A trip to the Countryside in Second Life

Countryside, Habitat Springs; Inara Pey, May 2016, on Flickr Countryside, Habitat Springs – click any image for full size

In November 2014 I wrote about a Mainland location called The Back 40, designed by Dicky (Dick Spad). At the time, I was enchanted by that discovery; so you can imagine my absolute delight in discovering Dicky has a full region as well, also open to the public (aside from the corner where he has his private residence).

Countryside is every bit as enchanting as The Back 40, offering a fabulous outdoors environment which can be enjoyed through solo exploration or – more ideally – in the company of a friend / someone close to you.

Countryside, Habitat Springs; Inara Pey, May 2016, on Flickr Countryside, Habitat Springs

Surrounded by a rolling landscape created by the use of region surrounds, it’s hard to tell where the region ends and “beyond” begins, which helps give this region a feeling of being far bigger than the 256 metres on a side we’re allowed. Largely flat, the land is naturally divided into a series of areas by the river flowing through the region and the use of broad greenswards, very strongly suggestive of fire breaks to be found in heavy areas prone to forest fires.

From the landing point in the south-east corner of the region, one can strike out north or west, the greenswards offering a choice of routes through the groupings of trees. Head north, and you’ll pass woods and meadow, a fire watch tower and reach grasslands stretching up to the river, on the other side of which sits Dicky’s private residence.

Countryside, Habitat Springs; Inara Pey, May 2016, on Flickr Countryside, Habitat Springs

Head west from the landing point and you’ll again come to the head of the river: a large pool of water fed by a waterfall, where bears fish and beavers are constructing a lodge. Cross the river via with little wooden bridge, and the landscape gradually changes, edging away from the open wilds to a more rural environment with neatly laid crops, fenced  fields and meadows, and a small farm fed by a dirt track, the sidings of a railway spur close by.

It is, in a word, quite beautiful. And that’s really just the start; it’s possible to wander for what seems miles around the region and still come across something new – be it more wildlife, another little snuggle place or a further vantage point ideal for photographs. Do keep an eye out for Morgan Garret’s marvellous little birds, which I also blogged about far back in the mists of time – or December 2013, to be exact. We have a number of them scattered around the island home, and they really are quite fantastic and life-like.

Countryside, Habitat Springs; Inara Pey, May 2016, on Flickr Countryside, Habitat Springs

Back in November 2014 I noted how Dicky’s work at The Back 40 demonstrates you don’t necessarily need a full-sized regions to create something memorable. With Countryside, it is fair to say that Dicky shows us just what can be done when you do have a full-sized region at your disposal, and are prepared to put the time into developing it and its surroundings.

I’ve visited many regions over the years I’ve been exploring Second Life, and all of them have been fabulous in their own unique ways; but I don’t think I’ve been to a region that is quite so natural-looking and well-blended as Countryside.

Very highly recommended – and you can still visit The Back 40 as well!

Countryside, Habitat Springs

SLurl Details

SL project updates 16 22/1: server, viewer

{Ville Par La Mer} / Royaume de Versailles; Inara Pey, May 2016, on Flickr {Ville Par La Mer} / Royaume de Versaillesblog post

Server Deployments

As always, for the latest information, please refer to the server deployment thread.

  • On Tuesday, May 31st, the Main (SLS) channel was updated with the same server maintenance package previously deployed to all three RC channels, which included a server crash fix.
  • On Wednesday, June 1st, all the RC channels should be updated with a new server maintenance package, comprising the addition of mnemonic names to be used in LSL scripts when attaching to the new attachment points on the Bento skeleton extensions and minor internal changes.

SL Viewer

There have been no changes to any of the viewer channels so far this week, leaving things as per the end of week #21:

  • Current Release viewer, version (dated May 11), promoted May 18th – formerly the Quick Graphics RC viewer download page, release notes
  • RC viewers:
    • Maintenance RC viewer, version, dated May 23rd – a modest but useful set of 24 fixes and updates to the viewer
    • Inventory Message RC viewer, version, dated May 23rd – removal of deprecated and unused UDP inventory messaging mechanisms from the viewer
  • Project viewers:
    • Project Bento (avatar skeleton extensions), version, dated May 26th – this build includes the “reset Skeleton” option and additional slider updates
    • Oculus Rift project viewer, version, dated October 13th, 2014 – Oculus Rift DK2 support
  • Obsolete platform viewer version dated May 8, 2015 – provided for users on Windows XP and OS X versions below 10.7.

Project Bento

As anticipated, Project Bento, the avatar skeleton enhancements project, was deployed to the main grid to mark the start of more widespread testing, on Tuesday, May 31st. You can find out more via the following posts:

Project Bento arrives on the main grid in Second Life

Project Bento, the Lab-initiated, collaborative project involving Second Life content creators to bring greater capabilities to mesh avatars and – potentially – rigged attachments – is now available on Agni, the Second Life main grid.

The news – not entirely unexpected, as the Lab has been gearing-up to make the move for the last few weeks – came via an official blog post on Tuesday, May 31st.

Project Bento has been in development for over a year, the initial phases of the work being carried out by the Lab behind closed doors, before a period of closed development involving a number of expert creators and tool makes – notably the Avastar team who produce the avatar plug-in for Blender, and Cathy Foil, who produces Mayastar, a similar plug-in for Maya. I was also invited to observe this initial work – my sincere thanks to Oz Linden for the opportunity – so that I could follow the project and report on its development, which I was able to start doing in December 2015, once the project had been publicly announced, and the project opened to greater input from content creators and animators.

Project Bento has involved staff from Linden Lab, notably Troy Linden, Oz Linden and Vir Linden, together with assistance from Alexa Linden, Simon Linden, Rider Linden, Aura Linden and others. It has also involved SL content creators including the folk from Avastar, Cathy Foil, Toady Nakamura, Siddean Munro and Flea Bussy
An early Project Bento meeting. The project has involved staff from Linden Lab, notably Troy Linden, Oz Linden and Vir Linden, together with assistance from Alexa Linden, Simon Linden, Rider Linden, Aura Linden and others. It has also involved the folk from Avastar and Mayastar as well as many content creators and animators

At that time, Bento introduced over 90 additional bones to the avatar skeleton, with no fewer that 30 being added to avatars hands to allow for finger manipulation, and another 30 to the head for facial expressions. To further support the new additions, new attachment points were added to the skeleton and – most recently of all – a good number of the bones (particularly those in the face) were hooked-up the viewer appearance sliders, allowing them to adjust elements of suitably rigged mesh heads, etc.

Net result: the ability for mesh avatars to be far more expressive and customisable than before, and much, much better support for non-human avatars. There’s also the potential for a wide range of other uses – such as Aki Shichiroji’s wyvern pictured below, or  rigged attachable pets – even the potential for gowns and other clothing to move naturally with an avatar’s movement.

Aki Shichiroji demonstrates a wearable wyvern utilising Bento bones for animation. Inset: the model under development at a Bento meeting.
Aki Shichiroji demonstrates a wearable wyvern utilising Bento bones for animation. Inset: the model under development at a Bento meeting (main image courtesy of Linden Lab)

Many of the possibilities for Bento are highlighted in a special promotional video released by the Lab and embedded at the end of this article, made with the full support for the creators who have been actively engaged in the project for the last 6-12 months.

It is important yo note that – as the official blog post states, this still a testing release of Project Bento: making it available to a wider audience than is possible when it is constrained to Aditi, and thus allowing further testing of things like overall simulator / grid performance with larger numbers of Bento avatars operating, looking out for other issues, etc., which may not have come to light during the Aditi testing, and also further refining and improving the viewer so it might progress to a release status.

Which brings up a further important point, again as the official blog post notes:

Anyone wishing to view the new content must be running the latest Bento Project Viewer.

If you encounter Bento avatars and are not using the Bento Project Viewer, you may see some strangely behaving avatar animations and meshes. If you’re using a very old (i.e. no longer supported) viewer, encountering Bento content may even cause a crash.

Some TPVs have already starting integrating the Bento code into experimental versions of their viewers. However, if you are testing Bento, working with content which leverages Bento capabilities, you are best off using the official project viewer for the purposes of bug reporting, etc.

There is also a Project Bento User Group wiki page for  those wishing to get involved in the project. However, please note that the meeting venue will likely be changing from Aditi to Agni now the project is available on the main grid.

Note, as well, that Project Bento is intended for use with mesh avatars and models – the capabilities are not intended to work with the default avatar form, as it was felt that attempting to do so risked potential content breakage and / or other issues which could impact the project.

Nevertheless, the new capabilities could herald a new era for mesh avatars within Second Life, with more realistic non-human avatars, greater dexterity with human-style avatars and even the potential for expressive, customisable mesh heads! So, welcome to the start of a new era for mesh avatars in Second Life.

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