would expect, materials support has been implemented as it is presented through the SL viewer: the Texture tab in the Build floater has been updated to provide support for normal and specular maps, which can be selected from a high-level drop-down (see right), and which include their own additional attributes (the “old” Bump and Shine options). Note that each materials map can be set with independent repeats and rotations.

Materials also includes some additional updates – the most noticeable of which is perhaps the ability to include an alpha mode when working with alpha masks. This can be set to one of:

  • None –  the alpha channel is ignored, rendering the face opaque, or
  • Alpha blending – essentially the same as we currently have for any alpha texture, or
  • A 1-bit alpha mask with each pixel either 100% transparent or 100% opaque, with a cutoff setting to determine where the threshold is (alpha masks should render faster than alpha blending, and eliminate issues with alpha layer sorting), or
  • Emissive mask – so the alpha layer is interpreted as a per-pixel glow setting.

Materials support also includes gamma correction capabilities within the rendering system. This may cause scenes to render more darkly than in non-materials capable versions of Kokua, and as reported with the SL viewer, may cause some alpha rendering issues.

Graphics Updates

Materials Processing has seen various other changes made to the viewer to improve rendering, some of which have resulted in improvements to the GPU support table, and adjustments made to the graphics defaults themselves. While these may have been included in versions of Kokua prior to 3.6.0, they’re covered here for completeness.

Graphics tab changes in Preferences and water reflections
Graphics tab changes in Preferences and water reflections

First and foremost, the Quality and Speed slider now has seven pre-sets instead of four, adding mid-point settings between Low and medium, medium and high, and high and ultra. These are designed to better reflect the capabilities of supported graphics cards and to determine whether or not a card has the ability to support materials rendering by default (whether you actually want it to do so is up to you). As such, you may find that if you’ve not updated Kokua in a while, your default graphics setting is different from previous versions.

The other notable change (again, if you’ve not updated Kokua in a while and haven’t been following SL viewer changes over the last few months) is that the “lighting and shadows” check box has been renamed “Advanced Lighting Model” (ALM), and the option needs to be checked in order for you to see materials capabilities being rendered in your viewer.

Finally, and purely by way of a side note, if you enable ALM in SL and find you’re having  issues with alphas rendering correctly with this release of Kokua (they appear entirely black), try changing Water Reflections (arrowed above) to anything other than Minimal. This may help resolve the issue for you. Another possible workaround for the “black alpha” problem is to disable ALM, click on OK to accept and close Graphics, then re-open Graphics and re-enable ALM.

Command Menu, Build Floater Updates and Look AT Options

The 3.6.0 release also sees a new Command menu implemented, which brings together those commands moved from other menus, popular commands and a number of chat commands imported from Firestorm and turned into menu options (such as “tp2cam” to teleport to your current camera location).

Additionally, the Build floater’s Object tab gets a port of the build parameters copy paste function from the (now defunct) Zen viewer as its implementation was newer than other LGPL licensed viewers, and which is completed with fine tuning tweaks from Firestorm.

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