Monday, February 15, 2016

Terrain Without Pain

In Second Life, there is land.  Virtual land, and it is only one-sided...there's no volume to it, so although you can raise or lower the land surface with the land editing tools, you cannot dig a mine or a tunnel or a cave.

But today's post isn't about that.  I want to talk about the land's texture...the appearance of sand or grass or rock or snow.

The Second Life server software allows you to specify up to four surface textures for a region's land.  But you can only do this if you own your own private region.  On the Mainland, Linden Lab specifies the ground textures, and you can't change them.  Some private estates, like Desmond Shang's Caledon, even change the ground textures along with the seasons!

The height of the terrain determines which of the four ground textures will appear on the land.  So, for example, you might have a sand texture from 20m below sea level to about 5m above sea level, then a grass texture from 5m to 15m, a rock texture from 15 to 30m, and a snowy texture above 30m.

These heights are not exact.  There's a random variation that's applied, to keep the dividing line between the textures from looking unnatural.  This is usually a good thing, but it can be a pain when you want to have a grassy lawn start at a particular point at the back side of your beach.  Moreover, because it's random, you may notice that the texture transition point changes on you from one visit to the next.

But the very worst thing about ground textures, especially for those of us who inhabit the Mainland, is that you can't change them...and some of the textures chosen by Linden Lab are really, really ugly.  I especially hate the patchy orange and blue fungus look on the beaches of some of the older Mainland regions.

What Were They Thinking?

There are ways in which one can work around this.  Sometimes, you can terraform your land so that it moves into the next ground texture region and change it that way.  Or, you can flatten out the land and place a big prim over it, textured any way you want.  Or you can put down a lot of prim grass, or even a grass temp-rezzer to distract the eye from the ground texture and partially hide it.  But all of these methods have their own drawbacks, from prim cost to script loads.

What about sculptured prims, or mesh?  In some cases, you can find a sculpty shape that will fit your land.  The potential problem with this is that sculpties are Phantom.  If your sculpty rock sits more than a fraction of a meter above your land and you try to walk on it, you're going to look like you are up to your knees in stone.

But the other day, I found a solution to all this that's Really Cool:  The JVTEK Land Map.  The Land Map is a sculpty generator device.  You put out a scanner prim on your land, which measures the land in up to a 32 x 32 m area.  You can place additional scanners for larger or irregular land parcels.  Once the land is scanned, you go to a website and download a sculpt map that's been generated from the land's contours.  Then you apply this to a prim in world to create a sculpty that exactly matches the contours of your land, and lay it over the land like a close-fitting blanket.  Then you can apply any ground texture you want to the sculpty.

There are two drawbacks to the JVTEK system.  One of these the creator freely acknowledges...if the land is too irregular, the sculpty may not be a perfect match.  JVTEK recommends using the Smooth tool on the land to minimize this, and notes that if bits of your land do poke through the prim, you can use the land tools to push it down, or raise the sculpty up from the land a little bit.

The other possible drawback is common to all prim generators of this type.  They are dependent on the creator maintaining the support website.  If the creator goes out of business and takes down the external site, your prim generator becomes useless.  This happened to me with the "Rock Wizard" product I bought a few years ago.

Here are pictures of a home at the seaside.  The lovely grassy lawn is a Land Map sculpty!

You can find the Land Map on the Second Life Marketplace here:

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Bending with Bento

This is a very short post today!  Some of you may have heard about "Project Bento."  This is an effort on the part of Linden Lab to add additional "bones" to the avatar skeleton, while (we all hope!) not breaking existing content.

What are bones, and why are they important?

Bones are the controls that are used to animate any 3D model.  The basic SL avatar has just under 30 bones.  Animation software moves the bones, and the avatar mesh deforms in response.  The process of adding bones to a model is called "rigging" by animators.  When you see the term "rigged mesh", it means that the mesh clothing has been linked to the bones of the avatar skeleton so that it will bend and move with you.

There are no bones in the Second Life avatar to animate the hands, or facial expressions.  Right now, these are implemented via a limited menu of facial expression and hand position "morphs."  This means that your hands can make a very limited set of gestures...the open, relaxed hand, a closed fist, a V sign, etc.  Your face can make a rather gassy-looking smile or a horrid gaping laugh, a frown, a kissy face, etc.  We all make exactly the same faces.

Project Bento aims to change that, by adding facial bones to allow realistically animated speech movements and expressions, and adding finger bones to the hands to allow them to be animated as well.  Not only that, but nonhuman avatars won't be left out.  Bones for wings and a tail are also being added.  Conceivably, in the future, a camera like a Kinect may scan us as we sit in front of our computers, and our avatars will mirror our Real Life facial expressions and hand movements!

The latest Drax Files video shows what the wizards of Project Bento have managed so far.  Here's the link:

Project Bento is now in beta test, so I'm hopeful we'll see these new features in a release viewer this year!