The Lab looks back at 2013

secondlifeLinden Lab has issued a blog post looking back over the course of the last 12 months, noting what have been, in their eyes, the high points of the year.

It’s an understandably upbeat piece – and there is nothing wrong with it being so. It’s possible that some will see it as a reason for more grumbles and complaints about X, Y and Z. Certainly, I’ll be offering my own look back over the year as seen through the pages of this blog in due course, and not all of it may be as positive as the Lab’s post. But all things considered, this has been a reasonable year for the platform, particularly on the technical level, as the post points out, referencing as it does Project Sunshine (Server-side Appearance), Project Interesting (the interest list updates, the last of which will be making their presence felt in viewers in 2014), materials processing and CHUI.

There’s good reason to point to these items, and several which pass unmentioned, such as the Lab finally deciding to get behind a methodology by which mesh garments can be made to fit, and the ongoing work to overhaul the Lab’s network communications protocols, as taken together they all demonstrate that the Lab still has the interest Second Life in order to try to substantially improve it and to address users’ needs.

And while the decision over which approach to take in order to get mesh garments to fit may not be pleasing to everyone, at least we now know that we are going to see mesh garments fit our assorted shapes, and it’s not going to be too much longer before it is available to everyone. We can even take some comfort in the fact that while it may not be the easiest to work with from the creation standpoint, it can be used (and indeed, is being used), and it is likely to stand the test of time in terms of maintainability.

The Lab’s introduction to Project Sunshine from earlier in 2013

Server-side Appearance (SSA) in particular was deployed as it should have been: without being tied to specific time frames or “to be done by” dates, while fully involving the TPV community in order to make sure that everything was not only on course, but to also help ensure the Lab didn’t miss any glaring holes or make any damaging omissions. Yes, there were issues and upsets along the way – the loss of the “z-offset” height adjustment capability, the introduction of the less-than-ideal “hover” option to replace it. But on the whole SSA was perhaps one of the smoothest deployments of a substantial change to the platform rolled-out in the history of Second Life. Not only that, but it appears to have helped forge new levels of co-operation between the Lab and TPVs.

This year, thanks to SL’s tenth anniversary, also saw the platform regain some attention from the media – and while some of it was the same old, same old, it’s fair to say a good part of it was fresh and positive.

Of course, there are the things which are left unsaid: Marketplace sales may well have been good, but the Marketplace itself still remains a sore point for many merchants – as does the long-term silence of the Commerce Team when it comes to outward, ongoing communications. In fact, communications from the Lab have remained at rock-bottom throughout most of the year. Had there not been a raft of projects going on under the “Shining Project” banner, one wonders how much actual communication would have taken place between Lab and users outside of the in-world user groups. We also have the unfortunate situation with the Terms of Service still to be sorted through; while some things like the changes to how third-party L$ exchanges can operate could have perhaps been better handled than they were at the time – but that again brings us back to the most awkward of “c” words, and I’ve banged on about that enough in the past.


Facebook may not by everyone’s cup of tea (it’s certainly not mine), but that’s no reason to get upset over the SLShare capability introduced this year and which provides the Facebook users among us with the means to share their SL experiences with friends and family if they wish

Tier hasn’t been quite the cause célèbre it has been in the last couple of years, but it has still been a worry for many, despite the fact that there really isn’t a lot the Lab can do about it without potentially hurting themselves more in the process. something which is probably unlikely to change any time soon. It’s also something I’ll likely have more to say about myself in the near future, if only to update (and complete) my post on the subject from the start of the year, which I never quite got around to finishing with its “second half” despite periodically working on it.

But even with these not-so-upbeat aspects of the the year, we’re all still here; or the majority of us are, and many of those who have departed have not necessarily done so out of annoyance or anger with the Lab, but simply because times change, interests wax and wane and life inevitably rolls on.

All this is not to dismiss the issues which have occurred during the year; 2013 hasn’t all been a bed of roses. But then again, name a year in the public history of the platform that has. However, this year has been positive in that it has seen the Lab put good, solid effort into making Second Life more robust, and more predictable than perhaps it has been in a good while, and added some decent nips and tucks to capabilities across the board. Hopefully, in 2014, we’ll see the same approach taken towards unravelling the thorny issue of ensuring more of those coming into Second Life “stick” (to use Rod Humble’s expression) long enough to become fully engaged with the platform, its user base and its economy.

After all, contrary to the opinion held in some quarters, it’s not just (or even necessarily) the cost of land that’s the key to SL’s sustained growth – it’s the numbers of people using it. But that’s a blog post for another day.

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Mine is just a material(s) world (in Kitely at least)

Fallingwater showing interior lighting reflected on the bedroom terrace using materials
Fallingwater showing interior lighting reflected on the bedroom terrace using materials

It’s been almost a year since I last wrote using the “f” word.

You know.

“Fallingwater”.

You almost got away with nigh-on a full year with nary a mention. If only I could have just kept quiet ten more days. Sadly, however,  I can’t; and for that you can blame two people: Oren and Ilan over at Kitely :D.

The Great Room with materials added
The Great Room with materials added

You see, back in November they introduced materials processing support into Kitely, with a further update at the start of December. Given the nature of Fallingwater – notably the stonework in the build – I had to hop over and give things a go.

So, as and when I can, I’ve been spending time jumping into Kitely and adding normal and specular maps to Fallingwater. I still have areas in the build – noticeably in the stucco finish and with the ceilings – where I need to re-scale the repeats; with the addition of normal and spec maps the patterning is a little exaggerated and somewhat overbearing (as seen in some of the images here). This is going to take a little more time to fix, and time is one thing I’m fast running out of with the holiday season tap-dancing its merry way ever closer to me.

I am, however, reasonably satisfied with the look of the stonework, where I think the additional maps really bring things to life. I’m also pleased with the stone flooring as well, where the specular map helps bring the polished shine of the original to my build – although I still have yet to get the texture suitably tinted to match the original a little more closely.

As to how materials works on Kitely, there’s an easy answer: “exactly like they do on Second Life”. I did have some issues with applying maps across multiple faces, wherein maps would fail to apply to some faces; however, I’ve found this to be a problem elsewhere within OpenSim when using diffuse maps, so don’t see it as a problem specifically with Kitely’s implementation of materials.

The footpath up to the guess house and staff quarters, with materials help bring the stonework to life
The footpath up to the guess house and staff quarters, with materials help bring the stonework to life

Materials also helped m bring a little more life to the water passing by under the house, where a specular map helped me to create the impression of the house lights being reflected in Bear river. Again, it’s not perfect (the ability to independently animate the specular map from the diffuse would help) and entirely dependent upon windlight settings, but the result works reasonably well under the region’s default lighting (Bryn Oh’s Mayfly). A specular map also brought a “wet” sheen to the rocks of the falls as well.

There’s more I’d like to do with the place in the future. Not only sorting out the stucco finish, but things like raising the level of the house so I can correctly scale the falls themselves and try to re-created a more accurate look to the rocks of the falls. But that kind of work is going to have to wait a goodly while until I have the time I need to devote to being in-world in Kitely. Sadly, that’s not likely to be any time soon. Or perhaps that’s fortunately for you, as you won’t have to put up with more of my witterings about the place :).

A better feel for the stone walls using the guest house wall as an example
A better feel for the stone walls using the guest house wall as an example

Connecting with Plankton

Plankton
Plankton

In the late 1990s, I caught a series on Discovery (or possibly TLC before it got rebranded by Discovery UK), called Connections 2. It was the follow-up to a series originally made and broadcast by the BBC back in the ’70s or ’80s and called (oddly enough) Connections back in the ’70s or ’80s. In it, commentator, broadcaster and journalist James Burke demonstrated how various discoveries, scientific achievements, and historical world events were built from one another successively in an interconnected way to bring about particular aspects of modern technology.

I bring this up because I was put in mind of how that series drew connections between people, events and so on to present a narrative on how we arrived at a modern aspect of technology and / or thinking, while touring Takni Miklos’ Plankton, which is open through until the end of December as a Part of the LEA’s Full Sim Art series.

Like the television series, Plankton is about making connections. There are very strong cultural / historical elements here, rooted in particular in astronomy, leading to something of a theme of continuity running through some elements of the installation which connect the past right through to our lives. But unlike the TV series, there is no actual narrative, per se; one is very much left to draw one’s own through the process of exploration.

Plankton
Plankton

The connections in Plankton take several forms and are as much about how we connect with the installation as they are with themes or ideas. There are a number of ways in which to move around: “taxi” teleporters, point-to-pint teleports, elevators, walkways – you can even use your “inner pig” (presented to you on arrival) to reach other avatars in the region, thus offering the means to connect with them.

All of this means that any two experiences within the installation and the connections made when travelling through it are likely to be same. How you proceed, the choices you make in your explorations, lead to discoveries and connections which are not necessarily linear; making this a complex and involved place to explore.

Plankton
Plankton

Aspects of the installation extend from the ground, up through multiple platforms and spheres reaching high up into the sky. Not all of them are linked to the cultural / astronomy theme, so may even appear frivolous or confusing. But it is worthwhile taking your time in exploring and moving around.

One thing you can be sure of is that this is a lively space, with almost everything within it interacting with the visitor in some way, either responding to direct touch or to the nearby presence of any avatar. Even the landscape at ground level is in places changing, where objects will freely interact with one another as well as to the presence of visitors.

In all, I’m not sure words really suffice in describing it – better you go and see for yourself!

Related Links

Plankton
Plankton