Phoenix viewer appears set to continue (but not with SL)

PhoenixAs of January 1st, 2013, the Phoenix Firestorm team ceased support of the Phoenix viewer, bring a close to all further work on that viewer on their part.

While this signals the end-of-line for Phoenix where Second Life is concerned, it appears that efforts are underway to attempt to continue Phoenix development for the OpenSim / Aurora environment, under new leadership and a new brand name.

In a blog post dated 29th December, 2012, Virtual Reaility, the new developers for Phoenix state:

Over the past week the Jessica Lyon, Project Manager of the The Phoenix Firestorm Project, Inc. made an announcement that on Saturday, December 15, the Phoenix development team would no longer support the V1-based Phoenix virtual worlds viewer that has had a significant following of users in virtual worlds such as Second Life and OS Grid.  Ms. Lyon stated that support for the viewer will be dropped to provide development and support focus on their Phoenix-Firestorm viewer.

Though this may seem like a dark day for people who use and enjoy the Phoenix viewer, this cloud has a silver lining. Virtual Reality is pleased to announce that it will continue development, maintenance, and improvement of the Phoenix V1 viewer, which will be re-branded as the Virtual Reality Viewer. “I am excited to have the opportunity to fork this highly popular viewer for virtual worlds users who use it and desire to continue to use it.”, said, Virtual Reality owner and CEO, Sonic Boom Drillion. “The Virtual Reality viewer will continue to work within OpenSim and Aurora based grids, however we hope to update the viewer to address a number of technical advancements that are presently happening in virtual worlds.  We are eager to embrace this code base and develop it to support these changes.”

The post goes on to state that as of the 29th December, work was underway to move the Phoenix code to Virtual Reality’s own systems, however the work will not include porting outstanding / open JIRA relating to Phoenix, as these are related to Second Life, which will not be the target environment for the rebranded viewer.

virtual-realityVirtual Reality is an OpenSim hosting company focused on Aurora Sim side of OpenSim, and provides customers with grid space through its own  Virtual Reality grid, as well supplying private grids to customers.

Within the blog post / announcement is a request that any developer wishing to work on the rebranded viewer should contact Virtual Reality at virtualrealitygrid-at-gmail.com.

While this does not help those who have used Phoenix specifically with OpenSim, it does mean that potentially, the Phoenix legacy will live on, albeit under new management and a new name, on OpenSim.

Related Links

Phoenix: hard truths

Update 17th December: The video of the meeting is available on You Tube (and embedded below). Links have also been added to the official announcement and a transscript of Jessica’s presentation given at the start of the meeting.

PhoenixJessica Lyon and members of the Phoenix Firestorm Team hosted an in-world / streamed meeting on Saturday 15th December, 2012 to discuss the future of Phoenix.

As expected, the core of the news was the Phoenix has essentially come to its end of line. As from December 31st, all official support provided by the Phoenix / Firestorm team will cease.

There are many reasons as to why this step is finally being taken, but they all have their roots in the fact that in late 2010, the decision was taken that to ensure future ease-of-development and enhancement of the viewer, it would be more in the Phoenix Team’s interest to develop a viewer which could more easily keep pace with LL’s development curve, rather than attempting to continually backport new code and features into a viewer that would be based on what would become an increasingly outdated code base. Thus, Firestorm was born. Whether one agrees with this decision or not is actually moot. It was a decision the Phoenix Team were entitled to make.

Jessica Lyon (stock image)
Jessica Lyon (stock image)

The major reason as to why the team has opted to formally announce the end of line for Phoenix now is because Linden Lab have notified TPVs of the forthcoming roll-out of server-side avatar baking in 2013.

As I’ve explained in a recent blog post, server-side avatar baking is a significant change in the way Second Life operates and which should see an end to the major issue of avatar bake fail. However, it brings with it not only changes to the server-side of Second Life, but very major changes to the viewer itself.

Such is the complexity of these viewer changes that Linden Lab has sought to provide TPVs with an eight week window in which to implement and test them. Given the overall status of Phoenix, it simply is not possible for the Phoenix Firestorm team to implement the changes in Firestorm and backport and integrate them into Phoenix (together with all the other changes required to get Phoenix back on a par with LL’s viewer development) in that time frame. The reason why it is vital for all TPVs incorporate the new code is because without it, avatars will fail to render correctly – so if Phoenix does not have the code, it simply “won’t work” when the new service is deployed.

Avatar baking 2013 and Phoenix in brief: These images show the impact of the new avatar baking service on viewer which are not updated to the new code. (l) as I appear on a viewer without the code, and someone on another viewer (regardless of the code it is using) looks to me. On the right, someone running the new code, and how I look to them - a never-rezzing cloud.
Avatar baking 2013 and Phoenix in brief: These images show the impact of the new avatar baking service on a viewer which is not updated to the new code. (l) as I appear on a viewer without the code, and someone on another viewer (regardless of the code it is using) looks to me – a “grey ghost”. On the right, someone running the new code, and how I look to them – a never-rezzing cloud.

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Calling all Phoenix users

PhoenixJessica Lyon has announced she and the Phoenix  / Firestorm team will be holding an Office Hour meeting, and all users are invited. Jessica is particularly keen to have users on Phoenix attend the meeting, commenting:

Everyone is invited and encouraged to attend but I especially want to see Phoenix Viewer users in attendance as the primary topic will be about Phoenix and its future. I also would like to see all you angry people who have been flaming and hating on us in our blog comments. I’d like to address your complaints so please at least be on the stream if you can. 

Because the lack of Phoenix Viewer development and in fact the future of the Phoenix Viewer itself needs to be discussed and your questions/concerns need to be addressed.

Firestorm users are also obviously welcome.

Event Details

Those wishing to attend / join the stream are advised to turn up around 30 minutes ahead of the meeting. As there are limited slots for both the in-world event and the stream, it would be advisable if those attending the event don’t also run the stream, as this could prevent others who are unable to get in-world from watching and listening on-line.

The event will be recorded for future playback.

Phoenix / Firestorm Q&A, December 17th, 2011- video

On Saturday December 17th, a Phoenix / Firestorm Q&A was held at the Rockcliffe University regions, where Jessica took questions on both Viewers from the audience and which had been posted beforehand either to her directly, or via the Phoenix blog.

Jessica and host Nigma Sterling at the Q & A session

The event, hosted by Nigma Sterling, was recorded for those who could not attend, and the video has now been released on YouTube. The video is some 2hrs 30 mins long, and covers a lot of ground.

This is an honest and open response to the many criticisms the team have faced from their user community, and for those that have concerns about Phoenix and / or Firestorm it is a worthwhile spending time watching it.

I’ve not been privy to much of the situation that is alluded to in the video – the heated discussions regarding Phoenix and the perceptions that the team are somehow “abandoning” their users in “forcing” them into the V3 world through Firestorm – and i’m not about to embroil myself in it.

However, I do emphasise very much with Jessica and the team – indeed with all TPV developers in that they all face a difficult hill to climb, whether they are attempting to stay current and work within the constraints of the new Viewer code base or whether they are trying to work within the constraints of a code base (Viewer 1) that has been effectively frozen by LL for a year now, and which LL have themselves indicated is only going to get more and more broken as time goes on.

It’s a thankless task, however you look at it, and one that is never going to please everyone, be it for genuine technical issues or simply because of people’s unwillingness to take the time to work with a new UI. This being the case, I’m going to take a moment and lift a metaphorical glass of mulled wine to all TPV developers and say “thank you” for all of your efforts over the years.

Sadly, I cannot embed the Phoenix / Firestorm Q&A, as it is locked from doing so. However, you can see it here.

Phoenix / Firestorm Q&A

I’ve been asked to pass on the following – and while only too happy to do so, I’m closing the item to comments as it is important anyone who has questions and who can’t attend the event, post their question to the official Phoenix Firestorm blog.

The Phoenix / Firestorm team are holding a public Q&A session this coming Saturday to answer questions and concerns relating to both the Phoenix and Firestorm Viewers.

The meeting will take place at 13:00 SLT at the 4-region auditorium at Rockcliffe University and will be hosted by Nigma Sterling of Rockcliffe University.

Those wishing to attend are advised to arrive early, and using the following SLurls according to the first initial of your FIRST name:

A – I:http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Rockcliffe%20I/2/32/29
J – R:http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Rockcliffe%20Library/227/5/30
S – Z:http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Agile%203D/227/250/31

The event will be recorded and made available online after the fact (no live streaming planned at this point).

Note that the focus of the event is to discuss genuine concerns relating to either Viewer and their future development, and to answer questions and address specific critiques.

You can read the entire post from Jessica here.

Firestorm and Phoenix: updates and support notes

firestorm-logoThis week’s Phoenix Hour saw a couple of guests sharing the sofa with Jessica: Ed Merryman and Lette Ponnier, who would be joining Jessica and Phaylen in a discussion on matters relating to Viewer support. Ed actually heads-up the Viewer support side of the Phoenix / Firestorm group, and both he and Lette provide classes in using Firestorm.

To kick things off, however, Jessica ran though the latest status for both Phoenix and Firestorm before going on to pass comment on the new LL Viewer UI – which, at the time of her comments, was about to be merged with the Development Viewer code but had not actually been released for anyone to see.

The Viewers

Overall, not a lot has changed since my last report on The Phoenix Hour – the team are really waiting on LL to resolve issues their end before making any further releases of either Phoenix or Firestorm.

Phoenix Status

  • The mesh rendering code, supplied by Henri Beauchamp, is in the Phoenix code repository
  • The current graphic issues being experienced with the Firestorm Mesh Beta (and other mesh-capable Viewers) will be in the code for mesh rendering in Phoenix; Jessica estimated that around 50% of people using mesh-enabled Viewers are caught with the issue (basic shaders causing Viewer crashes)
  • This issues are Linden Lab issues, and as such, Phoenix is being held pending a fix or fixes from the Lab
  • The team have been working with LL with these bugs, and a version of Firestorm would be pushed to the Beta group to assist with further testing on the working being undertaken to fix things.

Firestorm Status

  • The next release of Firestorm is good to go, but again awaiting the GPU-related fixes from Linden Lab
  • All blocking issues from with the Firestorm project that might have delayed a release have now been resolved
  • There are still a number of targets the team would like to achieve prior to a release, but these are not blockers to a release; so if a graphics fix comes out of LL before all the targets have been reached, a release may still go ahead
  • Issues and fixes for Firestorm can be tracked via the project JIRA – although people will need to register in order to gain access
  • Focus has been placed on Firestorm locking-up and going into “(not responding)” mode and also inventory load times; Nicky Dasmijn has, in Jessica’s words, “Made a world of difference” to the issues
    • Jessica is convinced even those who didn’t have major inventory load time issues are going to notice a significant performance improvements as a result of this work once the new release can be rolled out
    • As an example of the improvements, she stated her own 72K+ inventory now takes around 20 seconds to load!
  • While the new mesh uploader will be in the next release, as per the last Phoenix Hour, there are some issues around the physics weight calculations for mesh objects (which are presumably being worked on)
  • New feature: Jessica revealed during discussions that a new feature has been added to Firestorm for the next release: right-click -> reload texture. This forces the server to re-send a given texture (worn or on a prim) which has failed to rez.

So to repeat: progress on both Phoenix and Firestorm has been good, but until the graphics issues are resolved by Linden Lab, there will not be any releases. As a side note, Jessica and Ed said the Lab themselves are indicating it will possibly take another two weeks of effort on the Lab’s part to resolve the issues – but this is not guaranteed.

New Official Viewer UI

Jessica expressed disappointment around the way in which Linden Lab has handled the  new Viewer 3.x UI, going so far as to state the view that working “in secret” on the UI was “Wrong. In so many ways”. Given the degree with which TPV developers working on V3-based code have been trying to make the Viewer more accessible and acceptable to die-hard V1.x users, one has to admit it is hard not to agree with her – although not necessarily for the reasons she cites.

Had the Phoenix team, for example, been made aware of LL’s plans, they could have made a choice as to whether to pursue the massive amount of effort they’ve put into creating a V1-style option for the Firestorm UI or whether to direct that effort elsewhere – such as in supplying even more help to LL in trying to resolve the current graphics problems. As it stands, a lot of effort on the part of the team may well have been wasted, and LL have run the risk of alienating TPV developers who might otherwise be well-placed to assist them with future issues.

However, the flip side to this is, of course, that the new UI hasn’t been developed “in secret” in the strictest sense. While the code may have been developed without much in the way of consultation with the user community, Linden Lab nevertheless do have over 18 months of considerable feedback from users on the Viewer 2 UI. They’ve also taken positive steps to better understand its limitations for themselves, as demonstrated at SLCC 2011. Ergo, the redevelopment work isn’t directly comparable to the situation that brought about Viewer 2.0, with the work being carried out in an apparent vacuum.

Support

The core of the show was devoted to support issues – especially in relation to Firestorm, but some of which also applied to Phoenix. This started with a review of the Firestorm courses the team offer, the schedule for which can be found on the Phoenix / Firestorm wiki, before moving on to the most common issues the support team deal with.

Bake Fail

Bake fail is the number one issue for the Phoenix / Firestorm support team, despite the fact it is not actually a Viewer issue per se. Rather it is a server-derived issue involving a communications failure, such as between the server and your computer, or the server and someone else’s computer / a group of computers. Typical examples of each are:

  • Everyone else sees you in an outfit you just changed into, but you still see yourself in the previous outfit = you have suffered bake fail
  • You see yourself wearing the outfit you’ve just changed into, but others see you still in your previous outfit = others have suffered bake fail.

Oz Linden has defined this problem as being the result of a series bugs within the rendering pipe (not all of them directly connected with bake fail itself) that have individually been treated with a band-aid at the time they occurred, with each bug causing the next bug in the chain. This has resulted in an issue that – as much as Oz has stated he’d personally like to see fixed – is next to impossible to sort out without significant time and effort (and risk) being put into the rendering pipe itself – a piece of code LL tend to treat with the utmost caution.

Once again, Phoenix provide a wiki page with information on how to fix a bake fail problem.

Back-up Your Appearance

Ed makes a point of expressing the value in making sure you make a “backup” copy of your appearance as far as you can – skin, hair shape & suitable clothing. If you have severe rendering issues, and REPLACE CURRENT OUTFIT isn’t available as an inventory option because it is grayed-out, drag the folder with the back-up from your inventory and drop it onto your avatar.

Blurry Textures

If your avatar bakes, then the textures go blurry, you rebake & go blurry, try:

  • Reducing your texture memory allotment by around 75% of the current setting
    • Firestorm: PREFERENCES -> GRAPHICS -> HARDWARE SETTINGS
    • Phoenix: PREFERENCES -> GRAPHICS -> HARDWARE OPTIONS
  • Reducing the number of HTTP concurrent requests by around 50% of the current setting
    • Firestorm: PREFERENCE -> GRAPHICS -> RENDERING
    • Phoenix: PREFERENCES -> PHOENIX -> PAGE 2 -> ADVANCED GRAPHICS
  • If both of these fail to resolve the issue, disable the HTTP Get function entirely (uncheck USE HTTP TEXTURES in Firestorm or GET HTTP TEXTURES in Phoenix, which are contained in the respective Viewer Preferences tabs defined in the above steps. If you disable the option, make sure you clear cache to avoid texture corruptions.
HTTP get texture options – possible aid in resolving avatar blurring issues

I See Grey People

An interesting tip from Ed Merryman formed a part of the bake fail discussion: if you see a grey avatar or avatars near you, don’t ask them to rebake – try changing your Group tag.

DNS Issues

Lette offer a number of solutions were offered for those experiencing a DNS related error on trying to log-in to Second Life:

  • Check your anti-virus software, some anti-virus software mistakenly view the Viewer as somehow harmful / trying to make an illegal connection and block it from doing so (some may even throw out a virus infection warning)
  • Try flushing your DNS cache
  • Change your DNS server to Google Public DNS or OpenDNS.

DNS errors appear to be on the increase across all Viewers, although why this should be isn’t clearly understood at this point in time.

The Phoenix / Firestorm Wiki

One of the best places to get help for either Phoenix or Firestorm is through the wiki. This includes details on basic troubleshooting, dealing with issues such as bake fail (as described above) and information on Firestorm classes, etc. The wiki also has a number of pages that cover broader issues and items, including:

Both of these pages are being continually updated, so people are asked to take a peek at them when encouraging issues.

The Phoenix Team Halloween Party

At 14:00 SLT on Saturday 29th October, the Phoenix team will be hosting its second annual Halloween Costume Party. Arrangements are still being made, but details and an LM will be sent out via the support group nearer the date.

See the show in full on Metamix TV.