Monthly Archives: May 2014

Things moved faster than I expected. So, Maestro Linden announced in last night’s Server Beta meeting that Simon Linden’s work for LSL control of materials (normal and specular maps) is now available for testing on Aditi (the beta grid). The regions allocated for testing are roller-test102 and roller-test103, both on channel DRTSIM-253. They both have the server-side scripting support. I will remind you again that the SLurls are on Aditi. Of course, this is all a beta testing stage, so everything is work-in-progress, and the Lab itself is testing these new capabilities.

Liara Okiddo's "The Botanique". Observe the raindrops on the stone pavement; normal maps are used, besides the diffuse (texture) maps, and they are animated for a truly exquisite effect - provided, of course, that your graphics card can handle it.

Liara Okiddo’s “The Botanique”. Observe the raindrops on the stone pavement; normal maps are used, besides the diffuse (texture) maps, and they are animated for a truly exquisite effect – provided, of course, that your graphics card can handle it. Click on the image for a larger version. Original image by Liara Okiddo.

You can find more information on the Wiki page of the Server Beta User Group. I provide the details below as well.

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UPDATE: Inara Pey reported that Maestro Linden announced the availability of Simon Linden’s work for LSL control of materials on Aditi (the Beta grid). Things have indeed moved faster than I expected, so I’m updating the post accordingly. Anyway, the regions available for testing are roller-test102 and roller-test103, both on channel DRTSIM-253. For more information on testing these capabilities, which are still under development, as well as information on known issues, please read Inara’s post.

This is hardly breaking news, as Inara Pey has already covered the recent developments in her blog; I wanted to post about this, but I was really swamped with RL and this kept me. At any rate, here’s the (belated) low-down.

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I often call Second Life “the Land of Giants”, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. As Penny Patton has explained in her blog posts titled “A Matter of Scale” and “A Matter of Perspective“, Second Life’s default camera offsets, combined with the exaggerated height of the default avatars, make everything seem smaller than it really is. This drives us to not only design our avatars basing them on skewed, unnatural proportions (tiny heads, very short arms and torsos, extremely long legs), but also build our, erm, builds accordingly.

The default camera setting, rear view.
And the front view with the default settings.

From houses to furniture, everything is huge to make up for this perception of smallness. If you were to own – in Real Life (RL) – furniture with the same size as is the norm in SL, I’m pretty sure you’d have a hard time using it; you’d have to literally climb on chairs, sofas, armchairs, bar stools and beds, you wouldn’t be able to reach the writing surface of your desk, and perhaps you wouldn’t even be able to fit some of that furniture in your home. Not that the dimensions of our SL homes are any different. In SL, we tend to see stairsteps 50 cm high; interior doors 5 meters high and 2 meters wide, and exterior ones larger still; ceiling heights of 7 or even 10 meters. The average home in SL has a footprint that is much larger than its RL equivalent.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I’ll once again attribute the perpetuation of these skewed proportions and build sizes to Second Life’s default camera offsets, which make everything appear smaller than it really is. Please note that I don’t claim to know what the situation is in OpenSim-based grids; many of them are private-use grids, and I’m not in any of the commercial ones. If they use the same default settings of the standard Second Life viewer and the TPVs that are based on it, things will be the same. If any readers are active in the commercial OpenSim grids, your experience would be most welcome.

Who’s to blame for this?

If we were to believe common Second Life “wisdom”, Linden Lab is the product of an X-rated “get-together” participating Satan, Vlad the Impaler, Idi Amin, Cthulhu, Elizabeth Báthory, William Edward Hickman, Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, and Sithrak the Blind Gibberer from the NSFW webcomic Oglaf. So, you can blame the Lab for everything; even for that speeding ticket you got last year.

It’s true, of course, that the initial decision was the Lab’s. If I’m not mistaken, they simply copied the perspective that was used back then in 3D and pseudo-3D games, without much research, and those settings stuck.

It’s also true that the Lab is unwilling – to say the least – to fix those settings. Penny Patton’s JIRA from a very long time ago was never acted upon and, although I’ve brought the subject up at Oz Linden’s Open Development User Group meetings a few times, the answer has always been negative, even though Oz himself has said he tinkers with all sorts of different camera offsets, depending on the situation at hand. This means, of course, that people within the Lab are aware of the situation, are aware of the detrimental effect these camera offsets have on immersiveness, user experience and everything, yet they don’t touch them and they don’t provide an easy-to-use tool to change offsets on the fly.

Why don’t they touch those camera offsets? Depending on who you ask, you’ll get all sorts of different answers. Some will say that the Lab is evil and rapacious and wants to force you to build large, so that you’ll run out of prims and purchase more land. Others will say the Lab is evil and likes to torture its users while roasting their newborn babies – or something similar. Others will say that the Lab is just plain stupid. And so on.

The truth is somewhat different: These settings have been there for so long, that now there is an extremely large number of objects made with and for them. If the Lab were to change the settings and replace them with Penny Patton’s overnight, it is feared that there would be content breakage – real or perceived.

My own settings differ somewhat from Penny’s. This essentially prompts the Lab to say “Why bother? Those who want to change those settings will do so anyway.”

“Content breakage”, you say?

Yes. Real or perceived. Actually, there wouldn’t be any real content breakage that ould result directly from the change. Your furniture would still work just fine. So would your vehicles, your homes, everything. But you’d suddenly see that everything around you and everything on you is not right. You’d realise that your builds are oversized. You’d see that your arms and torso are too short, your head is too small, and your legs too long. You’d realise your avatar is too damned tall (and, if you’re one of those people, you’d suddenly feel stupid for claiming operators of realistically-proportioned are ageplayers). And then, you’d start trying to fix things.

You’d try to make your avatar proportionate, and then you’d realise that many of your animations simply don’t work well, because they were designed for the short arms of the default avatar. You’d try to modify your house to make it more realistic – if it came with modify permissions. And the results would depend on your building skills and your patience. I’m not sure you’d try to touch your oversized vehicles, or your scripted furniture, especially if the animations included therein cannot be adjusted. You’d end up doing an awful lot of work, through trial and error, and perhaps you’d break several of your virtual belongings in your effort to scale them more realistically. Perhaps you’d even pack or outright delete non-modifiable objects. Perhaps you’d say “it was well worth it” and not look back…

But the Lab fears (and rightly so) that you’d go up in arms in the forums, yelling, screaming and perhaps blaming those “cunning ageplayers” who “goaded the Lab into making camera offsets to accommodate kid and lolita avatars” and caused you to break everything in your inventory. A look in the official forums and other such outlets for opinion on all things SL justifies this fear. And no, I’m not exaggerating at all.

So, the Lab believes it’s a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” kind of situation, with the Lab believing that it’ll be more damned if it does. So, it opts to simply not do a thing and continue kicking the can down the road. Perhaps they’re waiting until more people have adopted better, more realistic camera offsets and then making a gradual transition, when the oversized content has become obsolete enough for people to not care about it anymore.

It’s a matter of time… Or is it?

I’ve gone on record numerous times for being more than a tad sceptical about VR goggles like the Oculus Rift. I simply don’t believe the hype that they’ll replace the display/keyboard/mouse combination anytime soon, for a number of reasons that are far outside the scope of this article. I do, however, hope that they catch on, although not in the sanctimonious “oh, if you don’t use the Oculus/Hydra/voice combination, you must get with the programme or sod off” way in which they’re being (over)hyped right now.

One benefit I can easily see in such devices is that they might make people wake up to the fact that everything around them is oversized and that the default camera settings are not right. That way, I believe they’ll adopt improved camera settings for their non-Oculus usage of SL and similar virtual words and, hopefully, exert pressure on the Lab to improve them and (perhaps more importantly) on content creators to finally start building to scale.

I also believe and hope that, as more SL bloggers experiment with improved camera offsets and share their experiences with their readers, more people will experiment and adopt camera settings that make the whole virtual environment look more natural and will subsequently scale their avatars and builds down to more realistic proportions.

What can I do to improve things for myself?

First of all, change your camera settings.

In my previous posts on the matter, I explain how this is done, and so do Penny Patton and other people who followed suit afterwards. You will be surprised by how much more proportionate, natural and realistic your environment will look and feel. You will also see that you have more space at your disposal than you thought. You’ll also start working on your avatar’s proportions, eventually.

Rear view, with my custom settings. Note that the room now appears wider than before; also, you are afforded an enhanced feeling of "being there".
Rear view, with my custom settings. Note that the room now appears wider than before; also, you are afforded an enhanced feeling of “being there”.
My avatar, viewed from the front with my custom settings. Again, note how much more realistic the size of the bed behind me seems.
My avatar, viewed from the front with my custom settings. Again, note how much more realistic the size of the bed behind me seems.

 Second: Educate yourself about building

I mentioned earlier in this post that what we build is oversized because of the default camera offsets that give a distorted view. That’s true. However, ever since my first days, most of the building instructors I’ve known have never said that we don’t need to make the things we create that big. In fact, all of my old notecards from building classes give sizing figures that are at least 30% larger than what the same object would be in RL.

In RL, we don’t build entirely arbitrarily. There are standards we follow, so that the average person will easily use something. In RL, if you were to go up a staircase whose steps have a rise of 50 cm and a tread depth of 1 meter, you’d soon end up wondering what idiot thought this would make any sense to anyone. The same goes for doors; if you encountered an interior door that would be 2.5 meters wide, 5.5 meters tall and 20 cm thick, and its doorknob was above your eye level, you’d get another “WTF?” moment. And a bedroom whose ceiling was 7 meters above the floor would definitely not make sense to you – in RL. Yet, this is the norm in Second Life – and if the rooms, doors and stairsteps are built like that, imagine what the furniture is like. Think I’m exaggerating? I have quite a few pieces of oversized stuff in my inventory: houses, furniture, the works – there’s no need for me to name and shame content creators…

But you can begin building to scale today. Besides changing your camera offsets to something sensible, you can observe (and measure) how things are sized in RL. You can also find and download the International Residential Code, as well as its subsets (such as the Stair Building Code from the Stairway Manufacturers’ Association) and inform yourselves. Below, I’ll give you both the RL standards and the figures I usually use when building.

Stairsteps:

  • Minimum headroom depth: 6′ 8″ – 2.032 m
  • Minimum tread depth: 10″ – 25.4 cm
  • Maximum rise: 7.75″ – 19.685 cm
  • Maximum tread depth variability: 3/8″ – 0.953 cm
  • Maximum rise variability: 3/8″ – 0.953 cm
  • Maximum slope of riser: 30°

Personally, I apply these to my SL building as follows, to accommodate even extremely tall avatars (even now, there are too many avatars that are about 2.30 meters tall):

  • Standard headroom depth: 9’8″ – 3 m
  • Minimum tread depth: 9.843″ – 25 cm
  • Standard rise: 5.9055″ – 15 cm
  • Maximum rise: 7.874″ – 20 cm
  • Maximum slope of riser: 38.65° (typical slope of riser: 30°-35°)

Ceiling heights:

In RL, the norm is, depending on when your home was built, 8″ (2.438 m) or, if it was built after 1994, 9″ (2.743 m). You will also encounter 10″ high ceilings (3.048 m). The apartments and houses I’ve encountered in RL usually had 10″ high ceilings, with the exception of the ground floor of some really old neoclassical homes, some of which followed the old European standard (13″ – 3.962 m).

In SL, I build as follows:

  • Minimum ceiling height: 11′ 9’8″ – 3 m
  • Typical ceiling height: 13′ 1.48″ – 4 m; if appropriate or necessary, I might go up to 16′ 6.85″ – 5 m.

Doors:

In RL, a typical US residential door is 36″ x 80″ (91 x 203 cm) – Source: Wikipedia.

For exterior and passage (room to room) doors, dimensions in the US are 2’6″ to 3′ wide, increasing in 2″ increments. Most residential interior doors are 2’6″ (0.76 m) wide except when designed to allow wheelchair access; in these cases the width is 3′ (0.91). The height of the typical door is between 6′ (1.828 m) to 8′ (2.438 m).

Of course, terrace, balcony and garage doors can be larger, and they usually are.

In my own builds, I size the doors as follows:

  • Interior/passage:
    • Minimum width: 3′ 3.7″ – 0.8 m
    • Maximum width: 4′ 7.118″ – 1.4 m
    • Minimum height: 7′ 2.614″ – 2.2 m
    • Standard height: 7′ 6.551″ – 2.3 m
    • Tall Building height: 9′ 2.236″ – 2.8m
    • Maximum height: 9′ 8″ – 3 m
  • Exterior:
    • Minimum width: 3’3.7″ – 1 m
    • Maximum width: 6’6.74″ – 2 m
    • Minimum height: 7′ 2.614″ – 2.2 m
    • Standard height: 7′ 6.551″ – 2.3 m
    • Tall Building height: 9′ 2.236″ – 2.8m
    • Maximum height: 11’7.795″ – 3.5 m – If appropriate or necessary, I might go up to 13’1.48″ – 4 m.
  • Standard door thickness (w/o doorknobs): 1.9685″ – 5 cm
  • Standard exterior gate thickness: 2.953″ – 7.5 cm
  • Maximum door thickness (for gates): 3.937″ – 10 cm

I could go on and on; for instance, your house’s interior walls don’t need to be 1 meter thick; you can make do with 20 cm just fine, and 25 cm is perfectly OK for exterior walls. Unless, of course, you’re making a house with very thick stone-built exterior walls, in which case you can go up to 1 meter – I’ve seen such houses in RL, after all.

Of course, you don’t have to follow my own practices – after all, I try to adapt RL standards to SL in order to accommodate taller avatars as well. I’m giving you my ideas and practices as an example of what you can do. However, it does make sense to build to scale as much as possible; it adds realism, it facilitates the suspension of the user’s disbelief (thus helping immersion no end), and it sets a good example for everyone.

See also:

UPDATE: The links to videos of the SVVR Conference on SLartist.com are dead, as the site has gone down. There are archived versions, but the videos cannot be played. I will look for alternatives.

svvr-logo-small

On Monday, I had the opportunity to go to the LEA Theatre and watch Philip Rosedale’s keynote speech at the Silicon Valley Virtual Reality (SVVR) Conference & Expo 2014. If I’m honest, I didn’t expect his speech to differ all that much from the one he gave at this year’s VWBPE. If you were unable to come to the LEA Theatre to watch Mr. Rosedale’s speech, you can watch the recording here (dead link), and Inara Pey has also written a summary.

Philip Rosedale, former CEO of Linden Lab, now CEO of High Fidelity, Inc., at the Web 2.0 Summit 2005. Image: Wikipedia; image credit: James Duncan Davidson/O'Reilly Media, Inc.

Philip Rosedale, former CEO of Linden Lab, current CEO of High Fidelity, Inc., at the Web 2.0 Summit 2005. Image: Wikipedia; Image credit: James Duncan Davidson/O’Reilly Media, Inc.

Now, I suppose most of this blog’s readers are familiar with Philip Rosedale. If you don’t know about his career and background, here’s a very short bio. Back in 1995, he developed an innovative video conferencing application named FreeVue, which was acquired by RealNetworks; in 1996, he became Vice President and CTO at RealNetworks, to part ways with the company in 1997. In 1999, he founded Linden Lab, which, as we all know, is the company that develops and markets Second Life. He stepped down from his position as CEO on March 14th, 2008 and became Chairman of the Board of Directors. In June 2010, he became interim CEO and left that position again in October of the same year. On April 16th, 2013, he started developing a new virtual world platform named High Fidelity. For more detailed information, please check Wikipedia’s articles on him and Linden Lab.

As I mentioned earlier in this post, I didn’t expect Mr. Rosedale’s keynote at SVVR to be all that different from the one he gave at VWBPE 2014. Still, there are some subjects on which my point of view differs significantly from his.

In both of his keynotes, Mr. Rosedale essentially told us that the key for mass adoption of virtual reality and virtual worlds by the general public is technical: If we buy special hardware – like the Razer Hydra, the Leap Motion, the Thalmic Myo, the Oculus Rift, etc. – that will replace our keyboards and monitors, and if they improve the user interface and reduce latency, then we will all join virtual worlds in droves; the number of potential users postulated is one billion.

I remain highly sceptical. Back in 2007, when Second Life and Linden Lab were the darling of the media (tech and general), Mr. Rosedale was talking about the 3D web, about how Second Life would replace the web, that it would be the place for corporations to have their internet presence… Fast forward to 2014 and none of his predictions have come true. If you mention Second Life to anyone, they’ll either ask “is it still around?” or they’ll dismiss/reject it entirely with remarks made in a rather colourful language about its user base. Mr. Rosedale’s (and Linden Lab’s) ambitions, aspirations and predictions proved to be nothing but a pipe dream.

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Some recent events in my RL work, followed by a discussion with Crap Mariner, caused me to start thinking about the topic of SL land tier again. Let’s start by admitting that the cost of virtual land in Second Life is high. If you want a sim of your own (an OpenSpace sim, a Homestead, or a full sim), you have to pay a price that is rather unattractive to most users, especially if we are to compare it with OpenSim-based grids like InWorldz or Kitely. This price is often cited as one of the main contributing factors to SL’s on-going region loss, if not as the single most significant factor. It’s true, of course, that virtual land ownership in SL has been in a steady decline for quite a few years now, and I’m not going to tell you that the monthly tier (not to mention the initial set-up cost, if you are to rent directly from LL rather than a landlord) is not high.

But this is pretty much what the situation has always been like. The cost of virtual land in SL has been pretty much stable throughout the years that Linden Lab has been using the tier model. But, back in the days when SL was the darling of the tech media, people were far more willing to turn a blind eye to this high cost.

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