Friday, June 24th, 2022 saw the final Meet the Lindens special events take place for the SL19B(irthday) celebrations, featuring Patch Linden and the Moles of the Linden Department of Public Works (LDPW).
Unlike previous articles in this series, this is not a detailed summary of the session, but focuses on information relating to the New User eXperience (NUX) and the upcoming new Starter Avatars, and on plans for Linden Homes for Premium Plus and Premium accounts. Also provided is information on who the Moles are, and how to apply to become one, if you believe your skill sets are suitable.
NUX is a multi-phase, multi-faceted project that is fairly constantly in motion.
Currently, the focus is on the new user starter avatars, given the current avatars are a mix of the original system body and mesh attachments.
This project is intended to replace all of the starter avatars with fully mesh offerings. These will utilise the Bento skeleton and sliders, support Bakes on Mesh (BoM) and be an all-in-one, head-to-toes avatar, complete with new animation overrides.
Will be provided with an “array” of outfits/looks/ethnicities from which new users can choose during the sign-up process, with everything being an unisex as possible, so as to work across the full gender spectrum and the avatars themselves also available through the system Library.
Won’t necessarily be as robust and extensible as some of the “best-in-class” bodies and heads, but are seen as a means to help those coming into SL get started and ease them into the wider creative ecosphere.
Will be supported by developer kits so that creators can produce clothing and accessories for them, and again further encourage new users into the broader commercial ecosystem.
The work is still very much at a pre-release status, with the preview shown at the event not necessarily represent the finished product; there is a lot more to come with the project before it is ready for release.
At the time of the Moles MTL, 34,845 Premium Linden Homes had been made available and 1,913 regions released, with a further 172 “under construction”.
Premium Plus Linden Homes:
Entirely new “ground up” themes with a new approach to implementation.
The “ranch” theme Patch mentions at his MTL session [video ; blog summary], is one under consideration, although exact style, etc., is still TBA.
The fact that ideas are still in development is why Premium Plus Linden Homes will not be appearing until the end of 2022 “at the earliest”.
The increased land offering (2048 sq m) means more opportunities to use different parcel sizes.
Premium Linden Homes:
Both the Traditional and Victorian theme will be getting a refresh with “open-plan” variants on their styles.
Houseboats to get four new floor plans.
Updates will include a pass to bring the control panels up-to-date with the most recent home releases.
All of this will be rolled out before the end of 2022.
New large-scale community centres for Bellisseria are also in the works.
No plans at this time for a “city style” theme with apartments and the like.
About the Moles
Who or What are the Moles?
Officially called the Linden Department of Public Works (LDPW), originally formed in 2008, Moles are residents from all over the world hired by Linden Lab as independent contractors to undertake specific tasks.
Their work was originally focused on the Mainland, adding the infrastructure – road, bridges, etc., and the landscaping, as noted in the official LDPW wiki page, although they actually do a lot more than this.
Notable major projects carried out by the Moles include:
The infrastructure within Nautilus City.
The development of Bay City.
The Linden Homes continent of Bellisseria (including all topography, flora, infrastructure and housing).
The facilities for events like Shop & Hop, the Second Life Birthday, town hall events, the turn-key regions available for businesses, starter avatars, etc.
The Lab provided games such as Linden Realms, Paleoquest, Horizons and the grid-wide Tyrah and the Curse of the Magical Glytches – all accessible via the Portal Parks.
They also provide support / input for / to technical projects (e.g. Project Bento and the avatar skeleton extension), and work with marketing, QA and other LL teams.
In keeping with their name, Moles were originally given a mole avatar, complete with hard hat. However, over the years, most have moved to having a more individual and personal look, although some say with their Mole look.
As well as being paid for the work they do, Moles also receive and allowance from the Lab, which is primarily intended to go towards the cost of uploads (texture, animations, mesh objects, etc)., but which can also be put towards developing their individual looks.
How to Become a Mole
Positions in the LDPW are open to application by residents who believe they are qualified to work in the team, and the team may also approach specific residents and ask if they would consider joining them.
Applications are made by dropping a résumé (note card or email) of qualifications / experience (including links SLurls, Flickr, You Tube, etc.) to Derrick Linden (derrick.linden-at-lindenlab.com) or to Patch Linden (patch.linden-at-lindenlab.com).
Applicants have to go through a former interview process.
Successful applicants get to pretty much choose their hours of work – providing agreed tasks are completed on time.
As they are from around the world, this can allow some projects to move forward on almost a round-the-clock basis.
Those who are more fully-rounded in skill sets – content creation, scripting, etc., – are encouraged to apply, but LL will also take on specialists.
Motivated, outgoing, communicative people with a passion for SL and willing to self-teach themselves new skill sets are particularly considered.
Open through until the end of June 2022 at the Monocle Man sky gallery curated by Lynx Luga and Kit Boyd, is A Splash of Friendship, an artistic celebration of the Second Life friendship shared by Bethany H (bethanyharris21) and Foxy McAllister (FoxiBrown30).
Spread across the two floors of the gallery space is a collection of images by both Bethany and Foxy, both of whom have been involved in SL photography for the last four years (ish). It is a bright, careful selection of pieces interspersed with texts offering thoughts on the nature of having a genuine friend and on friendship itself.
A good friend is like a four-leaf clover, hard to find and lucky to have.
Set against backdrops that feature recognisable settings around the grid, as well as more personal spaces, these are images that tell stories of companionship that exude joy in the company of another, and the intimacy of simply being able to be one’s true self without concern of being judged or disapproved.
Within them are also framed images that we might take in unexpected moments in the physical world – catching a friend on camera when that are unaware, capturing a memory for them of contemplation or joy or playfulness; something that can be shared and used to bring times past back to the mind’s eye with freshness and a smile.
Posed they may well be; post-processed they clearly are – but neither of these aspects diminishes the framed stories each of these pictures tell.
Personal in their depth, yet open for all to appreciate, rich and style, tone and presentation, the pictures spread across the four rooms of the gallery allow us to share in the times Foxy and Bethany have shared, and understand precisely what they mean in the words:
One million memories, one thousand inside jokes, one hundred shared secrets, one reason, Best Friends.
A genuinely happy, relaxing and enjoyable exhibition.
Thursday, June 23rd, 2022 saw the fourth in the SL19B Meet the Lindens events, this one featuring Grumpity Linden, the Lab’s Vice President of Product and Mojo Linden, the Vice President of Engineering.
The following is a summary of the session covering the core topics raised. The full video is located at the end of this article.
Note that this is a summary, not a full transcript, and items have been grouped by topic, so may not be presented chronologically when compared to the video.
Also, information given in braces ([ and ]), has been provided by myself and does not form a part of the conversation.
The TL;DR Summary
Platform Improvements and the Roadmap:
Viewer performance: Graphics team working to overhaul the viewer’s graphics performance, with updates already released (Performance Improvements viewer) and more (at the time of writing) on the way (Performance Improvements Floater viewer).
SL environmental work in development / testing: reflection probes; glTF materials support; moving towards “full” PBR support [progress on this work available via my CCUG meeting summaries].
Heads up Second Life Product team, where she has overseen a shift to growth, a stronger, more balanced economy, movement towards better community cohesion, and an overall forward-looking approach.
Originally came to Linden Lab while working for The Product Engine, a company providing end-to-end consulting and software development services, and which supports viewer development at the Lab, and she was initially involved in the development and viewer 2 (as designed by 80/20 Studio).
She became a “full-time Linden” in 2014. Her current position involves coordinating the various teams involved in bringing features and updates to Second Life (e.g. Engineering and QA), liaising with legal, financial and compliance to ensure features and capabilities meet any specific requirements in those areas, etc. This work can involve looking at specifics within various elements of the overall SL product, such as UI design and layout, etc.
Prior to working for Linden Lab, she was involved in a number of industries, including technology, higher education, and oil & gas. She enjoys exploring worlds both virtual and physical and takes pride in building bridges – personal and professional.
Holds a Master’s in Computer Science and a Bachelor’s from same in Computer Science & Psychology, both from Johns Hopkins University. She finds leading the Second Life product a joy because it allows her to draw on both areas of study.
Joined Linden Lab in August 2021.
Has overall responsibility for managing both the viewer and the simulator engineering teams at the Lab.
Holds a degree in Computer engineering from the University of Washington.
Has over 20 years experience within the games industry, and he has worked on iconic franchises such as Halo, Forza, Motorsport, Fable, Crackdown, and Wheel of fortune.
His expertise extends across multiple platforms: PC, console, mobile, cloud and web.
Prior to joining Linden Lab, held senior positions at Level EX, Zume, Doubledown Interactive, IGT, and Microsoft.
Since joining the Lab, he has demonstrated an intuitive understanding of the platform and the viewer, and has sought to make himself available at in-world user groups such as the Content Creation User Group, the Simulator User Group and the Third Party Viewer Developer’s group.
Loves being a part of Linden Lab, finds the users “dynamic” and enjoys working with his colleagues.
Is grateful the the move to AWS was largely completed before he joined, as it has opened a lot of opportunities.
Currently in development is support for reflection probes, which could be used to approximate global illumination and bounced lighting.
[In short: reflection probes will exist / can be added to a scene or build, and used to generate a cube map of a defined area, and the cube map used for generating illuminations / reflections on other surfaces within the specified volume. ]
[The first phase of this work is to allow the import of materials to Second Life as inventory assets which can be applied to object faces. This work is following the giTF 2.0 specification – specifically metallic roughness; and will go on to provide better support for tools such as Substance Painter (aka Adobe Substance 3D)].
This work is being carried out in direct collaboration with members of the Second Life creator community and developers working on TPVs to ensure as many use cases as possible are considered.
This might be seen as a step towards mirrors in Second Life.
In terms of weather effects, points out the the Environment Enhancement Project (EEP) carried general environment rendering in SL significantly forward, but at a resource / time to implement [it also moved SL further away from the Windlight baseline code].
As such, “weather” is something that is going to have to wait whilst the focus is on other aspects of the platform.
Technical debt does get constantly addressed; however there are constraints on what can be done, due to both legacy code and legacy content + the risk of breakage.
A lot of what is addressed is not necessarily user-visible: updating to more modern code languages and libraries to run systems and services and the viewer, updating to more capable database systems, etc., all of which directly benefit users.
LL have noted that while Event regions tend to run best in a “standalone” mode, rather than connected to other regions (particularly other event regions), where child agents¹ can become an issue. This has yet to be resolved, and is being worked on.
In the interim, the tier tier of Event product are being made available – Event Regions Pro (at US $449/mo) and Event Region Elite (and US $599/mo) with no set-up fees for either.
LL believe the revised product offering and pricing will “hit the spot”.
A lot that has been on the roadmap has been, and is being rolled-out, including Premium Plus; Event regions; performance improvements (with more to come, as this is a constant focus).
Further work encompasses the New User eXperience (NUX), with a current focus on Starter Avatars and customising avatars – with discussion of this to be found in the Meet the Moles session [+brief notes below].
Web properties [the secondlife.com dashboard, the various SL Pages, the Marketplace, etc.] are a focus of update and improvement.
Land ownership – buying regions, obtaining Mainland, choosing a Linden Home, etc., is the next major focus for this.
Group Chat is a current area focus (responsiveness and reliability).
This is something that has been complicated by the raising of Group limits for Premium Plus, so more people are liable to be in more Groups, which places a great load on the Group Chat service.
LL recognise the importance of Group Chat, so it will continue to be an area of focus and improvement.
Search relevance: a major project to overall search (web, Marketplace, etc.) in terms of relevance and accuracy.
This includes work to track search results so that if a result that appears will down a list is the one the vast majority of people go to, it will be moved up to the top of the list.
At the time of writing, this project is still in progress so it will take time to be fully deployed to properties like the Marketplace.
[Note: on-going work on projects such as search relevance, land ownership, Marketplace improvements and updates, etc., are reported via my Web User Group summaries.]
The hype / interest has allowed her to represent Linden Lab / Second Life through various mediums – printed, television, etc., and to participate in various discussion and panels (e.g. the “metaverse” and the law, hosted by Stanford University with the likes of Lawrence Lessig).
Thinks it is “fantastic” to see this resurgence of interest in virtual worlds, although there is a lot to consider carefully.
Notes that a lot of the discussions around the “metaverse” – inhabiting digital selves, engaging in digital transactions – are things that have been occurring in Second Life for almost two decades, allowing the Lab to be a strong player in such conversations.
In terms of business models for “metaverse” platforms:
Reiterates that LL is “very proud” that it does not monetise users’ personal data, in keeping with comments from Brad Oberwager and Philip Linden [video here and my summary here],
Notes that LL believe that moving an adverts-based monetised model from the 2D social spaces into immersive environments could be “dangerous”, even though it does allow the virtual world to be “free” in terms of direct cost to users.
It has presented LL with the opportunity to innovate, notably with the initiatives noted above.
Feels that as the OG among virtual worlds, it makes sense for LL to be in the forum.
Believes it will be interesting to see if common standards can be developed in terms of information exchange, presence exchange (possibly even avatar exchange), etc., so could be beneficial in having a seat at the table.
This section covers the majority of questions that were responded to in some detail. Note that questions specific to the topics given above are included under those topic headings.
[Video: 26:56] Will users get more Picks options in their in-world Profiles? It’s possible, but not being worked on at the moment. It may, however, be a Premium feature.
[Video: 56:11-57:30] What is the status of VR support in SL? Re-visiting VR headset support has been discussed, but there should not be an expectations of anything being released in the foreseeable future, and it sits behind a number of other things in the “aspirational aims” pile.
[Video: 58:01-59:31] What is the status of any move towards using the Vulkan API for graphics?
It is definitely on the docket for work, and is contained in the overall bucket of performance improvements, but no direct work has as yet started.
There is also a matter of timing to be considered – how much further can SL move along the OpenGL in respect of Apple’s plan to deprecate OpenGL support.
Also the concern as to how many PC users in SL can run Vulkan.
[Video 59:42-1:00:57] What does the future support of Mac OS look like? There is “every plan” to continue to support Mac OS, including investment in a graphics API to move beyond OpenGL.
[Video: 1:01:21-1:02:14] Would it be possible to have “lightweight” Groups, purely for notices? Interesting idea; would point out that Group issues are not so much the chat itself, but the presence updates (reporting to all other members when Group members log-in / out); so this is one of the possibilities that can be turned to.
[Video: 1:04:25-1:06:22] Would it be possible to access and organise inventory via the web and without having to log-into the viewer?
This is a “passion project” for a Linden, and discussions have been held on how it might be achieved.
However, there are many caveats / concerns about any implementation (e.g. risk of account hacking); so if done likely to be gated by multi-factor authentication; what happens if you make near-simultaneous changes to inventory from both the web and when in-world?
Even so, is something LL would like to provide.
[Video: 1:06:37-1:10:21] Are there plans to improve the in-world building tools? Believes in-world, collaborative building is a core aspect of Second Life. Some ideas are being discussed internally, but would love to have user feedback on improvements and ideas [Feature Requests via the Second Life Jira].
[Video: 1:10:49-1:11:40] What is the status of official Linux support in the viewer? Recognises there is an application for Linux support, and some TPVs do support it. However, from an official LL standpoint, it’s not something the company has been investing its time.
[Video: 1:11:56-1:13:05] Will SL support the nVidia ray tracing functionality? If there is a demand, and it can be done without impacting performance or degrading the experience – possibly.
[Video: 1:13:12-1:14:07] Can an updated FAQ on “lag” and ways to mitigate it be produced? It will be considered as will a possible Second Life University video on the subject.
[Video: 1:14:15-1:15:37] Will SL move to a more off-the-shelf graphics engine? LL is currently investing in improvements to the existing engine (e.g. the updates noted above. Which is not to say they are unaware of engines such as Unity or Unreal; there are no current plans to move to a commercial engine.
[Video: 1:16:14-1:17:12] Will sound in SL see any improvement? There have been discussions; there’s also the potential for improvement audio / spatial audio via High Fidelity, so again – Feature Request Jiras.
[Video: 1:17:22-1:20:28] How is the Meta platform regarded? Meta has considerable resources to throw tat their platform, particularly as grasping at the “metaverse” concept is something of a Hail Mary for them. As such, it is the elephant in the room for virtual worlds.
[Video:1:20:50-1:22:09] Will it be possible to “tag” inventory items for easier categorisation (clothes furniture, etc)? This has been a subject of discussion at LL. However, it is not easy to implement due to the impact on things like database schema, etc. As such, it is not as yet on the roadmap.
[Video: 1:23:22-1:24:41] Will there be improvements to region crossings? There is a lot of complexity involved in both teleports between regions and physical region crossing (one foot or on a vehicle). LL has been, is continues to work on getting a deeper understanding of the complexities and making improvements.
[Video: 1:25:05-1:26:56] When will there be a fix for regions removed from the grid still showing up on the world map? And when will the Mainland default EEP be brightened? The first is awaiting improvements to the map generation service, and a resource has been assigned to look at that service as a whole. The EEP issue is a LDPW issue.
[Video: 1:27:29-1:27:57] Will residents be able to add graphics to the world map tiles in the same manner as seen with the SL19B regions? LL can do this, but it’s not clear if this is something that would be opened to users – but “maybe”.
Simply put, a Child Agent refers to a secondary agent (avatar) presence associated with your own, then can exist in regions physically adjoining to the one you are currently in, allowing you to “see” into a connected regions (and have it render in your viewer).
Child agents are not physically rendered avatars but a simulator resource, as such they can directly influence region performance.