Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Second Life Terms of Service changes

For those who want to see the event which was held by the Second Life Bar Association, there is now a copy of the streaming video on YouTube.  The introductions to the speakers and then the talk starts around seven minutes into the video.


Saturday, October 19, 2013

Understanding appearance and clothing in Second Life

I wrote a blog post a long time ago to try to explain appearance and clothing in Second Life.  It's still quoted from time to time, but has become very out of date due to the changes which have been introduced since the article was written.

I'm intending to write a group of articles about clothing and appearance which will help to explain the basics for those who are new to Second Life, with the caveat that it is becoming increasingly hard to cover all the basics in any how-to article nowadays, because people may be using different third-party viewers, and some work quite differently from others in the way they present menues and information.

This post assumes that you have an account for Second Life or OpenSim and have downloaded a viewer to get into the world you are using.  Part of making an account is the choice of avatar, but most of these in SL and in SL-like worlds such as OpenSim and Inworldz, are pretty basic by the standards of commercial skin and clothing manufacturers.

Your avatar

Base avatar with bars to make it SFW
The avatar is the figure which represents you in world, and for the purposes of this article I am talking about a human-form avatar.  It is perfectly possible to be a car or animal or anything you choose in Second Life but most people start out with a human and want to be able to adjust their appearance as a human-style avatar.

The system avatar comes with certain things that can't be taken off, and certain things that can be taken off.  For example, you can certainly change your skin, the surface appearance of the human figure, but you must have one, you can't be without a skin.  You can have a no-hair appearance but you must be wearing hair - even if it is just a bald avatar hair.  You must also have eyes.  Again, they can be replaced, but you can't be without them.

You can replace the basic skin you start with, and there are many to be bought on the marketplace and all over Second Life.  If you want to buy a whole avatar appearance, many of the skin makers sell shapes to go with their skins so that your avatar can look exactly like the skin models on the vendors.

If you want to make your own avatar shape, it is essential to try the demos available for the skins that are sold around the grid and on the marketplace.  If you have an unusual shape, you may find it difficult to make some skins work, and the texture for the skin may show unwanted distortion or stretching.

For shoes and clothing on the other hand, you can be wearing them, but you don't have to - it is perfectly possible to remove all clothing from the avatar and be down to the skin. 

It can be quite confusing initially to work out what is where.  I find it helps to think of the avatar in layers.  The base layer is the shape and skin of the avatar.  On top of that you can have tattoo layers, which might contain actual tattoos, or make up, or other things which lie over the skin.

System Clothing

Over that are the system clothing layers.  There's an underwear layer which can include separate garments like bra, pants, socks.  Then there are clothing layers like trousers, shirt and skirt.  And lastly a jacket layer.  For a long time these layers were all that there were, and clothing designers made clothing that worked together on the various layers to create realistic clothing.

You can create system clothing, using specially created textures. It is possible to wear both system hair and system shoes, using textures with the appearance menu too, but very few people do that nowadays, they usually wear separate mesh shoes and hair.

Base avatar with system hair, clothing and shoes
The avatar to the right is wearing system hair (with a deliberately garish colour, so that you can see the texture) and system clothing, with system shoes.  This is something which is seen less and less.  Even the starter avatars in SL begin with separate hair and shoes, which is an object attached to the avatar. An object attached to the avatar is known as an attachment.

Attachments

Attachments can be ordinary prim obects, sculptie objects, or mesh objects.  A prim object is made from the objects which each avatar can create from the build menu.  Some hair and clothing attachments use flexi prims, which appear to move like hair or fabric.  Those are ordinary prims which have been set for flexi movement.  There are settings which can be changed to make something more or less flexible, and to make the object respond to wind or gravity.

A sculpty object is a special sort of mesh object created as a texture outside SL, which uses a colour map to create the shape.

The most efficient and detailed type of attachment is made from a mesh which is usually created outside SL in a 3D program, and then uploaded to SL. 

Attachments may come with a piece of system clothing which is to be worn with it.  For example, mesh or flexi hair often comes with a system hair layer which needs to be worn at the same time.  This may give a background flat texture to the skull which lies under the attachment and ensures there aren't any unsightly gaps.

Some mesh attachments are rigid objects which affix to the avatar, like hats or short hairstyles.  Some are rigged to the avatar - that is to say they will move with the avatar when the avatar moves.

When you buy an attachment, you will find that the maker has already set up the positioning of the attachment.   You should select it in your inventory and choose to wear it.  That will place it correctly.  If you choose instead to attach it, that will clear the positioning set up by the creator and you will have to position the object again.

Alpha Layers

Cali wearing alpha mask for dress and mesh feet and shoes
There are some special things to consider for mesh clothing.  Creators usually make mesh clothing in a number of standard sizes, because rigged clothing cannot be resized in SL - that has to be done outside SL by the maker.

Mesh clothing often comes with an alpha layer which hides the avatar underneath the clothing to ensure that there aren't bits of body poking through the mesh clothing.  Thus, you need to add the alpha layer for the clothing to your avatar when you wear a piece of mesh clothing.  This isn't always completely successful, and you may need to make adjustments to your avatar in order to fit into the item.  Thus, trying on the demo of a mesh clothing item is an essential part of buying mesh clothing from commercial designers.

It is possible to completely replace your avatar with a very small petite mesh avatar or a completely different shape and type of avatar, and you will usually wear a complete alpha layer in those cases, to completely hide the original avatar shape.

Multiple layers and attachments

It is now possible to have multiple layers and attachments to attachment points on the avatar, but you have to remember to add additional items and not wear them.  If you are already wearing something attached to your upper arm and you wear an item which attaches to the upper arm, the original item will fall off back into your inventory.  If you add the second item, then both will be worn.

When you wear different layers and attachments, these are listed in your "Current Outfit" folder in your inventory, along with the attachment point they are worn on.

There are now shops selling mesh enhancements for the avatar body, which also come with alpha masks and possibly other attachments on the same attachment point.  If you wear something and something else falls off, you will know that you need to add that item back to keep both on the avatar.


Cali in LAQ skin, Pulse clothing, Zero Style hair and Slink feet and shoes











Saturday, October 12, 2013

First day exploring Inworldz

A friend told me earlier this week that he was going into Inworldz to have a look around, and so, as I had never checked it out, I decided to sign up and see what it's like.  Eelco tried to sign up too, but he failed to get his authorizing email and was caught up with some coding he needed to do and so I went in alone.

I chose my starter avatar, a green fairy, and signed in.  The first change from SL is that you're greeted by a mentor who gives useful information and hands over things like a free animation overrider to get rid of the loathed duck walk, and a exploratory HUD which has landmarks for all sorts of different places.

I wasn't very happy with my avatar, even after I had changed her shape, and so I went off to do some shopping.  There was the same problem as in SL - I found mentions on blogs of good designers but had to search through whole shopping sims with dozens of shops to track them down.  Some sims had a very high quality of goods on sale in a market, and others were very variable.

I found some really bad shoes in other sims.  I quite liked the ones from Pulse, but I would have liked some spikey heeled shoes which didn't have quite such a precipitous heel.  In general (and based upon one day only) it looks as though Inworlds is about three years behind SL in building, use of mesh and clothing and skins.  I was a bit wary about freebies in case they were ripped from other places.

There are a lot of people selling sculpty-based furniture and objects which have become old-fashioned in SL because of the advent of mesh.  I bought several skins from Pulse, clothing and shoes from Pulse and hair from Emotions.  The end result didn't look too bad.  I also bought a few replacement animations for the AO from creators whose names I recognized.

There are a few differences from Second Life.  Uploads are free, there are wide open spaces on the sandboxes - at least European evening time.  Some aspects of scripting are different in ways I don't understand... I will have to ask my technical advisor to look into it.

Eelco and I did a little exploring around the scenic sims.  Some of them were well done and others less well done.  The sims with a *lot* of sculpties were laggy for me.  I'm looking forward to exploring more.


Monday, September 16, 2013

All of your stuff are belong to us?

Lots of talk and comment about the new terms of service imposed upon Second Life residents, which includes the following paragraph: "...you agree to grant to Linden Lab, the non-exclusive, unrestricted, unconditional, unlimited, worldwide, irrevocable, perpetual, and cost-free right and license to use, copy, record, distribute, reproduce, disclose, sell, re-sell, sublicense (through multiple levels), modify, display, publicly perform, transmit, publish, broadcast, translate, make derivative works of, and otherwise exploit in any manner whatsoever, all or any portion of your User Content (and derivative works thereof), for any purpose whatsoever in all formats, on or through any media, software, formula, or medium now known or hereafter developed, and with any technology or devices now known or hereafter developed, and to advertise, market, and promote the same. You agree that the license includes the right to copy, analyze and use any of your Content as Linden Lab may deem necessary or desirable for purposes of debugging, testing, or providing support or development services in connection with the Service and future improvements to the Service."

New World Notes reports that Linden Lab respects the rights of creators in their creations and didn't intend to imply that they were about to launch the biggest rip-off resale organization in SL history.  You can read their comments in that story here:  http://nwn.blogs.com/nwn/2013/09/linden-lab-tos-textures.html

As far as I remember the ToS has always included words to the tune of "All of your stuff belongs to us".  This has just enlarged that and added a few more caveats and abilities to rip off... it doesn't mean that's what they're planning.  They're just covering their asses.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Shaping the future

Misty in Kreations mesh outfit - one of the better fits
I'm sometimes very frustrated by the feeling that Linden Lab don't understand their customers very well at all. I've known a lot of Lindens in my nine years in Second Life, and most of them (not all) have used whole different avatars when they swapped out from one style to another. Very few stuck with a humanoid avatar and tweaked it in the way that is normal for a resident.

Caliandris was based upon my avatar in Uru, as I arrived in SL in 2004 after Uru had closed for the first time. Avatars in Uru weren't as customizable as they are in SL, and gradually over the course of time I have refined her look, bought better skins, added mesh hair and prim eyelashes, bought better clothing.... I change my avatar more or less every time I log into SL - I change clothes, change hair, choose attachments appropriate to the things I am doing, particularly if I am exploring RP sims.

I'm finding the arrival of mesh clothing both fascinating and frustrating. Many of my costumes are rigged, but it isn't possible for them to deform to the shape of my avatar. Linden Lab wasn't aware that people would want to do that with mesh! That just staggers me.  I would say that the number one activity for most dedicated SL residents is changing their avatar... particularly if they don't build or create things themselves.  It's definitely the number one creative activity in SL, changing and dressing up the avatar.  Some people (like most Lindens) prefer to buy off-the-peg whole avatars and simply swap them out, but that's because most Lindens came into SL as a job, and people who enter SL with a work identity don't immerse in the same way that residents do.  They can't.  They are supposed to be working.  It makes a huge psychological difference to you if you have a working persona and avatar in SL.

LL introduced meshes, without realizing the potential for clothing, which means that at present, although it is possible to buy rigged mesh clothing, it is necessary for the creator to make the clothing in several sizes to roughly fit the avatars.  Thus in SL you have to make your avatar fit the clothing instead of the other way around.  The meshes usually come in different sizes and with textures which will make the appropriate part of the anatomy disappear, but even so.   I have tops which require me to set my arms to the minimum fat and minimum muscle to make them fit, even when I am wearing the largest size.  As the largest size caters for my relatively large breasts, it looks absolutely ridiculous and cartoony to have stick-thin arms.  Cold Logic is particularly bad for that I have found, although I like a lot of their mesh clothing.

It could be possible to deform the meshes to fit the avatar, and it was left to an external fundraiser run by Maxwell Graf to raise money to see if an external scripter (the ex-Qarl Linden) would be able to write the code necessary to make this work in SL. The difficulty is that people generate meshes for upload to SL in all sorts of programs, and they don't all work the same way.  And LL is needed to work to incorporate the program into the main viewer, because third-party viewers aren't allowed to create new applications which aren't in the mainstream viewer any more.

The project has been underway for many months, and the last I heard it was in Linden Lab's hands.  I hope they get on an incorporate it soon, because many of the mesh clothes I have bought would require enormous changes to my avatar to come anywhere near fitting.  In fact I have a whole cupboard full of adapted shapes I have made so that I can wear the mesh clothing I have bought.  The thing is, I have spent nine years on making my avatar.  It would be rather nice if I could deform the mesh clothing to fit my avatar, and not have to make it the other way about.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Media exploit affecting SL viewers

Firestorm viewer with preference window open
Cristiano Midnight from Second Life Universe has posted a warning to disable media in viewers, because there is some vulnerability that can be exploited to gain access to accounts.  It is obviously hard for anyone to post detailed information about an exploit without simultaneously alerting the small percentage of people who would like to benefit from such an exploit.  I trust the source of the information, though, and know that Cristiano would not have posted a warning without good reason.

You can disable media before logging into SL by changing your preferences in the viewer at the login screen.  

His second piece of advice is to uncheck the box which asks you to store your password.  Someone on the comments stream on SLU points out that you have to be alert to the fact that the viewer may automatically recheck the box if you don't keep an eye on it.  If you have been using the remember password facility, you should clear your cache too.  This can be selected in the preferences at the login screen, and then you should close your viewer and reopen it to trigger the cache to clear.

I don't know what the exploit may be, or how the viewers are vulnerable by using media on a prim or streaming media.  There has been a general warning not to use media on parcels where you don't trust the source, but I think that warning has been around for so long that people have started to disregard it.  If the vulnerability is even more severe than it was thought to be, it is very important to get the word out.  I don't know if anyone has been affected by the problem... but the best outcome would be that the vulnerability is fixed before that happens.

For those using firestorm, step-by-step:

*Start your viewer, uncheck remember password box
*Click viewer at the top left of your screen, choose preferences
*Preferences window opens.
*Choose Sound and Media in the left hand column - uncheck all the boxes for playing media and sound
*Choose network and cache in the left hand column - click to clear cache and confirm it when the pop up asks you to confirm.
*REMEMBER to OK the changes bottom right of the preferences window.
*Close the viewer by clicking the X and confirm.
*Restart the viewer, check that the remember password box in unchecked.  You will need to log in (making sure the remember password box is unchecked) to make the change to remember password stick.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Balancing act

Moving through some sims is like wading underwater
There's been a bit of discussion on the SL Universe forum about pathfinding and whether it adversely affects sims, and it reminded me that I have been meaning to have a five minute rant on the theme that everything in Second Life is a balancing act... you have to balance what you want to achieve visually and interactively with the performance you want to achieve.

Unlike games, where the background and a lot of the objects in a scene will be fixed and pre-downloaded to your computer, and where you may be prevented from moving into a different area, in Second Life currently everything is dynamically streamed to the user's computer.  This means that the size of textures, complexity of objects, number of avatars, amount of scripting all have an effect on how fast things render and how well the region performs.

It's tricky because the visitors to a sim will have different computers, graphics cards and nternet connections, and all of those may affect the rate at which things stream or render in world.  There is a world of difference in how quickly a scene renders if you have your settings on Ultra and if you have them set low - and how pretty or otherwise things will appear to you.  Many aspects of the user experience are not under the control of a sim owner or designer.

However, certain things have always helped.  If you use a limited set of textures and make them as small as possible, if you reduce the complexity of the physics for the mesh objects in a sim, if you use as few scripts and make them as elegant as possible, all these will help to make things as fast as possible.  Only you can judge whether having big beautiful textures is more important than being able to load the sim environment quickly.  It's all a question of balancing your priorities, and it requires thought and planning to make it work for you.

As I posted on that thread on the SLU boards, articulation of prims seems to me to be a pretty big sim killer.  It's one of the reasons that it is hard to use pathfinding in a realistic way, as there aren't a lot of animals which can be made to move around naturally without articulation. 

A few years ago I helped to build the Linden Homes sims, which included trees with (non-pathfind, scripted) birds and squirrels in them.  I pretty soon realised that these had quite a negative impact on the sims and so removed them in the sims I was dressing.  We later had a general squirrel strangling effort as the impact became clear. 

For those who haven't used it, pathfinding is a simple way to make animals and objects move around a sim without having to program the locations.  The idea is that the system makes a navmesh - this was explained to me as being like a tablecloth laid over the sim terrain and objects - which gives a pathfinding creature information about where the terrain and objects in a sim are placed.

This navmesh is what a pathfinding creature will navigate automatically if set up to pathfind.  Thus a creature set to follow avatars, will automatically follow anyone who comes close enough to it, and will automatically avoid obstacles and shouldn't disappear into the terrain.  You should always be careful about having objects penetrating the navmesh, especially those which have physical attributes. 

However, I think that a lot of the negative impacts reported for pathfinding are actually attributable to the articulation used for creatures which pathfind.  It's the reason I cheated with flexi-fur for the goats and creatures I made for the Wilderness sims.  Avoid articulation if possible.  Or at least, be aware of the impact that these things may have on performance and only rezz creatures which have it when necessary - don't leave them going in empty sims if you can avoid it.

I'm sure it sounds like I am a killjoy when I say that you have to be prepared to balance your need for impact and interactivity with the need for a sim to be usable, but much like a web page which takes too long to load, if you make a beautiful sim with interesting interactive content, which takes too long to rezz or is painfully slow to use, people will simply teleport to somewhere more comfortable.