Friday, May 27, 2011

~You Light Up My (Second) Life~

Un-touched screen capture from SL!  This blur is REAL!
These are exciting times for SL users!  Linden Lab has been very busy enhancing the in-world experience.  Many criticize the 'Lab for pushing out shiny distractions instead of addressing some of the viewers' long standing issues.  While I think many issues could use an update I am confident that they are more complex than most give them credit for.  I highly doubt that LL is blatantly ignoring any issues or avoiding updates without good reason.  And, to be perfectly honest, I'm thrilled to the bones with the shiny distractions!

Thursday night I was busy busy busy developing my newest goodies when I received the IM from the big LL voice in the sky that an update had been downloaded for my viewer.  FYI, the viewer I use the most, and the one I was using at the time, is the LL Beta Viewer.  When I get the update notice I always feel a mix of excitement (think the first enhanced avatar physics release) and fear (now think the physics update that seriously detracted from the quality of those physics).  When I got the notice, I was ready to take a deep breath and open the box...

Once I installed the new viewer update I was somewhat startled when I started it up and received a notice that the software had set my graphics preferences based on recommended computer performance levels.  What?  Why would the viewer want to mess around with those?  I had them set to a level I liked very much, thank you.

I immediately clicked open my preferences window and took a peek at what the software "recommended" for best performance and, maybe, find out why.  I got my answer right away.  ~NEW STUFF~

The new graphics preferences included a few new tick boxes that hadn't been there before.  I had seen them elsewhere, though.  I ran across them in the Project Viewer!  Although they had shown up un-ticked in my newly evaluated preferences, I knew exactly what they would do.
Just me... and... my... SHAAAAAAA-DOW!

The new settings are for even more enhanced graphics capabilities!  Here are the new toys in a nutshell:

1.  Lighting and Shadows: that's right, objects can now cast shadows onto other objects!  Granted, this will not replace baked shadows, but it certainly will enhance the ambient realism in SL.  Really, there's nothing like seeing your own cast shadow on the ground for the first time in SL.  Lighting is enhanced by projectors.  With projectors, you can load a separate texture into another object and cast a light that uses that texture - just like a movie projector!  It even has focus features and you can adjust a lot of the parameters.  There's way more you can do with the features under this category alone than can be covered here.

2.  Ambient Occlusion: just when you thought visual realism couldn't get another boost in a 3D world at this stage, out comes this cannon of a feature that works with the art of subtlety.  What this does, is emulates the way light bends around edges of objects, most notably affecting shadows at different distances from a light source as some parts look more blurry than others.  In SL, it also does a lot right now to take some of the ugly jaggy lines off of the edges of some of the cast shadows.  Lighting and Shadows, if activated, probably still needs this on as well to look right.

3.  Depth of Field: a photographer's dream, this feature sets the level of blur seen on all objects based on what object serves as the current "focus."  Just like in a camera, if you zoom out, you get a larger depth of field and more objects appear in focus.  Zoomed in, more foreground and background blur is evident.

All these new graphics enhancements chew up a LOT of computing resources on the client side.  My computer is very good and my graphics card is slightly above average, maybe a little better than that, but all of the new features bog my system down a ton.  With all of the old graphics settings maxed-out, I can pull about 20 fps of performance in a typical, modest setting.  I get 15 fps, if there's a good bit of activity going on and lots of particles flying around at the same time.  When I enable all three new features, in a very stark environment I get about 2 fps.  Add any complexity to that and I see it drop to levels that are not even playable anymore (not that 2 fps is playable).

You'll need a powerhouse to process the new stuff, but they are new, and it is likely they will receive performance updates that help out the issues and meet better technology as computers grow and evolve.  As I said from the start, they are on the Beta Viewer, ported over from a long stretch on the Project Viewer.  They still have a way to go before they make it into the mainstream.

Luckily, it's all optional.  You don't have to activate the new set of features if you don't want to.  But for those of you who do, you'll be shadow-dancing in no time!


Jeanette Doobie

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