It All Starts with a Prim
Those six words used to be one of the tag-lines associated with Second Life. Six words that – long before mesh or even sculpties entered our consciousness – summed up the unique magic of Second Life: the ability to create almost anything you might imagine, just by taking simple geometric shapes and playing with them – shaping, sizing, bringing them together, etc., – to produce something either individually or collectively, right there within a virtual space.
Of course, things like scripts and tools were required to get things to do things or to make the shapes that were needed, but at its heart, SL’s creativity lay within the humble primitive shapes offered to users through the viewer.
I mention this because January 25th, 2022 is officially the 20th anniversary of the first prim ever being rezzed within Second Life (or rather, its precursor: LindenWorld) – something marked by SarahKB7 Koskinen, who has produced a celebratory sculpture (seen at the top of this piece) which can – for the 25th of January 2022, at least, be seen at the Ivory Tower of Primitives sandbox.
Touching the sculpture will present you with a notecard about the prim cube it contains explaining that whilst a reproduction, like the very first primitive rezzed in 2002, it has no listed creator. Why? Because the rezzing of the first primitive predated the database that would be used to record information such as object creator names!
But exactly howdid SL’s primitive originate?
Well, their creator is one Avi Bar-Zeev.
For those unfamiliar with the name, Avi has been a pioneer, architect and advisor in Spatial Computing (AR/VR/MR/XR) for nearly 30 years. He’s worked for some of the biggest corporations including Amazon, Apple and Microsoft (where he pioneered the HoloLens, whilst in the 1990s, he worked for the Disney Corporation, working on what he refers to as “novel VR experiences”, including Aladdin’s Magic Carpet, the Virtual Jungle Cruise and Cyberspace Mountain.
Speaking on the January 25th, Avi describes the arrival of primitives thus:
About 10 years into that [his early work in the eXtended Reality space] I met Philip and we worked together on some things in Second Life. And early on, [Philip] had said, “let’s figure out this prim thing; let’s figure out how to build the world”. An I just so happened to have studied computational geometry in a college, and so I said, “I know how to do that!” and wrote a couple of hundred lines of code to make all the primitives in the world, with various knobs and capabilities to stick them together. So that was my claim to fame back then!
– Avi Bar-Zeev talking with Philip Rosedale during a Twitter Spaces event, January 25th, 2022
Whether or not Avi had any idea back when he wrote those “couple of hundred” lines of code that they would still be in use 20 years later, I’ve no idea. But it cannot be denied that his code was, throughout the early years of Second Life, one of the mainstay reasons people kept up with their engagement with the platform; the joy of shaping simple shapes and learning how to cut and shape them and then bring them together and then going on to texture and (perhaps) script them to make something you can point to and say, “I did that!”.
Even today within the world of mesh, prims building offers opportunities for in-world collaboration, for fun and / or indulgence that simply cannot be matched by the more solitary world of mesh design, and primitives continue to hold a certain magic with anyone who learns to work with them.
So, happy rezday, primitives, and thank you to Avi Bar-Zeev for enriching our world!