Left behind

evolution-229544_largePerhaps it’s just me getting older and more out of touch with things in general, but it seems to me that sl is changing slowly, but surely, along a road where the technology driving sl is destined to exert an ever stronger influence on sl’s demographic and the way in which users contribute to the virtual world.

(Before i continue, i’m likely to use a fair bit of jargon in this post and, since it’s been mentioned to me that not everyone is a geek, i’ve put together a handy guide to techie-nonsense here).

In some ways, we’re already starting to see the technology behind sl overtake some of us – the impending switch from client side to server side avatar baking is probably one of the most prominent examples at the moment. We’re told that the new technology, (well, new for sl), is pretty much ready to roll and fears are being voiced that, unless the rollout is delayed, there won’t be any TPVs with versions compliant with SSAB when it happens. If the rollout does take place and the only compatible viewer is the official one, then it means not only will V1 viewers be broken, but so will third party V2 viewers, until the developers are in a position to catch up and deploy their own upgrades.

As it is, the Firestorm team have already warned their users that the next few months are likely to be less than ideal in terms of viewer stability, due to the large number of changes that are having to be made, and i don’t imagine that any of the other TPVs will be in a much better position either.

Even though this will no doubt cause a whole load of (undeserved) belly-aching amongst the TPV user community, it isn’t really such a big deal – just a spot of inconvenience whilst the creases are ironed out… it’ll just be a case of grin and bear it, and cut the devs some slack whilst they get things sorted. What concerns me more is the whole raft of changes that are going to give TPDs a hard time for the next few months, at least, are also going to see ever-greater numbers of sl users gradually marginalised and driven into a sort of technological doldrums.

With the launch of materials, and the need to have deferred rendering enabled in order to appreciate them, those who prefer to stick with their favourite, stable, version of any viewer, and those who simply don’t like the hassle and turmoil of upgrading to the latest version, are going to find themselves missing out – as are those with lower-spec machines and sub-optimal internet connections. Materials will, as far as these users are concerned, be a closed book, just as shadows and DOF already remain tantalisingly out of reach of those whose computers just don’t cut the mustard when it comes to handling graphics. The message is simple, but harsh – if you want to enjoy the full ‘shared user experience’ that the power users of sl are going to be getting, then you’re just going to have to upgrade your hardware and join them!

Now, you may well argue that you don’t give a monkey’s about deferred rendering and you can quite happily live without the joys of materials… but will you feel the same way when a new feature is introduced or upgraded that will impact significantly upon your enjoyment of sl, and your computer is just not up to the job?

This technological tipping point is also a two-edged sword. Let’s take mesh as a example – many love it, many hate it, but it’s here to stay. What has become abundantly clear to us as mesh has gained a hold is that: firstly, making mesh items is nowhere near as simple as throwing together a few prims – it requires a lot more skill, dedication and expertise that many sl residents are either willing or capable of committing. Secondly, it has become equally clear that poorly-made mesh objects can cause all sorts of problems, including lag – badly made, ultra-high polygon meshes are bad for sl and you have to wonder whether the Lab will eventually set some sort of benchmark for mesh quality.

Now consider the new kids on the block… things like pathfinding and the navmesh, and the materials system. Once again, these are not simple and straightforward skills for the uninitiated – if they are to work well and not cause problems, they have to be implemented well. A borked navmesh will screw up your sim, and a crappy normal and specular maps will just look plain awful, making the whole point of having materials, erm… pointless – and these things concern me.

We’re beginning to see a new sl on the horizon, one in which i fear the best bits will be denied to those without decent hardware and one in which the pleasures of creating and building will become more, and more the domain of accomplished 3D designers and modellers. There’ll be no real place for the amateur dabbler, at best they’ll feel unable to compete with the experts, at worst they’ll be responsible for making sl look grotty and feel laggy, and i’m not entirely sure what sort of a virtual world that will give us.

The march of technology is a marvellous thing, but it wears big jackboots and doesn’t care who gets trampled underfoot.

s. x

The universe itself keeps on expanding and expanding
In all of the directions it can whizz
Monty Python’s Flying Circus – The Galaxy Song

This entry was posted in Philosophicalisticality, RL, SL, Techietalk. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Left behind

  1. Well said!
    I am a prim builder, it is what attracted me to stay in SL after the first few weeks. I think prims will be the foundation of most builds for the foreseeable future, but more an more the “fancy stuff” is sculptie or mesh (although mesh is not all it was promoted to be due to the way prim equivalent weighting is done). We are definitely moving in a direction that is not friendly to the common SL builder, and that is a shame.

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