A return to The Shire in Second Life

The Shire; Inara Pey, September 2016, on Flickr The Shire – click any image for full size

The Shire. For anyone who has entered the realms of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth, that is a name synonymous with Hobbits, the house at Bag End, and the place from which Bilbo and Frodo Baggins each in turn left behind all they had ever known to set out on quests very different in nature, but ultimately part of the same history. It is also a place beautifully brought to life in Second Life by Chocolate Aftermath, working with region holder Imabean Algorythm (Ima Peccable).

I first visited The Shire, Second Life, in March of 2015, and was utterly delighted with all I saw; a beautiful blending of places for Little and Big Folk, complete with a touch of Elven mystery. I confess to not having made a return trip in nigh-on a year, so seeing it featured in the Destination Guide highlights for September 16th put me in the mind to renew my acquaintance with the region, see what has changed and – most importantly of all – introduce Caitlyn to Chocolate’s interpretation of this corner of Tolkien’s world.

The Shire; Inara Pey, September 2016, on Flickr The Shire – click any image for full size

And I’m utterly delighted that while things have greatly changed since my last visit in (I think) August of 2015, all of the magic and delight of The Shire remain, offering a balanced mix of public spaces and private, for-rent residences. The latter comprise for the Little Folk, familiar double-fronted Hobbit Holes with large round front doors and little steps leading up their humped backs to “rooftop” seating areas; whilst for the Big Folk, more traditional slate-roofed cottages and farm houses are scattered across the region.

All of the hobbit holes and houses are placed within their own grounds and spaced across the region and both upon its hills and lowlands in such a way that tenants have a good feeling of privacy from one another, while the fences and walls surrounding their plots serve to steer casual visitors  along the public paths and tracks without huge risk of unwanted intrusion by the polite Second Life Explorer.

The Shire; Inara Pey, September 2016, on Flickr The Shire – click any image for full size

Visits to the Shire begin towards the south-east corner of the region where Bilbo Baggins’ (eleventy-first?) birthday is being celebrated. I didn’t notice any of Gandalf’s fireworks awaiting their time to be lit, but I’m sure they are there 🙂 . The Shire “proper” lies on the other side of a narrow sliver of water across by a set of stepping-stones which – in a nod to wider aspects of Tolkien’s world, is watched over by an Entish tree spirit.

Once over the water, the path divides, and where you go is really down to where your feet carry you. As noted the homes spread across the region are private, so please do note the rental status at the gates / paths leading to them and respect the privacy of the tenants. The paths and tracks wind their way gently around and over the hills of the region, presenting plenty of opportunities for exploration and to sit down (Hobbits love a good natter, you know).

The Shire; Inara Pey, September 2016, on Flickr The Shire – click any image for full size

There are other hints of un-Hobbity things to be found as you explore this little corner of the Shire as well. There’s a touch of dwarvishness to be found under hill, and little touch or two of an elven influence up on the hill (one of which has the region’s open-air art gallery which currently features Jewell Wirefly’s images). There’s also a hint that  trouble may have found its way to this part of The Shire – it’s not every day one comes across a watchtower with a rack of spears in the land of the Hobbits – has Saruman been up to mischief?

The Shire is, without a doubt, a joy to visit. Bird song fills the air and with all the hobbit holes, open windows and doors, it’s not hard to imagine the smell of baking and cooking being wafted gently on the breeze. Those interested in renting a hole or cottage can find information on cost and LI allowances on the rental boxes at the entrance to each plot. Those interested in photography will find plenty of opportunities, and those with a love of Tolkien will feel right at home!

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DiXmiX Gallery in Second Life

DiXmiX Gallery: Grazia Horwitz
DiXmiX Gallery: Grazia Horwitz

Opening on Saturday, September 17th at 12:00 noon SLT is the DiXmiX Gallery, a new venue for 2D and 3D art and for music in Second Life.

Designed by Megan Prumier (famous for Crimarizon and Deadpool) and curated by Dixmix Source, the gallery offers a large foyer area and three halls for art displays – the Black and the White Gallery Halls, which are apparently to be dedicated to monochrome art, with the Grey Gallery linking them. Art in these halls may be split over two levels, the ground floor and a mezzanine area, while a music venue, The Atom, completes the major facilities.

DiXmiX Gallery: Ariel Brearly
DiXmiX Gallery: Ariel Brearly

For the inaugural exhibitions, the gallery  presents a series of striking images by Ariel Brearly (directly above) on display in the spacious entrance foyer. These are from Dixmix’s personal collection of her work, and he notes he hopes to have her displaying in person at the gallery in the near future. Also on display is a selection from Megan’s personal collection of 3D art by Mistero Hifeng.

The Black Gallery and the White Gallery offer exhibitions of avatar studies by Grazia Horowitz and Dixmix Source respectively. The images by Graziamark the first time her art has been formally exhibited in Second Life. I confess to finding Grazia’s work hauntingly beautiful, with Aditi (seen as the banner image to this piece) in particular captivating me.

DiXmiX Gallery: Megan Prumier
DiXmiX Gallery: Megan Prumier

The Grey Gallery presents a set of Ziki Questi’s familiar panoramic images, these focused on art-related installations, on its two levels. Uncredited in the introductory notes, but also on display in the halls behind The Atom music venue, is a series of nude colour avatar studies by Megan Prumier (seen in the image above). Rich in tone, these stand in marked contrast to the monochrome studies found in the Black and White galleries, and are displayed with two 3D pieces also by Megan, which each offer a visual play on the old idiom, nature abhors a vacuum.

All of the 2D art from the artists is available for purchase, and music for the opening will be provided by Nadja Neville in The Atom. Note that public access to the gallery will only be available from 12:00 noon onwards on September 17th.

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Project Bento User Group update 26 with audio + hints’n’tips

Bento: extending the avatar skeleton
Bento: extending the avatar skeleton

The following notes and audio were taken from the weekly Bento User Group meeting, held on Thursday, September 15th at 13:00 SLT at the the Hippotropolis Campfire Circle. and chaired by Vir Linden. For details on the meeting agenda, please refer to the Bento User Group wiki page.

Note that this update is not intended to offer a full transcript of the meeting, nor does it present the discussion points in chronological order. Rather, it represents the core points of discussion, grouped together by subject matter were relevant / possible, whilst maintaining the overall context of the meeting.

RC Viewer Release

As indicated in an official blog post, and in this blog, the Bento viewer is now at release candidate status with the release of version – which can be obtained through the Alternate Viewers wiki page. This means that TPVs can now officially adopt the Bento code and release it in their own viewers. Cool VL Viewer already has Bento merged into its experimental branch, for example, and Firestorm has the code merged ready for their next scheduled release.

There are a number of small updates in the RC version of the viewer, chiefly typos in the sliders which were preventing them from having symmetrical effects. These affected the lip thickness slider, the square head slider, and the body thickness slider, together with a slight tail bone issue.

The RC Viewer and “Distorted Avatars”

If you opt to experiment with the Bento RC viewer and Beno demons etc., keep in mind that any Bento-enabled items to you wear will only appear as intended when viewed from another Bento capable viewer. Anyone using a non-Bento viewer see you is at best going to see things incorrectly positioned on your avatar, and at worse, see whatever you are wearing utterly deformed.

Bento creations will only appear correctly when viewed in a Bento-enabled viewer, as shown in these two pairs of images. On the left: a Bento head seen in a Bento viewer, then in a non-Bento viewer; On the right, a Bento avatar seen respectively in a Bento and a non-Bento viewer (click for full size)
Bento creations will only appear correctly when viewed in a Bento-enabled viewer, as shown in these two pairs of images. On the left: a Bento head seen in a Bento viewer (note; the jewellery is out-of-position on the first image as I didn’t bother repositioning it to fit the head for the photo) and then on a non-Bento viewer – note the head is now located in the small of my back (arrowed). On the right, a Bento avatar seen respectively in a Bento and a non-Bento viewer (click for full size)

Obviously, as the Bento code is more widely adopted and reaches release status, these issues will decline – but for now, if you’re using the Bento RC viewer (or other viewer with Bento support), do keep this in mind when venturing out in public.

In extreme cases, older viewer versions may crash if a Bento avatar / Bento content is encountered; but these cases should be rare. The Lab added code to the viewer some time ago to specifically prevent Bento updates from crashing the viewer, so as long as a viewer has these updates – as should be the case with all currently maintained viewers – it should not crash.

Reset Skeleton

The Reset Sketon option is available from the right-click context menus for both avatar name tags (l) and avatars (r)

There are occasions (when changing between avatars, for example) when those who are on a Bento viewer may see themselves or another Bento avatar distorted. This is due to variances in how appearance updates are received / handled (and even with non-Bento avatar models has in the past required a re-log to fix).

To overcome this in the Bento viewer, there is a Reset Skeleton option, which can be used on either yourself or other deformed avatars in your view. This can be found in the avatar name tag context menu, or the avatar context menu, either of which can be access by right-clicking on the name tag or avatar respectively.

Vir notes the solution is not ideal, but the only other way to fix such issues would be extensive re-working of the viewer code – and at least this approach avoids the need for a re-log to correct matters.

Time Frames for Release

Questions were asked on when the viewer might go to release. this is actually dependent on a number of factors, including:

  • The viewer’s crash rate compared with the current release viewer and other RC viewer in the release channel
  • Whether exposure to a wider audience of users uncovers non-bento bugs or regressions which require additional fixing
  • Relative priorities between Bento and other projects.

Avatar Vertical Position (height above ground) Calculation

This has been a running topic for some time. In short, a n avatar’s vertical position relative to the ground is determined by a complex calculation which involves using a number of joints running up through the body from the left foot to the skull. The idea is to present a consistent view of an avatar standing on the ground, rather than in the ground or over the ground. However, if any of the joints used in the calculation are changing position unintentionally when the calculation is made, it can result in the avatar seeming to bounce up-and-down (see here for more).

To help overcome these kinds of issues, Vir has now documented the body height calculation bones, and the details can be found here: Avatar body size

Joint Position and Volume Bones

Visualising volume bones

It’s been noted that zooming in on a Bento avatar or attempting to click on a part of the avatar can be difficult. This is generally because the collision bones are not set-up correctly. The positions of the volume bones can be seen using Advanced Menu > Avatar > Show Collision Skeleton.

This will overlay the avatar with a series of oval shapes (official viewer – other viewers may render the collision skeleton slightly differently) which show the position of the volume bones. The closer these match the shape an avatar (something which may not always be possible, depending on the avatar type / size), the easier it will be to zoom in on the avatar and / or click on it.

Tapple Gao’s avatar testing and visualisation kit of meshes and animations can also be used to show the collision skeleton.

Setting volume bone positions can either be done within the mesh model or via animation, although there was some confusion whether collision volumes now get included in joint offsets.

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