Wednesday, March 8, 2017

A Tale of Two Content Creators

A Tale of Two Content Creators

A short story of two ways content creators can
respond to criticism and what their decision
means for you.

I can be rather blunt when positing a marketplace review. When I was in art school, the value of blunt, honest criticism was drilled into me because if you can't accept criticism you'll never improve and your career won't last long.
In Second Life, the rules are a bit different. You don't need years of school, decades of training, to become a content creator for SL. Anyone can put their creations on the marketplace and become a seller....and that's fantastic!

There is, however, a downside. Since the Lindens themselves lacked any sort of background in 3D rendering when they set about creating SL, they neglected to develop the tools in such a way as to discourage the bad habits common in inexperienced artists which can be harmful to performance. Lag and poor framerates are not the result of "old, badly written code", they're the result of unoptimized content.

There is a lot of unoptimized content in Second Life.

When I purchase such content I try to shine a light on these issues where I see them in the hope that more people will begin to understand how 3D rendering works, and why they need to reduce their polygon counts and texture use as much as they can.

 Sometimes it works, sometimes it backfires.

 Years and years ago I was building a fantasy sim in Second Life and I purchased a fantastic looking set of viking style buildings. These buildings looked great. The creator clearly had talent and I told them as much. However, their texture use was death on framerates.

A single small house, the smallest of the buildings available, used around twenty 1024x1024 textures. Twenty! Many of these textures were nearly identical. The walls for the building, interior and exterior, were nearly identical, with only the slightest of differences in backed shading. These textures were so similar that they could have used the same texture on every wall and no one would have noticed the different.

In addition, many of these textures were filled with blank, unused data. A 1024x1024 texture where half the texture went unused. These textures could have been condensed into a single file at no loss to visible detail.

 When I reviewed the item on the marketplace, I mentioned all of this. In retrospect I should have contacted the creator directly, but at the time I felt these issues were obvious and should be treated as such. The creator did not take the review kindly, accusing me of setting out to destroy their business and banning me from their sim.

 Currently, they are a very popular content creator indeed, but their content still suffers from the same overuse of textures that their old village set did. They seem to have gotten better about wasting texture area with unused space, but there's still a lot of room  for improvement and they still do not use repeating textures to increase detail without driving up texture memory. For some of their creations this has meant very blurry, N64-ish looking items even with their high texture use. They seem to be trying to get around this by throwing yet more textures at their creations which is not the way to go.

 I'm not naming names because I'm not setting out to shame anyone. That's not the point of this. The point is that abusing textures in this way, filling up content with what amounts to gigs of unnecessary files, is why everyone has such terrible performance in SL. I want to see creators like this succeed by recognizing this problem and learning to create better looking items that don't kill framerates.

And sometimes it works.

During that same period, I was also putting together a fantasy look for my own avatar and purchased some items from a store that had the exact same problems described above. I purchased a body harness where each strap, although appearing identical just mirrored, was a separate sculpt map and texture. There was a chain across the front, each link in the chain was it's own 1024x1024 sculpt map and 1024x1024 texture.The whole thing had to be like 30-50 sculpted prims, each with its own 1024x1024 sculpt map and 1024x1024 texture.

 It looked fantastic but was murder on framerates, and I said as much in my review of it.

 This creator also sent me a message. This one was a positive message. They said the information I'd provided was eye-opening and that they would be using this feedback in creating their next product. As they switched to mesh they began releasing content that was far and away better looking than their old sculpted work, but also much lighter on textures.

 They released a mesh version of that same body harness and despite looking far more detailed than the old one it uses only 3 textures, total. And that's only because it includes spec and normal maps. I will name this creator, Dais Abonwood, because everyone should shop at their store, Dark Prophet Designs.

 And that's why I speak up about these issues. Not because I'm out to destroy someone's business, or try to humiliate them or whatever. If I comment at all it's because you're doing something right, and I want to see you improve.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Draw Weight Revisited

Draw Weight Revisited

About two years ago I wrote an article showing how, with some modding chops, it was possible to drastically reduce avatar draw weight. I posted this image, showing how I cut my fantasy style minotaur woman avatar down to about a quarter of the original draw weight.

Recently, I got the fantasy bug again and decided to dust off that old avatar and update it.

I purchased the Nana fitness body from ::dev::, the creator of which was willing to sell me a modifiable version when I asked, which included hands and a mesh head using Bento, and had a couple of features I've been constantly astounded are lacking from other mesh bodies. Namely, the left and right arm are separate texture faces, meaning they can have two different textures, and the mesh hands are separate attachments!

 Because of this, I was able to put an underarmour texture on the right arm and while I used the included bento hand for the left arm, the armoured right arm instead has a heavy mesh glove. I've always been going for this ancient gladiator style armour look to my minotaur outfit and these details made it so much better.

 On top of that, there was a fitmesh bikini top I was able to mod into a scale mail top, I don't think it looks as good as the PFC scale mail bikini, but being fitmesh it fits perfect and I can use physics with it. And with the texture work I put into it, I don't think it looks bad.

 So lets put a draw weight to these improvements. As my avatar appears in these screenshots my draw weight is currently 34,740, which means I've made my goal of getting my base avatar, fully dressed, under 35,000.

So what's my point with all of this?

Mainly, I wanted to show that having a good looking, detailed avatar does not require a high draw weight as so many people believe. I also wanted to show that it's not mesh, that drives up draw weight, and that the newer mesh features like fitmesh and bento aren't to blame, either.

 I think it's important to say that I'm also not trying to say that optimizing content you've purchased in SL is easy. It's a lot of work, and you need to have some fairly advanced chops when it comes to modding.

What it comes down to is that the biggest, perhaps only, reason any avatar in SL has a draw weight over 50,000 is because content creators aren't optimizing their work. So many content creators in SL either don't know enough about 3D rendering to understand why optimizing is important, or they're just lazy and don't want to put in the extra effort to optimize. Some believe they can't optimize without sacrificing quality, which isn't true.

 If content creators did optimize their work it would be easy for anyone to keep their draw weight low with off the shelf content, no modding required.

 I don't want to sound like I'm placing the blame solely at the feet of content creators, either. Many people came to SL to have fun and discovered that they enjoyed creating content. Everything they know they learned over the course of creating content for SL, and let's face it: Linden Lab could do a lot more to encourage better content creation habits.

 LL ignores, or is ignorant of, the impact heavy texture use has on framerates. LL placed no real restrictions on the render weight of avatars. None of the tools in SL really try to encourage good building habits because the Lindens themselves never bothered to learn about content creation.

 Of course now we have the "jelly dolls" feature which renders avatars with excessively high draw weight as a brightly coloured pixel figure and while some just turn this feature off, a lot of people do keep it on in order to boost their framerates, so there is some incentive now towards having a lower draw weight.

Content Creators: Start optimizing your work. Reduce your texture use. Don't release content bloated with hidden surfaces. Utilize LOD.

Modders: Only buy moddable content then look for all the ways you can reduce the draw weight of that content. Unlink hidden pieces. Replace oversized textures. Set alpha textures to masked instead of blended. Check out that previous article for more tips on how you can reduce the draw weight of items you've purchased.

Lindens: If you're reading this, start encouraging your userbase to be smarter about content creation. Hire someone who knows how all this works and can help your programmers create tools that discourage bad habits and push people towards creating better content. Don't be afraid to be firm where you need to, like finally putting hard restrictions on avatar draw weight. You can tie them to new features, like Bento, so you're not breaking old content. Ultimately, you're the only ones who can solve SL's performance issues by addressing the issue of bloated, unoptimized content.

Everyone Else: Just keep enjoying SL. Like I said, reducing draw weight isn't easy and it's unreasonable to expect everyone to learn how. So don't fret about it. That said, when you buy something, take a moment to see how it affects your draw weight. If it causes your draw weight to go way up, make sure you tell the content creator so that they know customers are expecting low draw weight content. Let them know you don't want to be a jelly doll on someone else's screen.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Are Rigged/Fitmesh Items Impossible to Mod?

 No. There's plenty of ways you can mod rigged/fitmesh items. Stop making them no-mod.

 Ok, so there's this trend going around where content creators are making their rigged mesh items no-mod, explaining that since you can't resize or reposition rigged mesh, there's no point to it being mod. We're going to put this misinformation to bed and explain why content creators should not be releasing rigged/fitmesh content as no-mod.

First: Resizing and repositioning are not all there is to modding. They're not even half of what there is to modding. Here's a list of ways you can mod rigged mesh.

  • Adding scripts
  • Removing scripts
  • Retexturing 
  • Tinting the colour
  • Adding custom materials
  • Adding custom alpha masks
  • Changing the objects alpha textures from "blended" to "masked"
  • Making parts fullbright
  • Removing fullbright
  • Linking the object to others so you use fewer attachment points
  • Unlinking parts to use individually
  • Renaming

 This isn't even a complete list. As you can see, resizing and repositioning barely scratch the surface of what it means for an object to be moddable in Second Life. Every single piece of rigged mesh clothing, every single rigged mesh hairpiece and bodypart I own is modded in some way or another.

 Here are some specific examples of how I've personally modded rigged/fitmesh items:
  • Replaced multiple 1024x1024 textures on a hair piece with custom 256x256 textures.
  • Changed the alpha textures on hair from "blended" to "masked" to solve a variety of rendering issues.
  • Scripted fitmesh shirts to change my shape, physics and add/detach nipples when worn/removed. 
  • Added custom materials to mesh body.
  • Fixed issues with a mesh head caused by the applier leaving alpha skin texture as "blended" by switching it to "masked" manually.
  • Linked multiple rigged/fitmesh items together to be worn as a single attachment.
  • Removed the unused clothing layers from my mesh body to greatly reduce my draw weight.
So whenever you hear someone claim "rigged/fitmesh cannot be modified anyway" you set them straight and tell them that's just not true.

 Another explanation I've heard for making rigged mesh no-modify is to protect it from content thieves. The problem with that explanation is that making something no-mod offers no protection whatsoever from content theft. None. It's not even an inconvenience. The tools they use to steal content don't care what permissions the content has.

 So there you have it. There is no reason to sell rigged/fitmesh content no-mod. None. It provides no benefit to the creator, and it only has downsides for the customer. If you are a content creator who sells no-mod hair, bodies, clothing, I just want you to ask yourself, "Why am I selling these items no mod? Is there a reason, or is it just habit? Am I just doing it because everyone else seems to?"

 If you're a customer, I want to encourage you to support those content creators who do release moddable rigged/fitmesh content and I want you to encourage more content creators to do the same.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

The Improved SL Camera (Revisited)

My old guide to improving the SL camera contains a lot of information about older viewers which is no longer applicable, so I'm making a touched-up version for new users. 

The Improved SL Camera

First you need to reveal the Advanced menu at the top of your screen. To do this simply press ctrl+alt+d and the menu will appear to the right of the Help menu in your menu bar. You can also go to the Advanced tab in Preferences and select to have the Advanced menu shown, shown below.

 From the newly revealed Advanced menu at the top of your screen select "Show Debug Settings", near the bottom.

 The Debug Settings panel will appear. At the top of the Debug Settings panel is a field where you can type the name of the setting you'd like to adjust.

Type "CameraOffsetRearView".

The panel provides you with three integers to change for the x, y and z placement of your CameraOffset.  Change them to these settings;

x: -3.000
y: 0.000   ( For an "Over the shoulder view" use -0.400 for right or 0.400 left shoulder. )
z: -0.200

 Once that is done click on the input field again and move to the next setting;

Type "FocusOffsetRearView".

 Once more you will have x, y and z  positions, this time for the focus point.
 Change them to these settings;

x: 0.900
y: 0.000   ( For over the right or left shoulder us -0.700 or 0.700, respectively. )
z: 0.200

Here's some solutions to issues some people run into.

Avatar fills entire screen?
Simply zoom the camera out! The mousewheel zoom controls work exactly like before. You can also adjust the "x" CameraOffset to move the default camera position forward or back.

The view is odd, I can't see where I'm going/camera points up!
 Make sure you change both the CameraOffset and the FocusOffset. If you only change one and not the other it wont' do you much good at all!

 If you did everything correctly your view in SL should resemble this:

And this:

Click and hold on your avatar to angle your view up or down, even as you move!
You can improve your SL view further by altering the FOV.
First, press ctrl+9 to make sure your FOV is at the default. Then, hold the ctrl key down and press 0 about 5 times. The resulting effect is that SL seems to have a greater sense of depth.

 Don't like it? Press ctrl+9 again to revert to the default.

 Pressing ctrl+8 a few times has a fun effect, too, perfect for haunted house sims! Again, you can press ctrl+9 to revert to the default.

 I've found this to be a huge improvement in making SL look more cinematic.

 If you enjoy these settings, contact the developers of your favourite viewer and request that they add this camera placement as a preset in the camera drop-down menu, so you don't have to manually re-enter the settings every time you install a new viewer and you can more easily share the experience with your friends.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Virtual Space/Infinite Space

Virtual Space/Infinite Space
How to never run out of prims or space on any sized parcel or sim.

Over the years I’ve tried to help shed light on tips and techniques to allow anyone to get the most value out of their SL land, from shrinking oversized builds and altering your viewer camera settings to make your parcel larger, to squeezing out the most from your prim allotments by optimizing prim and mesh builds. Still, there’s one aspect of virtual land that is long overdue for a discussion.

That is the nature of land in SL itself.

Most people see their virtual land in Second Life as finite. You have your prim limit and your land area and that’s it. If you want a bigger house, a bigger RP area, more content to play with then obviously you need more land, right? Everyone knows this, it’s the typical understanding of how SL works.

It's also wrong.

Land in Second Life is virtual. Bolded and underscored. Everything about it, from the terrain to the content you fill it up with, is nothing more than a collection of 1’s and 0’s. What’s more, Second Life gives users an infinite amount of storage space for those 1’s and 0’s. You have an infinite inventory and can store as much content as you like in rezzed, in-world containers. What’s more, you can script those containers into what we call “rezzers” or “Holodecks”, after the famous virtual reality room from Star Trek.

Chances are, you’ve used one of these already. Ever bought a house or other large SL object which came in a scripted package? One that would allow you to rez and position the item just by clicking on and moving the package around? Or a skybox that lets you choose from a selection of pre-made scenes it can rez for you? These work in the exact same way and you can use the same sort of scripts to make any size land into an infinite space for all the content you could ever want.

And this works for any sized land, from tiny 512sq.m. parcel homes to full sim RP builds. The size of the land you own only limits the amount of content which can be rezzed at any one time.

Let me illustrate using my own home as an example. I have a 64x64 square parcel of mainland.

This is considered a mid-sized piece of land. It supports about 1000 prims. Most of the neighboring 64x64 parcels have a single house with maybe a quarter of the space left over for a tiny yard.Most of these parcels devote all of their prims to said house and the furniture inside. Possibly a single skybox for the illusion of privacy.

 We can do better than that.

Paying for Land

Now, before I continue, let’s look at the cost involved here. If you decide to upgrade your tier to purchase a mainland parcel this size, it’s going to cost you $25 a month on top of your Premium Membership. That’s $372 a year, a little more than a sim owner pays for one month. However, as I pointed out in a previous article, there’s cheaper ways to buy land. You can check out that article by clicking this link, but here’s a quick recap:

  • If you have multiple accounts, upgrade them to Premium with an annual membership. This will cost you $72 per account up front, but if you save the stipend and cash it out to put towards your annual payment, each account will only cost you $14/year afterwards.
  • If you have accounts made before LL lowered the stipend in 2006, then the tier will more than cover the annual payments.
  • Lump their 512sq.m. tier into a landowner group, giving you a 10% boost, and use that to purchase the land.

To buy a 4096sq.m. parce like mine you’d have to upgrade 7 accounts to Premium. That’s a lot of money up front but also look at it this way:

  • If you pay tier annually that’s costing you $372 up front and $372 every year after if you upgrade your tier and buy the land directly.
  • If you upgrade 7 accounts that’s $504 the first year then only $98 a year every year after.

On top of that, you don’t NEED to upgrade all those accounts at once. If you can afford the monthly tier costs, but not the up-front expense, upgrade the accounts with a monthly payment, then upgrade each to a yearly as you can afford to.

I’m Not Very Neighborly

I didn’t buy land in SL to experience mainland neighbors, so I ignore the ground level entirely and built my house as a skybox, complete with self-contained yard. Seen here:

Of course, no one wanders around SL with their camera pulled out that far and when you live on a 64x64 parcel there’s no reason to have your draw distance any higher than 88m while home. To anyone visiting my house, the yard looks like this:

As you can see, 64x64m is actually pretty spacious if you build efficiently. What’s more, the yard only uses about 300 prims and acts as a hub area for the rest of the build. Remember, we’re taking advantage of the infinite space virtual land affords. This yard, and the 200 prim barn interior, are the closest my home has to “permanent” structures.

Pick a Door

Spread around the yard are doors. Most of these doors, when clicked, will play a sound effect and give you a dialog message saying “This door appears to be locked but maybe there's a way to unlock it?” And there is!

Underneath the bridge people arrive at there is a terminal labled “Door Lock Terminal”.

Click the terminal and you get a menu asking “Unlock which door?” and a selection of doors to open. Choosing one will “lock” the currently “unlocked” area and “unlock” the newly selected area. If someone is in the currently “unlocked” area, you will instead get a message saying “The lock controls are overridden from the other side.” and nothing will change.

My liberal use of quotation marks is because this terminal is really the rezzer controls for the parcel. When you “unlock” a room, you’re derezzing the currently selected room and rezzing another. In addition, the rezzer replaces the locked door with a door that acts as a teleporter. The teleporters use the (as of this writing) recently added Experience Features so you just click the door and walk into it to teleport to the room interior.

Since I have nearly 500 prims free, and all of the rezzable areas are connected via teleporters, each rezzed area can be anywhere from a small room using only about 200 prims:

Or a 64x64m outdoor area bigger than the yard:

And I can add as many of these additional areas as I want! There’s no limit. Already my 64x64m parcel has more content, more places to go, than any homestead on the grid. Eventually, as long as I keep adding new areas, it will be larger than many RP sims.

Affordable RP Sims

That’s right, if you ever wanted your own RP sim but can’t afford, or justify the cost of, a sim, this is a great alternative. Sure, people can’t spread out to the four corners of the world, but unless you’re building a sim like Doomed Ship, where most of the experience is in exploring a twisting maze of corridors and secret passages, there’s RP benefits to keeping people restricted to a few locations at a time.

Not to mention, RP sims are rarely self sustaining. That’s why they’re always shutting down. Rather than spending hundreds of dollars a month on a brand new RP sim, the best bet has always been to start with a small, affordable RP area and expand only as your growing player base allows for it.

On top of that, as long as you expand in a modular fashion, an RP area that finds itself facing a dropoff in support can easily scale back during tighter times  without a whole lot of work, or permanently sacrificing content. That kind of flexibility means a greater ability to whether the ups and downs every RP area in SL faces.

Keep it Simple!

You don’t even have to get as fancy as I have. Have a 512sq.m. parcel for your house and want to take advantage of this to have infinite rooms? Keep the home furnishings to a minimum and put a door inside to act as your teleporter. Make the rezzer a lightswitch next to the door and use it to select the room the door will take you to.

Or, even simpler, a holodeck skybox where you just change the scene around you, without the need for a HUD. Setting up and packing your own scenes is super simple, and you can get free holodeck scripts off the marketplace to set up your own right now!

Thinking Big

The larger your land, the more you can do with a system like this. Have a full sim and you want to make the most of it for an RP area? Then taking advantage of the virtual nature of SL land will let you turn a single sim into an entire world of environments. Where my previous examples each used a single rezzer, a full sim build could use multiple rezzers spread across the sim.

You could have entire sim-sized environments accessible via rezzers, as well as multiple, smaller rezzers for individual areas. And since each of these rezzers can have an infinite number of rezzable environments, your RP sim can keep growing as long as you keep coming up with ideas.

Using Doomed Ship as an example again, using a rezzer the sim could be set up so that all of the core decks act as the permanent hub area, with rezzers built into various controls and locking mechanisms on each deck to open up further areas for exploration, separate from the main, twisty maze of rooms and corridors that make the sim so much fun to explore.

No-Mod/No-Copy Costs You More Than You Know

There is a catch. Rezzers only work with copy/mod content. So any no-mod/no-copy content you own will either have to be retired or limited to the hub areas. The best policy, of course, is to avoid no-copy/no-mod content altogether and encourage your favourite content creators to abandon bad, anti-consumer business practices which prevent you from getting the full value out of your virtual land.

Not all content creators sell no-mod/no-copy content to intentionally screw you over like this, most are simply unaware. Luckily, there are solutions for content creators who've been selling no-mod/no-copy content which could allow customers to update their content with more sensible perms, such as using this handy Item Exchanger/Updater from DesolateStudios.


SL has it’s share of problems, but the cost of land has always been overstated. Every landowner in SL has, at one time or another, wished for more space or more prims and I hope this article shows how you can achieve that easily, without breaking the bank.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Draw Weight

Draw Weight
A Tale of Two Avatars

 Remember Avatar Draw Weight? That feature LL added many years ago (I think it was around 2008-2009 or so) which put a number on how much work it was for your computer to render each avatar onscreen. With green numbers being in the "acceptable" range, and red numbers being, well, pretty much everyone if you ever turned it on.

 It seems as if no one can get their avatars "into the green". As recently as the last year or so I've read people complaining over on the SL forums that the colour range denoting avatar resource use was unrealistic, that we'd all have to wander around naked to get ourselves down into the green, or even the orange.

 I can understand the frustration. Here, LL provided a tool that was supposed to help people manage their avatar's resource use, but the goals it sets seem far out of reach without drastically reducing the quality of our avatars, and to most people it seemed unreasonable.

 They blamed the tool, but the truth is, the rendering levels displayed by Draw Weight are not unreasonable at all, it's just that content creators are making no effort to produce reasonably optimized content for avatars.

A picture is worth a thousand words.

Here is my avatar. On the left is my avatar how it appeared about two weeks ago. The right is my avatar at the time of this writing. The numbers are, of course, the draw weight of my avatar. And no, that is not a typo. Although my more current avatar appears to have even more detail, it is actually about 1/4th the draw weight it was a week earlier.

 How did I achieve this drastic reduction in rendering weight?

 Pretty easily, actually.
  •  Many attachments, including new mesh attachments, tend to have a prim hidden inside of them which serves no purpose other than to clog VRAM up with a huge texture nobody sees. I ripped out every single one of those "root prims".
  •   My mesh body has several clothing/tattoo layers. I don't use those, or any of the scripted functions of the body. So I ripped out every unused layer, plus the scripts.
  • I replaced every sculpted prim I could with a mesh attachment.
  • I removed every single attachment which was covered up by other attachments. My eyes, for example, have sphere prims over them with a texture adding a glistening effect. It looks great, but with my mask no one can see them. So off they went!
  • I discovered my mask had an ungodly amount of polygons, many of which aren't even visible because they're buried inside other pieces of the mask. So I replaced it with a low-poly alternative. The new mask looks every bit as detailed, just different.
  • Textures count towards your draw weight, too. I reduced every texture I could down to a quarter or less of its original size. Can you tell which textures I did that to? I doubt it. Unless you zoom in far closer than anyone ever would, you cannot see the difference between a 1024x1024 texture and a 512x512 texture on an avatar attachment. In many cases, you can even go down to 256 or 128 without a noticeable loss in quality.
Here's the SL Wiki page which explains everything SL factors into calculating Draw Weight.

 Now, I did this all over a couple of weeks, but I didn't actually spend all that much time on it. A few minutes here. A few minutes there. I don't get on SL nearly as much as I used to, which is why it was spread out over all that time.

Still not "In the Green".

 Now, if you've been paying attention, you might say "this is a big drop in draw weight, yes, but you're still not in the green!" And you'd be right!

 The problem is, no matter how much I optimize through modding, unless I create all my own content from scratch, I'm at the mercy of content creators.  I want my avatar to look a certain way and I'm only willing to make so many compromises for efficiency.

 Here's my avatar in wireframe.
 Notice how even in wireframe, large chunks of my avatar appear to be solid, or nearly solid? Yeah. That's obscenely wasteful. You could cut the polygon count of this avatar down to a quarter of what you see here and not be able to tell the difference when viewing it normally. Hell, adding simple material maps can make the attachments look even more detailed than they appear out of the box, even with the reduction in polygons.

 But without changing the style I want for my avatar, I',m at the mercy of content creators. Take the hair for example. It's got way more polygons and textures than it needs, but I have yet to find a hair style that matches the idea in my head as close as this does. I have a couple alternate hair styles which drop me down to around 38,000-39,000, but they're completely different than the look I'm going for.

 Ever notice how it's easy to find mesh furniture that is only 1-5 Land Impact points these days? Even when mesh first came out you were usually looking at 10-20LI This is because we are all beholden to Land Impact. If you want to get the most out of your land, you avoid high LI content and buy the content that looks the best while managing to keep a low LI cost. Content creators realize this, and to get you to spend your hard earned L$ in their shops, they try to make their content cost as few Land Impact points as possible.

 Avatars have no such limits. You can wear 38 attachments, each of which can be up to the equivalent of 256 LI. That means you can wear the equivalent of 9,728 LI on your avatar. That is far more than half a sim. TWO avatars can put more strain on your computer than a fully detailed sim can with your draw distance cranked to the maximum.

 If avatars had a similarly limited pool of points, you can bet your low-poly behind that every single content creator would be tripping over themselves to try and outdo everyone else in delivering high detail at a low rendering cost and it would be EASY for anyone to look as good, or better, than they do now, while keeping their avatar firmly "in the green" with regards to draw weight.

For an example of how much a single attachment can add to your draw weight, I swapped my hair. I went from 50,328 down to 40,625. Despite the fact that this new hair is arguably more detailed. That's before optimizing the hair's textures, too. I was even able to add that crown/tiara and still come in at only 41,160.

 I also replaced my shield, got rid of a couple of the smaller details people might not notice if removed and replaced a couple more sculpts with mesh alternatives, bringing my total draw weight from 207,884 down to 35,827.

 That's right! Keeping the same amount of detail and (aside from the hair) the same basic look, I was able to educe my draw weight to less than a quarter of what it was when I started.

 I'm still leaning towards the dreadlocks, but this illustrates that I can still lose a lot of draw weight if necessary while still being happy with my avatar's appearance. Reasonable limits are not a bad thing. Done well, limits can bolster creativity and imagination, rather than stifle it as some people fear.

 So what good does it do?

 What good is it, optimizing my avatar like this, when I'm just going to be surrounded by avatars so bloated and overtextured that my videocard is going to be overwhelmed anyways?

 That's a fair point. When I'm out and about in the world, it doesn't make a huge difference. Maybe a few FPS here and there. Afterall, my avatar is usually the largest object on my screen and always displayed at the highest LOD level unless I go camming around the sim, so there's at least a little gain. The biggest benefit is that my avatar always loads lightning fast now.

 The real difference is when I go to my own builds. Hanging out in one of my skyboxes or sims with a few friends, I have seen a framerate improvement of up to 10FPS between now and a week ago. That's not too shabby. For maybe an hour of work spread out over a week or two, I have gained the equivalent of what I might see spending $250 on a slightly better videocard.

 Food for thought.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Cost of Land vs. The Perception of Value

The Cost of Land vs. The Perception of Value
Land in SL is Cheap!

 Since I first joined SL in 2005, right up to today, one of the most common complaints I've heard from SL users is that land is too expensive in Second Life. What's more, this is considered to be one of the biggest obstacles to SL's mainstream success.

 I disagree.

 Now, don't get me wrong, if LL dropped the price of land then I'm sure they'd see a huge uptick in landowners. My position is simply that land is not as expensive as people realize because pretty much nobody is enjoying the full value of the land they're paying for and I see this as a much bigger issue than the actual cost of land.

 Let me show you something.

This is a small skybox I threw together recently. To give you an idea of the size of this skybox, my 6' tall avatar is present in both screenshots, can you find me?

 How much land impact do you think this skybox uses? How much land area? Most importantly, how much do you think this skybox costs me in tier?

At the time these screenshots were taken, I was using a grand total of 481 land impact points. This skybx could fit on a parcel only slightly larger than 2048sq.m. In other words, you could own a piece of SL like this for a mere $3.71 a month.

"Wait!", you tell me, "A 2048sq.m. parcel costs $15 a month in tier!"

 Here's the thing, if you set up a premium account you get 512sq.m. of tier with that. A premium account costs $72 a year, but if you cash out the L$300 a week stipend you're only paying $11.13 a year for the account. If you set up four premium accounts, that amounts to $44.52 a year (which is only $3.71 a month)  for all four accounts and 2048sq.m. of tier between them.

 In addition to that, if you lump their combined tier into a group you get an extra 10% bonus tier, so you're actually getting 2253sq.m. of tier for $3.71 a month.

 Of course, this still leaves the issue of how did I cram so much into only 2048sq.m. and less than 500 prims?

 That just boils down to building to scale and being smart about what you want to rez on your land.

 A 30LI Greco-Roman statue just isn't worth the prims when you can get statues just as good looking for 1-10LI. The same goes for chairs, beds, and everything else.

 All my usual points about building to scale stand, especially in the age of mesh. When you have a mesh house that is double scale, when you shrink it down to 1=1 size you also reduce its land impact cost down to 1/2 or even 1/4th of its original impact cost. Almost all mesh content can have its LI cost reduced in this way, from chairs and statues to castles and space stations.

 This is what I see as the big problem for land in SL. Very, very few people realize they can get this kind of value for their money, or even if they realize it's possible they often wouldn't know how to do it themselves. How many people would rush to own land in SL if they realized they could get all this for a few dollars a month and it was easy for them to do so?

 From LL's perspective, 2048sq.m. costs them just as much to host no matter what you rez on it.So LL gains nothing from this situation. Worse yet, those who are unwilling to spend more than $5-10 a month on SL land yet feel what you get for that is not enough because of this deflated sense of value ultimately opt not to purchase land at all, so LL has lost all of those potential landowners. People willing to spend $5 a month on land vastly outnumber those willing to spend $300. If LL could show people just how much they could get for that, they would see a huge increase in landowners.

 Of course, LL being LL, I'm not going to hold my breath on that. However, you, dear reader, now know how to get crazy amounts of value for your monthly tier.