Applications and Tools, Second Life, Virtual World Platforms

Mesh Imports in Second Life Imminent

Tomorrow, I’ll be hosting a discussion of 3D content development during a Metanomics Master Class, and with any luck Linden Lab will do what it seems to do with some regularity: make a big announcement right before the show. (They don’t do this intentionally, it just seems to happen that way).

In this case, rumors are that the Lab is about to lift the NDA on the work to-date on mesh imports. In fact, they sort of lifted the NDA already, only to clamp it down again after something like 15 minutes. Someone at a senior level decided they weren’t quite prepped with messaging or whatever.

By most accounts, mesh will be launched in a beta phase before roll-out to the full Grid.

External Building
Mesh will allow the creation of objects using development tools ranging from the free (and easy-to-use) Google Sketch-Up through the expensive (ZBrush, Maya, 3DS, etc.).

This will align development for Second Life with more standard 3D development pipelines but will also change the nature of both content and content development: no longer will you need to be ON the Grid to create FOR the Grid, and we can expect to see objects from 3D warehouses elsewhere imported into Second Life.

For the casual content creator, they’ll still be able to create using prims, but “professional-grade” content will more easily be created in third-party applications which allow more robust modeling.

If you think of combining prims with sculpts as one object, and being able to adjust them using extrusions, vertices-specific edits, and with a more ‘painterly’ approach to texturing you’ll get the idea.

Technical Details
A few of the technical details were leaked out while the NDA was temporarily lifted:

- Import format will be Collada
- Collada allows rigging which means:
o Wearable clothing
o Entire avatar replacements that bent with animations.
- Five submeshes for each object
o Four for different Levels Of Detail
o One for collisions for Havok.
- Meshes will need specifically made textures
o You can have custom uv maps applied to your mesh
o Material id can be assigned to polygons, they can be accessed as “sides” in lsl
o The sides you can use to script texture changes, like in prims
- Theoretically Unlimited number of vertices can be used in a model, but some N number of vertices will be counted as 1 prim against the parcel Limit

And in case you missed that above: entire avatar replacements that bend with animations.

3D development pipelines include animations. The above implies that you may be able to map the Second Life avatar skeleton to that of a 3D development tool like Maya, say and, with some finessing, import both a custom avatar mesh and then the animations you built using the same tool (or other tool).

Combine that with wearable clothing (currently, you can sculpt a stiff looking collar or sleeves or whatever to go with a jacket which is painted on your avatar) and you’ll have avatars that will appear rich, fluid, and who wear clothes or other attachments that don’t seem like stiff um pillows or something.

The possibilities for things like machinima, photorealistic avatars (there are programs that allow you to map a photo of your face to a mesh – it wouldn’t be too long before you can create a highly realistic version of yourself for your SL avatar if you choose, although, um, why you’d want to is another question), fluid animations, and a wider range of avatar types is stunning.

Or think of landscaping – instead of land, you should be able to landscape with mesh prims instead, and “paint” the landscape rather than tiling grass textures or whatever. I couldn’t help thinking playing Dead Red Redemption: “if only we could ‘paint’ the ground like that. (I can’t play a game anymore without trying to figure out how they built it!)

Mesh will only be viewable in new viewers, but I’m going to assume (rightly or wrongly) that third-party viewers will quickly work to comply with making mesh viewable. Shared Media was one thing – but for content creators who prefer, say, Imprudence, they’ll quickly shift to whatever content creation tool allows them to play around with mesh objects.

The New Tool Box
It will take some time to work out the kinks, of course, and maybe it will cause a whole series of technical head aches we can’t anticipate. How licenses and DRM will be handled (for example – someone sells content on Content Paradise and then discovers its being “sold” in Second Life) will be tricky as well.

And there are implications for the internal Second Life economy and for content creators who came to Second Life with no knowledge of external building tools. You’ll still be able to rez prims, and not every build will require mesh objects. But if you’re not familiar with other tools – Blender, say, or one of the pricier models like ZBrush, you’ll have a tough time keeping up with some of the content that will hit the Grid in the coming months.

With the launch of a new Second Life Marketplace, we have two major changes on the immediate horizon that will have implications for large chunks of the virtual goods market in SL.

Someone making sculpted prims – from staircases to trees, from curtains to clothing attachments, will be suddenly faced with a pool of content creators who can whip off a mesh object far more easily than a sculpty (whose limitations and finicky requirements for modeling are immediately overcome with mesh).

Mesh provides a wider range to 3D content creation and opens the doors to folks who perhaps like making something in Sketch-Up but have no where to “view” it, walk around it, be inside it. Depending on how scripting is handled, it could allow things like detailed simulations of real-life buildings or objects and will open the door to mirror world applications, with the objects linked to external data sources.

So we’ll wait and see over the coming days and weeks when the Lab lifts the NDA on the folks who have been playing around on the super-secret test Grid. But mesh seems like it’s imminent, at least in a test phase, and the look of Second Life will never be the same.


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