It’s hammer time!

There’s something inherently enjoyable and therapeutic in bashing something with a hammer and i’m sure that’s half the reason that people become builders in rl. Building is a somewhat different craft in sl however: Bashing and banging tends to have little effect and the tools of the sl builder are not hammers, screwdrivers and drills, in fact, there are no physical tools at all. The sl builder finds themselves reliant upon such esoteric devices as co-ordinates, mathematics and a whole bundle of dooberrys that fall under the vague and far-ranging umbrella term of ‘properties’.

There’s another notable difference between the builders of sl and their real world counterparts – the sl builder has, out of necessity, to be a ‘jack-of-all-trades’. Where in rl, we have plumbers, carpenters, brickkies, sparks and burly men with power tools who drink strong tea and sing loudly and tunelessly to Radio 1, in sl all these specialist trades are covered by the catch-all term of ‘builder’. Of course, you can argue that sl builders are simply dealing with prims, (let’s not use the ‘mesh’ word), and whether they’re building a bath or a bridge, there’s no difference in the particular techniques or disciplines required – this, of course is perfectly true, but i’d counter that the sl builder has plenty of other specialisms to contend with… many of which fall into the strange and bizarre world that is ‘properties’.

“How difficult can it possibly be?”, i hear you say… well, consider this: Just as in the real world, virtual materials have widely different properties and, in the strange world of sl, things are not always as straightforward as they might seem.

Imagine, for example, that i want to build a double-decker bus… i’ve designed my bus, (open-top – because it doesn’t matter if it’s raining in sl), painted it a lovely bright purple and now i want to add my wheels – logically, i’m going to select ‘rubber’ as an appropriate material for the tyres, after all, i want it to look authentic. That, my friends is completely the wrong approach – if i use rubber tyres in sl, not only is my bright purple bus not going anywhere, but it’s not going there rather slowly too! In fact, if i want a nippy bus that never keeps you waiting at the bus stop and trundles around at a decent speed, the most suitable material to use for tyres is, in fact, glass! To understand why requires a knowledge of your materials – whereas rubber works for tyres in rl because it’s grippy and sticks to the road, that’s the last thing you want in sl – giving a bus rubber tyres, is the sl equivalent of trying to drive through custard… tasty, but slow. Glass, on the other hand, is slippery, shiny stuff, with very little in the way of friction to hold you back – it is the substance, par excellence for anything that needs to move freely and easily.

OK, let’s leave the tyres alone and move on to my lovely, lower deck windows… Obviously, i want proper see-through windows, so you can look out and admire the view, or gaze jealously from the pavement at the happy trippers passing by. So, it’s a quick play around in Photoshop, adding some alpha channel transparency for the windows, upload to sl and we’re ready to roll… well, no, we’re not. Bus windows, by their very nature and placement mean that at some point you’ll be seeing another window through the particular window you’re looking through – this is almost certainly going to give rise to the infamous ‘alpha sorting glitch’. Simply put, computers are a bit thick when it comes to sorting out what order overlapping 32-bit alpha channels should appear – in rl, if i stand a glass bottle in front of a window, stand off to the side and look at my handiwork, i have no problem in working out that the bottle is in front of the window. A computer, on the other hand, will work out the mathematical relationships between me, the bottle and the window and may quite well decide the bottle is behind the window – which looks rather weird. If i’m not careful, my bus will appear to be something that Escher dreamed up after a night on the town!

Sadly this is a glitch that the finest minds have yet to fix – there are workarounds, but they’re by no means perfect. The only sure-fire solution is not to use 32 bit textures at all… yep, even solid non-see through 32-bit textures have an alpha channel… stick a transparent texture anywhere near them and you may find you suddenly have see-through walls! This is precisely why the sl builder needs know their stuff, just as much as your rl tyre fitter or glazier!

The other big restraint sl builders face is prim limits – it’s a bit like fabricating a building in rl with a fixed, non-negotiable, budget. In rl, you’d maybe cut corners or use cheaper materials to make sure you didn’t go over budget, in sl you try your hardest to come up with innovative and elegant prim-saving solutions. Let me take an example from my current project…

i wanted a staircase: It would have to ascend 8 metres without being overly steep and be fairly compact; i also wanted it to be eyecatching and dominate the room, without filling it. Ordinary prim stairs were out – too costly, blocky and boring, as were spiral stairs, (awkward and i just don’t like them). i wanted something elegant and simple that would compliment the setting – an art gallery – and eventually it was the setting that formed the basis of my inspiration. i remembered seeing Carsten Höller’s Slides in the Turbine Hall of the Tate Modern and, well the rest was just a matter of finding the most aesthetically pleasing shape.

i rather like the end result – which still needs to be textured – it’s, simple, clean, functional and, only 1 prim!

S. x

If I worked my hands in wood
Would you still love me
Answer me babe say “yes I would
I’ll put you above me”
The Small Faces – If I Were A Carpenter

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