Firestorm on SL Go: a closer look

Firestorm on SL Go from OnLive: almost 60 fps in my home region on a Asus PC EEE 1201N notebook with all the bells and whistles active
Firestorm on SL Go from OnLive: almost 60 fps in my home region on a Asus PC EEE 1201N notebook with all the bells and whistles active

Important note: The SL Go service is to be shut down on April 30th, 2015. For more information, please read this report.

Onlive, the provider of the SL Go, and the Firestorm team recently announced the addition of the Firestorm viewer to the SL Go service. I covered the news with a quick overview, and you can also read both the official press release from OnLive and the Firestorm’s team’s announcement to catch-up, if you need to.

Given SL Go has, until this announcement, only been available with a flavour of the official SL viewer, there may be some Firestorm users who haven’t really thought about SL Go or given it a look. As such, I’d thought I’d offer a little more of a detailed look.

The Preamble

Just as a quick reminder, SL Go is a third-party service which can be used to access Second Life. Rather than using a locally-installed viewer, everything is run on OnLive’s servers and then streamed directly to the user’s chosen device (PC, Mac, tablet, HDTV via OnLive’s own game console).

SL Go has been available with a version of the SL viewer since March 2014 for all of the above. The Firestorm update now extends the service to include the Firestorm viewer, initially only to people running low-end PCs and Macs, although Android and iPad flavours should be available in the future.

The service does require a subscription (to cover OnLive’s costs), which amounts to US$9.95 (UK £6.95) per month for unlimited access – and this includes accessing Second Life from your Android Tablet or iPad as well, should you also wish to give it a try (you will need to install the OnLive app on your tablet and, as noted above, you will only be able to run the SL viewer on it for the time being).

A free 7-day trial period is provided for anyone wishing to try the service without obligation, and there is no minimum term once the trial period has ended, so you can cancel your subscription at any time. Once you have signed-up, and to use Firestorm, you’ll need to download the OnLive PC or Mac client.

However, and important point to remember is that SL Go isn’t intended as a replacement for the standard viewer offerings (SL or TPV). If you have a good computer / laptop and can run the viewer to your satisfaction already, then SL Go likely isn’t for you. But, if you are using an old system and are finding SL a struggle, then SL Go may well offer a means for you to increase your enjoyment with the platform until such time as you can update your hardware.

Running Firestorm via SL Go

Running Firestorm via SL Go is a matter of:

  • Launching the OnLive client
  • Then, if you have an OnLive account (rather than just an SL Go account) – clicking My Games at the top of the client window, then selecting SL Go from the left side of the client
  • Selecting Firestorm from the SL Go service screen (see below)
  • Allowing the viewer to load.
SL Go users access the service via PC or Mac now have a choice of viewer: the SL Viewer (SLV, as OnLive refer to it) or Firestorm
SL Go users accessing the service via PC or Mac now have a choice of viewer: the SL Viewer (SLV, as OnLive refer to it) or Firestorm

A point of note here is that the OnLive client runs in a fixed 1280×720 resolution, and presents the viewer in fullscreen mode only. This means that the client is “stretched” or “shrunk” to fit other screen resolutions, and as a result there can be a loss of image quality.

This can be compensated for to some extent by switching the OnLive client to “Windowed” mode (ALT-ENTER for Windows, CMD-F for Mac), and then resizing the window by pointing down into the lower right corner of the window, holding the left mouse button and dragging to the desired size (note that the cursor will not change to a grab handle or anything, so getting it can be a case of trial and error).  The window will retain a 16:9 ratio when being resized in this way, but should hopefully offer some degree of improvement; in the case of my own Asus PC EEE 1201N notebook (1366 x 768 native resolution), it did make things clearer for me.

With the OnLive client running in "Windowed" mode, you can point to and click on the lower right corner of the client window (no grab handles will be displayed) and resize as required - the window will retain a 16:9 ratio
With the OnLive client running in “Windowed” mode, you can point to and click on the lower right corner of the client window (no grab handles will be displayed) and resize as required – the window will retain a 16:9 ratio

Once you’re logged-in to Firestorm, you should find it pretty much as you’d expect to see it on logging-in first the first time following a clean local install. As when running the viewer locally, you can set the buttons you require within the toolbar areas, adjust the font size, tweak Preferences, etc. You’ll find you have almost everything you’d expect to find in Firestorm had you downloaded and installed it: windlight options, Phototools, radar, quick preferences,  Firestorm’s conversations / chat UI, RLV/a and so on.

There are, however a few things apparently “missing”, which are purely down to the fact that the viewer is being run on an OnLive server and streamed to you. Those who have used SL Go before will be familiar with some of this, but again, for completeness here’s a breakdown of what you’ll likely note as “not being there”:

  • The Develop menu, access to debug settings through the Advanced menu, the ability to upload any content (mesh, sounds, animations, images), the ability to use local textures, or to save snapshots to disk – these are all limitations common to both Firestorm and the SL viewer on SL Go
  • There is currently no support within SL Go for 3D mouse devices such as the Space Navigator
  • You cannot save or restore your Firestorm settings; any “local” pickers Firestorm uses will not work; there is no option to set crash reporting  to the Firestorm team.
Firestorm doesn't have the crash reporting tab or backup tab in Preferences among other disbled elements
Firestorm currently doesn’t have the crash reporting tab or backup tab in Preferences, among other disabled elements

Continue reading “Firestorm on SL Go: a closer look”

SL Go: SL Share for Flickr, Twitter and Facebook also now included

SL go logoImportant note: The SL Go service is to be shut down on April 30th, 2015. For more information, please read this report.

On Friday August 15th, I posted about OnLive announcing that their SL Go viewer for Android devices & low-end computers  / laptops had been updated with a fix to enable it to render fitted mesh items correctly.

The update saw the viewer updated to Linden Lab’s 3.7.12 code base, and while the OnLive e-mails didn’t mention this, it meant the viewer also gained some additional capabilities and updates. Perhaps the most notable of these is the inclusion of the SL Share 2 feature for sharing photos directly to Facebook or Twitter or Flickr, together with the default post-process filters.

I had been a little curious as to whether this would work or not (I did wonder if there would be an authentication issue, given everything is running via the OnLive servers). However, now I’ve had a chance to give things a go, I can say that they do indeed work as expected. Well, at least where Flickr and Twitter are concerned;  I don’t use Facebook, so have been unable to test that side of things, but there is no reason to assume it won’t work.

Testing the Flickr upload from SL Go, on FlickrTesting the Flickr upload from SL Go – a quick snap of the house in SL, August 2014, using the snapshot floater’s vignette filter  – click for original

That said, trying to authenticate SL Go with Flickr did admittedly have an initial hiccup; I got stuck on Flickr’s “Bad Panda!” (aka, “oops, something stuffed up, sorry”) page the first time. However, second time around, it worked as expected, and I was duly connected. Given the issues with Flickr over the last couple of days (as those using Firefox or Internet Explorer may well still be muttering about), I point the finger at Yahoo as the cause of the hiccup.

After that little problem, everything worked as anticipated. I was able to upload a snapshot  (using the Spotlight filter, as shown above), which quickly appeared in my photostream.A follow-up test with Twitter so no problems in authenticating, and the snap (this time using the Sepia filter) and text uploaded fine.

Some might notice a couple of rendering issues in the images. These are not related to the uploads. In particular, because access to the Advanced menu is disabled in SL Go, RenderVolumeLOD is locked-in at a relatively low number (1.25?), so some sculpts refused to render properly, and can be seen semi-rendered in the images. As this was just a quick-fire test of the uploads, I wasn’t that fussed about arranging things so the sculpts were properly “popped-out”.

And the same shot from SL Go uploaded to Twitter, but using the Sepia filter

There is still no capability to save snapshots locally. This isn’t surprising, given SL Go is a streamed service, rather than something running locally with access to the local hard / flash drive, and so is likely going to take a lot more banging on things before it works – if it can be made to work. In the meantime, the SL Share options (particularly Flickr) might at latest offer an additional alternative for saving photos alongside the existing inventory, profile and (my preferred method with the SL Go) e-mail.

Although the viewer is listed as based on the 3.7.12 code base from the Lab, it does not include the Group Ban functionality, which reached official release status on August 4th, 2014. However, as a 3.7.12 based release, it should include all of LL’s updates to the viewer code up to 3.7.12.

All-in-all, a tidy little update which sees a major glitch (fitted mesh) corrected, and the addition of a useful feature in the shape of SL Share 2.

SL Go on the Nexus 7 2013 HD

SL go logoImportant note: The SL Go service is to be shut down on April 30th, 2015. For more information, please read this report.

When OnLive launched their SL Go service, a comment following my preview article on the service asked if I’d report back about any ongoing experiences I have with it.

At the time, I indicated it would be unlikely that I’d do so, as I rarely have need to access Second Life when away from my main computer, and when such occasions do occur, I have Lumiya at my disposal which tends to meet all the needs I have for mobile SL access.

However, I decided that in the interests of testing / reporting, I’d take some time to drive SL Go on my Nexus 7 2013 HD.

For those unfamiliar with Asus’ 2013 offering on behalf of Google, the Nexus 7 HD features a 7-inch screen with a 1920×1200 resolution at a whooping 323 ppi, a Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro CPU paired with an Adreno 320, 400 MHz GPU and 2 GB RAM and, in the case of the model I have, 16 GB internal storage. As such, it runs Lumiya beautifully. But what of SL Go?

Wandering trhough LennonParkOnTheRock using SL Go on the Nexus 7 HD (overlay closed)
Wandering trhough LennonParkOnTheRock using SL Go on the Nexus 7 HD (overlay closed) – click for full size

Well, frankly and unsurprisingly, it runs SL Go pretty fabulously. As with the Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 OnLive loaned me for the SL Go preview, SL Go is slick and fast on the Nexus and beautifully clear – most of the time (a caveat I’ll return to in a moment).

Rather than a quick on / off with the service, I spent time wandering around LennonParkOnTheRock, which I’ve reviewed in these pages (using Firestorm for the photos, simply so I can access all the windlights I tend to use). I explored the trails and paths, had a chat with one of my blog subscribers (/me waves to Ringo), and tried a few snaps both via screen capture (1920×1200) and via the viewer’s snapshot floater & e-mail (allowing me snaps at 4096×2497).

Overall, and allowing for the fact my Internet connection was a tad bit ropy at the time due to an intermittent line fault, my experience on the Nexus was easily equitable to that gained on the Galaxy Tab 3. However, the additional real estate offered by the latter’s 10-inch screen did make it perhaps a preferable choice for me when using SL Go, even with the higher and crisper resolution on the Nexus.

LeonnParkOnTheRock captured on the Nexus at 4096x2304
LennonParkOnTheRock captured on the Nexus at 4096×2497 using the snapshot floater & forwarded to my e-mail account – click for full size

In my original preview of SL Go I made mention of the fact that there is obviously a lower limit in terms of screen size where using the service is liable to become impractical, even with the overlay and the ability to zoom-in on the UI. This is something OnLive acknowledged in our chats about the service prior to launch as well. However, quite where this limit is comes down to a number of factors – with eyesight perhaps topping the list, alongside (maybe) screen resolution.

For me and my eyes, which aren’t quite what they used to be (although in difference to Spike Milligan / Eccles, they never used to be my ears….) my Nexus 7 is probably that lower limit. Yes, it was great having SL displayed in all its glory on the screen – graphics at Ultra, shadows, ambient occlusion and all the rest, but after 30 minutes, I started finding it hard to focus and found things getting a little blurry due to eyestrain (hence my little caveat earlier). This is not a fault of OnLive’s; I think there is simply too much detail on the Nexus’ screen for my eyes to comfortably process without me feeling some strain.

Of course, I could partly mitigate this by zooming-in on specific areas of the screen, reducing my overall field of view. But this raised its own issues; if I wanted to use a tool bar button or menu option, for example while zoomed-in, I had to first zoom back out and then zoom back in again to ease the amount of strain I was feeling behind my eyes – and this did start to get a little tedious in its own right. It also wasn’t something I noticed so much when using the bigger 10-inch screen of the Galaxy Tab (or at least, I wasn’t so conscious of it when using the Tab).

SL Go on my Nexus 7 HD + keyboard
SL Go on my Nexus 7 HD + keyboard

But leaving this aside, SL Go did run exceptionally well for me. The overlay, as with the Samsung Galaxy Tab 3, performed flawlessly, and the Bluetooth keyboard I use with my Nexus allowed me to chat a lot more easily than using the on-screen keyboard, and was obviously completely non-invasive on the screen, which was a big plus when compared to having just an on-screen keypad for text use.

So, would I be tempted to use SL Go over Lumiya?

That’s a tough one for me to answer and not necessarily because of the current SL Go pricing plan. The fact is that  I rarely need to access SL when away from may home computer, and when I do, Lumiya actually more than meets most of my needs, as noted at the top of this article. However, and more to the point, I’ve been a firm supporter of Lumiya and Alina’s work ever since Oz Linden gave me a nudge towards it back in early 2012,  and so have a certain loyalty in that direction which I’m unwilling to set aside purely on the basis of new shiny.

But that said, were there an occasion when I wanted to be in-world which benefited from having all the graphical richness of the viewer when away from my PC, then yes, I’d opt for SLGo, even with the current pricing plan. In fact, given my “mobile SL” needs are so rare, the fact that the service currently does have a metered payment system actually makes it more attractive to me than were it to have been introduced purely on a subscription basis.

This should not be taken to mean I’m against the service having a subscription payment option – I’ve already expressed an opinion that OnLive should offer both. It’s purely that even $25.00 for 10 hours of SL access via my Nexus is most likely going to last me a good several months based on past habits, thus making it potentially a lot lighter on my purse than a straightforward subscription service.

As it is, and putting questions of payment plans and what OnLive might or might not do in the future (and they are monitoring things closely, believe me) aside, I do now have two options for using SL from my Nexus should the need arise. And, eyesight allowing, choice is always a good thing, right?

SL Go: Second Life on a tablet, on the move and more

SL go logoImportant note: The SL Go service is to be shut down on April 30th, 2015. For more information, please read this report.

Update: On April 3rd, 2014, OnLive announced a revised pricing structure for SL Go, and on June 3rd, 2014, they  announced the extension of the free trial period to 7 days.

On Wednesday March 5th, Linden Lab and OnLive, the streaming / cloud gaming company announced the launch of the SL Go by OnLive (SL Go) public beta (available to UK, US and Canadian residents at the moment).

SL Go is a service which streams the SL viewer and  SL content directly to the user’s computer or tablet device (during the beta period, only Android is supported for tablets). As a streamed service, it allows, subject to network connectivity, the full richness and depth of Second Life to be displayed and used on tablets and low-end computer systems and laptops. The public beta is intended to broaden the use of the service, and to obtain further feedback in order to further enhance and refine it.

As a part of the preparations for the launch, I was one of a number of journalists and bloggers given preview access to the new service in order to try it out and provide initial reviews for readers. However, if you’re rather just skip ahead to the review part of this article, you can follow this link – but if you do, be warned, you’ll be missing out! 🙂 .

News that Linden Lab were involved in developing a mobile means of accessing Second Life first surfaced in October 2013, when selected users received an e-mail inviting them to sign-up for a closed beta for a new mobile service. Shortly after that, rumours began circulating that the work was linked with OnLive. Given the viewer’s complexity and  the dynamic nature of SL content, using a streaming service is perhaps the only way in which to bring the full richness and depth of the SL experience provided by the viewer to devices such as tablets.  Interestingly, however, the idea for using OnLive didn’t actually come from the Lab.

Gary Lauder, OnLive Chairman, approached LL's former CEO, Rod Humble, about OnLive providing SL to users through their service (Image courtesy of LinkedIn)
Gary Lauder, OnLive’s Chairman, approached LL’s former CEO, Rod Humble, about OnLive providing SL to users through their service (Image courtesy of LinkedIn)

Instead, it actually came from Gary Lauder, OnLive’s Chairman and owner. His company, Lauder Partners, invested in the original OnLive Inc in 2009, and when that entity got into difficulties in 2012, then stepped-in and acquired OnLive in August 2012 and formed the current company using the name. Lauder has a working relationship with the Lab’s former CEO, Rod Humble, and being aware of Second Life, he approached Humble in early 2013 with the idea of forming a synergy between the two companies.

Lauder made his approach because third-person adventure games have been particularly successful for OnLive. As such, Second Life was seen as a logical choice for extending OnLive’s reach into more immersive environments  while at the same time potentially offering Linden Lab with a solution for providing SL to tablet devices and to low-end desktop and laptop systems.

The task of initially investigating whether SL could be successfully run through OnLive servers was passed to Nick Barsetti, the Senior Manager of Customer Relations at OnLive. “One of my staff members and I were able to get it up and running on the service … and my jaw just absolutely dropped,” he says while discussing the service with Draxtor Despres ahead of the launch. “I said, ‘I’ve never seen it run this fast!’ It was prior to the server-side rending release [server-side appearance, July / August 2013]. And as we know, that has speeded-up local viewers quite a bit … even with that, it was running 150+ fps, and we’ve even seen it run as high as 200 fps on a private island.”

With the proof-of-concept a success, OnLive started into the core development work, with Barsetti playing a key role, being both a former Linden Lab employee (Scout Linden) and a long-time Second Life resident who has been actively engaged in the platform for seven years, notably as a community leader in a Star Wars role-play group. As such, he is intimately aware of how the viewer and platform can be used and very familiar with users’ expectations and requirements when running Second Life, and this is very apparent in his conversation with Drax, which you’ll be able to hear in The Drax Files Radio Hour on Friday March 7th.

The SL Go website
The SL Go website (courtesy of OnLive)

SL Go is a service provided entirely by OnLive, which sits between the Lab’s servers and the user (and is, most likely, one of the contributing factors behind the August 2013 ToS changes). As such, it requires those wishing to use the service (including users with an existing OnLive account) to register at the SL Go website.  Those who don’t have an account with OnLive will obtain one as a part of their SL Go registration. People with existing OnLive accounts will need to register with the SL Go website prior to being able to see SL Go through their OnLive client (computer or tablet).

Once registered, users can then purchase time credits for the service, download the SL Go app for Android via Google Play or the OnLive client for PCs or Macs in order to access SL Go.

SL Go by OnLive: streaming Second Life to your tablet
SL Go by OnLive: streaming Second Life to your tablet

New SL Go accounts receive a free trial period of 20 minutes 7 days (see the update at the top of this article,  so that they can try the service to see if it suits their needs and assess how well it runs on their home or mobile network. Once this initial 20-minute period has been used, additional time credits can be purchased at the following rates:

  • $3.00 for one hour
  • $8.00 for three hours (representing a 10% saving on the base cost)
  • $25.00 for ten hours (representing a 15% saving on the base cost).

As noted at the top of this article in the updates, OnLive now charge a flat monthly subscription of US 9.95 (UK £6.95) per month for unlimited access to Second Life. 

It is possible that some may balk at having to additionally pay for accessing Second Life. However, as Nate Barsetti explains, there is an underlying reason for charging for the service. “OnLive is another layer placed between you and the Linden Lab network. So in order to fund this and keep it going, there is a payment model associated with SL Go.” He also believes that the potential benefits in using SL Go will sufficiently offset reservations people have about paying for the service. Time will tell on this.

As well as using SL Go on either an Android tablet or a computer system, it is also possible to use SL Go with the OnLive Games System (OGS)  to connect to a television and play games using a suitable USB or wireless keyboard and mouse and / or the included games controller (which can also be purchased separately).

The Online Games System with mini-console (left) and wireless game controller (right) can also be used to access SL using a television (keyboard also required)
The Online Games System with mini-console (left) and wireless game controller (right) can also be used to access SL using a television (keyboard also required)

As part of the preview, reviewers were supplied with a Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 10.1 with the SL Go app pre-installed, together with the OGS and a wireless keyboard for trying SL Go on a television, and a pre-assigned OnLive account. Unfortunately, I have been unable to test using SL Go with a television as a result of not being able to connect the OGS with my home network. As such, what follows is an overview of SL Go running on a tablet and on a low-end computer system (in this case, a 2010 PC EEE 1201N with 4 GB RAM and windows 7 home Edition, 32-bit).

Continue reading “SL Go: Second Life on a tablet, on the move and more”