Happy Anniversary, Second Life!

L12B Community Celebration; Inara Pey, June 2015, on FlickrSL12B Welcome area by Walton F. Wainwright (Faust Steamer), June 2015 (Flickr)

We all call it a birthday, but the reality is that June 23rd actually marks an anniversary: that of the public opening of Second Life  in 2003 to anyone wishing to come aboard and find out what it is all about.

Second Life was actually “born” some time before that. Depending on your point-of-view it could be said that its “real” birthday was either March 2002, as Linden World morphed into a very alpha Second Life, or perhaps October 2002, when the closed beta started; or even April 2003, when the open beta launched.

Nevertheless, whether birthday or anniversary, reaching 12 years of public access is a remarkable achievement by anyone’s standards when it comes to what is essentially an IT platform, and the fact is that Second Life – despite the doom and gloom and dire predictions that frequently pour forth as to its future – is still in pretty robust health and remains a source of enjoyment to so many, is something that should be celebrated.

SL12B Community Celebration; Inara Pey, June 2015, on FlickrSL12B Wondrous: Juliana Lethdetter’s Second Life Maps, June 2015 (Flickr)

Over the span of years, we’ve seen Second Life grow from humble origins to become one of the longest running and, arguably, one of the most successful virtual world environments yet created. Yes, the total number of active users may never have got much beyond the one million mark, but in some ways this hardly matters. The fact is that Second Life has become a strong, vibrant set of intertwined communities and groups; a place where creativity can be freely expressed almost howsoever we can imagine.

It allows people from all over the world to congregate, to share in experiences and activities and one another’s lives; it is a place where friendships – even relationships – can form between those who otherwise would never meet, much less spend time together. Through it, many have found an outlet for their digital creative talents, while others have found an audience for their singing and song writing, and others have found it a means of incredible artistic expression.

SL12B Community Celebration; Inara Pey, June 2015, on Flickr
SL12B Pizzazz: Mistero Hifeng with David DuCasse / leydi Yifu beyond, June 2015 (Flickr)

And throughout that time, the platform has continued to evolve, to meet the ever more complicated and broad ranging demands we place upon it. Thus, over the years we’ve seen the arrival of private regions, of better and more capable scripting capabilities, visual enhancements such as windlight and materials, support for different means of content creation – notably mesh, and so on. And it has remained a highly successful means for many to generate an income of their own.

What’s more, all of this has been done – particularly over the last five years – with little or no major upset to people’s ability to access a world we expect to be ready and waiting for us at any given minute of the day, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

When you think about it, this is a level of availability that is quite stunning, and which many other services are hard pushed to provide. Even more so when you consider the overwhelming complexity of Second Life. Not just the simulators, and their need to support a wealth of content we, the collective residents, can between us pretty much change at will; but all the additional (and all-too-often ignored) back-end systems that must always be available non-stop in order for us to be able talk, share, buy, wear, render, and so on.

Of course there have been lows as well as highs over the years. Some of these have been over-exaggerated with the passage of time, others do speak of missteps along the way. There have been the inevitable upsets and times when the Lab and residents have seemed pretty much at odds with one another. But that’s to be expected where people feel passionately about something, and into which they have poured so much of their time, effort and talent.

L12B Community Celebration; Inara Pey, June 2015, on FlickrSL12B Dreamitarium by Anthony (ADudeNamed Anthony), June 2015 (Flickr)

Perhaps the worst period in SL’s long history came in 2008/09, when it did seem there was a prevailing desire within some of those running the company to see the platform turned away from the open, creative and collaborative platform which has marked its success, and into something altogether more business-oriented in outlook and use.  That year also marked the whole OpenSpace / Homestead region situation which caused considerable bad feeling, and which could be said to have gone on to have repercussions through the period 2010-2013.

But when taken as a whole, low points such as these are really in the minority. By-and-large, Second life has been for all of us who continue to engage in it, a positive and rewarding  experience. After all, if it were otherwise, would we actually still be here? And that goes for the staff at the Lab as well, all of whom, I think it fair to say, are as enthusiastic for, and engaged with, the platform as any resident, even if we don’t often get to see it directly. After all, were they not, why should they keep working at the Lab?

L12B Community Celebration; Inara Pey, June 2015, on FlickrSL12B Electrify: Pixel Sideways’ Ethereal, June 2015 (Flickr)

Second Life has been – and remains a quite remarkable adventure; one that obviously retains a huge amount of appeal for all of us who come to it, often on a daily basis. It’s a place where a part of us, no matter how small, does find fulfilment and enjoyment. Hence why it is right that we do celebrate just what a technical and social feat Second life really is, and what it means to all of us.

And when you think about it, while 12 years a a long time, it still means Second Life has yet to enter its teens, so there is plenty of promise of life to come – and with it, dreams aplenty to share.

Happy Anniversary, Second Life – and here’s to many more!

SL12B Community Celebration; Inara Pey, June 2015, on FlickrThe Cake Stage – Miktaki Slade, June 2015 (Flickr)

Additional Information

Advertisements

Early looks: Avatar Complexity and Graphics Presets

secondlifeTwo new options which will be appearing in the official viewer in the near future, and which have been mentioned in this blog a number of times over the past few months are Avatar Complexity and the ability to create, save and restore graphics presets. Both are intended to provide options by which users can better tune the viewer and its settings to suit their needs and circumstances.

I’ve had the opportunity to look at both in a development viewer from the Lab, and what follows is an overview of how things may appear when both capabilities are released for general use. However, please keep in mind that things are sill very much a work-in-progress at the moment and aspects of either / both may well change between now and any functionality appearing in any public version of the viewer.

Avatar Complexity

As avatars can often be the single biggest impact on the viewer in terms of rendering, particularly in crowded places, so  Avatar Complexity adds a new slider to the viewer which can be used to set a level above which avatars requiring a lot of processing will appear as a solid colour – the most popular term used to describe them being Jelly Babies after the sweet (candy) of the same name – greatly reducing the load placed on a system compared to having to render them in detail, so improving performance.

Avatar complexity is intended to help those who may hit performance issues as a result of their GPU struggling to render complex (hight render cost) avatars, by rendering such avatars as solid colours.
Avatar complexity is intended to help those who may hit performance issues as a result of their GPU struggling to render complex (hight render cost) avatars, by rendering such avatars as solid colours.

The intent with the capability is to allow people to adjust the setting according to circumstance, so that when in a crowded area with lots of avatars, the setting can be dialled down and more of those avatars which are harder to render become solid colours, while in quieter areas, the setting and can dialled back up, allowing more avatars to be seen in full detail.

Avatar Complexity is intended to sit alongside the avatar imposters functionality (Max # of non-impostors in the official viewer), allowing both to be used as required to produce more optimal performance in crowded or busy places.

By default, Avatar Complexity is set to No Limit, meaning all avatars in your field of view will fully render. As the slider is moved, it will list a render weight value, which is a revision of the RenderAutoMute function within the viewer previously used to help calculate the more familiar Avatar Draw /  Render Weight. The latter, viewed via Advanced > Performance Tools, has also been renamed to Show Avatar Complexity Information for consistency, with the displayed information updated.

The Avatar Complexity slider in Preferences > Graphics > Advanced Graphics Preferences (l) and the new format of information displayed when Advanced > Performance Tools > Show Avatar Complexity Information is enabled (r)
The Avatar Complexity slider in Preferences > Graphics > Advanced Graphics Preferences (l) and the new format of information displayed when Advanced > Performance Tools > Show Avatar Complexity Information is enabled (r) – click for full size

Graphics Presets

The initial work on Graphics Presets was undertaken by open source contributor Jonathan Yap (see STORM-2082) to provide a means by which users can save and restore different sets of graphics settings within the viewer. The idea being that users can then switch between different presets according to circumstance to help with viewer performance.

So, for example, one preset might have all the performance hitting items – shadows, projectors, etc., – turned on / up for times when the overall quality and depth of detail in a scene is important (such as when taking photos). Another might have these more taxing capabilities turned down / off to ease the processing load on a computer during more general activities. A third might be established for “in door” uses, with things like draw distance and the level of detail for external items (the sky, trees, terrain, reflections, etc.) all turned down, again easing the processing load.

Like Avatar Complexity, Graphics Presets is still undergoing development internally with the Lab, and so what is presented here may be subject to change.

Perhaps the most significant change this brings to the viewer is the introduction of a new Advance Graphics Preferences floater (shown below right). This is designed to display all of the options than a user can set and save within a graphics preset without having to either scroll through options (an earlier iteration of the design did use a scroll bar, but they didn’t meet with favourable reactions during testing), or having to switch between different sub tabs.

The new graphics profile options - the Advanced Graphics floater (as it is at present), and the options for saving / restoring profiles from within Preferences.
The new graphics presets options – the Advanced Graphics floater (as it is at present), and the options for saving / restoring profiles from within Preferences – click for full size

Continue reading “Early looks: Avatar Complexity and Graphics Presets”