Monday, 12 January 2015

Mesh addiction



About once or twice a year I become infected with the building bug and start fiddling around with prims in my skybox in Varano.  Yes, you heard me: prims.  Mesh might well be established now as the minimum standard in quality 3D creation in the metaverse and mesh builders might well regard the creaking inworld building system (it is, of course, powered by steam, it’s so old) as something not much more sophisticated (technically, cognitively or – indeed – socially) than putting together a multicolour house with some Lego bricks; but the good old-fashioned inworld prim arrangement system has one very special virtue that appeals to me: I understand it.

It’s now about eight years since my first ever SL friend, Dizi, taught me the basics of building in SL – a lesson which resulted in a rough approximation of my mother’s dining room table – and most of the items I build today would actually work perfectly withn the 2007 metaverse.  Admittedly, I do have a fairly key advantage in my building projects insofar as I’m interested in recreating postwar architecture and Danish Modern furniture – or, to put it another way, I like building stuff that’s naturally composed of lots of right-angles.  The limitations of prim building in terms of the objects it’s possible to make with them, therefore, are not often walls I knock up against.

It is, of course, quite possible to create some fairly complex objects if you combine prims cleverly and are prepared to put the time in on all the zoomed, micro-millimetre adjustments required of smoothly fitting together linksets.  Unfortunately, this brings us to the other great limitation of building with prims and a wall I’ve found myself knocking up against all too often: the number of prims required of such work – or, to couch it in today’s terms, the land impact.  I currently sell a faithful reproduction of my mother’s Ladderax system (yes, I admit there is a theme of sorts to my collection; it has nothing to do with unresolved childhood issues and everything to do with the availability of something I can actually measure) and it consists of 58 prims.  On a standard 512 metre squared plot, that would be half your allowance gone in a single piece of furniture – and not even one you can sit or have sex on.

It’s probably no great surprise to learn that I’ve only sold one of these so far (actually, it probably is a surprise to learn that I’ve sold even that number).  This might all be about to change, however, because last week I finished creating a mesh version, and it has a land impact of just seventeen.  Words cannot convey the sense of man-accomplishment this gives me.  The mesh version looks identical to and has precisely the same amount of functionality as the original prim version: two cabinets (one for drinks with a walnut veneer, the other for storing LPs), both with opening and closing doors (and a sound effect for this sampled from the actual item), two single shelves, one shelf unit, a cupboard with opening doors and a unit with three opening and closing drawers.  Even now that a few days have passed since its completion, I still look at it in awe and cannot quite escape the conclusion that I’ve become some sort of god.

But wait, you cry: mesh?  Did I not mere moments ago eschew all that?  I did indeed.  Happily, I bought from the Marketplace last year a copy of ‘Mesh Studio’ by TheBlack Box, essentially a script you drop into the root prim (which, incidentally, is the yellow one when you’ve clicked edit on your object, if – like me – you spent ages wondering how people knew which prim was the root prim) of your build so that when you subsequently click on it a copy of your linkset is uploaded to a server and a download link is then sent to you in chat for a mesh conversion.  Instant mesh; no messing about in Blender required.  I adore Mesh Studio.

(A note about Mesh Snobbery: if you’re not already aware of this, it still probably won’t surprise you all that much to hear that some of the mesh builders who construct directly in Blender (or other comparable 3D application requiring at least an undergraduate degree in advanced geometry) express a little bit of a virtual sneer when you identify yourself as a Mesh Studio user.  In fairness to them, designing in dedicated software does indeed offer infinitely more complexity than converting Lego bricks and a Blender skillset probably doesn’t pay a great deal in hard cash, so you might as well take your recompense in superiority sneers.  In fact, it’s the same kind of sneer I myself use when taking slide film photographs and spot someone taking snapshots with their iPhone.)

As with all systems, there’s a process to learn and tricks to understand, and issues that arise which aren’t covered in the explanatory notecard and which require knowledge about mesh that’s probably as obvious as the sky being blue to the experienced mesher, but which require quite a bit of trawling through web forums to get insight into if you’re a complete noob to this like I am.  I thought I’d gather some of the ‘magic knowledge’ I’ve acquired thus far in case you’re similarly ill-equipped:

  • Mesh objects can only have eight ‘faces’, which translates as eight textures.  The Mesh Studio script will alert you to how many faces you’ve used so far in your prim build in a bit of floaty text.  Be warned: Using different colours counts as a different face, so if you’ve used the same texture all over your object but applied four different tints to it then that’s four faces you’ve used.
  • Making unseen prim faces 100% transparent will eliminate them from the mesh build and thus reduce its eventual land impact on conversion.  Choosing a transparent texture for the face will not have the same effect.
  • You will inevitably best learn through trial and error.  Given that each time you upload a mesh object you have to pay a little, it might be best to perfect your models on the Beta Grid (where uploading is free).
  • And, speaking of uploading, before Linden will allow you to upload mesh models to SL, you must have your payment information on file and have completed the Intellectual Property tutorial (https://secondlife.com/my/account/ip/tutorial.php).
  • Once your mesh model has been imported into SL, scaling it up in size will increase its land impact, whilst scaling it down will usually decrease it.
  • When you link a mesh object to a prim, the combined land impact often goes down.  For my Ladderax, I needed to link each of my cabinet doors to a cylindrical ‘hinge’ that contained a rotate script; the cabinet door had a land impact of 2 and the hinge a land impact of 1: when selected together they had a combined land impact of 3, but when I joined them this went down to 2.  I have no idea why this works, however I assure you that I’m not complaining.
  • There are other mesh conversion products available, such as ‘Prims to Mesh Convertor’ by egphilippov.  This product (currently L$3,000 less than Mesh Studio at an introductory price of L$1,999) offers some sort of browser-based editing of mesh objects before you import them into SL; the blurb is a little vague on what this actually enables you to do, however the reviews left so far appear to love it.
  • There is actually a completely free way of converting prims to mesh if you’re a Firestorm user.  By right-clicking on a prim object, clicking More > More > Save as > Collada, you can then save the object to your hard disk and then import it back as a mesh model.  As with Mesh Studio, everything in the build must have been created by you for this to work (check scripts and textures as well as the prims themselves); a restriction to this method that does not appear to apply to Mesh Studio, however, is that individual prims with more than eight faces will break the process and cause an ‘element is invalid’ error on upload – so cutting a hollowed prim cube, for example, would cause this (because it creates nine faces).

Sadly, the building bug rarely lasts more than a few days in a row for me; a couple of weeks at most: the feverishness passes, the obsession over shaving off just one more prim passes and I emerge, slightly bleary-eyed and ready to resume life in the non-building world.

As you might have guessed, however, I’m in the midst of mesh addiction right now.  I should be editing my latest novel, but I decided to write this article instead.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

JE SUIS CHARLIE

Solidarité n'a rien à voir avec la colère et tout à voir avec le refus d'avoir peur.

Friday, 2 January 2015

2015 and all that


Happy New Year!  This time 12 months ago I was announcing the completion of the first draft of 'AFK, Indefinitely'.  I'm not quite there yet with 'AFK and Avengement', but I'm getting very close. It's already surpassed the length of last year's instalment by a healthy 2,000 words so this is the longest in the series so far.  Stay tuned.

There's a lot to do this year.  I want to release a book of some of my blog articles by the end of June and I still have my novella, 'Sim', to finish.  I'm also hoping to pen a completely non-SL detective novel at some point during the year.

Last year, I took some photos in SL for this blog that I was rather pleased with (for example, The Trace) and I'd like to do this a bit more in 2015.  It won't hurt me to get out a bit more.  SL really is becoming a more and more beautiful place and yet it's still the old 2006 pictures that get dug out whenever a news outlet runs a story on the metaverse.



2015, of course, is currently pegged as the year in which the Oculus Rift gets its commercial release, potentially heralding the beginning of a new era of virtual reality, so get ready for plenty of VR stories hitting the headlines once these devices hit the shelves (my guess is that most of them will be about motion sickness).  How the OR - and, indeed, VR - will fare long-term is a very difficult thing to predict, but I am really looking forward to this release and the directions the industry subsequently takes.  At the very least, I hope that by the time I've written my '2016 and all that' post next year I'll have seen SL from the inside for the very first time.  Fingers crossed...

Images: Top - BBC coverage of the London New Year fireworks; Bottom - Oculus Rift development kit from www.oculus.com.

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Report of 2014

WordPress users would do well to laugh themselves sick as they gorge themselves on the feast of stats tools provided by their blogging platform.  Here in the land of Blogger, there is the choice of a pen, paper and calculator or obtaining the PhD required of understanding Google Analytics.

So I'm not able to present a flashy Annual Report as my WordPress buddies are, however 2014 has been my blog's most successful year by far - gaining over 28,500 hits - so I thought a little celebration post listing the year's ten most popular posts was in order.

Here they are, in ascending order:

#10 Ticking off the To-Dos (March)

My March update on my New Year intentions.  I've no idea why this was so popular.  Behind it by just one view was my article in October, Is Sex in Second Life Pornography? which was much more interesting.

#9 Farewell Dave (May)

My farewell and eulogy to one of the most influential men in my life.

#8 Paraffin Winter (May)

My review of Peter Chowney's incredibly immersive novel.

#7 Could an office in Second Life 2 be the killer app that virtual reality is looking for? (July)

When we think of VR going mainstream, we imagine wondering around and interacting with each other in amazing photo-realistic environments.  All well and good, but a virtual office might also have much to promote it.  I seriously desire the set-up I describe here.

#6 Inventory: Your own personal ticking time bomb (June)

A discussion on how we own absolutely nothing in our SL inventories and how one day it will all be gone.  Interestingly, this issue became suddenly thrown into focus on the announcement (later that month) of a Linden successor to SL, since this news also served the purpose of highlighting to residents that SL will one day shut down.

#5 The second life of Second Life (February)

My thoughts on how the Oculus Rift will give SL a temporary second life, once it launches commercially.

#4 AFK, Indefinitely (2014) by Huckleberry Hax (February)

I published the third novel in the 'AFK' series in February.  The fourth is on its way.

#3 Linden Lab announce a successor to Second Life (June)

My thoughts on the Second Life news story of the year drew well over a thousand viewers.

#2 Twelve Pet Shop Boys songs expressed as charts, diagrams, etc (May)

I created this post whilst off work with a kidney stone and it provided a small amount of relief from the complete agony I was going through at the time.  It also proved to be a bit of a hit with the fine bunch of people who are Pet Shop Boys fans.

#1 Second Life 2 going alpha (January)

My most popular post of the year is, to be honest, a bit of a red herring.  I wrote this brief snippet to report on Philip Rosedale's 'High Fidelity' going into its alpha stage; at the time, the announcement by Linden of a successor to Second Life was months away and I chose the title because it sounded snappy.  Since Linden's announcement, however, it's drawn a high number of hits, presumably from search engine queries.  Move along.  Nothing to see here.

I'm glad to say that my #1 post doesn't account by itself for the success of the year (it would still be by far my blog's most successful year without that post).  It's also gratifying that many of the posts which didn't make it into the top ten still got a respectable number of hits compared to averages from previous years.

I'd like to thank all my readers for finding something of interest within these pages.  I'll continue to develop the blog in 2015 - its ninth year - and hope I'll see some of you make return visits during that time.  It looks set to be an exciting year potentially for virtual worlds and virtual reality.  Let's see what it brings.

Monday, 22 December 2014

Free book offer for five days

Over the Christmas holiday, I'm giving away the Kindle version of my novel, 'Beside an Open Window' for free on Amazon.  The offer runs from Monday 22 December to Boxing Day, Friday 26 December.



Click here to go to the web page for the novel, where you will find links to your 'local' Amazon website.  Of course, the easiest way to get hold of the novel is direct from your kindle itself.

'Beside an Open Window' imagines an ultra realistic Second Life of the future, in which the brain scans of people who have died in real life are uploaded to avatars so that they can continue to interact with the living.  The story follows Jason Harlan, a popular singer in real life who wakes up in the digital afterlife to find that he's been dead for thirty years and his personal fortune has been claimed by another copy of himself.

I hope you enjoy the book if you download it - and consider giving me a review at Amazon (every review helps, even if it's just a single line).  I'll be updating in the new year on my latest novel, 'AFK and Avengement'.  In the meantime, if you celebrate Christmas, have a peaceful and happy one.