Firestorm 4.5.1: living in a materials world

firestorm-logoThe long-awaited Firestorm update has arrived in the form of Firestorm 4.5.1.38838. And for windows, it comes in both 32-bit and 64-bit flavours. If you’ve read my recent interview with members of the Firestorm team, or the transcript of the Firestorm Q & A held on October 26th, you’ll know both versions essentially have the same functionality, although there are some slight differences, which I’ll come to anon.

As far as the 32-bit release is concerned, however, there are a few  of up-front notes to be read:

  • It is a beta release, not a “final” release. What does this mean? Essentially that it is coming out with both new functionality and with a fair few bugs, some of which may well continue to irritate while others people should be able to live with
  • The reason it is not a “final” release is that there is a lot more coming down the pipe from Linden Lab – additional SSA + inventory work, further viewer-side interest list updates, new HTTP updates, group ban functionality, and so on. However, none of this has been officially released by LL, and so while it has been hoped to bring to users in a 4.5.1 release, the Firestorm team have (wisely) opted to draw a line under what they have and clear the decks for the next round of code integration and updates (which will also hopefully resolve a number of the more irritating bugs to be found in the viewer – any viewer – where things like inventory, interest list work, etc., is concerned)
  • Although the release is “beta” it is fully supported by the Firestorm support volunteers.

These releases see Firestorm reach parity with the Linden Lab 3.6.7 code base, and all fixes up to that release. What follows here is not intended as an in-depth review of Firestorm 4.5.1.38838, but rather an overview of what is likely to be the more popular features and updates and a look at some aspects of the Windows 64-bit version. This being the case, please also check the release notes / change log for a full list of updates and all attributions thereof.

Download and Installation – 32 bit

It is strongly recommended that users perform a clean install of the new release. For Windows users, this means ensuring you remove the Firestorm folders found in C:\Users\[username]\AppData – under the Local and Roaming folders respectively, as well as uninstalling the program. Do make sure you use the settings back-up option (Preferences > Backup) to back-up your settings prior to uninstalling your current version of Firestorm and deleting these two additional folders.

The 32-bit installer weighs-in at just over 44MB in size, which is pretty much par for the course for Firestorm, and (for me) installation was smooth and didn’t trigger any AVG Pro alerts.

Once started, I noted this release appears to follow the menu bar colour scheme introduced by the Lab alongside of their updated viewer release process. Rather than being the default Firestorm colour, the menu bar is tinged a deep purple, indicating it is a beta release.

CHUI Updates

As Firestorm already had a communications interface which does much of what Linden Lab’s Communications Hub User Interface (CHUI) does, Firestorm does not implement CHUI in its entirety, although some features have been added. These include:

  • Block tab added to the people panel
  • Support for showing/hiding timestamp and names, replacing own name with (You)
  • Added expandable chat entry fields (Firestorm specific improvements made by Cinder Roxley)
  • A new menu item, Comm > Conversation Log (see below)
  • Access to Conversation Log and Chat History from the People floater
  • Sounds for teleport and inventory offers.

Conversation Log

The conversation log allows you to review saved logs of past conversations from within the viewer. As noted above, options can be accessed via the Comm menu or via the People floater.

The Firestorm 4.5.1 Conversation Log floater
The Firestorm 4.5.1 Conversation Log floater

Using Comm > Conversation Log opens a floater listing all available conversation logs. Right-clicking on any name in the list will display a series of options: IM, view profile, offer teleport (if the person is online), etc.

Open Chat Transcript will open up the conversation history with that person in a viewer floater, or if you prefer, Open Chat Transcript Externally will display the conversation history with that person in an external application such as Windows Notepad. These options are also available from the gear cog button at the top right of the floater, while the button next to it allows you to sort the order in which logs are displayed and access the Nearby Chat history.

When using the People floater, right-clicking on an individual’s name will display an option to view your chat history (if available) with them within the viewer. If there is not available history, the option will not be displayed.

Export / Back-up and Import

Firestorm becomes the latest in a number of TPVs to include the capability for users to back-up or export their own creations to their hard drive. Version 4.5.1 provides two file formats for this:

  • .OXP format for backing-up your own creations – which can include prims, textures, sounds, animations and note cards
  • .DAE format (Collada) for exporting objects as mesh.

Both options will export objects and their textures (the .DAE export code is from Singularity), and both are fully compliant with the Second  Life permissions system, meaning:

  • Objects must belong to you, and all parts made by you or export will fail.
  • All textures on the object must be in your inventory, and be made by you. This includes sculpt maps
  • If you are not the creator of any element in an object, it will be replaced by the default when saving to your hard disk (so any prims you did not create will be replaced by a default cube, for example)
  • Any items contained inside the object (e.g. scripts, notecards, etc) must also be made by you
  • Back-up cannot be used to save mesh objects or objects containing mesh parts.
Back-up (l) to .OXP format and export (to Collada .DAE) from Firestorm
Back-up (l) to .OXP format and export to Collada .DAE (r)  from Firestorm. Note that as I am attempting to back-up / export an object which uses textures I did not create, Exportable Textures is set to 0 – on saving the file, the three  textures in the object will be replaced with the default plywood texture

Objects which have been backed-up should be imported using the Import Linkset option via the Avatar / Build > Upload menu. Objects exported as Collada .DAE files can be uploaded using the mesh importer.

To initiate a back-up or export, right-click on the object in question in-world and select Save As > Backup or Save As > Collada as required (if you’re using the pie menu: right-click and More > More > Save As and select the required option). The required dialogue floater is displayed – please then follow the Instructions on the Firestorm wiki.

When importing a back-up, it’s worth noting the following:

  • Importing a backed-up object
    Importing a backed-up object

    If you back-up a textured object to your hard-drive, note that as long as you have the textures in your inventory, you do not have to re-upload them when importing the object once more. Therefore, you can leave Upload unchecked and avoid paying to re-upload the textures. Once the object has been uploaded, the texture will be applied from your inventory

  • If the object contains textures, sounds or animations which have been completely flushed from your inventory since the object was backed-up, you will either need to check the Upload box on the importer and pay to re-upload them as a part of the import, or import them separately
  • You can opt to restore the imported object to the same region co-ordinates as recorded when it was backed-up (use with care) and opt not to have the object re-attach itself to you if it was originally attached when backed-up.

Materials Processing

Full materials processing support (diffuse, normal and specular maps) are included with this release. See my article on materials processing if you’re not already familiar with it. Or if you prefer, simply watch the video.

Movelock

Movelock is designed to provide a means of “replacing” avatar phantom (which no longer works as a result of other changes within LL’s viewer code) as a means of deterring people from trying to push your avatar around (such as when you’re afk, or simply because they are being an 18-karat wombat).

It uses LSL through the Firestorm bridge in order to try to “lock” your avatar wherever it stands (although you can still move around yourself with Movelock is enabled – it comes into play when others try to bump you around).

Movelock can be activated via Avatar > Movement > Movelock or by CTRL-ALT-P, or through the Movelock toolbar button. Once enabled, your avatar can still be pushed by other avatars and objects, but will return to its prior position when the pushing ceases. North, who coded the feature, produced a video on her early work with Movelock, demonstrating it in action.

Again, this isn’t the same functionality as avatar phantom,  but will hopefully act as a deterrent to those who insist on shoving others around.

New Particle Capabilities Support

This release of Firestorm includes the “new” particle system capabilities, comprising:

Arton Rotaru has produced a video demonstrating the ribbon particle effect to create tyre tracks left by a vehicle.

Particle Griefing Alleviation

Note that these new particle capabilities include the ability to right-click on a particle stream / any rendered particles and mute their associated emitter, effectively blocking them. This can greatly simplify dealing with unwanted particle effects, such as during a particle griefing attack be eliminating the need to find the actual emitters and muting them. Also, as part of a general anti-griefing measure, particles will automaitcally cease rendering if FPS drops below 4 (both of these are Linden Lab improvements).

Automatically Reject Teleport Offers

You can now automatically reject all teleport offers when you’re busy and without pop-ups or IM notices appearing, and you can set an auto response to the sender of the offer, allowing you to continue working without distractions.

  • To automatically reject all teleport offers, set Comm > Online Status > Automatically reject teleport offers
  • To define a message which will be automatically sent to the sender of an offer: Preferences > Privacy > Autoresponse > Automatic response to all avatars when in REJECT TELEPORT REQUESTS mode.

Concurrent Mesh Requests Capped

Concurrent mesh requests (debug: MeshMaxConcurrentRequests) capped at 64, with a warning displayed if set above 32, and automatic reset to 16 if set above 100. This is on advice from Monty Linden, and the result of further server-side improvement to mesh and HTTP communications management. See my notes on MeshMaxConcurrentRequests and the issues it can cause.

MeshMaxConcurrentRequests is now set to 16 by default and will issue a warning is set higher than 32 (l) and will reset to 16 if set higher than 64 (r). This is to prevent users encountering issue by setting too high a value (higher is not actually better)
MeshMaxConcurrentRequests is now set to 16 by default and will issue a warning is set higher than 32 (l) and will reset to 16 if set higher than 64 (r). This is to prevent users encountering issue by setting too high a value (higher is not actually better)

Other New Features of Note

Firestorm 4.5.1.38838 has a large list of additional features and updates of note, which include, but are not limited to, the following.

  • Customisable Autoresponse for Away mode option: Preferences > Privacy > Autoresponse > Send autoresponse when in AWAY mode
  • Options to show timestamps in nearby chat, IMs and transcripts: Preferences > Chat > Firestorm > Timestamps: Show timestamps in: Nearby chat/IMs/Transcripts
  • Options to show the end of last conversation in history: Preferences > Chat > General > Show the end of last conversation
  • Option to show names in direct IMs: Preferences > Chat > General > Show names in direct IMs
  • Show “You” in chat history instead of your name: Preferences > Chat > General > Show “You” in chat transcript instead of your name
  • Viewer now revokes animation permissions with “Stop Animating Me” as an anti-griefing mechanism (Linden Lab)
  • Parcel name added to world map – parcel name will only display when the user clicks on the map, not if a landmark is chosen or a friend is being mapped
  • Improved world map rendering performance
  • Added experimental fix from Monty Linden for HTTP texture fetch issues over cellular networks – see this thread for background information
  • Experimental fix for texture thrashing: disable memory probing via debug setting FSDisableAMDTextureMemoryCheck – see JIRA FIRE-11852
  • Viewer no longer locks up when editing appearance when the user has a huge number of saved outfits
  • FmodEx updated to version 4.44.18
  • Updated to RLVa 1.4.9
  • Cocoa updates
  • “Touch” inventory context menu option now takes RLV restrictions into account
  • Firestorm bridge is no longer detached by the RLV command @remattach=force and other RLV commands that affect attachments
  • Debug settings for Camera presets are now saved in settings backups.

There are also performance fixes, bug fixes skin updates, windlight updates, updates aimed at Phoenix users, and updates for OpenSim. Again, please read the release notes / change log for details.

Going 64-bit

The Windows 64-bit version offers all of the same functionality as the 32-bit beta release. However, there are some important notes for those intending on using it:

  • It is an experimental release and is therefore unsupported as a result
  • It will likely only be of benefit if you’re running Windows 64-bit on systems with more than 4GB of memory
  • It is only for those running 64-bit versions of the Windows operating system (Linux and Mac flavours will be following soon)
  • The installer is basic and unsigned – so only download the 64-bit version of Firestorm directly from the official download page
  • If you wish to remove the 64-bit version, you will need to manually uninstall it via Add/Remove Programs
  • Please read the pre-install notes on the Firestorm 64-bit wiki page (which includes the download links) before downloading and installing – this provides important information
  • You can, if you wish, install both the Windows 32-bit beta and the 64-bit alpha on the same PC
  • Firestorm 64-bit currently does not include Havok support. This means that you will be unable to edit a region’s pathfinding navmesh and you cannot specify physics properties for mesh uploads
  • Firestorm 64-bit can be used both in SL and in other non-SL grids.

Installation

The 64-bit Windows installer
The 64-bit Windows installer

The 64-bit installer is a good deal larger than the 64-bit, weighting-in at around 60MB. For those who remember the early days of Phoenix or the Emergence viewer from LordGregGreg Back, it also might have a familiar feel.

Because this is a 64-bit version, it will install into and create different folders as follows:

  • The program will install into C:\Program Files by default
  • It will create its own “Firestorm_x64” folders in C:\Users\[user name]\AppData\Local (cache) and C:\Users\[user name]\AppaData\Roaming (settings folders & logs, etc)

Some people have reported installation issues. I didn’t when installing an early 64-bit version or when installing the alpha release. However, please check with the Firestorm 64-bit wiki page linked-to above should you encounter errors.

If you have installed an initial build of the 64-bit viewer, you may want to uninstall it first.

Feedback

If you do download and install the 64-bit version of Firestorm, please take time out to give feedback on your experience with it, preferably after you’ve been using it for at least a week. Please provide general thoughts on performance, general comments on issues encountered (although bugs should be filed via the Firestorm JIRA), thoughts, opinion. Feedback should be directed to jessica.lyon@phoenixviewer.com with the subject title “x64 feedback”.

Older Release Blocking – November 15th

As per previous announcements by the Firestorm team, all version of Firestorm prior to release 4.4.0 will be blocked from November 15th. If you are using any version of Firestorm below 4.4.0, you will need to update before that date.

My Feedback

I’ve been fortunate enough to use the 32-bit version of Firestorm 4.5.1 through several iterations of builds and have found it to be reliable and largely issue-free for me, with the exception of various known bugs. The same can be said of my experiences with the 64-bit build, although I’ve obviously only been running with that for a few days.

On my PC (see my specifications and viewer settings here) I found performance while on my home region to be largely similar between both versions.

  • At 3,000 metres, FPS rates were around 120-150 with ALM enabled and ambient occlusion and Sun/Moon + Projectors active, and between 140-180 with Sun/Moon + Projectors disabled
  • At 320 metres FPS rates were around 60-90 with ALM enabled and ambient occlusion and Sun/Moon + Projectors active, and between 130-170 with Sun/Moon + Projectors disabled
  • At ground level, FPS rates were around 35-45 with ALM enabled and ambient occlusion and Sun/Moon + Projectors active, and between 60-70 with Sun/Moon + Projectors disabled.

Obviously, these figures are subjective, and based on my location, but they tend to show that for me, there’s a very slight performance improvement with the new releases over older versions, although it’s still not up to the level of other viewers I occasionally use, which are a mix of the Lab’s 3.6.7 and 3.6.8/9 code base.

In terms of updates and features, there should be more than enough to keep everyone happy: conversation logs readable within the viewer, materials support, new particle capabilities, code updates and a good many bugs well and truly stomped. Yes, there are still bugs remaining, including the “missing prim” issue (although that seems to have decreased in fequency a lot due to server-side tweaks), but a lot of these are actually largely awaiting fixes from the Lab rather than from the Firestorm team.

Even as a beta release, the 32-bit version of 4.5.1 is liable to be worth installing, simply because there are noticable improvements and some nice little goodies and updates (some of which, like the inclusion of various CHUI feaures belie the degree of work involved in making them happen). For my part, I’ll be keeping both the 32-bit and 64-bit versions installed, and hopefully will be able to do some comparative tests over the next couple of weeks and help keep Jess happy :).

Related Links

With thanks to Linden Lab, Arton Rotaru and North for the videos and Spikey for the article title.

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12 thoughts on “Firestorm 4.5.1: living in a materials world

  1. It’s maybe not clear, but there are benefits to 64-bit Windows on a 4GB system. It’s to do with how video memory uses available address space. On 32-bit Windows, it is 4GB maximum for everything. On 64-bit you can use all your hardware RAM, instead of losing system RAM to get the space for video RAM.

    How much this might affect Firestorm, I don’t know, but an extra gigabyte of physical RAM, before you have to page to the hard drive, isn’t going to hurt anything. And you gain that for both 32-bit and 64-bit Firestorm. But changing the 32-bit Windows to 64-bit is not anything smooth and easy.

    How much extra difference 64-bit Firestorm makes, I hesitate to guess.

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  2. installed the 64b version and had to download the msn library as well!
    Running on Osgrid with all at ultra on v3 interface!
    So far it works perfect!

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  3. FPS seems not to say everything. i have a high frameratoe 30-40fps when shadows are enabled. still if you rotate your avatra the world moves less smooth. Not smooth enough to avoid getting a bit carsick. so still shame i cannot run shadows. no fraphics card is strong enough.

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    1. FPS is only one measure, and a not terribly reliable one, given the many and varied influences with can impact it; hence why I underline the fact any figures I give are solely based on my hardware / connection / settings, and entirely subjective. However it is the measure most people tend to look to with the viewer.

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  4. re: “You can, if you wish, install both the Windows 32-bit beta and the 64-bit alpha on the same PC” – – My experience is that I get my usual frame rate on whichever version I did a clean install of last. The previous version takes about a 50% hit. This may be due to my having my setting way higher than recommended. ~30fps is pretty normal for me at my home with the old version. FSbeta gives me mid 20s on the most recent install; as low as 10 on the previous one.

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    1. It’s interesting how performance can vary, even with a clean install. You’re not alone in reporting variances, others often do as well when a new version comes out, and not just with Firestorm.

      Even allowing for the fact that FPS as a measure is so subjective, I’ve always been pretty fortunate with any viewer I run: each new version tends to be similar to the last or offers a slight improvement. Those viewers based on the the more recent LL code bases and which don’t have as much added third-party functionality as Firestorm have all largely teneded to keep pace with the improvements shown within the official viewer. Yet others have seen the reverse.

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  5. I didn’t tried it for long to be honest (just the time to let my Osg inventory fetch) and as i only attend to use it on Open sim grids, i doubt in fact that i’ll be testing it much more! Got a strange error when i pulled the shadows to max on the photo tools slider, Nvidia graphics error saying that my hardware was not ready for that and the need to delete the user settings on the roaming folder as it was not even allowing me to start it again, so after i just pull the slider to 2 (from the default 1 up to 4!) and didnt got that error anymore, the strange part is that on the previous version i could always pull the slider to the max!
    I should probably install the 32 bit version to see if same error happens, but to be honest, i know ill not use firestorm for much (Not being in open sim or kitely time enough to need a stable viewer and not using it on SL!
    Still i didnt needed a lot of time to tweek it, as i used V3 interface, i just lost like 10 minutes changing the camera debug settings a la Mona (Why in Hell firestorm cant give us a choice of diff camera deplacement is behing my understanding!

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