The end of the year is once more approaching, which is often a time of reflection as we look back over the old before pausing to await the arrival of the new. It’s become something of a tradition in these pages for me to look back over the articles and coverage of the year’s events I’ve managed to write-up, and offer a chance to revisit the ups and downs and the good and the bad the last twelve months have brought us.
To keep things digestible, I’ve broken this year’s review into two parts. This one covers July to December. You can find January to June here.
Linden Lab released an update to the Oculus Rift project viewer. A I subsequently reported (see the article updates), people found it suffered significant issues, and appeared to be a step backwards. The JIRA raised for the viewer quickly grew. With a week, the Lab announced they were suspending work on Oculus Rift support in the viewer. CTRL-ALT-Studio offered to bridge the gap, but only on an interim basis.
Caledonia presented the penultimate part of her series on promoting Second Life events, and Draxtor delved into games in Second Life, through the work of Sergio Delacruz. Meanwhile, I received an invitation to find out more about the Helping Haven Community Gateway, before beaming aboard an avatar-sized replica of the original Starship Enterprise, courtesy of Cathy Foil.
Lumiya 3.0 arrived, with a host of goodies, including a new user interface. Rock Your Rack in support of the US National Breast Cancer Foundation was announced, as was the second fund-raising season for Team Diabetes of SL, while the 5th annual Shivers Unleashed music festival took place. The big news for the month, events-wise, was that PULSE SL, in support of the victims and families of those lost in the Orlando nightclub shooting had raised a staggering L$5.5 million.
Ed Baig from USA Today presented a video spot about project Sansar. A little later, and as I reported, he later gave a matching write-up on the platform. Latter in the month, I looked at articles on Sansar from THE and Techcrunch.
I completed a full redesign of Holly Kai Park, which included the Tiered Garden Wall product by Alex Bader, which was also put to use at home. I finally caught the stunning and award-winning animation The Tyger, by Radheya Jegatheva, son of SL’s own Jayay Zifanwe, on YouTube.
Windlight announced a re-branding to Kultivate, and the Lab blogged about recent SL updates and I added some additional info and links to more in-depth coverage in this blog, which included a look at the new Gaming Islands, designed to introduce users to Skill Gaming in SL.
Firestorm updated with Jelly Dolls (or Avatar Complexity to give the formal name for the capability), and I revisited Hitomi Tiponi’s work producing the Starlight UI Skins and goodies for the official viewer from the Lab. The latter announced the new Marketplace search, so long in beta, was finally live. I also picked up on Strawberry Singh’s request to highlight the issue of SL Marketplace full permissions goods scams.
Thanks to bots discovering it, the SL wiki went into lock-down for the second time in recent years, and while the Lab indicated they hoped to have things sorted “soon”, it remains locked as we reach the end of the year. More woes hit SL in August, and April Linden explained why.
I produced the second in my Sansar Summaries, rounding-up all the news and information on the platform I’d been able to cull from the Lab, the media and other sources. August saw the Lab announce the first batch of Sansar Creator Preview invitations had been issued. However, what interested me more was the announcement indicated that “Sansar” was now officially the platform’s title – the “project” having been dropped.
Winter Flakes sits on a homestead region held by Caledonia Dreamscape. Like many regions at this time of the year, it presents a winter setting, and while – I believe – it is also the home for Caledonia and her partner, Trix Congrego, they’ve opened it up for visitors to enjoy.
“[It’s] a combination of Scottish and Danish winters,” Caledonia says of the region. “We first started Winter Flakes as we both love winter. Four years on and we are still here; I think it’s a winter love!”
For those visiting, the region offers an opportunity to wander a snowy landscape, take pictures and simply relax after all the hustle of the holiday period. Think of it as an opportunity for a quiet winter walk in the snow to burn off some of the calories of that New Year’s dinner 🙂 .
The landing point sits at the side of a road which loops around a frozen pond, overlooked by little cottages. For those who might be wondering what happened to Santa over Christmas, the answer might be found in the roof of a little ruined shed to one side of the scene.
A covered stall offers warming hot chocolate and punch for those in the need of inner warmth, standing close to where the road points the way between brick walls and tall beech trees to a set of iron gates, beyond which sits an old wooden mill, sails slowly turning under the snow-heavy sky.
Alongside the mill, snowy ruts indicate the route of a track that winds its way through more trees to a distinctly Scandinavian cottage. A little beyond this a skating rink is to be found, folded within encircling rocky arms. It sits next to a very modern cabin which offers a place to warm up after a spin on the ice. Further still to the west, on the far side of a frozen inlet, sits another cottage, facing a church converted for use as a house across the span of a wooden bridge. A rather glum looking Santa sits on a hill between them, perhaps still awaiting his own Christmas presents to arrive…
Surrounded by rocky peaks topped with fir trees and under a steady fall of snow from cloud-wrapped sky, Winter Flakes presents a simple, uncluttered setting with lots of little touches which should be discovered rather than described, making for a pleasing, gentle visit.
Thanks once again to Shakespeare (SkinnyNilla) for passing me the details!
- Winter Flakes (Sugartown, rated: Moderate)
Saturday, December 31st 2016 will once again see a great Second Life tradition take place, with the Bay City “prim drop” set to mark the start of a new year.
Festivities will be kicking-off a 23:30 SLT at the Bay City Fairgrounds in North Channel. The theme for the event is a wintertime soirée; black tie attire is recommended, and all SL residents are invited to attend. Marianne McCann will be providing the music and fireworks, and food and drink will be provided.
This will also be the final opportunity in 2015 to donate to Child’s Play Charity, a US 501c3 non-profit organisation which helps seriously ill children around the globe during their hospital stays with the purchase of games and gaming equipment.
As of December 24th, 2016, Bay City – recognised as a Silver Level sponsor for Child’s Play as a result of all their efforts over the years – had raised L$151,408 for the charity through a series of event. Hopefully, the Prim Drop will see this figure increase still further!
About Bay City and the Bay City Alliance
Bay City is a mainland community, developed by Linden Lab® and home to the Bay City Alliance. The Bay City Alliance was founded in 2008 to promote the Bay City regions of Second Life and provide a venue for Bay City Residents and other interested parties to socialize and network. It is now the largest group for Residents of Bay City.
- Bay City Fairgrounds (North Channel, rated: General)
“To be honest this exhibition was initiated because the January artist I invited to exhibit her work at Nitroglobus couldn’t make it,” Dido Haas says in the introduction to an exhibition of her own photography, A Million Freckles, at the Nitroglobus Roof Gallery she curates. “I started making a few works and gradually got inspired. Hope you appreciate. It’s rather revealing I must admit, to show so much of your pixel skin.”
The result is 14 large format monochrome images which might be described as minimalist – as Dido notes, there is little use of background or props – which are sensual (nudity is apparent in some, so the exhibition might be considered NSFW in places), personal, revealing and engaging.
Within the liner notes, Dido describes a conversation she had with a visitor who the gallery as she completed hanging the images. He asks her if her goal is to attract attention / admiration (presumably for herself rather than her work), and why she didn’t use a model. Her replies to the questions are that she’s not sure if attaining attention / admiration for herself is her goal, and that she doesn’t feel her abilities to frame and express moods and feelings through the use of a model.
I’d tend to agree with Dido on both counts. While these are undoubtedly refined and attractive images of self, it is the mood they evoke which attracts and engages, rather than necessarily how Dido reveals her body within each image. And while, give the use of pose systems, etc., could facilitate the same selection of photos on display, the fact that they are revealing Dido herself makes the expressions of mood and emotion within each of them that much deeper. more unique to her – and thus our own response is deepened knowing it is her revealing / exposing her own moods and sensuality.
A Million Freckles will remain open through January.
- Nitroglobus Roof Gallery (Sunshine Homestead, rated: Moderate)
Each week through the year, I try to get to as many in-world and other meetings held by the Lab to keep an eye on technical developments and updates which are in the works for the viewer and the simulator, relaying the notable items via my SL project updates. As such, I thought it might be interesting to look back at some of the technical changes and updates have come our way in 2016.
The Big Ones
There were obviously a number of fairly high-level updates which came our way, notably Project Bento, which gave us a lot of new bones and attachment points specifically for mesh avatars to make them more flexible and easier to animate. There’s a whole story behind that project which perhaps hasn’t been told in full, so expect to read more from me on it in the New Year 🙂 .
Then there was Avatar Complexity, or Jelly Dolls as it has been more popularly dubbed (initially by Whirly Fizzle after it was pointed out the term “Jelly Baby”, as initially used was in fact a trademark). Avatar Complexity is designed to reduce the often high cost of avatar rendering by the viewer, thus lightening the load on computers / graphics cards which might otherwise struggle.
A longer-term hope may have been that perhaps it would encourage people to consider what they are wearing and how it may affect others, and even get content creators to think more conservatively about their creations, and seek to optimise them for rendering. Whether either of these latter points might be / already have come about is nigh-on impossible to judge.
Both Project Bento and Avatar Complexity involved some pretty substantial changes to the viewer – Bento to the degree it warranted a version number boost. But they weren’t the only significant changes. There were also 6 new Maintenance viewers through the year, bringing with them over 250 fixes, updates and improvements. Besides these the following notable viewer releases / updates also appeared through the year.
Alongside of Avatar Complexity we gained Graphics Presets, another useful means to help improve viewer performance by allowing users to save different graphics set-ups for the viewer. This means, for example, we can have a preset for taking photographs, with all the more taxing graphics options – shadows, lighting, longer draw distance, etc – can be enabled, then have another for, say, shopping, where all the bells and whistles aren’t required, helping to improve viewer performance – and we can quickly change between them without all that tedious mucking about in Preferences.
If you are on a system which can struggle at times because you have your graphics settings tweaked a little on the high side and you’ve not experimented with Graphics Presets, you might want to give them a try.
Visual Outfits Browser
The Visual Outfits Browser brought with it the ability to have images associated with your Outfits (if you use the Outfits capability). Feedback on this seems to have been mixed. Many like it, while many, equally, ignore it (and I’m among the latter category).
The viewer received a lot of new under-the-hood HTTP updates, including the removal of a considerable amount of deprecated and unused code, and a series of improvements for things like image, mesh and animation uploads, inventory manipulation, the Viewer Management Marketplace, LSL script compilation, Experiences management, etc.
Voice has been worked on throughout 2016, with the Lab working closely with the Voice package provider, Vivox, to improve connectivity, overcome Voice quality issues, and removed many of the known exploits as possible to prevent thinks like a user in one region eavesdropping on a conversation being held in another region.
This work has involved changes to the viewer, changes to the simulator, changes to the Voice binary package supplied by Vivox (SLVoice.exe) and even changes to the Vivox servers (Voice is routed through their own servers).
As Apple dumped QuickTime for Windows with potential security vulnerabilities unpatched, The Lab adopted LibVLC for media handling in the Windows viewer (and will be moving to it win the Mac and Linux viewers when their have released their 64-bit viewers). The move overcomes most issues in trying to play back media in-world, however, licensing around the Advanced Audio Coding and MP3 formats, and the way things are packaged with LibVLC might leave TPVs with a headache or two.
Aura Linden worked on removing deprecated and unused UDP inventory messaging mechanisms from the viewer. This work is to be followed by the removal of back-end support for the removed message channels, and further viewer-side work on rationalising and refactoring the code handling inventory operations.
360 Snapshot Viewer
Whilst still only a project viewer, the 360 snapshot viewer is part of a viewer / simulator project to bring 360-dgree photography to Second Life.
One unpopular move was the announcement concerning Linux development going forward (although the Lab will be building a 64-bit Linux viewer).
The Simulator and Servers
The simulator software continued through its weekly deployments throughout the year, added bug fixes, security updates, feature requests and more each month. Listing everything that happened here would rapidly turn this article into a TL;DR. However, as well as the continued deployment of simulator code updates, 2016 saw the mechanism and tools used to build the simulator undergo update, as was (/is) the underpinning server operating system running the simulators.
Support for larger animation files was introduced, with uploads increased from 120Kb to 250Kb.
Group bans finally got a tweak so that those banned from a group whilst active in group chat would finally get booted from the group chat session as well.
Experiences got a new scripted sit capability, code-named Project Espeon.
And, of course, we have the increases to Land Capacity (or LI or prims, however you like to think of it).
Aditi Inventory Syncing
A new process for syncing inventory between Agni (the Main grid) and Aditi (the beta grid) was introduced, eliminating the need for users wishing to have their Agni inventory fully replicated on Aditi having to change their SL password and then wait between 24 and 48 hours (sometimes longer) for their Aditi inventory to be synced with Agni. Under the new system, a process automatically merges a copy of users’ Agni inventories with their Aditi inventory based on their last log-in to the beta grid.
There were some teething problems with the new system when first introduced (and some people report there may still be hiccups), but on the whole the new process is a lot smoother than the old.
Web Services: TLS 1.2 and More
The Lab made the switch to TLS 1.2, which had the potential to impact people’s ability to buy L$ via the LindeX / through a browser and / or add payment info to their account if they were not using a suitable viewer or web browser.
There were also numerous changes to various web properties, including updates to the SL Marketplace, the retirement of SLurl.com, various security and infrastructure updates
Grid Status Page
The Grid Status page moved to a new provider and was overhauled to be hopefully more informative, and have a faster means of update.
The lab plays their cards close to their chests when talking about upcoming changes / updates / improvements to Second Life, but here’s a (short) list of some of the things we can reasonably expect to see in 2017:
- 64-bit versions of the official viewer (Windows, Mac and Linux).
- Possible changes / tweaks to the avatar / object complexity calculations made by the viewer, such as it being able to more easily determine those avatars in its field of view it should not attempt to fully render (rather than waiting on information from the simulator to make that determination).
- Further updates to the viewer build tools (e.g. VS 2015 for Windows).
- Progress on the 360 snapshot viewer.
- Further work cleaning-up and rationalising the viewer code.
- Voice updates for both the server and the viewer.
- Continued server deployments and improvements 🙂 .