Since you’ve bothered to read my rather obscure blog, I gather that you’ve been around in Second Life long enough to be acquainted with the blogging work of other bloggers who (a) have been around much longer than yours truly, (b) have hands-on technical experience in areas that are related to Second Life’s “under the hood” aspects. One such person is Penny Patton, whose blog I consider to be a great resource for most matters that relate to making Second Life more effective and more immersive.
Two years ago, Penny had posted an extremely interesting article on her blog. Its topic was the perspective we get with SL’s default camera placement and its impact on the way we experience SL. Now, it’s no secret that, over the decades, the video game industry has gathered considerable experience on the impact camera placement has on the way someone experiences a game or a virtual world. Yet, Linden Lab has been – from day one – entirely oblivious to this experience and stubbornly refuses to incorporate the lessons learned by everyone else in this field.
Putting first-person games aside, games and virtual worlds where a third-person perspective is the default (such as Second Life and everything that resembles it) really depend on the way the camera behaves – the camera’s behaviour can really make or break the experience. Penny cites Capcom’s 2005 release “Resident Evil 4“, as its “over the shoulder” camera view became the industry standard for third-person shooter games, and for good reason, because the camera view it used did not obstruct the action at all.
There are also other reasons why this particular view works so well, as Penny explains them.
- Environment creation: The over-the-shoulder view allows a builder to create builds like an outhouse or a small shed in the woods or a cramped washroom stall in a sleazy bar, or claustrophobic corridors in a maze-like environment (catacombs, sewers, labyrinths). Also, this view makes larger builds look more impressive. Try comparing that with SL’s default camera view; the camera hangs so high above the avatar that, the moment you enter a small room, the camera either ends up on the ceiling or on the wrong side of the walls. SL’s default (and completely crappy, if we want to be honest) camera placement forces us to upscale everything: from our own avatars to our builds, but I’ll get to that later.
- Usability: The over-the-shoulder view provides the user with an additional advantage: a sense of place, which allows you to have a more intuitive “feel” of where your avatar is in relation to its surroundings. It’s obvious that this allows us to navigate a region far more easily.
- Immersion: No, I’m not going to get into the old “immersionism vs. augmentism” debate here. Placing the camera near the level of the avatar’s eyes puts you, the avatar’s operator, into the world where the avatar moves and exists rather than making you an outside observer who merely uses a radio control system to make the avatar do whatever it must do.
The camera placement’s impact on scale, lag and usability
Because of SL’s default camera offsets, we are forced to upscale everything. We make our avatars ridiculously tall, because the camera’s behaviour makes them look tiny. We make the arms stupidly short and the legs idiotically long, to compensate for the distorted perspective we get from SL’s default camera offsets.
And we build big, exactly because of the skewed perspective we get. We make stair steps that are 50cm high – more than twice their RL height! I’ve seen “small” homes where the doors were 10 meters tall and the ceilings towered 11 or 12 meters above the floors. And all this simply to accommodate the default camera placements.
And that’s not all. Quite the contrary. In the older days, when the maximum size of a prim was 10 meters on each axis, this meant that we had to use more prims, which, of course, counted against the prim limits of our land. Also, another negative side-effect of this is that upscaling to accommodate SL’s default camera placement also dictates the use of 1024×1024 textures on certain components of our builds (such as doors) – if we had the chance to build to scale, though, we would easily get away with 256x256s. As for how texture sizes impact lag, do have a look at my previous post. Penny has put up a good number of screenshots illustrating how camera placement determines so much, and I recommend you have a look at them.
Penny also says that in a world like Second Life, where we move and really interact with others and with our environment, it just isn’t viable to keep manually correcting (using the Alt+Zoom feature) the camera as we walk around. Wouldn’t you agree that, instead of fiddling with the Alt key and the mouse while you try to move your avatar around is a lot more cumbersome than having a default set of camera settings that would take care of that without you needing to do extra work?
Linden Lab won’t do anything about it
Exactly. Penny had filed a JIRA on it, and, as you’ll see, this JIRA is now old enough to see its grandchildren graduate from college. Has LL done anything in the meantime? Nope. It’s one of those stupid decisions that were made sometime before SL opened its doors to the public and now LL is trapped in them (or so they think). Last Wednesday, I raised this exact topic to Oz Linden at the Open Development User Group meeting, and his response was that they wouldn’t do anything, because users would go up in arms, claiming that the change would “ruin their SL” and it would “break content”.
Personally, I think that the first argument can be easily countered with a concerted effort that would involve both LL and TPV devs to inform the public – like they did with SSB/A. And I’m sure that, if they made it easy for people to change their camera and focus offsets on the fly (even having the old defaults as a selectable preset), no one would complain. As a matter of fact, I did suggest this, but Oz rejected it, as they don’t want to have many presets to handle – or at least that’s how I understood what he said.
As for the second argument, well, we all know that it’d be complete and utter bullshit. No content would be broken. Instead, some old content (which is perhaps already obsolete) will look even more obsolete than it already does. But that’s not LL’s problem and shouldn’t be; it’s just how a product’s life cycle is. Products become obsolete at one point or another. After all, it’s not like LL has any obligation, legal or otherwise, to ensure that the oversized and oh-so-2004 barstools someone made for avatars whose height would dwarf Hasheem Thabeet would not become obsolete in 2013.
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