Alchemy: cooking up a TPV

Alchemy-logoSovereign Engineer poked me about the beta release of a v3- based third-party viewer going by the name of Alchemy, which was announced to the world on Saturday April 26th, 2014.

Now the name might be familiar to some, give that the pot has been simmering away on this one since around the middle of 2013, and there have been a number of blog posts on the associated website and some discussion over at SL Universe. However, it can take time to pull a viewer together – not to mention maintain it – so much so that Shakespeare himself couldn’t have put it better when he wrote Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and caldron bubble, even if the meaning is a little reversed in this case, and the doubling of toil falls onto the alchemists who are bringing this latest TPV to life.

Nevertheless, the beta release – version – is now out for Windows, Mac and Linux (all, I believe, 32-bit). I’m not entirely sure which LL code base the viewer is built upon as there is no indication in either the About floater or on the website, but I’m guessing it’s probably the 3.7.4 or 3.7.6 code base, given the presence of things like the recent HTTP updates.

The overall aim of the viewer, according to the website, is to provide: “A Second Life Protocol compatible viewer targeted at stability, performance, and having a well thought out skin and feature set”.

Currently, three active members of the team are listed on the website: Sovereign Engineer (aka Drake, the project lead), Luminous Luminos (aka Cryo) and Inusaito Kanya (aka Lirusaito), all of whom have worked on / contributed to other TPV projects. The viewer also lists Miguael Liamano (aka Tarnix) and Captains Ghost, both of whom (or one or the other) appear to be taking care of the website.

So, what of the viewer itself?

Well, first off, this is a beta release, so don’t expect it to be all bells and whistles and how-do-you-dos. In terms of menus and Preferences, it has everything you’d expect of a v3-based TPV aimed at Second Life, including Havok sub-licensing support (which means this isn’t a viewer aim towards OpenSim as well).

The UI is a clean slate grey colour, slightly darker than the LL viewer, but with opacity set to 0.95 by default for the active floater, and inactive floaters at 0.55. In terms of size and general presentation, many of the floater panels appear more-or-less as they are rendered within the official viewer, although there are some shaper colour contrasts apparent, which can deceive the eye and brain into thinking some of the panels are more cluttered in Alchemy than is actually the case.

An example of this is World Map. There are no significant differences between it and the LL World Map. However, the flatter colours in the Alchemy world map, perhaps aided by the black / dark background to input and check boxes, tricks the eye into seeing the map as being somewhat more crowded than is actually the case when first opened.

Which is not to say all of the floaters are untouched. The build floater, for example, has been reworked to include popular open-source additions – notably Qarl Fizz’s prim alignment tool – and has been reorganised somewhat. The result, assisted by the subtle use of shading, is a more regimented feel to the floater which naturally helps the eye in locating options and option groups.

The Alchemy build floater (r) compared to the original LL viewer build floater: the former has a more regimented, easy-on-the-eye approach to its layout  without making significant changes
The Alchemy build floater (r) compared to the original LL viewer build floater: the former has a more regimented, easy-on-the-eye approach to its layout without making significant changes

When it comes to Preferences, Alchemy again doesn’t stray too far from the LL “norm”, although there are a number of TPV-specific additions, and there are hints of the Things to Come. The latter takes the form of an additional Preferences tab called Interface, which currently comprises three sub-tabs: General, Inventory and Status Bar, all of which have but one or two options for the time being, although more will doubtless follow as the viewer progresses.

Some of the tabs have been re-worked from the LL original; a good example of this is the Chat tab, which both splits-off the notification options into a sub-tab while adding a number of additional check-box options (turning off the typing animation, etc), which are again popular in TPVs. Chat also includes sub-tab for popular chat shortcut commands which Firestorm (and before it, Phoenix) made popular.

Alchemy's updated chat tab in Preferences
Alchemy’s updated chat tab in Preferences

Performance-wise, the view is slick and fast, easily on a par with all current v3-based viewers in terms of fps when running on my primary machine; I was getting 70+ fps at ground level in a region with five other avatars and a lot going on, which was more than adequate for my needs, and even when visiting The Golden Age of Russian Avant-Garde, I found my fps up in the 50s, which kept me perfectly happy during my explorations there.

In support of the viewer, the team have started on a wiki – although this still in the very early stages of development; there is also a JIRA, and the source is available through BitBucket – all of which can be accessed via the Alchemy website, or through links in the Help menu of the viewer itself.

As a beta version of an emerging viewer, anyone trying it out shouldn’t expect it to be packed to the gills with the more common-or-garden open-source / TPV additions (there’s not RLV / RLVa, and no media filter, for example), but as noted above, capabilities will doubtless be added over time as the dev team further refine the direction in which they want to take the viewer. In the meantime, this is a good start, and it’ll be interesting to see how Alchemy develops – and both the pace at which it develops and the direction it takes in terms of its own feature set.

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