Friday, December 21, 2012

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How to Fix SL Performance: Fix SL's Content Creation Tools

Second Life user interface improvements

Penny Patton has another must-read post for people who want to improve Second Life performance (looking at you, Linden Lab), a follow-up to this one, which gets pretty lengthy and in the weeds, but focuses around a singular takeaway: A lot of Second Life's poor performance (often called lag) is directly attributable to Second Life's content creation tools. For instance:

In addition to providing no restrictions preventing people from abusing sim resources, LL also does not provide users with the tools to manage their resource use even if they wanted... Without knowing how to script an object to tell you the script memory you're using, there's no way for the average use to know that they themselves are actually the source of all the lag they complain about!

This also relates to SL's overly-complex avatar customization, which not only frightens off new users, but pushes them to tweak their avatar in ways that cause lag for everyone around them: "A single avatar, by itself, can load up with enough scripts to bring a sim grinding to a halt. I've seen avatars do this on purpose. I was sitting in a sim just the other day when an avatar with about a thousand scripts entered the sim." And so on: "If Linden Lab doesn't provide the tools to do it well, the userbase will do it poorly, compounding SL's reputation for poor framerates despite looking like an outdated videogame." In other words: As currently deployed, Second Life's core user creation tools are hurting Second Life's core user experience.

Read it all here, but in case it seems too TL;DR, I included Penny Patton's final closing points below, which are too important to miss:

  • The tools are important because they affect all aspects of Second Life, from performance (framerates and "lag") to Presentation, to the ability of content created within SL to engage users.
  • LL needs to continue to improve those tools which allow content creators to produce interactive content, such as games and educational installations. NPC's and the ability to animate mesh would go a long way here.
  • LL needs to understand how problems with the tools can hurt how well SL performs on any given hardware. Poor resource management tools lead to lag and negatively impact the overall user experience. Poor content creation tools, such as the lack of 1-bit alpha and rigged mesh releasing incomplete, lead to lower framerates and nasty, unavoidable graphical glitches.
  • There are ways LL can improve existing tools to make tasks that are presently very difficult (such as avatar creation) and make them exceptionally easy. LL needs to understand that this is critical in retaining new users!

Yes, yes, yes, and yes.

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ii singh

grape jelly goes good with peanut butter

Connie Arida

It does my brain in that something basic like product knowledge, one of the first prerequisites in what is basically a customer service, is totally off the radar to those at LL.
I would bet no one at LL , let alone those dealing with coal face issues even spend 2 mins per work hour inside their offering. It makes me want to cry.

Arcadia Codesmith

The City of Heroes character creation system, which is the screen illustrating this article, was one of my favorites. There were sufficient costume pieces available that millions of users could create a unique look at initial character generation, no additional expenditure required.

You didn't have to fret with attachment points, resizing, rotating, alpha layers, or any of that. The character creation/tailor interface handled all of those details. You just select a pair of boots and voila! You have a perfectly-proportioned pair of boots. And bonus -- nobody saw the changes to your outfit until you exited the interface. No wardrobe malfunctions!

That's the industry standard. SL is substandard. And that's one reason it's not converting new users into returning users.

Some of the other pieces require stepping on toes. Changing the alpha layer, for example, breaks some of the work-arounds that exploit the current alphas. Tough noogies, I say. You can't make an virtual omelet without breaking some egos.

Pussycat Catnap

City of Heroes - if the news I read some time back stayed true - has been killed off.

Its character creator was an amazing tool.

A more advanced version of that tool is now in the Champions Online MMO - and you can use this tool without buying the game. Free accounts have access to I think the full thing, even being able to preview paid only options (not sure on this).

- Its a great visualizer tool for getting ideas.

Makes me wish they had a 'preview on character' option in a browser for SL, that would let you preview anything you encountered inworld (or MP, but MP needs to die...).
- That's be a big boost to causing people to explore avatar customization more. And actually drive up a lot of SL commerce.

Pussycat Catnap

One further note on the City of heroes thing.

The screenshot is not the original UI the game had. Granted the original UI was nicer than SLs, but over time they improved it - and at one point I read heavily revised it.

SL's shape editor was heavily revised in 2.0, and mildly in 3.0. But the 2.0 one was done just to be different, and the 3.0 one just to fix the worst of the worst offenses in the 2.0 one.

It has never been given a top-down redesign for useability. The argument that it is too old to be looked at falls flat when you compare it to how some MMOs that are quite old have done major revisions to their character design UIs over the years.

The morph dials need to be moved about - this can be done without issuing a new mesh (and the resulting content reboot that would entail - but something I still think is warranted in part)... And the UI to use them needs to be re-examined.

Penny Patton

@Arcadia Codesmith

"Some of the other pieces require stepping on toes. Changing the alpha layer, for example, breaks some of the work-arounds that exploit the current alphas."

I'm not sure what you mean by this. Adding an option for creators to upload 1-bit alpha shouldn't affect anything currently in place, or are you referring to something else?

Seren Seraph

It would help tremendously to rework LSL scripting completely and give a more modern scripting language. The implementation today eats way to much memory per script whether it is needed or not. There is no way to use libraries of functionality or do the equivalent of module import so even simple functionality becomes a cut and paste nightmare with even simple wheels reinvented over and over again. As a software engineer I find LSL to be the clumsiest and least fun and productive language I have ever encountered and I have been around long enough to have encountered most of them.

Arcadia Codesmith

Penny, there are some tricks and techniques that depend on the current alpha set-up breaking in predictable ways. If it's fixed, everything made with those techniques ceases to function correctly.

If 1 bit is strictly optional, there's no issue. But the option won't do anything unless the upload process somehow nudges the user to use the 1-bit alpha. Otherwise, most people will never even realize it's changed.

Ajax Manatiso

Most lagging avis can make their lag vanish if they just turn down their draw distance. If you are in a small parcel and most parcels around it are vacant, you won't notice any lag even if you are cranked up to a whopping (and gigantically unnecessary) 300 meters or more draw distance -- then tp to a sim where they use all the sim land and they start crying -- oh, the lag here! When it's actually their settings. Always keep your draw distance around 160 or lower -- the lower the better -- and OMG -- the lag vanished! Keep your draw distance down and you may never notice lag ever again anywhere in SL!!!

Penny Patton

@Arcadia Codesmith

My suggestion is that content creators be given the option to upload new alpha textures as 1-bit alpha, not that current alpha textures be converted to 1-bit.

Alternatively, alpha masking, which LL broke some months ago because they didn't understand it themselves, could be improved simply by setting it up so individual faces could be set to "fast alpha" in the editing panel's texture tab.

In either case, whether or not an alpha texture rendered as 1-bit would be in the hands of the creator.

No existing content would be affected at all.

Of course new tools have no affect if nobody uses them, as the platform developer it is LL's responsibility to announce new features, provide decent documentation and a good interface so people are aware of the tools at their disposal and how best to use them.

@Ajax Manatiso

One of the reasons I recommend better camera placement and building to more realistic scale is that in doing so a 160m draw distance seems much further than if everything is super sized.

Scale is relative. If your avatar is 9' tall, your camera floats 2m over your head, and the environment you're inside is built at double scale then, from your perspective, 160m is reduced to what appears to be 80m or less.

If you kept your draw distance the same but switched to a shorter avatar, eye level camera placement, and teleported to a sim that was entirely built to scale, from your perspective it would appear as if your draw distance had doubled, except without the hit to performance because you'd still be rendering the same amount of resources, just more effectively used.

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