Sunday, April 16, 2017

Second Life vs. World of Warcraft

A picture is worth a thousand words. Here is a height comparison of the various WoW races, with a typical, maxed out SL avatar superimposed into it. The SL avatar is in scale to the WoW characters.


Actually, after I made this, I realized that the Aesthetic, I believe, uses deformer tricks to be larger, so it would probably actually be over 9' tall with the height maxed out.

The odd things is, more and more women avatars in SL are actually human sized, and it's pretty common to see SL women who are about 5' to 5'10", wearing 6" heels so they don't look quite so short. Not all of them, of course, but definitely a lot of them. More and more as time goes on. So I've added an example of such an avatar as well.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The Penny FAQ

 Over the years I've said a lot about SL, but when I post in forums or talk to people in SL I keep running into people who put words in my mouth instead of listening to what I actually say. I end up repeating myself a lot in correcting these people. So much so that a poster on SLU wrote up a "Penny FAQ".

I've taken that and rewritten it slightly and will add to it as I come across more constantly repeating questions and accusations.

* Why should the average SL user have to be an expert on digital design?  

I frequently talk about how optimizing content can greatly benefit your SL experience and this has lead to some people mistakenly taking this to mean that I believe the average SL user should be doing these things.

I do not. My position has always been that the average SL user should not even need to think about optimization or any other digital design issues. Good content should be made available by proficient builders.


* So then you believe only those who are experts on digital design should be allowed to create content?

 

 Again, no. I believe there are things LL can and should do to make it easier for the average SL user to follow some basic practices which result in a better shared experience for everyone, without SL users even thinking about it.

* Why should LL force people to do things according to what you think is best?

 

LL should not force people to do anything. They should make it easier, though, to create content that conforms to standards which result in a better experience. LL should also make it easier for people to find information to support their efforts. Having said that, if people want to sell things on the LL hosted marketplace then they should be open and honest about what they are selling.

* Are you saying that lower resolution textures and fewer details look better? What the hell are you smoking, Penny?

 

No, I am saying that higher resolution textures and more details will not look "better" in some circumstances and the trade off is not worth the degradation in the viewer's and network's performance.

* But Penny! My customers are very discerning and demand the most biggest textures and most finest details imaginable.

 

Fine, but what you do impacts others. You should consider communicating with your customers and offer them choices and alternatives. If you want to deliver the very best quality and experience to your customers you may discover there are ways to deliver a high quality appearance without such a heavy toll on performance.

* Dammit Penny, I just want to build stuff and not worry so much about all these technical details. 

 

Me too, but this is not about you. It is about a few basic practices and ways to make it easier for us to just muck about and have some fun. This is also why the emphasis of my arguments is always on the fact that LL should provide us with better tools.

* Penny, you are a cow. I mean, you are literally a cow. Does that not imply that you a furry and your opinion means nothing?

 

Moo.

* *Sigh* Not THIS again? Why do you have to bore us with this over and over.

 

Because what you do impacts me. Unfortunately, this is a community, and we have to share SL. Also, nobody is forcing you to read this. Seriously, just move on and let me rant and get over yourself.

* My products are most precious, and I cannot let those savages change them. Why should I make them mod when those bastards will ruin it?

 

Those "bastards" are giving you their money in exchange for a little entertainment. If you let them change things in ways that make it a little more enjoyable for them then they will be happier with you.

* But Penny, those idiots will ruin my things, and then will expect me to fix it. What kind of drugs are you on, Penny???

 

Yeah, some of them will. That is what people in the real world call "customer service," and yes it sucks. Most people are better than that, but people ruin everything. If you do not want to deal with people then maybe selling things to anonymous people on the Internet is not your best option.

* Maybe so, but my things are wonderful as they are. I cannot imagine those savages ruining my pretty things. 

 

Then put your things in a museum behind glass. If you do not want people to touch your things then do not let others have them.

* Sell my things modifiable? But that will let people steal my content, won't it? Penny, is this some sort of scheme to ruin the livelihood of every SL content creator? I read this on a blog somewhere!

 

No. Letting people copy and modify content will not also somehow let them steal it. The people telling you otherwise don't understand how SL's permissions system works.

* Penny, why are you trying to force everyone to shrink their avatars?

 

I'm not. I just point out how a consistent sense of scale can make SL more immersive, more engaging, and better looking. I understand that for many their priority is simply fitting in, and if the places they go are filled with 8' tall avatars they will feel more comfortable in an 8' tall avatar. I also understand that some will choose to be giants specifically because they want to be a giant. They benefit from a consistent sense of scale in that it allows their 8' tall avatar to feel like an 8' tall avatar.

 * But what's wrong with scaling things to 8' tall avatars? As long as the scale is consistent, what's the difference?



An 8' tall avatar is 1/3 taller than a 6' avatar. Don't forget that when talking about land, everything is squared. That 1/3 linear difference when squared scales out to a 6' avatar having almost twice as much space on a 512 plot as an 8' avatar would. Instead of just a house, you can have a house, an outbuilding, a garden, and a boat dock. Given the price of land in SL, using a 6' avatar puts money in your pocket.

*More space is good and all, but won't I run out of prims/Land Impact faster by scaling down and trying to put all this extra content on my land?



Mesh costs less prims/LI the smaller you make it. Already smaller items like a chair or book probably won't cost fewer LI points, but larger structures like a house, outbuilding, garden, or boat dock could end up being reduced to nearly half their original LI cost. Again, using a 6' avatar instead of an 8' avatar puts money in your pocket.

*Even if that were true, it's impossible to make a 6' avatar that doesn't look like a dwarf!



If you only use the height slider you'll ended up with your avatar looking like it's been squashed down. Unfortunately LL doesn't provide us with an Avatar Scale slider, so we have to adjust a whole bunch of proportions manually to achieve normal proportions if we make any significant changes to our height. Luckily there's a guide that helps you do this.


Wednesday, March 8, 2017

A Tale of Two Content Creators

A Tale of Two Content Creators

A short story of two ways content creators can
respond to criticism and what their decision
means for you.

I can be rather blunt when positing a marketplace review. When I was in art school, the value of blunt, honest criticism was drilled into me because if you can't accept criticism you'll never improve and your career won't last long.
In Second Life, the rules are a bit different. You don't need years of school, decades of training, to become a content creator for SL. Anyone can put their creations on the marketplace and become a seller....and that's fantastic!

There is, however, a downside. Since the Lindens themselves lacked any sort of background in 3D rendering when they set about creating SL, they neglected to develop the tools in such a way as to discourage the bad habits common in inexperienced artists which can be harmful to performance. Lag and poor framerates are not the result of "old, badly written code", they're the result of unoptimized content.

There is a lot of unoptimized content in Second Life.

When I purchase such content I try to shine a light on these issues where I see them in the hope that more people will begin to understand how 3D rendering works, and why they need to reduce their polygon counts and texture use as much as they can.

 Sometimes it works, sometimes it backfires.

 Years and years ago I was building a fantasy sim in Second Life and I purchased a fantastic looking set of viking style buildings. These buildings looked great. The creator clearly had talent and I told them as much. However, their texture use was death on framerates.

A single small house, the smallest of the buildings available, used around twenty 1024x1024 textures. Twenty! Many of these textures were nearly identical. The walls for the building, interior and exterior, were nearly identical, with only the slightest of differences in backed shading. These textures were so similar that they could have used the same texture on every wall and no one would have noticed the different.

In addition, many of these textures were filled with blank, unused data. A 1024x1024 texture where half the texture went unused. These textures could have been condensed into a single file at no loss to visible detail.

 When I reviewed the item on the marketplace, I mentioned all of this. In retrospect I should have contacted the creator directly, but at the time I felt these issues were obvious and should be treated as such. The creator did not take the review kindly, accusing me of setting out to destroy their business and banning me from their sim.

 Currently, they are a very popular content creator indeed, but their content still suffers from the same overuse of textures that their old village set did. They seem to have gotten better about wasting texture area with unused space, but there's still a lot of room  for improvement and they still do not use repeating textures to increase detail without driving up texture memory. For some of their creations this has meant very blurry, N64-ish looking items even with their high texture use. They seem to be trying to get around this by throwing yet more textures at their creations which is not the way to go.

 I'm not naming names because I'm not setting out to shame anyone. That's not the point of this. The point is that abusing textures in this way, filling up content with what amounts to gigs of unnecessary files, is why everyone has such terrible performance in SL. I want to see creators like this succeed by recognizing this problem and learning to create better looking items that don't kill framerates.

And sometimes it works.

During that same period, I was also putting together a fantasy look for my own avatar and purchased some items from a store that had the exact same problems described above. I purchased a body harness where each strap, although appearing identical just mirrored, was a separate sculpt map and texture. There was a chain across the front, each link in the chain was it's own 1024x1024 sculpt map and 1024x1024 texture.The whole thing had to be like 30-50 sculpted prims, each with its own 1024x1024 sculpt map and 1024x1024 texture.

 It looked fantastic but was murder on framerates, and I said as much in my review of it.

 This creator also sent me a message. This one was a positive message. They said the information I'd provided was eye-opening and that they would be using this feedback in creating their next product. As they switched to mesh they began releasing content that was far and away better looking than their old sculpted work, but also much lighter on textures.


 They released a mesh version of that same body harness and despite looking far more detailed than the old one it uses only 3 textures, total. And that's only because it includes spec and normal maps. I will name this creator, Dais Abonwood, because everyone should shop at their store, Dark Prophet Designs.

 And that's why I speak up about these issues. Not because I'm out to destroy someone's business, or try to humiliate them or whatever. If I comment at all it's because you're doing something right, and I want to see you improve.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Draw Weight Revisited

Draw Weight Revisited

About two years ago I wrote an article showing how, with some modding chops, it was possible to drastically reduce avatar draw weight. I posted this image, showing how I cut my fantasy style minotaur woman avatar down to about a quarter of the original draw weight.



Recently, I got the fantasy bug again and decided to dust off that old avatar and update it.

I purchased the Nana fitness body from ::dev::, the creator of which was willing to sell me a modifiable version when I asked, which included hands and a mesh head using Bento, and had a couple of features I've been constantly astounded are lacking from other mesh bodies. Namely, the left and right arm are separate texture faces, meaning they can have two different textures, and the mesh hands are separate attachments!


 Because of this, I was able to put an underarmour texture on the right arm and while I used the included bento hand for the left arm, the armoured right arm instead has a heavy mesh glove. I've always been going for this ancient gladiator style armour look to my minotaur outfit and these details made it so much better.


 On top of that, there was a fitmesh bikini top I was able to mod into a scale mail top, I don't think it looks as good as the PFC scale mail bikini, but being fitmesh it fits perfect and I can use physics with it. And with the texture work I put into it, I don't think it looks bad.

 So lets put a draw weight to these improvements. As my avatar appears in these screenshots my draw weight is currently 34,740, which means I've made my goal of getting my base avatar, fully dressed, under 35,000.

So what's my point with all of this?

Mainly, I wanted to show that having a good looking, detailed avatar does not require a high draw weight as so many people believe. I also wanted to show that it's not mesh, that drives up draw weight, and that the newer mesh features like fitmesh and bento aren't to blame, either.

 I think it's important to say that I'm also not trying to say that optimizing content you've purchased in SL is easy. It's a lot of work, and you need to have some fairly advanced chops when it comes to modding.

What it comes down to is that the biggest, perhaps only, reason any avatar in SL has a draw weight over 50,000 is because content creators aren't optimizing their work. So many content creators in SL either don't know enough about 3D rendering to understand why optimizing is important, or they're just lazy and don't want to put in the extra effort to optimize. Some believe they can't optimize without sacrificing quality, which isn't true.

 If content creators did optimize their work it would be easy for anyone to keep their draw weight low with off the shelf content, no modding required.


 I don't want to sound like I'm placing the blame solely at the feet of content creators, either. Many people came to SL to have fun and discovered that they enjoyed creating content. Everything they know they learned over the course of creating content for SL, and let's face it: Linden Lab could do a lot more to encourage better content creation habits.

 LL ignores, or is ignorant of, the impact heavy texture use has on framerates. LL placed no real restrictions on the render weight of avatars. None of the tools in SL really try to encourage good building habits because the Lindens themselves never bothered to learn about content creation.

 Of course now we have the "jelly dolls" feature which renders avatars with excessively high draw weight as a brightly coloured pixel figure and while some just turn this feature off, a lot of people do keep it on in order to boost their framerates, so there is some incentive now towards having a lower draw weight.

Content Creators: Start optimizing your work. Reduce your texture use. Don't release content bloated with hidden surfaces. Utilize LOD.

Modders: Only buy moddable content then look for all the ways you can reduce the draw weight of that content. Unlink hidden pieces. Replace oversized textures. Set alpha textures to masked instead of blended. Check out that previous article for more tips on how you can reduce the draw weight of items you've purchased.

Lindens: If you're reading this, start encouraging your userbase to be smarter about content creation. Hire someone who knows how all this works and can help your programmers create tools that discourage bad habits and push people towards creating better content. Don't be afraid to be firm where you need to, like finally putting hard restrictions on avatar draw weight. You can tie them to new features, like Bento, so you're not breaking old content. Ultimately, you're the only ones who can solve SL's performance issues by addressing the issue of bloated, unoptimized content.

Everyone Else: Just keep enjoying SL. Like I said, reducing draw weight isn't easy and it's unreasonable to expect everyone to learn how. So don't fret about it. That said, when you buy something, take a moment to see how it affects your draw weight. If it causes your draw weight to go way up, make sure you tell the content creator so that they know customers are expecting low draw weight content. Let them know you don't want to be a jelly doll on someone else's screen.