Second Life set out on its own, carving a path outside of the usual frontiers of game development and virtual reality headsets and imagined a virtual world where the tools for building 3D objects were accessible to all. Remember, this was back in the day before Google Sketch-Up, before Content Paradise and 3Daz and Poser….or at least the days before anyone could download them and order up some books from Amazon or watch tutorials on youTube.
Meanwhile, over in the other 3D silos games were still big titles or virtual worlds were owned and controlled. Visualization for architecture and industrial design was its own little universe. And movies were Pixar. And to each environment its own tool set. For games you had things like Unreal, and for architecture you had 3DS Max, and for movies and animation you had Maya.
The Tools Have Changed – But SL’s Haven’t
Well, a whole lot has changed since SL set out on its own to change the face of how 3D worlds could be made, and became itself a platform for architectural visualization, for movie making in the form of machinima (ya Molotov!), and for games, of a sort anyways.
But the tools became less unique, less flexible, less *gasp* interoperable. Because while SL is trying to build tool sets for a community of creators, while trying to protect its promise of a ‘virtual economy, it has a limited buyer base and, frankly, the tools are a lot less flexible and intuitive than the competition.
Now, as the giants gobble up other pieces of the pipeline, SL finds itself with a tool set that’s, well, frankly kind of quaint. Sure, for those of us who learned it first it was brilliant. You could build and texture a house without needing to learn Maya’s Mel Script. And with the emergence of new platforms, anyone with a penchant for designing an orc, a naked amazonian, or a game level has a buffet of choices not just for making the stuff but also for placing and selling it.
The Pipeline Battle is On
Autodesk recently gobbled up Realviz, creating a better bridge between 2D and 3D visualizations and objects and promises:
“REALVIZ’s technology bridges 2D and 3D, linking the virtual and real worlds. 3D models can be created from simple 2D images, and virtual environments can be built from conventional photographs,” said Amar Hanspal, senior vice president, Autodesk Platform Solutions and Emerging Business. “REALVIZ’s technology is complementary to Autodesk’s modeling, visual effects and animation products. It will enable us to increase the use of 3D technology across many industries, including architecture, film, broadcast and game development.”
I’ve written before about how the gaming world has woken up to the power of user-generated content and remember EA’s comment:
“If you create a platform that is exciting for people to build their own content in, then that is a good business strategy,” adding that when users buy the game, they’ll play in a platform that is enriched by the millions of worlds that can be created and explored by players. “That’s value for money. There are also limitless possibilities for micro-transactions and subscription-based games in the future.”
Meanwhile, elsewhere on the game platforms, MellaniuM has created a bridge from Autocad to the Unreal engine that is beyond stunning – and provides a low-cost, flexible platform for visualization. Being able to create highly detailed rendered models and bring them seamlessly into a virtual platform is significant, and folks should be rejoicing from the mountaintops, at least among the architecture, landscape, design set…or anyone who wants to properly provide a walk through of something that has detail and looks REAL.
Back on the Grid
The tools for visualization that were once the mainstay of SL have grown stale and tired. even 3DVIA’s shape is insanely easier to use and offers almost as much flexibility and usability.
However. And here’s the big however. We’re talking here about Be Bop Reality, which includes elements of immersion, identity, society, culture….and as much as you can wander a warehouse of Sketch Up models you can’t SEE anyone. And even if Unreal becomes a great tool for visualization, there’s still the question of whether it will ever expand outwards and create culture around it, or whether it simply adds to what’s becoming an increasingly complex universe of platforms and tools for creating 3D visualizations and ways to move around them.
In these respects, SL still has a head start. But you pull the plug on be-bopping mega prims, or you can’t get the asset server to work night after night, or you turn off 8 out of 9 new arrivals because of an abysmal new user experience and….well, the tools can be sub-standard but if all those things are sub-standard as well, then you’re in for a slow but inevitable decline.
I’m not suggesting that SL improve the building tools. It’s one piece in a puzzle in which 3D pipelines are clogged at every corner (run a search on Maya + ZBrush + pipeline and see how esoteric and insanely odd it can all sound). But at the very least, SL needs to realize that one of its crowning differentiators is being undermined week by week by other approaches to creating the fruits of our imaginations.