Tinkering with builds in SL: Apple Fall Portobello Corner Store

This is the second time I sit down to blog about a build I’m tinkering with. Last time around, I had turned my attention to the Iona Conservatory by Trompe Loeil. Did it turn out well? Well, the stair steps I made for the entrance left a bit to be desired, but I’ll get back to work on that particular build some time in the not-too-distant future. Ever since then, I launched a two-pronged (for the time being) effort to adapt, customise and optimise builds for a new, public access, sim I am planning and which will, hopefully, be put in place sometime next year. The basis of both projects are builds by well-regarded and award-winning SL architect Apple Fall. Chronologically, the first one I started to tackle was the Country Hall, which was featured in January’s Shiny Shabby event. The second, which is the one I’m currently working on, is the Portobello Corner Store, which was featured in The Liaison Collaborative last year.

The Country Hall by Apple Fall. A beautiful, 100% mesh, build that lends itself to extensive customisation and optimisation.

The Country Hall by Apple Fall. A beautiful, 100% mesh, build that lends itself to extensive customisation and optimisation. As always, click on the picture for a larger version (opens in a new tab)

...And here's the Portobello Corner Store by Apple Fall.

…And here’s the Portobello Corner Store by Apple Fall. Again, click on the picture to open the larger-size version in a new tab.

Both builds are inspired by British architecture of the past two centuries. I’m no expert, but I think Victorian RL designs must have influenced the creator in his efforts. Now, Apple Fall is an extraordinarily gifted 3D artist, whose meshes are very clean, efficient, and with almost infallible physics. He’s also very gifted at texturing his builds, with textures that suit the mood and feel of his builds impeccably.

However, nothing is perfect. There are some characteristics of his designs that make one think twice before putting them on a busy sim. These characteristics have both to do with textures. Apple Fall uses a plethora of textures on each build, and most of them are 1024×1024 in resolution. The Country Hall, for instance, was burdened with more than 300MB of textures; we need to keep in mind that almost all SL viewers limit the amount of graphics card RAM that may be allocated to textures to 512MB. When a single house takes up nearly 60% of this memory, it is understandable that precious little will be left for the textures of the house’s surroundings: Trees, cars, pavement, bicycles, the clothes and skins on other avatars, even other houses. This leads inevitably to a huge drop in performance, severe texture thrashing, and, eventually, viewer crashes.

But why does this happen? Apple Fall’s builds are characterised by a nostalgic, shabby look, which seems to try to appeal to the hipsters of Second Life. Much like their RL counterparts, SL hipsters want everything around them to look “vintage” and careworn. As is the case in RL, this wear and tear has to be uneven and dependent on which areas of any specific build – from an acoustic guitar to a house – suffer the most from everyday use and / or neglect. This makes it necessary for the builder to divide a square floor (for instance) into four faces (or more), each having its own texture, showing its own wear and fatigue pattern. The same applies to walls, window frames, doors, door frames, and the like. As one can understand, the texture count of the build goes through the roof. And, with almost all of the textures being 1024×1024 in resolution, we are talking about a build that is, in, of, and by itself, quite hard on the user’s graphics card. And when you start adding furniture (again, chock-full of 1024×1024 textures), you’re really asking for trouble – and that’s without taking taking into account the lag that will be caused by the texture, attachment and script load of any avatars on the region.

Another issue with Apple Fall’s buildings is that all of them feature pre-baked shadows, which are a great convenience if you don’t normally have shadows turned on in your viewer. Here’s the catch, though: If you have shadows turned on, then you will see the pre-baked shadows heading in different directions than those of the in-world light sources (sun, moon, projectors) you may be using. This can be inconvenient in photo shoots and in-world filming (machinima making). I really wish Apple Fall would provide, even at an extra cost, packages containing the buildings’ textures without pre-baked shadows, as well as the AO maps. I know I’d gladly pay extra for such a package, and I believe others would, too. That said, I have to once again say I admire Apple Fall’s meshes. They’re clean, very efficient, and quite nicely detailed too.

Performance issues aside, I’m not a fan of having a sim full of builds that look like they once belonged to a rich family that fell on hard times and sold them off to an upstart who bit more than he could chew, saw his businesses fail tragically, and then left everything unmaintained. I get to see enough of this in RL, as I live in a country whose economy is in shambles and also has its share of pre-aged fetishist hipsters, so I’d really rather not put up with it in SL as well.

Don’t get me wrong: I do like seeing the patina of time on a building – it doesn’t have to look like a glossy advert for brand-new, über-modern condos and villas in Miami. I like a building that looks and feels “lived in”, that looks like it’s packed with memories and is actually being used by the people living in it, but I want it to look like the people responsible for it are taking care of it. Let’s be honest: The smells I associate with most of the hipster-oriented, “shabby” (a euphemism for crumbling) builds in SL are those of mould and a two-inch thick crust of asthma-inducing dust. I’m not into that. I want the images that will portray my sceneries to be bring to the viewer’s mind the smells of freshly-baked bread, a good wine, the perfume of the lady living there, the fresh air that comes in through the windows, and the flowers.

So, what did I make of the Portobello Corner Store? Well, I was inspired by seeing it used on Canary Beck’s famous region, the Basilique. There, it is named “Silky’s Café” and it’s placed in the centre of an urban neighbourhood that mixes Venetian and London-style elements.

Silky's Café at the Basilique

Silky’s Café at the Basilique: Canary Beck’s application of Apple Fall’s Portobello Corner Store. As always, click on the picture to open the full-size version in a new tab.

I wanted to make something similar: a classically-styled corner café for the more artsy folks out there, smack in the centre of an elegant city mixing British and Greek neoclassicism (think Theophil Hansen and Ernst Ziller), Art Deco, Art Nouveau, and even Modernism, in an arrangement that would give the feeling of a place evolving gradually over the course of several decades, marrying the changes in tastes and movements as society progresses, with some public places remaining relatively unchanged over time, serving as the glue that brings the city’s people together.

I had decided right from the start on a few basic principles:

  1. No sculpts. Ever. Whatsoever. Sculpts are extremely wasteful, geometry-wise, look downright terrible, and cause an awful lot of lag.
  2. Various textures would be replaced, optimised, and / or customised to suit my particular wishes for the build.
  3. All of the lights would be scripted: Most of them would turn on automatically when the sun would go down (according to region windlight settings), and some would be switchable. For the time being, I’ve only done most of the automatic ones.
  4. While I have no problem showing my influences and inspiration sources, the final build would have to be “me”.
  5. To make transporting the whole thing around easier without needing scripts like Rez-Faux, I needed to link new stuff to it. Most of the decor would be permanently placed in the build anyway. So, the items I would add as the build would progress would need to have copy / mod permissions.

So, I scoured the marketplace and the internet in general for the kind of accessories I wanted: Awnings, sconces, ceiling fans, air conditioners, radiators, posters, that sort of thing, and started fiddling around. The build is still very much work-in-progress, but I think it’s close to reaching its final shape. I also cannibalised several builds I happen to have in my inventory, so that I would use parts of them in this project.

That said, this project is still ongoing. There are several bits of work that still need to be done, and these are:

  1. I need to come up with a name for the café and create logos (textures and a 3D one in mesh);
  2. I need to come up with street names and design appropriate signs;
  3. Add chimneys;
  4. Add electrical equipment (switches and power outlets);
  5. Add rosettes where the ceiling fans are attached to the roof;
  6. Add decor to the floor above, but this will be in accordance with the identity and nature of the place that will be placed there – and this hasn’t been decided yet.

Once all of these tasks have been completed, then this build will be ready to be placed in its intended urban environment. OK, that’s all I had to say for now. Now, I’ll let you see what I’ve done so far.

My custom application of Apple Fall's Portobello Corner Store

My custom application of Apple Fall’s Portobello Corner Store. The signage will be different when I’m done with it, and it will be put in a proper urban context. For the full-size version of this image, please click on it – it opens in a new tab.

Side view one...

Side view one…

And another side view...

And another side view…

I'm on the outside, looking inside...

I’m on the outside, looking inside…

Interior view...

Interior view…

Interior view...

Interior view…

Interior view...

Interior view…

Realism enhanced by small details

Realism means I needed to even include things like exit signs and fire extinguishers.

Posters reveal owner's lineage

There are three ad posters that show I’m from the country which has been scapegoated as the “cause of the European financial crisis”, which justified in the public’s eyes the continued and ongoing collective punishment of said country’s people. Here you can see two of them.

Of course, other buildings will be added, which will be adjacent to the building of the café, but these will come later on – the plan is to make the whole setting look like a neighbourhood. And now, here’s what it looks like after dark.

Vent and automatic lights.

Yes, that’s a vent above the sign. And the lights turn on and off automatically, as I explained in the text.

Entrance lights

The entrance lights. The blank box under the awning is going to be a street name sign.


Pedestrian's view at night

Pedestrian’s view at night.

Inside view at night

Inside view at night.

Another inside view at night.

Another inside view at night.

And another...

And another…

And another pedestrian's view at night...

And another pedestrian’s view at night…

OK, that’s it for now. I hope you enjoyed it; the new sim is still in the planning stages and, to be honest, what will be done will always depend on how much disposable income I have, and how much time I have to run things.


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