Applications and Tools, Second Life

OpenSim Has What Second Life Needs: Estate-Level Windlight

Bryn Oh's Immersiva
Bryn Oh’s Immersiva – photo using only custom Windlight settings and no post

In the old days, the Lab would roll out new features and then, well, kind of leave them half-finished. In the new days, the Lab rolls out new features and then pretends it’s looking for community feedback…but what that means is they have their finger on the roll-back button and they can press it or not. (Roll-backs are a whole other topic of course).

Windlight is a good example: it brought the visually rich graphics to Second Life that are usually reserved for games, but with an even wider palette well-suited to the surreality that we can find in SL. I remember during the test period being awed by the new look, but as it plodded through the tweaking phase we ended up with – well, with sparkles on the water really. The default Windlight didn’t look much different than the old SL, and it took too many mouse clicks to change them all the time, and then if you flipped the time of day it would revert to default.

A few builders realized that Windlight settings could completely transform the look and feel of a sim. Take a trip to Immersiva to see what I mean. Under default settings it’s beautiful, but under the presets that Bryn Oh designed it’s, well, immersive.

But the challenge with builder pre-sets is they’re a hassle to install. There’s no script you can place that you click which loads a Windlight pre-set automatically, or at least not that I know. And there’s no estate-level controls.

One argument against estate-level Windlight is that it would radically change the experience of geographic continuity. You’d be wandering from sim to sim and it would go from a sunny day to a dark and stormy night. But this argument doesn’t hold water for me: as an artistic and immersive tool, the environment is part of the palette, but it’s basically useless if you can’t easily let others experience it. For a builder, this leaves little option but to build for default: and I can tell you that you’d texture and build very differently in a foggy sim than a sunny one – it’s a completely different look and feel. I could even see the texture artists getting a whole new revenue stream creating for specific Windlight pre-sets, or offering texture packs with a preset plug-in.

Over on OpenSim, meanwhile, we have what I believe is the first estate-level Windlight system, called LightShare(TM). (Full disclosure, though: while we have no commercial interest in LightShare(TM), the developer of LightShare has done significant work for my company Remedy). From the Meta7 Web site:

LightShare is a ground-breaking new technology from Magne Metaverse Research that – for the first time in any virtual world – allows region owners to share their environmental settings with their visitors.

What does this mean? Well, now region owners can fully customise their regions’ environment – sky, water, clouds – and create amazing, mindblowing visuals or even more subtle changes to liven the mood.

LightShare is presented in a fully scriptable interface. It’s even possible to target LightShare settings at particular users. For example, a roleplay environment could make a certain users’ world go dark when they die. Or you can give people an entirely different environmental experience depending on where they are in the sim!

One of the disadvantages of LightShare is that it requires you to use a specific viewer. Whether the team will share the code to the main repositories for the viewers typically used in OpenSim I’m not sure.

Now, Linden Lab is working on shadows and mesh and who knows what back in the tinkering room run by Tom Hale and gang. In the meantime they’ve been sitting on a platform feature that upgraded the hardware requirements to access Second Life, but did little to change the experience on the Grid other than to be able to take better photos for Koin-Up or Flickr. But maybe the new team needs to look back at what some of the old team never quite finished.


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