A look at key Second Life updates in 2018

2018 in review

Each year through this blog I attempt to track news about, and changes to, Second Life, as driven by by Linden Lab. On the technical side, this is do through my weekly SL project summaries, which summarise the various in-world meetings the Lab holds each week / month, and the rest is done through various means, such as attending public meetings and Q&A sessions, tracking the official SL blog etc.

Given this has been in some ways a busy and ambitious year for LL and Second Life, I thought it might be interesting to look back over the major changes and technical projects that have come to pass, and some of those still on the horizon.

Land

2018 saw some significant moves on the virtual land front.

  • On Wednesday, March 14th, LL announced an immediate reduction in Mainland tier costs of 10%.
  • At the same time, they also announced the amount of “free” tier granted to Premium members would increase from 512 sq metres to 1024 sq metres.
  • On July 2nd, 2018, private region fees dropped by up to 15%.

At the time of the Mainland restructure, and while welcoming it, I was a little dubious on how it would be received, simply because obtaining Mainland parcels could be something of a hassle. Well, it turned out the Lab had also thought of that, trimming back on the overhead involved in obtaining abandoned land and making it a simple ticket request.

The revised Mainland tier rates introduced in March 2018 (courtesy of Linden Lab)

Result: what has reported to be, and continues to be, a positive response to the change – although just how big is a little hard to judge at this point in time. The last date for which we have figures via Tyche Shepherd’s Grid Survey (January 11th, 2017), abandoned land accounted for around 21% of the Mainland. As (I believe) Tyche updates this figure annually, it’ll be interesting to see how things have changed come early 2019.

First announced in an official blog post on June 20th, The private tier pricing adjustments met with a mixed response, with some in the land rental business claiming they were being somehow being “gouged” on the basis that grandfathered regions were being excluded from the new pricing structure.

New Private region pricing structure, introduced from July 2nd, 2018 (courtesy of Linden Lab)

As I noted when the price adjustment came into effect, such claims were somewhat nonsensical. For one thing, grandfathered regions remain either US $54 per month (Full regions) or US $14 per month (Homestead)cheaper than the new rates. Further, while there was an up-front fee for converting regions to grandfathered status in the 2016 “buy down” offer, more than enough time had elapsed for those costs to be recouped in tier savings. For another, those best placed to capitalise on any surge in interest in holding / renting land as a result of the restructuring would actually be land rental businesses.

As it stands, and again using Tyche Shepherd’s grid survey, the restructuring may resulted in a very small increase in region numbers during 2018. However, I’ll have more on that when Tyche publishes her end-of-year report.

Fee Changes

Alongside the private region fee changes, the Lab also announced an increase in the cost of Linden Dollar purchases by US 0.50 per transaction. While in keeping with the goal of trying to shift the balance of the Lab’s revenue generation away from virtual land, the increase did cause a degree of upset, being the third such in around 15 months (the last being November 2017, when the cost per transaction rose by US 0.39).

This change particularly hit those who prefer to buy small quantities of L$ at a time. While it was pointed out that the impact could be somewhat mitigated through the purchase of larger L$ amounts over fewer periods – providing people’s available disposable income allowed them to make larger, if more infrequent L$ purchases. As it is, how the fee change may have impacted people’s buying / spending habits is a little hard to quantify.

Technical Updates

It may sound odd, but of the four major user-visible technical changes planned for 2018, three were actually established in 2017, with only one actually being delivered before the end of the year.

Animesh

The delivered project was of course Animesh – the ability to use the avatar skeleton to animate rigged mesh objects in a similar manner to animation an avatar (through scripted animations running the skeleton). I’m not going to dive deeply into Animesh, given it has been covered extensively in my Content Creation User Group summaries, and I also gave an overview when it was officially released in November, complete with resource links. Currently, the majority of Animesh creations that are surfacing appear to be basic NPC characters and pets / animals.

Bakes On Mesh

Bakes On Mesh (BoM) is a project extending the current avatar Appearance / Bake Services to allow wearable textures (skins, tattoos, clothing) to be applied directly to worn mesh faces in a manner similar to how they were for system avatars.  It was first announced in May 2017.

Vir Linden’s original announcement of Bakes on Mesh in May 2017

BoM touches multiple Second Life services: viewer, simulator, appearance and bake, as such it is a complicated piece of work.

The first part of the process was to update the Bake Service to support 1024×1024 textures, in order to allow wearables to match the quality of textures applied to mesh faces by applier systems. After that, the service needed to be able to recognise how to handle wearables when applying them to mesh faces. The simulator also required updates to recognise things like BoM messages, and obviously the viewer and its UI also required updates.

Cathy Foil introduces Bakes on Mesh (April 2018)

As it stands, the vast majority of the work has been completed. A project viewer has been issued, and the support services updated while the simulator code is grid-wide. However, there are still some issues to be ironed-out viewer-side; currently, the viewer lead, Anchor Linden, is leading work to resolve a positioning issue with small mesh avatars, so BoM is, for the present “on hold”.

It should be noted that the Lab do not see BoM as being designed to replace mesh applier systems, but rather as an alternative. However, it is also seen as potentially a means to reduce the overall complexity of mesh avatar bodies and heads, which may have an impact on applier systems / how they function in future. Also:

  • This work does not include normal or specular map support, as these are not part of the existing Bake Service, nor are they recognised as system wearables.
  • It also will not provide a means of applying wearables via script + UUID.
  • Either of these options might be considered in some future BoM extension.

Continue reading “A look at key Second Life updates in 2018”

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2018 SL UG updates 51/3: TPV Developer meeting summary

Dagger Bay; Inara Pey, November 2018, on FlickrDagger Bayblog post

The following notes are taken from the TPV Developer meeting held on Friday, November 30th, 2018. A video of the meeting is embedded below, my thanks as always to North for recording and providing it. Note that was a brief meeting, with extended silences while things were discussed in chat.

SL Viewer

[0:53-4:05] The Love Me Render RC viewer updated to version 6.0.2.522531, dated December 18th.

  • Current Release version 6.0.1.522263, dated December 5, promoted December 13. Formerly the Spotykach Maintenance RC viewer – NEW.
  • Release channel cohorts:
    • Estate Access Management (EAM) RC viewer, version 6.1.0.522564, December 19.
    • BugSplat RC viewer, version 6.1.0.522614, December 18. This viewer is functionally identical to the current release viewer, but uses BugSplat for crash reporting, rather than the Lab’s own Breakpad based crash reporting tools. It also makes the version update check a child process to the viewer, which should prevent the creation of multiple viewer icons.
  • Project viewers:
  • Linux Spur viewer, version 5.0.9.329906, dated November 17, 2017 and promoted to release status 29 November – offered pending a Linux version of the Alex Ivy viewer code.
  • Obsolete platform viewer, version 3.7.28.300847, May 8, 2015 – provided for users on Windows XP and OS X versions below 10.7.

Currently, it would appear that the BugSplat RC will most likely be the next RC viewer promoted to release status.

As per my most recent CCUG summary, the Bakes on Mesh viewer will most likely have one more round as a project viewer before moving to RC status. It is also hoped that the EEP viewer will go to RC status in early January.

Feedback from estate / region owners / managers is still being sought for the Estate Access Management viewer, so if you have estate / region management rights for a region / estate, please give the viewer a go and report any issues back to the Lab via Jira.

Voice Service Update

[5:08-6:02] The Lab is planning an update to the voice service back-end over the holiday period. This should have been deployed prior to the break, but had to be postponed. When deployed, it could cause a brief interruption to services, and users may have to re-log to regain voice. Notification of the deployment will be given ahead of time via the grid status page. There is also a roll-back plan in place if the update causes issues.

 

2018 SL UG updates 51/2: Content Creation Summary

Whirly Fizzle’s EEP Saturn

The majority of the following notes are taken from the Content Creation User Group (CCUG) meeting, held on Thursday, December 20th, 2018 at 13:00 SLT. These meetings are chaired by Vir Linden, and agenda notes, meeting SLurl, etc, are usually available on the Content Creation User Group wiki page.

With the Christmas / holiday break now on our doorstep, this was a short meeting.

SL Viewer

There have been two further viewer updates:

  • The Estate Access Management  RC viewer updated to version 6.1.0.522564 on Wednesday, December 19th. See my preview of this viewer here for more information.
  • The Environmental Enhancement Project (EEP) project viewer updated to version 6.0.2.522550 on Thursday, December 20th.

Hover Height / Vertical Positioning Issue

Ever since server release 18#18.10.25.521081 was deployed at the end of October / beginning of November 2018, there have been reports of a hover height / positioning issue issue for full mesh avatars of less than “normal” height. This can leave such avatars floating 0.2 to 0.3 metres off the ground if non-height related changes are made after hover height has been set (BUG-225893).

Current Status

Anchor Linden has been investigating this, but is hampered by the fact the behaviour cannot be properly reproduced with consistency. This is making a root cause determination difficult. As this work is currently Anchor’s main focus at the moment, it means the Bakes on Mesh project is somewhat on hold.

Bakes On Mesh

Project Summary

Extending the current avatar baking service to allow wearable textures (skins, tattoos, clothing) to be applied directly to mesh bodies as well as system avatars. This involves viewer and server-side changes, including updating the baking service to support 1024×1024 textures, and may in time lead to a reduction in the complexity of mesh avatar bodies and heads.

This work does not include normal or specular map support, as these are not part of the existing Bake Service, nor are they recognised as system wearables. Adding materials support may be considered in the future.

Resources

Current Status

  • As per the notes above, Bakes on Mesh is “on hold” at present while Anchor is otherwise engaged in bug hunting.
  • There are apparently a couple of issues with BoM still to be ironed out, and there is also an internal wiki issue preventing the Bakes On Mesh documentation being published on the SL wiki.
  • Allowing for the hover height / positioning issue mentioned above and the remaining work on Bakes on Mesh (+ the QA testing), it’s possible it will be a few weeks after the start of 2019 before this project progresses again.

Environment Enhancement Project

Project Summary

A set of environmental enhancements allowing the environment (sky, sun, moon, clouds, water settings) to be set region or parcel level, with support for up to 7 days per cycle and sky environments set by altitude. It uses a new set of inventory assets (Sky, Water, Day),  and which include the ability to use custom Sun, Moon and cloud textures. These can be stored in inventory and traded through the Marketplace / exchanged with others, and can additionally be used in experiences.

The project also includes a new set of render shaders to support atmospheric effects such as rainbows, crepuscular rays (“God rays”), better horizon haze and fogging (but will not include rain / snow).

Resources

Current Status

  • This week has seen updates to both the simulator code (available on Aditi for test, and also on limited release on Agni via the Snack RC channel) and, as noted above, to the viewer.
  • It’s hoped that the last of the shader work (e.g. crepuscular rays) will be completed in January.
  • The set agent environment scripted controls (allowing the entire environment for an avatar to be replaced when using an experience) is now in place.
    • Documentation for this will be pushed on the wiki after the holiday break.
  • Rider Linden is working on some further UI clean-up / clarification.

In Brief

  • There has been an issue with joint aliases not being correctly supported (the “avatar_xxx” aliases were not working for all the bones in the skeleton). Vir now has a fix for this, which should be appearing in the relatively near future.
  • Date of next CCUG meeting: Thursday, January 3rd, 2019.

2018 SL UG updates 51/1: Simulator User Group

Magritte; Inara Pey, November 2018, on FlickrMagritteblog post

Server Deployments

As always, please refer to the server deployment thread for updates.

  • On Tuesday, December 18th, the SLS (Main) channel was updated with server maintenance package 18#18.12.05.522294, comprising a voice service adjustment and internal fixes.
  • On Wednesday, December 19th, the three main RC channels should be updated with server maintenance package 8#18.12.03.522210, comprising a further voice service adjustment.
  • Also on Wednesday, December 19th, the Snack channel should be updated with a new EEP simulator update, 18#18.12.14.522551.

SL Viewer

There have been two viewer updates to start the week, bringing two of the viewers up to parity with the current release viewer (formerly the Spotykach Maintenance RC viewer). These are:

  • The Bugsplat RC viewer, which updated to version 6.1.0.522614. This viewer is functionally identical to the current release viewer, but uses BugSplat for crash reporting, rather than the Lab’s own Breakpad based crash reporting tools.
  • Love Me Render RC viewer, which updated to version 6.0.2.522531.

The remaining viewers in the pipeline remain (at the time of writing) unchanged from the end of week #50.

  • Current Release version 6.0.1.522263, dated December 5th, promoted December 13th. Formerly the Spotykach Maintenance RC viewer – NEW.
  • Release channel cohorts:
    • Estate Access Management (EAM) RC viewer, version 5.2.0.520057, September 28th.
  • Project viewers:
    • Linux Spur viewer, version 5.0.9.329906, dated November 17th, 2017 and promoted to release status 29 November – offered pending a Linux version of the Alex Ivy viewer code.
    • Obsolete platform viewer, version 3.7.28.300847, May 8th, 2015 – provided for users on Windows XP and OS X versions below 10.7.

Last Name Changes – Supporting External Databases

A number of creators and others utilise external databases that use their own log-in authentication process bases on their customers’ Second Life names. Concern has therefore been raised as to how they’ll be able track changes to users’ lasts names once the ability for them to be changed has been re-introduced, with requests for LL to offer some kind of RSS feed providing name change updates.

However,Oz indicated this would not likely be the case, noting:

I don’t think that keeping current with a feed would really work, and it could easily be misused. Don’t store names – store IDs (agent UUIDs). IDs will never change [So] just have them enter name, then internally translate to the UUID. The translation will always be correct whether they use a current name or an old one. We will not be providing a feed or any way to look them up in bulk.

– Oz Linden

No Change Window

Due to the Christmas and New Year holiday period, there will be a No Change window in effect from close of business on Friday, December 21st, 2018 through until at least Wednesday, January 2nd, 2019. During this time there will be no planned updates or releases for the SL simulators or the official viewer.

The next Simulator User Group meeting will take place on Tuesday, January 8th, at the usual time of 12:00 noon.

2018 SL UG updates 50/2: Content Creation Summary

Soul2Soul Highlands; Inara Pey, November 2018, on FlickrSoul2Soul Highlandsblog post

The majority of the following notes are taken from the Content Creation User Group (CCUG) meeting, held on Thursday, December 13th, 2018 at 13:00 SLT. These meetings are chaired by Vir Linden, and agenda notes, meeting SLurl, etc, are usually available on the Content Creation User Group wiki page.

SL Viewer Updates

The Spotykach Maintenance RC viewer, version 6.0.1.522263, was promoted to release status on December 13th.

New Project Work

Vir Linden is now looking at a number of areas that might spin-out into a new project, although it is currently not clear what that project might be. The areas he is reviewing are:

  • Animesh follow-on – this may include avatar shape support  (which would allow more fully-rounded NPCs), and also more attachment-like behaviour for Animesh attachments.
    • Shapes are viewed as potentially being the easier of the two to handle, although will require additional work on the appearance messaging.
  • Mesh uploader improvements.
  • General viewer bugs.

Beq Janus has also been examining the mesh uploader and making improvements tied to the upcoming Firestorm Animesh release, and Vir is interested in the potential for some or all of these to be contributed to Linden Lab.

Beq’s updates to the mesh uploader include a better (and resizeable) preview window, a new costs breakdown panel, and more.

Bakes On Mesh

Project Summary

Extending the current avatar baking service to allow wearable textures (skins, tattoos, clothing) to be applied directly to mesh bodies as well as system avatars. This involves viewer and server-side changes, including updating the baking service to support 1024×1024 textures, and may in time lead to a reduction in the complexity of mesh avatar bodies and heads.

This work does not include normal or specular map support, as these are not part of the existing Bake Service, nor are they recognised as system wearables. Adding materials support may be considered in the future.

Resources

Current Status

As per my Current Viewer Releases page, the project viewer was merged with the Animesh release viewer (and at the time of writing was at release 6.0.1.522127, dated December 7th, 2018).

Anchor is currently engaged in investigating the hover height issue that can leave avatars of “non-normal height” (notably, but not exclusively, small avatars) floating 0.2 to 0.3 metres off the ground if non-height related changes are made after hover height has been set. This appears to have been introduced as  a result of a simulator update (See BUG-225893 “Hover height on assets has changed somehow” for more).

Left Channels

There appears to be some confusion over the left texture channels introduced with Bakes On Mesh. Essentially, these are unassigned channels, designed to work as the creator wants them to work. The assumption is that they would be used in a manner consistent with the use of the right arm / foot channels, but they are not populated by default. There has been a request to auto-populate them with the standard skin textures, but this is viewed as a possible update for any follow-on to the current Bakes on Mesh work.

Documentation

A wiki page explaining Bakes on Mesh is under construction, but not yet ready for public consumption.

Future Work

Nothing has been decided upon in regards to any Bakes on Mesh follow-on. Requests have been made to allow UUID based texture application via the Bake Service (to enable support for existing clothing layers designed to be applied via a scripted applier system). It’s not been determined if this will be done, or whether an alternative route will be taken, such as defining a new class of wearable. There should, however, be a LSL change to allow textures to be identified and used by name (although this may not have been deployed at the time of writing).

Environmental Enhancement Project (EEP)

Project Summary

A set of environmental enhancements allowing the environment (sky, sun, moon, clouds, water settings) to be set region or parcel level, with support for up to 7 days per cycle and sky environments set by altitude. It uses a new set of inventory assets (Sky, Water, Day),  and which include the ability to use custom Sun, Moon and cloud textures. These can be stored in inventory and traded through the Marketplace / exchanged with others, and can additionally be used in experiences.

The project also includes a new set of render shaders to support atmospheric effects such as rainbows, crepuscular rays (“God rays”), better horizon haze and fogging (but will not include rain / snow).

Resources

Current Status

Rider finalising work on the last of the SL functions for EEP support: llSetAgentEnvironment. This allows the environment parameters as applied to individual agents (avatars) within an experience (so if part of the experience requires the environment to be foggy at a certain point, avatars in the experience will have their view become foggy – but visitors who have not allowed the experience to control their avatar (e.g. because they are just observing) will not be similarly affected).

This support will hopefully be in the next set of simulator updates (currently still only available on the Snack RC channel). Once this work has been completed, Rider will be focusing on the viewer once more. The other anticipated aspect of simulator work – crepuscular rays – is “still coming”.

Complexity Calculations, Project ARCTan

There have been rumours that there may be a new function added to the Bake Service to handle complexity calculations. Vir indicated that while there has been some discussion on how and where to run the calculations (which will all be revised as a part of Project ARCTan), no decision has been made as to whether there will be changes to where the calculations are performed.

In Brief

  • The Firestorm Animesh release is currently with the preview group (I’ve been using it for the last couple of weeks in different iterations), and may go to a broader “public beta” release before being formally issued. If the “public beta” happens, the fully release for the update will likely occur early in 2019.
  • In my previous CCUG update, I reference the changes made to the rate to updates made to the rate of rendering cost calculations. This was due to Animesh having unintended consequences (such as repeatedly showing the complexity alert dialogue (e.g “You may not be visible to X %age of avatars”). During the Firestorm 6.0.1 beta testing, this change resulted in complaints from content creators, leading to a decision to back it out of the upcoming Firestorm release.

2018 SL UG updates 50/1: Simulator User Group

Cold Ash; Inara Pey, October 2018, on FlickrCold Ashblog post

There was no Simulator User Group meeting on Tuesday, December 11th, 2018. Notes are therefore a little on the light side.

Server Deployments

As always, please check with the server deployment thread for updates and latest news.

  • On Tuesday, December 11th, the SLS (Main) channel was updated with server maintenance package 18#18.12.04.522206, previously deployed to all three main RC channels, and comprising region stability improvements; simhost deployment improvements and logging improvements.
    • Part of this update includes the removal of a lot of mesh-related logging that had been required during testing, but has been surplus to requirements. However, as the code was never removed, it resulted in a lot of unnecessary logging as mesh became more popular.
  • On Wednesday, 12th December the RC channels should be updated with server maintenance package 18#18.12.07.522390, comprising voice service adjustments.
  • The Snack channel, home to the Environment Enhancement Project (EEP), received a further simulator update, version 18#18.12.07.522390.

SL Viewer

At the time of writing, there have been no updates to the current batch of official viewers, leaving the pipelines as follows:

  • Current Release version 6.0.0.520636, dated October 18, promoted November 14. Formerly the Animesh RC viewer – no change.
  • Release channel cohorts:
    • Love Me Render RC viewer, version 6.0.1.522045, December 6.
    • Spotykach Maintenance RC viewer, version 6.0.1.522263, December 5.
    • Estate Access Management (EAM) RC viewer, version 5.2.0.520057, September 28.
    • BugSplat RC viewer, version 5.1.9.519462, September 10. This viewer is functionally identical to the current release viewer, but uses BugSplat for crash reporting, rather than the Lab’s own Breakpad based crash reporting tools.
  • Project viewers:
  • Linux Spur viewer, version 5.0.9.329906, dated November 17, 2017 and promoted to release status 29 November – offered pending a Linux version of the Alex Ivy viewer code.
  • Obsolete platform viewer, version 3.7.28.300847, May 8, 2015 – provided for users on Windows XP and OS X versions below 10.7.