Iris Ophelia's ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style
The long-awaited Project Materials Viewer for Second Life has finally arrived, and many builders and designers have been clambering to take it for a spin. This viewer adds a new range of options for those creating with mesh including support for specular maps. But what exactly does that mean for you and me? Mostly it means that a lot more realistic-looking (and just plain pretty) mesh items will be coming to your inventory very soon.
Designer Damien Fate (the man behind Fatewear, Loco Pocos, and one of the team members of coldLogic) has been one of those tinkering with the new viewer, and he's made a video that definitely illuminates the difference:
If you're pressed for time, he also shared an animated gif of the difference via Plurk.
These new features are a big deal when it comes to 3D modeling/rendering for some pretty obvious reasons. For example, when specular mapping handles shimmer and shine instead of a static baked texture, dynamic changes in lighting won't make things look off or flat. This also means that texturing certain types of materials or surfaces won't be as much of a pain to get right as it once was.
This technique is also often used in animations and games to add an extra level of detail or ornateness to items for added impact. Action MMO TERA in particular makes great use of specular effects in its armor and outfits, as shown above. It's also common for avatar/character skin to have some specularity for a healthy and natural look, and while Materials currently can't be applied directly to the SL avatar it would be a great addition (and completely revolutionize skin-making) if they ever decide to change that.
Of course there's a lot more to this new project beyond just specularity. While SL Materials are still in beta, I'm eager to see what clever designers like Damien will do with it. As for that stunning dress in his video, you'll be able to pick up the non-Materials version very soon at Fantasy Faire 2013.
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Iris Ophelia (@bleatingheart, Janine Hawkins IRL) has been featured in the New York Times and has spoken about SL-based design at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan and with pop culture/fashion maven Johanna Blakley.