Firestorm on SL Go: a closer look

Firestorm on SL Go from OnLive: almost 60 fps in my home region on a Asus PC EEE 1201N notebook with all the bells and whistles active
Firestorm on SL Go from OnLive: almost 60 fps in my home region on a Asus PC EEE 1201N notebook with all the bells and whistles active

Important note: The SL Go service is to be shut down on April 30th, 2015. For more information, please read this report.

Onlive, the provider of the SL Go, and the Firestorm team recently announced the addition of the Firestorm viewer to the SL Go service. I covered the news with a quick overview, and you can also read both the official press release from OnLive and the Firestorm’s team’s announcement to catch-up, if you need to.

Given SL Go has, until this announcement, only been available with a flavour of the official SL viewer, there may be some Firestorm users who haven’t really thought about SL Go or given it a look. As such, I’d thought I’d offer a little more of a detailed look.

The Preamble

Just as a quick reminder, SL Go is a third-party service which can be used to access Second Life. Rather than using a locally-installed viewer, everything is run on OnLive’s servers and then streamed directly to the user’s chosen device (PC, Mac, tablet, HDTV via OnLive’s own game console).

SL Go has been available with a version of the SL viewer since March 2014 for all of the above. The Firestorm update now extends the service to include the Firestorm viewer, initially only to people running low-end PCs and Macs, although Android and iPad flavours should be available in the future.

The service does require a subscription (to cover OnLive’s costs), which amounts to US$9.95 (UK £6.95) per month for unlimited access – and this includes accessing Second Life from your Android Tablet or iPad as well, should you also wish to give it a try (you will need to install the OnLive app on your tablet and, as noted above, you will only be able to run the SL viewer on it for the time being).

A free 7-day trial period is provided for anyone wishing to try the service without obligation, and there is no minimum term once the trial period has ended, so you can cancel your subscription at any time. Once you have signed-up, and to use Firestorm, you’ll need to download the OnLive PC or Mac client.

However, and important point to remember is that SL Go isn’t intended as a replacement for the standard viewer offerings (SL or TPV). If you have a good computer / laptop and can run the viewer to your satisfaction already, then SL Go likely isn’t for you. But, if you are using an old system and are finding SL a struggle, then SL Go may well offer a means for you to increase your enjoyment with the platform until such time as you can update your hardware.

Running Firestorm via SL Go

Running Firestorm via SL Go is a matter of:

  • Launching the OnLive client
  • Then, if you have an OnLive account (rather than just an SL Go account) – clicking My Games at the top of the client window, then selecting SL Go from the left side of the client
  • Selecting Firestorm from the SL Go service screen (see below)
  • Allowing the viewer to load.
SL Go users access the service via PC or Mac now have a choice of viewer: the SL Viewer (SLV, as OnLive refer to it) or Firestorm
SL Go users accessing the service via PC or Mac now have a choice of viewer: the SL Viewer (SLV, as OnLive refer to it) or Firestorm

A point of note here is that the OnLive client runs in a fixed 1280×720 resolution, and presents the viewer in fullscreen mode only. This means that the client is “stretched” or “shrunk” to fit other screen resolutions, and as a result there can be a loss of image quality.

This can be compensated for to some extent by switching the OnLive client to “Windowed” mode (ALT-ENTER for Windows, CMD-F for Mac), and then resizing the window by pointing down into the lower right corner of the window, holding the left mouse button and dragging to the desired size (note that the cursor will not change to a grab handle or anything, so getting it can be a case of trial and error).  The window will retain a 16:9 ratio when being resized in this way, but should hopefully offer some degree of improvement; in the case of my own Asus PC EEE 1201N notebook (1366 x 768 native resolution), it did make things clearer for me.

With the OnLive client running in "Windowed" mode, you can point to and click on the lower right corner of the client window (no grab handles will be displayed) and resize as required - the window will retain a 16:9 ratio
With the OnLive client running in “Windowed” mode, you can point to and click on the lower right corner of the client window (no grab handles will be displayed) and resize as required – the window will retain a 16:9 ratio

Once you’re logged-in to Firestorm, you should find it pretty much as you’d expect to see it on logging-in first the first time following a clean local install. As when running the viewer locally, you can set the buttons you require within the toolbar areas, adjust the font size, tweak Preferences, etc. You’ll find you have almost everything you’d expect to find in Firestorm had you downloaded and installed it: windlight options, Phototools, radar, quick preferences,  Firestorm’s conversations / chat UI, RLV/a and so on.

There are, however a few things apparently “missing”, which are purely down to the fact that the viewer is being run on an OnLive server and streamed to you. Those who have used SL Go before will be familiar with some of this, but again, for completeness here’s a breakdown of what you’ll likely note as “not being there”:

  • The Develop menu, access to debug settings through the Advanced menu, the ability to upload any content (mesh, sounds, animations, images), the ability to use local textures, or to save snapshots to disk – these are all limitations common to both Firestorm and the SL viewer on SL Go
  • There is currently no support within SL Go for 3D mouse devices such as the Space Navigator
  • You cannot save or restore your Firestorm settings; any “local” pickers Firestorm uses will not work; there is no option to set crash reporting  to the Firestorm team.
Firestorm doesn't have the crash reporting tab or backup tab in Preferences among other disbled elements
Firestorm currently doesn’t have the crash reporting tab or backup tab in Preferences, among other disabled elements

It is hoped that some of the latter options will be available in the future, as Firestorm continue to work with OnLive to enhance the Firestorm offering – this is only an initial release, after all!

In use, and on a low-end system, Firestorm and OnLive do exactly what they say on the box: offer a new lease of life to older hardware. During my testing, as noted in my coverage of the announcement that Firestorm is now available on SL Go, I was enjoying frame rates that are completely unobtainable on my Asus notebook when running the viewer locally. Even flying was entirely possible, although you will likely find “region flicker” prevalent, as there is currently no means to access object-object occlusion (CTRL-SHIFT-O – also true of the SL viewer).

Flying in SL via Firestorm on SL Go (also obviously possible using the standard SL viewer over SL Go as well) - but generally impossible on my Asus netbook
Flying in SL (using Mouselook) via Firestorm on SL Go (also obviously possible using the standard SL viewer over SL Go as well). Note the “region flicker” issue has caused the water around one region to vanish: the lack of access to object-to-object occlusion means this cannot be prevented when  using SL Go at present

Exiting the Service

When your time in SL is done and you need to log for a while, you can close the viewer (and the OnLive service) in a number of ways:

  • Via Me > Exit Firestorm
  • Using CTRL-Q
  • Closing the OnLive client window (if running in windowed mode).

Note that in all cases, these will both log you out of SL and close the OnLive client.

Restart Delay

Be aware that if you log-out of Second Life, you may have to wait a minute or so before you re-launch the OnLive client, in order to give the service host, etc., time to shut-down. If you don’t and you log-out of the viewer and then immediately re-start the OnLive client, you may get an error message when trying to launch the viewer:

If you see this error message, close-down the OnLive client and wait a minute(ish) and then re-start
If you see this error message, close-down the OnLive client and wait a minute(ish) and then re-start

Should this happen, shut-down the OnLive client and wait a further minute or so before re-starting it. If the issue persists, and you had been running with the OnLive client in windowed mode, try switching back to the full screen mode and restarting.

The above is also true when restarting the viewer after making a change that requires a restart – such as activating / deactivating RLV/a or changing the UI skin.

Going Elsewhere

One of the unique aspects of Firestorm on SL Go is that for those who also use other grids, they can now also do so from an older Pc or Mac should they need to do so, as Firestorm over SL Go is the OpenSim version, complete with the grid selector and grid management tab in Preferences. Once the viewer is running, you can log-into any OpenSim grid on which you have an account from the viewer’s log-in / splash screen just as you would were you running the viewer locally.

Accessing Fallingater at Seanchai Library, Kitely, via Firestorm on SL Go
Accessing Fallingater at Seanchai Library, Kitely, via Firestorm on SL Go (UI turned off)

I’ve so far only tested this by connecting to Kitely and the Seanchai Library, but I encountered no problems in doing so, and happily wandered around Fallingwater at my leisure and did a bit of building repair.

Feedback

This is the first time I’ve really used SL Go in detail on my laptop, as I’ve previously been more focused on the Android tablet offering, as it has more interest to me. But I found the service more-or-less doing precisely what it says on the bottle: giving a new lease-of-life to SL on my little (and increasingly aged) Asus notebook, which has – and despite recent improvements within the viewer and SL – been finding it harder and harder to run things.

Yes, there were irritants: the image quality was a little distracting (although much improved after switching to “Windowed” mode). For some reason, I seemed to find this more noticeable with Firestorm than the SL viewer; I suspect this to be more to due with Firestom’s lighter UI accentuating the grainier look to the viewer than anything else. I also found there could be odd bouts of update latency, such as when camming, where my world-view would at times appear to update in “strips” running horizontally across the screen in two or three swathes (top then bottom, or top, middle, bottom). However, these were not sufficient to be mind-bogglingly annoying.

SL Go isn’t a service for everyone. There is a cost involved in using it, again as noted.But given it is a third-party service (and not something run by the Lab) provisioned through dedicated servers, this is not unreasonable. However, it may well put so off using it, which is fair enough.

and again, as pointed-to at the to of this article, if you have a reasonable PC / Mac / laptop with good graphics and processing capabilities, a good Internet connection and can enjoy Second Life to your own satisfaction, it is likely that SL Go (with or without Firestorm) isn’t going to do much for you, and isn’t worth the fuss.

But, if you are on a low-end PC or Mac and are finding it increasingly hard to run Second Life and would like to get to enjoy Firestorm in all its glory, this may well be an option to consider, at least until you can update your existing hardware.

8 thoughts on “Firestorm on SL Go: a closer look

  1. Actually, I use Firestorm so much on my laptop that I had a tough time relating to the SLGo use of the SLV, so I may try it out on my Android tablet once it’s available. Thanks for the overview!

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    1. Oh, I do emphasise! As much as I do use the SL viewer for testing, reviews, etc., it is still often a “foreign land” to me when it comes to a lot of actions, so I’m always far more comfortable with Firestorm. I’ll be covering Firestorm on Android just as soon as it is available!

      Thanks for the feedback!

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  2. I use SL Go on ipad as much as I can tolerate – not liking the SL viewer and the touch pad controls.

    Tried on apple desktop and FS SL go — could not get the mouse to work outside the FS window– couldn’t use browser etc.

    Get mid 20-40 FPS with 32 draw on desktop — got 120 FPS with 128 draw with SL go. So weird to have zero gray and boom all is rezzed.

    Close up is what doesn’t work well– is good for large venues. Would I buy for desktop only – no -want for tablet – can’t wait for FS on them.

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    1. Re: getting the mouse to operate outside the OnLive Client, have you tried CMD-Tab (I believe that’s the equivalent of the PC’s ALT-Tab?

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  3. In regards to logging in to FS if one already has an SLGo account, I received this response from my support ticket today: “What you need to do to see SL GO options is log into OnLive, click My Games at the top, then along the left side of the window at the bottom of the list will be SL GO. In here you should see a standard SLV style viewer option, and Firestorm.” Obvious, when one knows how 🙂

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    1. Hmm… They may have changed things since I received the instructions for access (I have a test account, so my means of access is completely different!). There was a slight hitch at launch, so maybe things had to change (if you’re just subscribed to SL Go, then the My Games, etc., is supposed to be masked).

      I’ll update to reflect, thanks.

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    2. Becky, this should only happen if you have ever enjoyed any of the other OnLive services such as PlayPack or CloudLift. If you are only an SLGo subscriber, you should see the SLGo quick launch.

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