Author Archives: Inara Pey

About Inara Pey

Eclectic virtual world blogger with a focus on Second Life, VR, virtual environments and technology.

Astralia, Second Life

Astralia; Inara Pey, August 2016, on Flickr Astralia – click any image for full size

Astralia is the name of the homestead region held by artist and blogger Oema, and which is currently featured in the August 26th Destination Guide Editor’s Picks. It is offered as a surreal landscape in which visitors are free to relax, roam, take photographs and view the art on display.

Surrounded on three sides by off-sim mountains, Astralia is a water bound place, waves gently foaming in from the surrounding mountains towards a calmer centre while a gentle breeze caresses wind chimes, filling the air with their gentle reverberations. The rich azure of the waters here is a perfect reflection of a cobalt sky flecked with cloud, beneath which a ribbon of aurora ebbs, rolls and curls.

Astralia; Inara Pey, August 2016, on Flickr Astralia

Across the region lie nine vignettes, each offering its own unique look and opportunities for photography or relaxation. Some of these feature buildings or structures, some form a small island of grass, some sit directly on the water. They all face or flank a crystal palace which also rises from the water, home to a small art gallery, while a further island sits in the air nearby, offering a further floating sanctuary.

By default, the region windlight presents Astralia as something of a watercolour painting, the surrealist element coming not so much from the watery setting, but from the globe of mighty Jupiter,  who marches around the region behind the mountains, Great Red Spot staring down like an ever-present eye, watching all comings and goings.

Astralia; Inara Pey, August 2016, on Flickr Astralia

For photographers, Astralia’s default windlight works well, whilst the region is well suited to a good cross-section of others as well – I used Annan Adored’s Tricoloured II for the images here. For those wishing to simply sit and relax, the region offers plenty of spots to do just that, and presents a smoothing piano audio stream ideal for putting the stresses of life out of your head and simply losing yourself in your surroundings.

SLurl Details

Project Bento User Group update 24 with audio

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, August 25th at 13:00 SLT at the the Hippotropolis Campfire Circle. 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. My apologies for the background birdsong. I usually turn off local sounds for these recordings – but in this instance I forgot!

Bento Viewer

The Bento project viewer updated on Thursday, August 25th to version 5.0.0.318969. This release includes the following changes / improvements, but please refer to the release notes for the full set of updates.

SLM Files

Following previous discussions (see my Bento week 23 update), MeshImportUseSLM has been set to FALSE in the viewer, so that SLM files are by default not created and not used. Switching MeshImportUseSLM to TRUE via debug settings will re-enable them once more.

Avatar Vertical Position (height above ground) Calculation

See here for further background noted. Essentially, any position or scale changes for joints that are included in the body size calculation (those up through the left leg from the foot, the pelvis, torso, chest, neck, head and skull. can trigger issues with an avatar bobbing up-and-down unexpectedly as a result of the frequency of the calculation being increased to once per frame. To help compensate, this new version of the viewer only updates the body size calculation when starting / stopping an animation, so hopefully the changes will be less visually jarring.

Overall, however, the best fix is still to avoid using animations that change the positions of the joints used to calculate the vertical position of the avatar.

Two other updates worthy of individual note are:

  • The show bones display has been modified to use colours differently, distinguishing between joints that are skinned to, joints that have position overrides defined, and all other joints.
  • Animation of collision volumes has been fixed.
Teager's Bento Raptor

Teager’s Bento Raptor

Move To Release Candidate Status

Currently, the Lab believes there are no known active bugs which are sufficient enough to prevent the Bento viewer moving to Release Candidate status, potentially in the next few weeks. With the core AvaStar issues also seemingly resolved (see below),  creators are being encouraged to  complete any additional testing they wish to make so that any remaining potential blockers are found before the viewer goes to a wider audience. Move the viewer to RC status will expose it to a wider cross-section of users, allowing the Lab to get a better feel for the viewer’s overall stability or whether any non-Bento regressions have slipped into the code, etc.

Mesh Distortions with Altitude

Vir has looked further into the issue of facial distortions with altitude when software skinning is used (some meshes can also be distorted when right-clicking on an avatar). The problem seems to be in the base avatar mesh itself, although one idea he had for the cause of the problem didn’t pan out.

Cathy Foil demonstrates the mesh deformation which becomes more pronounced with altitude (starting at around 1,000m and getting progressively worse through 4,000m)

Cathy Foil demonstrates the mesh deformation which becomes more pronounced with altitude (starting at around 1,000m and getting progressively worse through 4,000m)

As this particular problem can be overcome by using hardware skinning, and seems to be a subset of a broader issue affecting worn meshes (floating point calculation error), it may not prevent the Bento viewer going to RC, but Vir is going to continue to look at it.

AvaStar Issues

Matrice Lavalle of the AvaStar team believes he’s resolved most of the issues affecting their software (see here for some background), and his testing indicates that bones should now be correctly positioned and adjusted when using sliders, although there are some minor nips and tucks he still wants to take care of. He also noted an issue affecting the torso bone, which came up shortly before the meeting and which may be limited to a particular way in which the torso is modified, and he is looking into that.

Maya / MayaStar Notes

Cathy Foil provided background information on some of the lessons she’s most recently learned in using Maya for avatar models, relating to joint orientation requirements, performing freeze transformations, etc.

Cathy also provided some advice to Maya users on ensuring that facial bones which have a custom position but which are not rigged to, are included in the skin cluster, otherwise the bone will be excluded from the .DAE file, leading to issues with the model in Second Life.

Matrice noted that as a result of Cathy’s discovery, AvaStar has been updated to ensure custom bones without weights are automatically exported.

When she has time, Cathy plans to produce some video tutorials on the lessons she’s learned through the Bento process  to help Maya users avoid issues like these. Currently, she is still working on updating MayaStar to work with all of the new bones, which is currently a manually intensive task.

Bone Position Information and Slider Values

Cathy points to an issue with the neck bone slider, which, rather than having a neutral position of 50 (as with most bones), has a neutral position value of 66.6667, which can lead to neck alignment problems when adjusting the neck bone position. She asked if in the future, the Lab could update the default avatar shape to ensure all slider positions as close to neutral (50) as possible. This initiated a discussion on the feasibility of doing so, and some of the broader issues slider position value calculations.

Matrice also provided an overview of how AvaStar now handles neutral positions and the default avatar, before he and Vir discuss using other tools and the avatar BLEND file.

Following the meeting proper, Cathy and Matrice further discussed the differences between Blender and Maya in handing bone positions / rigging on export through the use of weight maps (Blender) and skin clusters (Maya).

Other Items

Bento Collaboration and Future Projects

Troy reported that overall, the Lab like the outcome of the Bento project, with the level of collaboration and cooperation between content creators and the Lab, particularly vis the user group meetings etc. While not the first time the Lab has worked with SL users on a project, Troy indicated that the approach taken with Bento is something the Lab would like to continue, where appropriate. Vir seconded this view, noting how the collaboration has made Bento a far more usable product.

Bento Content Documentation

An interesting point of discussion with Bento is the need for content creators to consider documentation carefully given the way the bones can be re-purposed – or at least define a common means of annotating how they have used various bones  – in order to help avoid potential conflicts which might arise on those occasions where a user might attempt to use two mesh elements, each of which calls upon the same bone, but require it to be positioned differently to one another.

A visit to Cica’s Library in Second Life

Cica Ghost: Library

Cica Ghost: Library

Now open to visitors is Cica Ghost’s installation, Library, which she introduces with a quote from Albert Einstein, “The only thing that you absolutely have to know, is the location of the library.” And to be honest, this one is pretty hard to miss, being another of Cica’s installations produced on a huge scale – something visitors immediately appreciate on their arrival, being reduced to the role of Lilliputians during a visit.

All good libraries are presided over by a librarian, who is there to provide assistance or – as the movies would generally have us believe – to ensure that Quiet remains the word of rule among the hallowed bookcases. Cica’s bibliothèque is no exception: across the wooden floor from the landing point, a matronly figure sits behind her desk, apparently engrossed in a tome of sheet music while a parrot alongside her keeps a weather eye on the comings and goings. They are the first indication of the scale of this particularly library – as you can see from the shot below, as Caitlyn takes a rest from exploring, perching herself alongside Polly.

Cica Ghost: Library

Cica Ghost: Library

Beyond the desk, the bookshelves rise into the sky, but so engrossed is the librarian in her own studies, the fact that there are more books than shelves seems to have escaped her notice.; Thus, ungainly towers of book rise into the sky across the vast floor, and giant volumes cascade down green slopes rising above the floorboards. A gap between the bookcases provides access to the rest of the library, or for those feeling energetic, wheeled stairways offer a way up to the lowermost shelves and back down the other side.

Also, for the intrepid and the curious, the library includes places to sit and / or lie down atop the piles of books, on the parrot’s perch and librarian’s desk, across the floor in the library’s “little” truck – even up in the branches of a tree. For those who aren’t fond of heights, a couple of the library’s cats offer ballet dances to be enjoyed individually or in the company of another, and which go well with the piano soundtrack gracing the region. Visitors should also keep an eye out for a hidden room where quiet conversations can be had out-of-sight of the librarian!

Cica Ghost: Library

Cica Ghost: Library

Library is another of Cica’s pieces which is bound to delight and have visitors smiling; there is whimsy aplenty, things to do and enjoy, and one can feel Cica’s humour at every turn. It’s a place which can so easily draw you back for further visits – as I noticed on my return, bumping into several people who had been wandering between the books and sitting atop piles and on branches when Caitlyn and I first set foot in the Library.

Should you enjoy your visit – and believe me you will – please do consider providing a donation for Cica’s continued work in Second Life.

Cica Ghost: Library

Cica Ghost: Library

SLurl Details

  • Library by Cica Ghost (Rated:  Moderate)

Arranmore in Second Life

Arranmore; Inara Pey, August 2016, on Flickr Arranmore – click any image for full size

Now open in Second Life is Arranmore, the latest region designed by Lauren Bentham. Although its name from Arranmore (Árainn Mhór, essentially “large island”), the largest inhabited island off the west coast of County Donegal, Ireland, this is an entirely a fictional place of dark fantasy – and extremely atmospheric to boot.

Lauren has a long history of region design in Second Life, offering some of the most popular destinations for SL traveller on the grid. From the Baja group of region (Baja Norte, Baja Cove, Baja Bay and Baja Sands), through the likes of Storybrooke Gardens (a personal favourite – see here and here), Bentham Manor, Everwinter, to her most recent prior design, Netherwood (see my April 2016 review), Lauren’s work is deservedly known and appreciated. I’ve little doubt Arranmore will be the same.

Arranmore; Inara Pey, August 2016, on Flickr Arranmore

Visitors arrive on the west side of the region, on a small platform alongside a single railway line which curls south-to-north along the west side of the island without actually going anywhere: the two extremes of the track end in buffers. Perhaps it once went further – the fallen mass of a lighthouse suggests a calamity befell the north-west end of the island, so perhaps the tracks were washed away in whatever storm may have been responsible for bringing down that tower.

Ringed by the high peaks of surrounding islands, Arranmore broods beneath a sombre, storm-laden blanket of heavy grey cloud. Thunder rolls around the rugged peaks of the other islands, a deep booming against the plaintive cry of gull and moan of wind. Lightning flickers and forks, reflected by the mist rolling in from the sea as it drifts inland between the island’s trees like a living thing, watched over by the ever-rotating eye of a surviving lighthouse.

Arranmore; Inara Pey, August 2016, on Flickr Arranmore

On arrival, newcomers are invited to take a torch, offered alongside the region’s rules. If you’re keeping to the default windlight – which I suggest you do while initially exploring – the torch is a handy thing to have. Across the tracks from the little railway platform sit the entrance to the grounds of a once great manor house. This, we are told, was had been the home to Lord & Lady Inman and their family, all of whom mysteriously vanished whilst on holiday. Since their disappearance, the house has slowly fallen into ruin and the fortunes of the island had declined.

It is along the path leading towards the brooding form of the manor house that we come across the first signs that this is indeed a place where those still living on the island might be somewhat Lovecraftian in their ways – or perhaps it was the Inmans themselves? Just over the wall from the path sits a rotunda, its broken dome still offering some protection for a statue of an adult figure holding an tentacled infant child close to his or her chest. Even along the path to the house strangeness can be found: an empty hearse, a mildewed stuffed toy, its eyes apparently cut out, occupying the basket of a tricycle, and the gaunt figure of a local, funereal in his top hat and tails, holding aloft a lantern – whether in greeting or warning is yours to decide.

Arranmore; Inara Pey, August 2016, on Flickr Arranmore

As with all of Lauren’s region designs, there is a lot to see here, be it in the manor house as it slowly moulders away, or in the surrounding grounds and other building on the island. All of it is beautifully composed to create an environment that is a curious mix of the dark, the beautiful, the mysterious, the unsettling, and utterly captivating. One which really needs to be experienced rather than simply written about.

Lauren notes that the region is primarily for enjoyment and photography – those wishing to rez props in support of their photo work can join the local group for L$175 and do so – but role-play is welcome. There is a warning in the rules that weapons are not allowed – although seeing a member of the admin team walking around carrying an assault rifle seemed  a little at odds with the spirit of the rules🙂. There’s also a Flickr group for those so minded to add their pictures.

Arranmore; Inara Pey, August 2016, on Flickr Arranmore

Definitely a must for any SL traveller’s itinerary.

SLurl Details