Of Lost Unicorns and Celtic forests in Second Life

Finian’s Foraois, August 2021 – click any image for full size

I received a special invitation from Nessa Nova and Natalie Starlight to pay a visit to the latest iterations of their Lost Unicorn estate, which officially open at 12:00 noon SLT on Saturday, August 7th. As a long-term admirer of their work, which I’ve blogged about numerous times in these pages, it was an invitation I was only too happy to accept.

As this is a preview piece, this article is going to be a little different to my usual travelogues, as rather than offer something of a walk through of the settings, I want to talk about the atmosphere that Ness and Natalie create within their region designs, and why I find their work so attractive and memorable. I’ll also note that that while both regions offer dedicated EEP settings, the images you see here have been taken with one of my personal EEP Fixed Sky settings, as I wanted to offer more of a personal take on the regions and their mysticism – so please make sure you have your viewer set to Use Shared Environment (World → Environment) when you visit.

Finian’s Foraois, August 2021

The Lost Unicorn estate has long been the home of the Lost Unicorn Gallery. Traditionally housed within a great castle watched over by the gigantic form of a dragon and seated upon its own island, the gallery has been home to some of the finest fantasy art, both mixed media and produced from images captured entirely in-world, that Second Life has to offer by some of the platform’s greatest talents.

With this iteration, the gallery retains its castle setting, but with a new building design that conjoins the main region thanks to a narrow stone causeway. The off-region surround that cups the the main Lost Unicorn region and which blends with it to the west and north, also extends south and west, giving the impression that the gallery and castle sit along the sweeping curve of a distant land’s mountainous stretch of coast.

The castle is a stunning structure, one of the most unique in terms of the blending of styles that I’ve seen in-world. Great elven arches combine with burnished minarets as water tumbles from high platforms to form curtains along straight and curved walls of stone within which galleried halls rise one another the other, and doorways unexpectedly open onto open-roofed courtyards and gardens or rooms where skylights allow sunlight to wash walls and floors.

Crowned by a building that combines the looks of a medieval cathedral with a distinctly elven tone as it sits on a saddle of rock, the entire gallery structure is  utterly enchanting for its sheer beauty, the art it contains, and the unexpected little spaces that await discovery – such as the jazz venue and the Storybook Nook.

The Jazz venue is something I didn’t expect to come across. Presided over by Ol’ Blue Eyes himself, it is not a place one might readily associate with a fantasy realm – and yet it works, presents another unique tale to the gallery’s ever-growing story. Soimilarly, the Storybook Nook presents a cascade of memories for those who visited Nessa and Natalie’s former region of Storybook Forest.

Lost Unicorn Gallery, August 2021

Down the steps from the landing point, the causeway to the main region – now called Finian’s Foraois (Celtic for “forest”) – adds a touch of Tolkien to the mix, guarded as it is by the Argonath,  the great carven statues of  Isildur and Anárion. Here, rather than guard the passage of the Great River Anduin as it flows into Gondor, they bracket the entrance to the forest.

Passing through the arch – and crossing into the estate’s Full region – was for me akin to stepping into Middle Earth. Not just because of the presence of the Argonath, but because the forest beyond the rocky veil that sits between the two regions brought to mind thought so Greenwood the Great before darkness fell across it, and a time when the paths beneath its great canopy echoed to to happy laughter of Sindarin elves and men and dwarves could find safe passage through the wood. A time long before it became the brooding shadow known as Mirkwood – although look closely in places, an you will see possible portents of the darkness to come, as baleful eyes here and there appear from within the foliage, glare for a moment and then fade away.

Finian’s Foraois, August 2021

Here, under the shade of the giant trees, paths meander and streams bubble. Deer and rabbit, otter and bear are to be found roaming, and the very air seems heady and light as mist curls and sunlight filters across paths or fills glades with light.

But it is not only a sense of Second Age Middle Earth to be found here, and many influences await those who wander.

Finian’s Foraois, August 2021

There is the little market on the hilltop for example – might it be found in Middle Earth or Middle England at the time of the Knights of the Round Table or of Robin Hood? And then there is the brooding bulk of the second castle, cold stone and heavy walls a world away from those of the gallery castle, and within it more touches of Arthurian legend and the romanticism brought forth by the likes of Thomas Mallory and his Le Morte d’Arthur.

Then there are the garden spots and glades with their own settings. places watched by unicorns and set of afternoon tea. But who are to be the guests? Inhabitants of Lewis Carroll’s world, perhaps, so some others?

Lost Unicorn Gallery, August 2021

This is the magic of Lost Unicorn, a magic that filters through each and every design Natalie and Nessa present. It encourages the imagination to soar unfettered, nudged by all that we see, large and small – as with the eyes noted above. Within it, those who have visited past designs will find threads of their presence – from story books to Celtic tales and medieval myths, all of which cast the mind by to lost Unicorns of the past. At the same time, the settings offer something entirely new place with stories as yet unwritten, where the echoes of elves and knights comfortably rub shoulders with the spirit of the Great American Songbook whilst looking into the eyes of Marilyn Monroe without any hint of jarring juxtaposition or misplaced design.

Thus, the Lost Unicorn estate remains, as always, a place to be savoured as much as explored – and needless to say, rich with opportunities for photography as well as for creating stories abound throughout. Yes, there is a lot for the viewer to handle if you run with shadows enabled, but the effort is more than worthwhile, as you will be rewarded by an immersive trip into a realm of fantasy and legend that is genuinely unique.

Lost Unicorn Gallery, August 2021

SLurl Details

2021 TPV Developer meeting week #31 summary

Cravone City, April 2021 – blog post

The following notes are taken from the TPV Developer meeting held on Friday, August 6th, 2021.

These meetings are generally held every other week.  They are recorded by Pantera Północy, and her video of the meeting is embedded at the end of this report – my thanks to her for allowing me to do so – and it is used with a transcript of the chat log from the meeting and my own audio recording to produce this summary, which focuses on the core topics discussed.

SL Viewer

[Video 1:00-2:32]

No updates to the current crop of official viewers this week, leaving them as follows:

  • Release viewer: version, Fernet Maintenance RC dated July 14th, promoted July 19th.
  • Release channel cohorts:
  • Project viewers:
    • Legacy Profiles viewer, version, dated October 26th, 2020.
    • Copy / Paste viewer, version, dated December 9th, 2019.
    • Project Muscadine (Animesh follow-on) project viewer, version, dated November 22nd, 2019.
    • 360 Snapshot project viewer, version, dated July 16th, 2019.

General Viewer Notes

  • The CEF update viewer is being looked at as the next possible promotion to de facto release status. A decision on this may be taken on Monday, August 9th.
  • The 360 Snapshot viewer update is in progress, but it is still going to be a while before it surfaces.
  • [Video: 4:17-5:25] The Legacy Profiles viewer requires a couple of additional caps on the back-end. This work has yet to be queued, as the focus of back-end work remains on the tools update that is currently in progress; so it will be a while before this viewer is updated.
  • Both the revised Simplified Cache viewer and the Apple Notarisation viewer are both very close to making an appearance, most likely as RC viewers.
  • [Video 5:46-6:18] The new performance controls viewer (ARC, etc.), should be ready for issue as a project viewer in the “not too distant” future.

LOD Generation Viewer

[Video: 2:50-4:15]

A viewer using the mesh optimiser library for automatic LOD model generation for mesh uploads is in development. No date on when it is likely to appear.

This reportedly works better than the GLOD code that is currently in use. For the initial project viewer version(s) of this viewer, once available, creators will have a choice of using either GLOD or the optimiser at upload. Longer-term LL are still discussing whether or not GLOD will be retained as an option, or whether it will be removed (or at the least, made a non-default option).

Beyond this, there is the larger question of using the optimiser library in real time, and what to do with the available content that does not have properly defined LOD models, but this is regarded as “discussion for latter”; the onus at the moment is to make a viewer available that utilises the optimiser library.

Viewer-side Animation Override

[Video: 6:24-6:40]

The ability to run animations normally found in a scripted Animation Override HUD natively from the viewer has been a capability that a number of TPVs offer (animations play viewer-side anyway, so removing the need to operate them via simulator-side scripts helps reduce the script processing load on the latter). It is now the subject of discussions for a viewer-side AO system to be made a part of the official viewer, potentially leveraging what has been done by TPVs.

In Brief

  • [Video 6:50-7:49] As noted in my SUG meeting notes, the new simulator console command that let estate managers change the default EEP settings across an entire estate is now available on regions running on the RC channels, and will be grid-wide after the next SLS Main channel deployment (Tuesday, August 10th). This also paves the way for implementing a new default Mainland EEP setting that will be coming in a future update.
  • [Video 22:46-24:56] BUG-229227 “Offline group invites not working” this issue was the result of removing reliance on UDP messaging (which is not always reliable) and using a capability instead. While some fixes have been made to try to improve things, the code itself is described as a “Byzantine mess”, and in need of a complete re-write There are no time frames when / if this may happen.
  • Caatznip has been continuing investigations in to the cost of rendering Linden Water in cases where it cannot be see (e.g. when standing in the middle of a multi-region estate so it is completely “invisible” under the terrain), and have found that completely ignoring Linden Water rendering via occlusion checks can boost FPS by between 30-50%, with the most notable benefits being with lower-specification systems.

Next Meeting

  • The next meeting should be on August 20th, 2021.