camera offsets

Ever since Second Life opened its virtual doors way back in 2003, it’s been saddled with one of the many bad decisions that were made by Linden Lab back then: the camera offsets, on which I’ve written quite a few times in the past. I’m certainly not the first SL blogger to write about it: many others came before me, and the first one to do so was Penny Patton, way back in 2011 with her seminal posts “A Matter of Scale” and “A Matter of Perspective” (archived, as some image links are now dead) and the JIRA she had filed. The default camera offsets greatly affect the way we see our virtual environment, the way we move inside it, the way we perceive the space that’s available to us, and the way we build, scale, and shape things – from our avatar shapes to our furniture and builds.

Before I go any further, allow me to demonstrate the default settings and how they affect the way we experience our in-world surroundings:

A view of an outdoors scene with the default camera offsets.
A view of an outdoors scene with the default camera offsets. While it doesn’t obscure your field of view, it feels distant and has serious disadvantages once you go indoors.
Indoors with the default camera offsets.
Indoors with the default camera offsets, rear view. Thanks to the tall ceiling, the camera isn’t pushed close. If the ceiling was lower, the camera would be popping through it.
Indoors with the default camera settings, front view. Not much better, as expected.

Unlike games like Doom and its clones and descendants, Second Life’s default view of the world is a third-person perspective: you see your avatar and the area around you. Now, among applications that use such a perspective, there are several different approaches. Let’s say you’re designing a third-person shooter; you want to see what’s happening on your left and right, what’s coming towards you, and what’s coming up behind your back. So, it makes sense to use a perspective similar to SL’s default, which itself seems to have been influenced by earlier third-person games like Tempest and Tomb Raider. I call this perspective the “radio-controlled toy car view”, because it’s so similar to the view you have as you’re holding the radio control unit, walking behind a radio-controlled car model you’re controlling. In SL, the camera follows you, floating about two meters above your avatar, so you operate your avatar a bit more like a toy than anything else, much less part of “you”, but we’ll get to that later. In 2005, Resident Evil 4 was released. It implemented an “over the shoulder” view. By essentially combining the character’s eye-level view of Doom with the third-person view, it soon became the industry standard, and is exactly the view Penny has been advocating since 2011.

A screenshot of Resident Evil 4. You can see the character is placed to the left of the screen, while the lens of the camera is looking over the character’s shoulder. Source: Mobygames

What we can immediately notice by looking at the screenshot above is that it places the camera far closer to your character. In a video game where close combat is the norm, such a camera offset is a better choice, as it puts you “right there”, fighting alongside your character and your team-mates. What does this choice achieve?

  • Better immersion: Rather than making you a distant, outside observer, placing the camera at your character’s eye level puts you right inside the world where your character is moving, fighting, interacting with its surroundings.
  • Improved usability: Another bonus is that this camera placement choice gives you a better sense of place, and gives you a far more intuitive “feel” of where your character is in relation to its surroundings. Furthermore, it allows you to navigate smaller, narrower places far more easily.
  • Improved environment creation capabilities: By using this camera placement, Capcom were able to create a realistically-scaled environment, where the difference in ambience and feel between open spaces and indoors places is a lot more palpable than it would be if they used camera settings like Second Life’s defaults, allowing for narrow, claustrophobic corridors and rooms, without making it hard for the player to navigate them in the heat of battle. In Second Life, such spaces would have been utterly unimaginable and would have required the user to constantly struggle with their camera controls, which brings us back to the topic of usability.

Why would we want improved default camera settings in Second Life?

For starters, let’s get something out of the way, right away: there is a very significant number of users out there who don’t even know they can change their camera settings. Therefore, they stick with the default ones for a very long time. This was especially true in older days, when you needed to dive into the “Advanced” menu and start fiddling with the debug settings (quite an intimidating term for beginning users who are afraid they might “break” something) to change your camera settings, or even do something as simple as change your camera’s aperture setting to alter the depth of field (DoF) for a snapshot.

Camera presets, yay…?

At least now, as of May 2020, we have the (long overdue) camera presets floater. This tool allows users to easily manipulate the way they see the world around them, giving them the ability to store and recall custom camera presets. It only took almost seven years after I had suggested it (along with a move to better default camera offsets) to Oz Linden at an Open Development User Group meeting. Back then, he was reluctant to steer his staff to implement improved camera defaults, citing the potential for “content breakage” and “user complaints”, but didn’t preclude the addition of an interface to enable us to change camera settings, store them and recall them at will. Of course, the bloggers who were praising the Lab for finally getting around to providing this simple capability “forgot” to mention who suggested it, but anyway. One of them was actually present in that meeting, as a matter of fact.

So, excuse me if I can’t exactly wax lyrical over this new functionality we were given last year, nearly seven years after I had suggested it. And the Lab still needs to provide decent camera settings as default settings, under the pretext of “avoiding content breakage” – more on that later. In fact, the decision to adopt default camera offsets similar to Resident Evil 4 should have been made way back in 2005, when SL was still a very young, almost experimental, platform and it was much easier to make very drastic changes to it. But back then, everyone was busy singing the praises of His Holy Philipness who couldcan do no wrong.

So, although it’s possible for the users to change their camera settings, although this has become easier now, it’s a fact that everyone builds for the defaults. If the default settings are wrong, it’ll all go downhill from there. I’ll explain how and why.

Content breakage, you said?

So yes, back in 2013, when I suggested that LL switch SL’s default camera settings to Penny Patton’s, Oz had cited – as I mentioned above – a fear of “content breakage”. This argument holds no water at all. In fact, I’ll go out and say it openly that it’s LL’s choice of camera settings and its intransigence in ignoring the advice of knowledgeable people like Penny Patton, that has caused most of the in-world content to be broken beyond fix. When I adopted Penny’s camera settings (which I’ve been tweaking ever since), what happened was that I saw just how shitty the existing content was. You can’t say content “broke” when you suddenly realise it was sub-par (to put it mildly) to begin with.

At any rate, I’m still justified. The Lab adopted a proposal I had made, even though they were reluctant at first. More and more content creators are adopting consistent scaling for their products – not least because they’ve branched out to other online markets of 3D content, where the insanity (e.g. different scaling factor for each axis) that had been the norm in SL simply doesn’t fly. I’m not going to write a tutorial here about how to use the camera presets floater; other bloggers have already done so, and I’m not even sure I need to, anyway. Anyone who’s read the posts Penny, Ciaran, and I have written on the matter will know how to make their viewer show the “Advanced” menu and how to access the debug settings. After all, the “Camera presets” floater is just a very simple, almost self-explanatory, user interface. I’m actually surprised its programming and implementation took seven years.

Regardless of that, it works and it’s given me incentive to tweak my older settings a bit further, creating some extra presets for when I’m in confined spaces. So, without further ado, let’s jump to the new settings:

My new camera offsets

First of all, I need the “standard” view from the rear, which I use for walking around. I use it as my default rear view, both for outdoors and indoors settings. This setting, inspired by Penny’s, brings me closer to my avatar, gives me good visibility of the space ahead of me, and also provides a bit of perspective correction, avoiding the downward convergence of the verticals – an effect you’d achieve by using the lens movements of a view camera or a tilt-shift lens on an SLR or DSLR camera.

The rear view. Please observe that the verticals remain parallel to each other.

The values are as follows:

Camera offset (CameraOffsetRearView):

X: -1.800

Y: 0.000

Z: -0.500

Focus offset (FocusOffsetRearView):

X: 1.800

Y: 0.000

Z: 0.500

Camera offset scale (CameraOffsetScale): 1.400

Now, let’s move on to the front view. Rather than merely removing the “-” sign from the X-axis of the Camera offset, I opted to tweak it a little bit.

Front view.

And here are the values:

Camera offset (CameraOffsetFrontView):

X: 1.850

Y: 0.000

Z: -0.700

Focus offset (FocusOffsetFrontView):

X: 1.850

Y: 0.000

Z: 0.300

Camera offset scale (CameraOffsetScale): 1.200

Side view: This one’s not a million miles away from Resident Evil 4‘s view. Here, you see my avatar offset to the right side, leaving the centre of the viewing area open. Honestly, I don’t find it particularly convenient for moving around, so I stick with my rear view for most of the time.

Side view.

The values are as follows:

Camera offset:

X: -1.700

Y: 0.800

Z: -0.550

Focus offset:

X: 0.700

Y: 0.800

Z: 0.550

Camera offset scale: 1.000

Narrow rear view: I use this setting for when I’m exploring more confined spaces – narrow corridors, small rooms, etc. It brings the camera closer to my avatar, while maintaining good visibility of the road ahead. I chose to make a compromise regarding the height of the camera, because I wanted (as was the case with my normal rear view) to avoid having the camera pop through ceilings.

Here are the values:

Camera offset:

X: -1.950

Y: 0.000

Z: -0.750

Focus offset:

X: 1.950

Y: 0.000

Z: 0.650

Camera offset scale: 0.600

The narrow front view serves a similar purpose as its normal equivalent, but (of course) this one is for confined spaces.

And here are the values for it:

Camera offset:

X: 1.400

Y: 0.000

Z: -0.600

Focus offset:

X: 0.000

Y: 0.000

Z: 0.650

Camera offset scale: 0.800

As always, these are my preferred – at least for the time being – settings. As far as I’m concerned, they work really well both in the typical oversized SL surroundings and in realistically-scaled environments. Personally, I prefer them to not only SL’s default settings, but also to Penny’s. I’m sharing them with you so you can experiment and see what you like.

The photos were taken at Drune Babalon (rated: Adult)

The topic of Second Life’s default camera offset is an old one. The first SL blogger / user who brought it to people’s attention was Penny Patton, with her seminal post “A Matter of Perspective” from as far back as 2011. Ever since then, various other bloggers have written about it, basing their work on her own, hoping to get people to understand how and why the way the way we see the virtual world through the placement and behaviour of our camera affects the way we experience and use it. As a matter of fact, it even has a major impact on the very usefulness of the platform itself. I had written about the issue four years ago, and I have been pestering Oz Linden himself about it in various Open Development User Group meetings, but to no avail; he acknowledges the issue, but he cites the risk of potential complaints about “content breakage” as the main deterrent.

The points made in my older post, as well as Penny’s original post, are still current. Second Life does not have a first-person view (think Doom, Quake, etc) as its default. Instead, the default perspective is third-person, which allows you to see your avatar and what it does in-world, provides a much wider field of view, and allows a more realistic portrayal of close-up 3D objects. Within the third-person perspective camp, there are several approaches, all of them depending on the application. For instance, for a third-person shooter or driving game whose action takes place in a wide open space, you need to see as much of your surroundings as possible to have the best awareness of the situation around you. So, it makes sense to place the camera somewhat high above your sprite (be it a fighter aeroplane, a combat spaceship, an automobile etc), behind it and not too close. However, for games taking place indoors, in dungeons and maze systems where the action happens in close quarters, other views were chosen – isometric, first-person, etc.

Second Life uses a third-person view with the camera placed quite far behind and above the avatar. It’s what I call a “radio-controlled car view”, as it’s the same view you have while operating a radio-controlled car, and it’s a development on earlier third-person perspectives, from Tempest to Tomb Raider. With the default camera offset, the camera floats at least two meters above your avatar, virtually making it a toy rather than part of “you” – but we’ll get to that later. Since 2005, when Resident Evil 4 was released, the third-person view, for which Penny is a vocal advocate with the camera looking “over the shoulder” of the player’s character prevailed as the industry standard. Penny had explained the reasons for this, and I’ll reiterate them. Also, please note that, in this post, I’m going to reiterate and update several points I’d made in my older post from four years ago, as they’re still valid.

  • Environment creation. Second Life is a virtual world platform where the user might wander in an open plain, in a forest, in a bar, club, house, or what have you. The over-the-shoulder view allows a builder to create accurately-scaled and usable 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, with this view, larger builds are more impressive, without needing to be upscaled at all. On the contrary, the default camera settings in Second Life place the camera so high above and so far behind the avatar that, should you enter a realistically-sized build, the camera ends up either in the ceiling, or just above the upper floor’s – ahem – floor, or inside the walls behind you. This makes it impossible to get around in a build that has the same dimensions it would have in Real Life. Thus, the default camera offsets force us to upscale everything by at least 20%, with the vertical axis “enjoying” an extra “bonus”. This has dire consequences to our builds, avatars, commercially-available user-created content, and, eventually, the usefulness of Second Life itself for several of its intended uses.
  • 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. 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.

Scale and Usability

Ever since Second Life debuted in 2003, in spite of technical advances, and in spite of a growing tendency among content creators to build realistically-proportioned and sized objects, which is in an infinite loop with the demand for more realistic default camera offsets, the viewer’s default camera offsets have remained the same. Let’s have a look at how they impact our view of the virtual world. As a setting, I’m using my in-world workshop / sandbox, where I have placed a build using a (non-resized) copy of Apple Fall’s already realistically-sized and proportioned Portobello Corner Store, which I’d written about last year and you can purchase at his mainstore, and a downsized copy of Trompe Loeil’s Brooklyn Carriage House. All images are uncropped and unedited.

A view of an outdoors scene with the default camera offsets.

A view of an outdoors scene with the default camera offsets. Click on any image to see its full-size version (opens in a new browser tab).

With the default camera floating so high above and so far behind the avatar, it looks indeed like you’re operating the avatar from above. Also, notice how the lower parts of each object in the view (such as the avatar’s shoes) appear to be much smaller than they really are. Let’s go inside now.

Indoors with the default camera offsets.

Indoors with the default camera offsets.

As you can see, this view makes the place, and everything in it, appear smaller than it is. Plus, it causes all sorts of navigation issues, as moving around causes the camera to get inside walls, ceilings and other obstacles, thus making exploration of realistically-sized indoors areas a pain. And now, let’s have a look at the view from the front with the default camera offsets.

Not much better, as expected.

Not much better, as expected.

Note that, being a neoclassical build, the Portobello Corner Store has a high ceiling. But what if you want to enter a contemporary home? Well, depending on when your home was built, RL ceilings are 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). The one where we live now has a 9″ ceiling. As you can understand, with the default camera offsets, you’d have a very hard time walking and looking around in an realistically-proportioned and sized build.

Losing the architects and civil engineers

“Second Life is the best tool for architectural visualisation!”

– No architect or civil engineer, EVER.

In fact, all architects and civil engineers I know have dabbled a bit with Second Life and OpenSim, and duly abandoned them, because they make no sense whatsoever to them. The reasons they cite are the default camera offsets, the lack of interoperability with files generated by CAD applications, and the cost. Please, don’t start with the “OpenSim is free and you can set it up on a USB stick on your computer” thing. OpenSim requires significant set-up effort and is actually hobbled by the same issues that SL has – such as model import. No architect I know can justify the cost of renting a homestead or a full region, and the effort and man-hours needed to prepare a 3D model for use in SL – or OpenSim. Furthermore, a lot of third-party content sold in-world and on the SL marketplace is built to look “good” with SL’s default camera offsets, and is both oversized and non-realistically proportioned. When was the last time you saw a passage door with a thickness of 20 cm (approximately 8″) in RL? When was the last time you saw stairways with stairsteps with a rise of 50 cm? As you can understand, not only do SL and OpenSim require significant fiddling with the 3D model to ensure its physics are serviceable, but much of the content sold on their marketplaces is useless to an architect, civil engineer, or decorator. And don’t even get me started on prefab buildings. By insisting on not fixing the camera offsets because its decision-makers fear some users might whine about “content breakage”, Linden Lab has missed the train of real-time, distributed architectural visualisation, and I’m not sure if any time has been left for them to catch it. What’s ironic is that the fix to this would have been extremely easy.

Content breakage?

That’s LL’s explanation. I can understand why they fear people might get up in arms about “content breakage”; the default camera offsets have been around for so long, that users have been conditioned to thinking they’re the norm, and thus have built their entire world with, for, and around them. So, the Lab fears that, if they roll out a new release of the official viewer, where improved, updating camera offsets are the default ones, people will go up in arms. In reality, no real content breakage will occur from a move to better, more realistic, camera offsets. Your furniture will still work just fine. The same applies to your vehicles, homes, everything. What will happen is that you’ll realise how oversized everything is. You’ll realise that your avatar is way too tall, dwarving even the tallest NBA players, with unnaturally long legs, ridiculously short arms and torso, and a tiny head. You’ll realise what an idiot you were for calling those people with realistically-sized and proportioned avatars “ageplayers”, starting drama, and filing abuse reports against them.

And then you’ll try to make your avatar look good, so you’ll get with the programme and start using a more realistic shape. But then you’ll see that your existing animations and poses suck, because, being made for the default camera offsets and for the T-Rex avatar, the arms stick inside your body, your thighs, and other body parts every hint of a chance they get. You’ll try to make your house smaller and more proportionate – but then it’ll be at odds with your idiotically oversized car, which is (of course) non-modifiable. And your furniture will probably require new animations and a fresh installation of the scripts. Chances are, you’ll end up doing an awful lot of work. Perhaps, like me, you’ll say “well, it was worth it” and not look back.

But, for all its failings and inexplicably bone-headed decisions, the Lab has understood a few things about its users. The Lab, through fourteen years of interaction with SL’s userbase, fears that you are far more likely to 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 quick look in the official forums, on various Plurk accounts, and other such outlets for opinion on all things SL justifies this fear. Do you think I’m exaggerating?

What does this mean? Well, for the Lab, the situation is perceived as a Catch-22. So, rather than change the default camera offsets and ruffle people’s feathers, they opt 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. In fact, in an Open Development User Group Meeting, Oz Linden had hinted to the idea of a UI that’ll enable users to easily change their camera offsets.

 

 

 

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:

Last year, I had touched upon the matter of camera placement in Second Life. Of course, as everyone knows, nothing has changed since then as far as the official viewer is concerned. The importance and impact of the default SL camera offsets has been documented first by Penny Patton in an extremely interesting article written way back in 2011; she had even filed a JIRA. Besides this humble blog, prominent SL blogger Ciaran Laval had also written about this topic, spurred by Penny’s seminal blog post.

As said, there has been literally no action on behalf of Linden Lab on this matter. When I had mentioned the topic to Oz Linden back then in the Open Development UG meeting (offering the alternative of providing a number of easy-to-edit and easy-to-recall presets, as well as ye olde default settings, for those that still want them), he declined and cited the potential for user complaints and content breakage. In my previous post, I have stated my position on both of his arguments and explained my reasoning, so I think I don’t need to reiterate them here.

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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.

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