Wednesday, June 11, 2008

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The Hidden Shadows Of Second Life

Shadow_pic_by_katharine_berry

Katharine Berry got word that there were dynamic shadows lingering in Second Life, and found them.  Then she showed them to me, as above (image borrowed from her Flickr stream.)

What you're actually looking at, she explained, is "The shadow branch of the SL client.  Which does the dynamic shadow rendering.  Classed as 'highly experimental' and not necessarily ever actually going to be released. Get the source and make your own, or don't go at all."  (Easy for the inventor of AjaxLife to say.)  It's a version of the SL viewer that's still in development, recently announced by Dave Linden.  The question, of course, is when or if the Lindens will ever integrate this feature into the official viewer.  As with WindLight, it's likely that dynamic shadows will only display optimally on the most powerful (and expensive) computers, threatening another balkanization of the SL experience.  (Not to mention frustrating builders who've spent so much time figuring out how to add artificial shadows to their work.)

On balance, metaverse developer Gwyneth Llewelyn (who also managed to get the shadow client running) thinks it'd be a good idea.  "A few architects I’ve talked with didn’t use Second Life too seriously for their own projects exactly because there were no shadows," she writes, "and this was a crucially missing feature."  She quotes SignpostMarv Martin, who already foresees the social challenges of having dynamic shadows:   "It would be far easier to cast an offensive shadow into another parcel (even another sim)," he argues, than traditional griefing methods.  In other words, if you wanted to irk your neighbor, just build a tall phallic statue on your property, then wait for the setting sun to do the rest.

In any case, the shadow client is available to experiment with, if you have the technical savvy and you're willing to take the inherent risks involved.  After the break, Katharine explains the procedure.

How Katharine got shadows in her Second Life (and you can too):

"1) I used a computer that supported it (so you must have a GeForce 8 or 9 graphics card)
2) I used an operating system that supports it - that is, Windows or Linux. Not Mac OS
3) I downloaded and compiled the source code from the files listed at the top of http://svn.secondlife.com/trac/linden/changeset/575.  That is, the slviewer-artwork, slviewer-(linux/win32)-libs and the slviewer-src.
4) Compiled them, largely following the instructions on the wiki at http://wiki.secondlife.com/wiki/Compiling_the_viewer_%28Linux%29 (in the case of Linux, http://wiki.secondlife.com/wiki/Microsoft_Windows_Builds if you're on Windows )
5) Ran it, set the 'Graphics' slider to Ultra, pressed ctrl-alt-D to get the debug settings, went to Advanced -> Debug Settings, typed in RenderDeferred and set it to false, typed in RenderUseFBO and set it to true, and then typed in RenderDeferred again and set it to true.

"Then it hangs for a couple of seconds," warns Katharine, "followed by shadows magically appearing under everything. Affected by sun and moon only."

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Ann Otoole

Couldn't get it to run on my system (vista 64, 8500gt vid).

Long ways to go but looking good.

Only thng is it works only for nvidea gpu 8xxx only so most of SL will never see it till they upgrade.

qarl

i gotta say Hamlet, i think you're barking up the wrong tree with the balkanization stuff.

are you equally concerned that your gamecube cannot run wii games - or that your horse cannot compete with the newfangled horseless carriages?

Hamlet Au

Qarl, I'd be concerned if Linden Lab wasn't concerned about it. Are they tracking the low adoption rate of high-end 3D graphics cards, for example, especially in comparison to the rise in web-based games and MMOs? Are they watching the declining market share of high-res next gen consoles in comparison to the Wii? Those are more appropriate analogies.

Ivanova Shostakovich

When dynamic shadows can equal the quality of shadows we can build into objects, then I might try it out.
It is true that a lot of designers have put work into adding shadow textures to add realism and make their objects seem as though they 'belong'.
Probably the development of the shadows code will have a few bugs along the way. I hope that any official future viewer that supports shadows will include the option to disable them. For not everyone may like them.
For my part, it has occurred to me to include the option for the user to turn off the built-in shadow prims in any objects I make. I'm betting that dynamic shadows and artificial shadows probably will not get along.

Torley Lives

One correction: the named graphics guru is "Runitai Linden", not "Dave Linden".

Also...

I don't like the inaccurate chasm-distortion of what is actually a smaller divide, especially when I've seen graphics cards that can run all Second Life graphics goodness for as low as US$50. Many capable cards are under US$100 and I'm an extreme bargain shopper, so price point concerns me obsessively when thinking of, "Alright, who's really going to be able to enjoy this?" :)

Keep in mind as time goes on, power/price ratio will keep increasing exponentially.

Furthermore, making it seem scarier/harder to attain great results then it actually is does no good. There's no need to clutter or overcomplicate matters.

Especially with an experimental feature which is (1) kewl to see out in the wild, but the double-edged sword is (2) all the flaws with it will be noticed. Of course, that'll help focused testing and increased compatibility, but at the same time, don't generate artificial expectations.

OK, fun...

» SHADOW VIDEO!

Hamlet Au

Runitai, my bad.

Torley, at Metaverse U, Cory made a very important point about how LL assumed early on that there'd be broader adoption of 3D cards than broadband, and that the opposite has turned out to be the case. Now broadband is pervasive, but for the most part, when people buy new PCs or laptops, they're mostly getting the ones with integrated 3D chips that aren't ideal for these kind of high-end effects.

Then there's the other problem-- no convincing evidence that there's a mass audience for next gen 3D worlds. The 360/PS3 are already trailing off in sales, and high end sales for 3D games like Half Life 2 or Far Cry is a few million. On the MMO side, World of Warcraft is 3D, but it's not next gen, but specifically designed to run on older machines. (In all these cases, it's worth noting, the overwhelming audience is young males, with women barely represented.) Virtual worlds in aggregate are growing, but the mass audience is going for 2.5D MMOs like Habbo or Gaia. I have no doubt a graphically rich SL can attract an audience of several million, but I thought the idea was to supplant the Web, i.e. attract *hundreds of millions*.

All that in mind, why is LL investing so much in next gen graphics?

Andrew Linden

Shadows improve the depth perception of the scene by providing clues to your eyes for how close some objects are to others. The sense that "objects seem as though they 'belong'" in the scene is because shadows provide extra visual information that our brains are trained to interpret, and when they are not present in 3D scenes it just looks wrong even though we may have trouble verbalizing exactly why. I think people will tend to opt for more photorealistic shadows if they are available and not too slow.

LL isn't investing all that much in next gen graphics. The shadows code is a one-developer project and is not the only thing that Runitai Linden is working on. If anything it is an example of how little LL is investing in next gen graphics. Not that what Runitai has done is easy coding, but I think the estimated wow/work ratio of the project is too low because the guess for the 'work' denominator is too high.

The simple-Wii vs complex-PS3 phenomena predates both consoles. The game development community has been debating fun-games vs more-eye-candy for decades. Meanwhile the Wii is fun and popular and GTA-IV on the PS3 is also popular and looks great with its lights and shadows. It's all good.

Hamlet Au

Thanks for the background, Andrew; this all deserves a fuller response that I'll get to later. For now, let me emphasize that I'm *not at all* criticizing Runitai or LL's investment in his efforts, he's incredibly talented, and if his work can be integrated into the viewer without inordinate tech demands, awesome. My issue is about investment in high-end 3D in general as it relates to the larger market.

qarl

hey Hamlet -

my comment is more a response to our last discussion, where you were worried about the "relative" degradation of graphics (i.e. my graphics look exactly the same as they always have, but compared to my neighbor who has a new machine, they seem worse.)

if your concern is how much effort LL spends on this - let me reiterate Andrews comment: Runitai is the only person working on this stuff - and he's working part time on it - so that's about 0.3% of our dev resources. i don't think that's too much...

Poster, Random

Windlight is horribly unoptimized and biased towards nVidia Graphics card users, even though the Windlight team have wrote on the (Linden) blog that they have included a whole bunch of helpful optimizations. Viewer FPS varies too wildly for a well-optimised OpenGL application. Standing in an area with just one or two avatars versus standing in an area with 20 avatars, for example. Frame rate dips widely in the latter using a high-end ATi graphics card, with a resolution of 1280x960(Radeon HD 3870). Anti-alising off, Antistropic Filtering set to 16x.

The concerns raised by the community is totally valid, since the current codeset certainly doesn't use all of the avaliable optimisations in the current lineup of nVidia/ATi Graphics cards.

In other words, if all the modern optimisations were used, the client would be rendering things much faster, and thus the community would be a lot more happy/relaxed.

Ordinal Malaprop

"My issue is about investment in high-end 3D in general as it relates to the larger market." I think this is a very valid issue. As a determined neophile I am delighted at the idea of shadows appearing, but while they require a GeForce 8 series card they will be a specialist pursuit, with the result that builders will not be able to assume that everyone can see them.

One then has to choose between using baked or client shadows. Both would look a bit odd, surely - I would test this but no machine I have can see these new shadows _anyway_.

And there really is no point in saying "oh well upgrade your graphics card". It isn't _my_ graphics card that I am concerned about. It is the one belonging to the person with the off-the-shelf Dell, fairly modern, works with everything else, who pops into SL to see what it is like. They will not be buying a new card to do so with.

Ciaran Laval

Spot on Ordinal. How many people are we losing here with these upgrades? People who have PC's that happily run most of their computing and entertainment needs quite happily.

People simply won't upgrade their pc's every 18 months and when off the shelf ones won't even engage with Second Life, that's a lost customer base.

Simondo Nebestanka

Like almost everything else in the SL client, you give it a slider or a tick box.. Shadows On or Shadows Off (and perhaps "off" by default). Very simple. Everyone happy.

The "wow" factor in having optional shadows, or WindLight, or sculpties, or flexi-prims, is what makes folks want to upgrade their hardware, just like the "wow" factor in FPS game generations with say Far Cry over Unreal over Doom 1 and so on.

If we didn't have advances in graphics platforms like this, out of fear that not enough folks would upgrade their hardware from time to time, we'd still be playing Wolfenstein 3D or something, or maybe the more direct comparison is say Active Worlds.. does anyone want SL to look like that? SL still has to compete to a degree with the impressive look of Sony's "Home" promo video from some time ago (which had shadows if I recall correctly).

Anyhoo when the inevitable happens and we get shadows in the SL client, it doesn't mean you have to go immediately and upgrade your hardware, you just un-tick that "Shadows" box in the graphics settings. Then when you have sufficient reason to upgrade your hardware, you go ahead and turn the shadows on. Easy.

Two Worlds

Sure, this is great, good freakin' job Linden Labs. Now all I have to do is buy a $200+ graphics card and I'm set!

If the metaverse is truly to be an "equalizing force" for all people, of all nationalities and handicaps, then shouldn't Linden Labs be working to make things ACTUALLY "accessible" for everyone, as opposed to just the people with the very best possible graphics cards?

Heck, I know stories of people whose desktops or laptops are less than a year old, and they STILL can't run the "reccommended" graphics. I bought my laptop in October 2006--it's one of the "unsanctioned" Intel integrated graphics cards (meaning it's stuck to the motherboard and can't be changed out) and the viewer can't last more than 2 hours without being bogged down by all the graphics processing and finally crashing.

I apologize for the Prok-like rant, and it's really cool to see Windlight properties and shadows and all that on others' Flickr feeds and blogs and all that--but it would also be pretty nice to see it myself.

Karl Stiefvater

Two Worlds -

i hear you - it's no fun when you get left out of the game. i remember my childhood well. :)

to answer your comments:

> shouldn't Linden Labs be working to make
> things ACTUALLY "accessible" for everyone

the problem is - your video hardware just cannot render these kinds of graphics. there's nothing LL can do about that. if you don't believe me - try running a few of the more popular graphical games on your laptop - you'll notice they are lacking exactly these kinds of effects.

now, you may be concerned that LL is spending too much effort on this sort of work. but as i said above, only 0.3% of our development resources are being directed towards these graphics (for example, none of this work has ever been seen by our QA or release departments. the experimental source code was simply dropped onto the community with no support whatsoever.)

> I bought my laptop in October 2006--it's one
> of the "unsanctioned" Intel...

two things to keep in mind here - by Moore's law - your computer is now two times as slow as computers sold today. secondly, if you planned to use SL, you really should have checked the graphics card. it's no secret that Intel graphics is terrible for 3D - i just did a google for "world of warcraft intel graphics" and found that in WoW, you'd need to put your graphics settings on "low".

the good news is Moore's law will also make those $200 cards only $99 next year, and the following year they'll be standard. i don't think you can fault LL for planning two years ahead?

best,

K.

Otenth Paderborn

I gather that "Karl Stiefvater" is asserting that he is a Linden Research, Inc., employee, and he's telling a customer that he can just kiss Second Life goodbye unless he wants to buy a new computer?

And complains that someone who bought a computer two years ago should have checked to see if he could run Second Life? Right, that's how I evaluate all my computer purchases. And of course, all the computers that were bought two years ago sufficient to run SL can still run SL today. Riiiight.

And more of the "just buy a new graphics card". Yeah, like most users just pop a new graphics card into their computer with no trouble.

Two Worlds

Karl--

I understand about Moore's Law and all that, and I also understand that much of what's wrong with the graphics capabilities on my laptop LL has nothing to do with.

However, I also know that I can run a good number of multiplayer games with very little lag or anything like that. I play a lot of San Andreas Multiplayer (a GTA multiplayer mod) and unless the server goes dead or something everything goes off without a hitch. I realize that a multiplayer mod like SA Multiplayer is completely different from an MMO like Second Life, but I think what LL should dedicate more time and resources towards is finding some kind of workaround--playing around with the code and graphics resources and stuff like that. I understand that I shouldn't expect for my graphics card to be able to render the top-quality Windlight settings--anymore than I should expect to run Crysis on my c. 2006 laptop--but I'd at least like Second Life to be RUNNABLE on moderate settings, to where the viewer gets so bogged down if I'm online enough that I just have to close everything out after more than 2 hours.

I don't run any businesses in Second Life, and I don't sell stuff or anything like that, but for a while, when I had more free time earlier this year I was planning on joining a fairly large-scale roleplaying community, and I finally had to back out because I realized that I couldn't stay online enough to effectively roleplay out a scene.

I guess the thing is that SL is home to so many innovators--I mean, geez, that 15 year old British girl has probably done about as much on her own as entire departments of Linden Labs. If there were enough people dedicated to solving problems like this and making new solutions I have no doubt that at least making Second Life "runnable" for everyone shouldn't be a problem at all.

Renmiri Writer

All I know is that some good friends and builders I have known in my almost 1 year of SL have been "left behind" by the ever evolving graphic card requirements of the new viewers, including my SL husband. We have been using WoW for the past 3 months while he saved to buy a new PC since his old one would not run SL any longer.

I think WoW's success can be attributed in great part to that: it is simple to run, fast, bug free and does not requires you to buy a new PC every year.

A pity because SL is infinitely cooler and better than WoW.

Pitty the argument...

The thing is if all games start doing this kind of upgrading in graphics ... then most peopel will have to upgrade at one point. Mabye not now or anytime to soon but at one point most people will want to upgrade...

Darkwave

Grow up people. Have a damn on/off button and have it off by default, problem solved.
Also games like GTA have dedicated artists optimizing textures and resources to be computationally friendly. In SL however, every man and his dog uses massive 512x512 textures for every damn prim.
I've been waiting for shadows in Second Life for years, if I could actually get MVS2005 to cooperate with the branch I'd be compiling this and playing around with it.
I'm not going to let you ignorant morons wreck another cool feature by killing off before it's even matured.

3D chipsets may not support this type of crap now but think of what has changed if 4 years in terms of hardware? If we get this going now, run it through QA and release it with an option, in a few years time all of us can run it.

WoLf Loonie

someone said: ""I think WoW's success can be attributed in great part to that: it is simple to run, fast, bug free and does not requires you to buy a new PC every year.

A pity because SL is infinitely cooler and better than WoW.""


... isn't that the very underlying reason of why SL is "infinitely cooler and better" ?
WoW graphic sucks. may be an interesting game to play thanks to the gameplay itself, but the graphic is just VERY plain stuff with "nice" (points of view) textures.

WoW success is in the gameplay. I never heard anyone state they play WoW cause of it's astonishing graphics.

Second Life on the other end offers something that most other games don't. The dynamically created contents shared between every user at once.

If SL wouldn't grow over new hardware requirements, it would've been stuck at 3 years ago.
I've been in SL from 2005, and saw it improve, and had to change my computer to keep up with it.
And I think it's totally worth it. if you think about it, it's just normal evolution.

To stop and think about that, people are actually saying that Linden Lab should stop and freeze their development to not have the viewer grow over the hardware of the actual users.

Really.. if LL listened to that "noo it won't run on my Celeron 450 with 128mb of ram!!!!" cry back then, another game would have come out with better graphics, and more and more people would have moved to different places.
Oh yeah, but we would still have the couple hundred people that clings to it playing with their old celeron and blind to progress.

Bah?

We are not talking about a static game with a goal and whatever (ie: WoW), where the goal itself would be the main point of the game (or the underlying story, or the mechanics..).
SecondLife is completely about development and improvement, giving the users new features, new abilities, improving the environment in which we're playing.
If they won't keep up with the time, someone else will, and SL will lose a great part of the userbase.. leading to cuts, which will lead to more departures, which will lead to the end of SL.


Prim shadows are a bad hack at best, yeah they might look good at a set time in the day.. but as you watch the sun rise and set, they just stand there, unmoving, unchanged, even in the dark of the night.

Often you can't even get rid of them, cause the smart builder who created that object didn't think that someone could loathe them, and the object is no-mod.

I do hope that there will be an option to toggle the shadows on and off on the viewer, for who can't upgrade straight away (like what happened with WindLight).

But I do also hope that SL will soon outrun my new computer too. (and not for some bug or poor code, I hope ;P).. Cause that would mean SL improved even further.


Think about that. A kid will soon grow out of the clothings and need new ones.
SL does the same. (and actually, anything that improves. linux did, windows did, the mac did, Photoshop did.. so on)

Nobody states that a person HAS to play SL. if you want to play, follow its growth.
Or cling to your 386 running windows 3.11 forever cause "it's stupid to have to upgrade a computer just because something improved"


My opinion, as confused as it comes.. and I firmly believe in it.
Regards,
WoLf

Marcus Inkpen

Just two quick things.
First off- Its not at all hard to install a graphics card. I'm not trying to insult anyone. I can see how it might seem hard but its actually very simple. Even drivers nowadays are almost never a problem and the prices are lower and lower by the minute, even with the economy in the crapper.

Second- if programs like this don't push the envelope then there's not much hope of the manufacturers ever bothering to put better graphics chips in the stock motherboards.

I do agree that, when implimented, the feature should be off by default so that users aren't suddenly alienated, but I can't help being excited to see the shadows become a reality. They really do add so much to the experience and I'm tired of building in fake shadows that only look right at certain times of the day.

Also- on a serperate note- could someone invent a "Half Bright" setting for textures? or perhaps a setting where the color info changes with the environment but not the value? maybe? please?

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