Meshed Out!

It’s been a busy, fun week! Starting with an interview with Jack Linden and Dusan Writer on the last Monday talking about meshes, Noam Chomsky on Metanomics last Tuesday, and the actual launch of meshes on Wednesday… it was fun!

Well, meshes are out. In spite of my pessimistic descriptions, Linden Lab did really implement them, and they’re easier to use than I thought:

First Impressions

Watching a 9-minute-video about my old clumsy self trying to manipulate meshes might be too boring, so here are the highlights:

  1. Go to the Second Life download section. Select the Mesh (Aditi) viewer.
  2. Log in to Aditi, which is the internal LL name for the Preview Grid.
  3. Go to Google’s 3D Warehouse.
  4. Install Google SketchUp. You’ll use it to save non-COLLADA files to the COLLADA format.

That’s pretty much it to get you started, even if, like myself, you’re not a 3D modeller and have no patience (or no time) to become one, and just want to try things out.

Remembering that this is just a beta version, and that Linden Lab very likely will bring out more versions until the final release on the main grid. Still, I was pretty much amazed at one point: it’s very easy to import third-party meshes, i.e. meshes not specifically designed for Second Life, and during the import step, you can even tweak a lot of things after the mesh was done: namely, get the SL viewer to automatically create several levels of detail (LOD) depending on how near/far the mesh is viewed; upload a physical model of the mesh (this is what allows collisions with avatars and other objects) if it differs from the actual mesh; consolidate meshes (many 3D modellers, when creating an object, will create multiple submeshes and tie them to a single COLLADA file — SL allows these meshes to be “stitched together”); upload the textures wrapped around the mesh as normal SL textures; and a lot of optimisations (e.g. more detail, less triangles, faster rezzing, and so on).

Mesh upload is curious, and unless you’re familiar with the interface for importing objects available on all third-party viewers, this might be strange to you. Every submesh in the COLLADA file will become a new item in inventory, one that has a new icon , a yellow triangle like a little Egyptian pyramid. Meshes, by itself, are worthless unless they’re applied to an object first — pretty much like sculpties! But to deal with the alignment problems on the first upload, the SL viewer does something quite clever: it applies meshes to objects automatically and creates a “grouped object” in inventory. If you rezz that “grouped object”, you’ll have all submeshes positioned correctly (and you can then select all the prims — one prim for each submesh — and link them together in a single object).

The actual relation between meshes, submeshes, and prim equivalents (i.e. how many prims the uploaded mesh will actually use) is not very obvious, and documentation is still being produced by Linden Lab. So, a COLLADA file which has 50 submeshes might become 50 prims in Second Life, but each prim might actually “cost” 4-5 prims if each submesh is insanely detailed… allegedly, the upload tool will calculate all of this for you before you spend your L$ in mesh upload (right now, like everything on the Aditi preview grid, there are no upload costs). And according to Jack Linden’s interview last Monday, it’s also not clear who is going to be allowed to upload meshes, and how much they will cost: Linden Lab has toyed with the idea of restricting mesh upload to Premium users and/or users with payment information on file, to make content theft harder: you would only be allowed to upload meshes if you gave Linden Lab some of your personal data. This makes content fraud way harder, as creating batches of anonymous alts for the content piracy rings would be worthless to steal meshes and upload them… of course, content pirates would still be able to steal credit cards and create alt accounts, but that would be a major crime in most countries — far, far more serious than content theft! However, Linden Lab hasn’t made a decision yet. They have a few months to discuss it internally while we play around in the preview grid 🙂

Mesh objects are modifiable just like any other object — just the meshes aren’t editable. Some people, like Prokofy Neva, have pointed out that the huge advantage of prims over meshes is that anyone (not just a professional 3D modeller) can tinker around with prim-based builds, while meshes will be impossible to change once uploaded. This is partially true, but… the truth is, the amount of modifiable objects in Second Life is far smaller than non-mod ones. Sculpties, once uploaded, are also non-mod, even if the object that you apply it to will obviously be moddable. The same will apply to meshes, specially the ones that are composed of several submeshes. Each will be an individual prim, which can be retextured, resized, and repositioned individually — in fact, pretty much like sculpties. For the end-user, it will make little difference if it’s a sculpty or a mesh, except that meshes allow almost limitless design, and can be created with something really simple like Google SketchUp, while sculpties have a lot of limitations in the way they get exported to LL’s very tricky sculpty file format. Sculpties were a clever hack to give people a chance to play with shapes not possible with prim torture, but meshes are universal and can pretty much create everything. And amateurs can have a lot of fun with Google SketchUp, too.

Finally, technical impact. We all expect meshes to seriously reduce lag. I’ll address that after the page break; on the preview grid I didn’t manage to do any thorough measurements and comparisons of lag generated from prims vs. sculpties vs. meshes. Meshes load much faster than sculpties, though — this is visually simple to confirm. Do they also generate more lag or less lag? This is harder to figure out without a “lab environment” with accurate measuring, so I can only report on two approaches — personal perception, and technological background.

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