Thursday, December 20, 2007

« New World Tableau: olmia Tenk in Pera Vista | Main | Crossing the Chasm: Thoughts on Second Life's Plateau Phase from Electric Sheep's COO »

The Ethics of WindLight (Updated)

Naturum_in_windlight

Can computer graphics divide a community by class and culture?  After some foot dragging, New World Notes is now upgrading to the WindLight-enabled version of Second Life, currently in pre-release.  Here I am in Naturum (SLURL teleport at this link) a gorgeous island designed for outdoor recreation that looks even moreso, when seen through the lens of the atmospheric lighting and rendering system.  My reluctance to upgrade was mainly from journalistic ethics: since WindLight isn't yet part of the official viewer, it displays a non-standard version of Second Life that isn't "real", so to speak.  So if I were to report an SL-based story with real world implications, like the strike on IBM's Second Life campus, taking screenshots of the protest in WindLight would artificially make it seem more dramatic than it actually was.  (To me that seems as questionable as a real world news organization adding Photoshop effects to enhance a battle scene.)

Then there's a deeper question which NWN arts correspondent Amalthea Blanc suggested to me recently:

Naturum_without_windlight
Naturum without WindLight

"I love what WindLight does to my pictures and to machinima, but there are some other implications," she tells me, "including the end effect that you can't share your settings with another person, etc."  To me that also hints at a cultural/class divide: most of SL's hardcore content creators and early adopters already seem to be using WindLight on a full time basis, experiencing the world in a profoundly different way than the more casual users who comprise the rest of the community.  What's more, the WindLight viewer requirements are evidently steeper than the official client, so those who can't afford to upgrade their graphic cards are likely to be left behind in a drabber reality.

Amalthea has a philosophical resolution for this divide: "The balance point is that we as humans are inherently solipsistic," she argues.  "We all have subtle differences in how we perceive anything, this comes from our anatomy."  For myself, I take a more hands-on approach: assuming that WindLight will become part of the official client in the next few months anyway, I'll generally use it for culture and personality sketches, just not for hard news stories.

Because I mean: look at the pretty picture.

Update, 12/21, 4:10am:  Added a non-WindLight pic for comparison's sake.

TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d8341bf74053ef00e54fbf71258834

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference The Ethics of WindLight (Updated):

Comments

Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Flint Beika

Is this ethical/class differentiation question not similar to that posed earlier in the year when voice was due to be introduced? There may not be a technical limitation (short of a microphone costing a few dollars) keeping any residents from using voice but there are practical limitations such as accessing SL from locations where talking may not be appropriate-or even roleplaying limitations such as playing opposite gender avatars.

Aleister Kronos

Since I like to set environment to suit my needs (albeit often defaulting to local sim time) I don't see too much of an issue about the non-sharable settings for Windlight.

I do think, though, that it forces a big gulf between technology "haves" and "have nots." My PC was able to run the classic viewer at a tolerable FPS rate. But Windlight has forced me to upgrade - both graphics card and power supply. Not a big deal for me, but it could be prohibitive for many people, resulting in a 2-tier "class".

I like Windlight, despite a few downsides, and hope it becomes a fully-fledged official viewer for SL. But not at the cost of the classic viewer, which needs to be retained for the foreseeable future.

Oh... and when the heck are LL going to update the specifications page of the website. It is laughable now.

Elfod Nemeth

In some way there may be a technology have/have not divide with Windlight, but I don't think that is any different with the standard client. In the old client you can vary the amount of graphical detail and it's no different in the Windlight client - it degrades gracefully as should all graphical clients (trying hard not to say game lol).

And Windlight has one new important feature to help older machines - Avatar Imposters.

So in summary I believe Windlight is actually better for the community - it brings much needed graphical improvements (Entropia has licensed the Crysis engine!) while actually improving the graceful graphical degredagtion for old machines via AV Imposters.

Coupled with Havok 4 and maybe Speedtree we will hopefully see much higher retention rates - most of my non SL friends are actually put off by the bad physics, ancient looking rendering (pre Windlight) and, to be honest the mainland which is 90% "3D Myspace" lol.

Ann Otoole

the atmospheric settings will be shareable when windlight is released. estate owners will have the power to set up the sim's atmosphere and water, etc. glow will be scriptable, etc. there is a workaround until all the necessary server side code is in place to support resident to resident environment sharing.There are 3 directories in C:\Program Files\SecondLifeWindLight\app_settings\windlight and the environment settings are saved there in xml files. simply send the xml files to those you wish to share with and they can drop them in the appropriate directory and there you go. not real user intuitive but still possible so it is a work-around.

Amalthea Blanc

Don't get me wrong, I'm extremely happy Windlight is here :)
I just hope that in the future people will be able to share the specific settings they customize - much like Winamp skins. In the meantime, I noticed some artists welcoming visitors on their sim + telling them which preset Windlight setting is best to experience their work... pretty neat idea.

Ann Otoole

yes Amalthea your wish will come true. when windlight is released you will be able to drop windlight environment settings on other avatars as inventory transactions. :) till then the custom settings you save can be manually transferred and applied the hard way outside of the windlight viewer as described above.

Cyn Vandeverre

I think of Windlight in journalism as having a better camera than your average snapshot family camera. Is it unethical for a pro to have better "tools of the trade" than a hobbyist?

As for the technological divide, that's more thorny, because the divide is already here, in spades. There are people without electricity and enough food in this country, and some of us worry about one's computer not being spiffy enough to run Windlight? If solving economic injustice is a concern (and it's a laudable one, don't get me wrong,) there are many better places to put one's effort than between the "Windlight haves and have-nots."

Rusalka Writer

My problem with Windlight is that I CAN'T SEE. Beautiful skies and water, but look at the rest of the world. Unless I leave it set for high noon, I'm stumbling around in the dark. That and my avi looks like she's coming off a three-day bender. Add to all that the fact that I'm a builder. I need to see really really well.

Then there's the fact that my three-year-old G5 can run Windlight just fine, but by nine-month-old MacBook Pro experiences impossible lag. But then, Mac users have always been second-class citizens of SL.

Torley

Beyond the technical, this brings up good philosophical discussion — and it should, there's artistry involved!

It's an intriguing contradiction to think that news would any less credible as the environments in Second Life get more "photoreal". Jamlet, I'll also note that in your "main viewer" picture, you're using enhanced shader (ripple) water; shouldn't you turn that off too? ;) (Since low-end cards can't see that either.)

Kidding aside, I come from Team WindLight to bring you info:

@Jamlet: You can turn off the advanced environmental modeling in WindLight by going to Preferences > Graphics tab, checking "Custom", and unchecking "Atmospheric Shaders". That'll make things look more "bland". You can also change WindLight's settings to look horribly dull. WindLight itself doesn't have a single "look" — it depends almost wholly on the settings.

@Aleister: We're investigating how the System Requirements/Recommendations page could be more useful; we actually updated it last month, in part to include more graphics cards + Vista compatibility. Can you please send me specific suggestions? Would love to learn more. Comment back here or email me, torley at lindenlab dot com

AND! We also have this blog post showing expected performance by graphics card:

» http://blog.secondlife.com/2007/11/15/typical-frame-rate-performance-by-graphics-cardgpu/

And yes, share-able settings is part of the future. Please see (and share!):

» http://wiki.secondlife.com/wiki/Windlight

Thanks for helping Amalthea with that, Ann. Community education is ultra-appreciated!

for the WindLight FAQ and so much more! Team WindLight hosts Office Hours 2x a week, and you can meet us live and bring your hot concerns — we're here to listen, respond, and make WL better.

@Rusalka: Sorry to hear of your woes. I think you'll also find the above page useful; Pastrami Linden recently worked on making the day cycle less washed out, and the MBP issues we're aware of and working on, see: "The state, cause, and expected resolution of ATI and Apple problems." in:

» http://blog.secondlife.com/2007/12/17/new-windlight-viewer-extended-commentary-75762/

And on the Issue Tracker:

» https://jira.secondlife.com/browse/VWR-1978

Good stuff, I really appreciate the discussion and interest, and thank each of you for trying WindLight.

Torley

Beyond the technical, this brings up good philosophical discussion — and it should, there's artistry involved!

It's an intriguing contradiction to think that news would any less credible as the environments in Second Life get more "photoreal". Jamlet, I'll also note that in your "main viewer" picture, you're using enhanced shader (ripple) water; shouldn't you turn that off too? ;) (Since low-end cards can't see that either.)

Kidding aside, I come from Team WindLight to bring you info:

@Jamlet: You can turn off the advanced environmental modeling in WindLight by going to Preferences > Graphics tab, checking "Custom", and unchecking "Atmospheric Shaders". That'll make things look more "bland". You can also change WindLight's settings to look horribly dull. WindLight itself doesn't have a single "look" — it depends almost wholly on the settings.

@Aleister: We're investigating how the System Requirements/Recommendations page could be more useful; we actually updated it last month, in part to include more graphics cards + Vista compatibility. Can you please send me specific suggestions? Would love to learn more. Comment back here or email me, torley at lindenlab dot com

AND! We also have this blog post showing expected performance by graphics card:

» http://blog.secondlife.com/2007/11/15/typical-frame-rate-performance-by-graphics-cardgpu/

 

Sered Woollahra

I have recently come across several people who were interested in visiting either SL or my OpenSim environment, but who were unable to install SL due to outdated hardware.

These are classical email + word processing users whose computers are typically powerful enough for those tasks, but not for SL. And they are not going to update their hardware because of it, I'm afraid.

Torley

@Sered: I share your thoughts — technology keeps getting more powerful at lower prices, and even today's "classical email + word processing" typical setups can do a lot more than ones 5, 10 years ago.

And yes, share-able settings is part of the future. Please see (and share!):

» http://wiki.secondlife.com/wiki/Windlight

Thanks for helping Amalthea with that, Ann. Community education is ultra-appreciated!

for the WindLight FAQ and so much more! Team WindLight hosts Office Hours 2x a week, and you can meet us live and bring your hot concerns — we're here to listen, respond, and make WL better.

Torley

@Rusalka: Sorry to hear of your woes. I think you'll also find the above page useful; Pastrami Linden recently worked on making the day cycle less washed out, and the MBP issues we're aware of and working on, see: "The state, cause, and expected resolution of ATI and Apple problems." in:

» http://blog.secondlife.com/2007/12/17/new-windlight-viewer-extended-commentary-75762/

Good stuff, I really appreciate the discussion and interest, and thank each of you for trying WindLight.

Torley

(And Hamlet + all, pardon me for multiple comments, I meant to put it in one but the anti-spam filter kept flagging it, presumably because of hyperlinks I included.)

Aleister Kronos

@Torley

I found the "frame rate performance by graphics card" post extremely useful when selecting my new card. So useful, in fact, that I would suggest it should form part of the specification page!

Torley

@Aleister: Great, I feel similarly, I'll be sure to emphasize that *that* chart be more upfront & accessible!

Stone Semyorka

Torley, I'm a Macintosh person. Have been for years. Nowadays I rarely have any perturbing SL computer problems at all -- no lockups, no crashes, very little lag if any or texture breakdowns.

I wonder if you remember the concierge party on Valentine's Day earlier this year? Unbelievably packed. Most everybody was either not moving at all or experiencing something like a walk in shoulder deep Jello. Individual avatars were crashing a dozen times in half an hour. That was the last straw for me. The next day I rushed to the Apple website to see what could be done. Here's what I use now:

Mac Pro, 2 Intel processors 4 cores x 3 GHz, NVIDIA GeForce 7300 GT x 4, VRAM total 256 MB, L2 cache 4MB, 4GB ram, bus 1.33 GHz, 500 GB HDx2, Airport Extreme network in home with multiple users.

I say it keeps on tickin' when others take a lickin'. When an SL resident asks, I tell them in general to get faster operating speed, larger RAM, and best video card they can. I strongly prefer the NVIDIA brand. For the most pleasant SL experience, get the best video card you can.

As to RAM, the more the better. I found that the minimum is 1 GB. Trying to get by with 250 OR 500 MB is misery. Much better is 2 GB. I wanted to not crash at all so I went for 4 GB of RAM. Gone is the famous problem of having to choose between SL viewer or web browser. Now I can run several applications at the same time. I even can run two or three avatars in separate viewers at the same time on this one computer without slow downs or crashes.

I hope this info can answer someone's question.

--Stone

Post a comment

This weblog only allows comments from registered users. To comment, please Sign In.