Every day’s a school day

Had a bit of a surprise the other day, when I discovered a menu option in the Firestorm viewer that I didn’t know was there. Surprising, because – after over 10 years of using Firestorm, and before that, Phoenix, and its predecessor, Emerald, and also being a bit of a geek – I never knew it was there. I’m not going to say what exactly it is, because I’m pretty sure you already know about it and quite possibly use it routinely, without thinking, and that’ll just make me feel a bit of a twit!

It’s not an option hidden away in the darker recesses of the Advanced or Developer menus, neither is it an arcane debug setting; it’s right there, hidden in plain sight, in the right-click pie menu (although, albeit, in the second layer), and I have absolutely no idea how I didn’t know it was there!

I suppose that’s one of the joys of SL, and the insanely complicated viewers that are used to access it, no matter how familiar you might be with using them, there’s always a strong chance that there’s some function or setting that you’re completely unaware of, often as a result of the uniquely personal way you choose to interact with the virtual world. And, from time to time, these little nuggets of information surface, and you’ll think to yourself, “How on earth didn’t I know about that?” Only recently, for example, I learned from a friend, (who, in turn, learned it from a scripting expert), that there are built-in notifications to alert you when someone enters and leaves the Region… Great for nosey people like me, and if you’re also curious about who else might be coming or going around you, you can find the option right there in the mini-map settings – it’s fun!

It tends to follow that the more varied your inworld experiences, the greater your understanding of viewer functionality. If all you ever do is shop and dance, then there are relatively few options that you’ll need in order to have a good time in SL. However, once you start taking photo’s, having a go at building, trying your hand at landscaping, or decide to go into business inworld, your need for ever-more tools, aids and options is going to grow exponentially, and – thankfully – if you know where to find them, everything you could possibly need is almost certainly buried away somewhere in the viewer, it’s just a case of finding it, learning how to use it and then, making it your faithful servant!

Unfortunately, the steep learning curve that is often criticised as a barrier to progression for those new to SL can also be just as steep for the experienced user trying to break into new areas of creativity and experience, particularly when you start exploring some of the more advanced functions and playing with debug settings… In many ways, SL is just too tweakable! Pretty much everything you see and experience inworld can be tailored to your own needs and preferences, whether it’s the parcel lighting, quality of graphics, or even the ability to freeze your avatar, speed up or slow down animations, or record a series of movements for playback later. There are tools specifically aimed at photographers, cinematographers, scripters and builders, yet it’s surprising just how few of them ever receive more than the most basic attention from those they could most benefit, leaving a whole universe of tweaks and improvements that never get adequately explored.

I suppose you really don’t have to if you don’t want to, after all, we’re here to have fun, right? And, learning a whole bunch of boring stuff to become a viewer power user sounds like a whole lot of effort when most people seem to get along just fine with the basics. Well yes, I can’t argue with that, but my experience has been that having that additional functionality at my fingertips has served to make SL a lot more enjoyable and allows me to explore what’s available inworld in ways that I’d otherwise miss out on.

However, that’s not to say that I’m not aware that there are gaps in my own acuity when it comes to the viewer. There are a number of things that come to others as second-nature that rarely, if ever, figure in my SL skillset. Using the mouse to operate the camera, for example: Apart from [ALT]+click to zoom, it’s rare that I’ll ever use the mouse to ‘look’ at anything; I know how, I just don’t, and because I don’t I’m really, really rubbish at it! Yet, it’s a function that much of the SL user base uses routinely without thinking. Similarly, I know there’s a whole range of photo settings that allow me to adjust depth of field, focus and a bunch of effects and environmental adjustments with which I could take amazing screenshots, but I never use them. It just doesn’t occur to me to use them, and because I don’t, by the time I’ve worked out where to find them and set everything up, the moment has passed.

My ‘Outfits’ folder is a mess, because I’ve never used it properly, I hardly ever use links for wearables, much less the ‘restore broken links’ option. I rarely employ the gesture explorer, even though I know how much easier it makes my life, and there’s probably hundreds of other settings, options and functions that I’ve either never bothered getting to grips with, have forgotten about, or I’m completely unaware they exist. Such is SLife!

Then again, I’m more than happy to user viewer hacks to do things that they were never designed to do – changing keybindings, adapting the space mouse settings so I can navigate SL with a joystick, adding a foot switch to take photo’s on the fly, creating custom icons and clouds and exporting prims as mesh, to form building blocks and a starting point for my own custom meshes… To be honest, it’s all pretty nerdy stuff that I wouldn’t recommend anyone tries, but hey, what’s that maxim again? ‘Your world, your imagination!’

I suppose it all boils down to using SL your way, but it frustrates me to see people struggling with the viewer or doing things the hard way, when I know that 90% of the time there’s a quicker, easier and better way to do it, already built-in. The trouble is, nobody ever thinks to ask, much less have a poke around in settings themselves to see what might be there.

So, give it a go, if nothing else, you’ll find some crazy stuff that you never knew was there!

s. x

Went to school and I was very nervous
No one knew me, no one knew me
Hello, teacher, tell me what’s my lesson
Look right through me, look right through me

Tears For Fears – Mad World

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