Monday, January 15, 2018

The No-Mod Rebuttal

My opinion on no-mod content is no secret. I will almost never buy no-mod and neither should you if you value your money, your land or your avatar.

 Okay, okay, there are exceptions. Scripts totally need to be no-mod or they are effectively full perm.  When I talk about no-mod I'm referring to objects. The prims and mesh.  I'm not suggesting scripts need to be full perm. Another possible exception would be items for closed gaming systems where modding could open them up to abuse and cheating. I'm not 100% sold on this as a simple examination of items in a game would reveal if they'd been tampered with but I'm generally willing to give this a pass as such items typically aren't used outside their game context. As for the rest...

When you buy no-mod you are giving up the right to personalize the object beyond whatever meager concessions the creator allows.


 You give up all of this and more when you buy no-mod and get nothing in place of it. Oddly enough, the seller gets nothing by selling you no-mod items either so why, then, is so much content sold no-mod? Well, there's been a few reasons given over the years and we're going to look at each of these reasons one by one and see if they hold any water.

"It protects my work against content thieves/copybot!"

 For over a decade this was not only the most common reason given, but the only reason given. There's one major flaw in this argument however: It is entirely, 100% false. It is simply not true. At no point was it ever true. The people who cling to this justification for no-mod simply do not understand how SL or "copybot" works. Some of those still clinging to this justification today know it's not true but are unwilling to admit they were wrong.

"I don't want my customers ruining my artistic vision!"

This isn't an argument. It isn't a justification. All it is is a declaration of the sellers own professional immaturity. If you're trying to sell anyone on the idea that no-mod somehow benefits the product this is certainly not going to change any minds.

"It cuts down on customer support I have to deal with from customers who break their purchases!"

Or, you know, you could box the content so that your customer always has a backup copy. You can also put in nice big letters "If you broke something, get a fresh copy from the box it came in." at the top of your customer support page. This achieves the exact same goal without crippling the item you're selling.

 And that's pretty much it. These are the only three justifications I've ever seen for selling content no-mod and I always point out the fallacies in these attempts at justification but the person I'm trying to discuss the issue with either doesn't reply at all, or simply restates their original argument as if repeating themselves will somehow lessen my rebuttal.

 How about you? Have you heard other justifications? Do you have some of your own that I might have overlooked? As no-mod becomes more and more prevalent (just try to buy a modifiable mesh body that isn't furry/anime these days, not to mention some of the frightening conversations on the topic over in Sansar discussion boards) I think it's more important than ever to make this a public discussion.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

"Hi"

I was wandering SL and I ran across an avatar with this in their profile:

Why is it that some women in SL think their vertices and polygons are so much better than everyone else that they wont accept an Im if it is just "Hi" (sic)

 Considering how often the women of SL receive such messages I figure it's worth taking the time to answer that question.

 Would you send an unsolicited text message to a random woman you've never met?

 I want to say right off the bat that approaching someone in open chat is different from Instant Messaging them. A guy walks up to me and says hi in regular chat I'll say hi back every time.

I know not all women in SL feel the same but as far as I'm concerned, it's less invasive, more casual. Like someone walking up to you in a party and saying hello as opposed to getting a text message from a stranger. I screen my calls in RL due to telemarketers and SL isn't really different in that regard.

 Just be sure to have something else to say after that. Too often I'll say "Hello" back and the person who initiated the conversation just repeats the greeting, as if expecting me to carry the conversation they're trying to start. Don't be that guy.

Women in SL get unsolicited Instant Messages constantly.

As most women in SL will tell you, we get unsolicited Instant Messages from random strangers a lot. I mean a lot a lot. If I'm wandering a sim I will get IMs from guys in that sim. Even if I'm currently, obviously, involved with someone else at the moment I'm sure to get an IM from some guy lurking halfway across the sim.  If I'm sitting alone at home in an empty sim I'll still get IMs. Some from people in groups I'm in. Some from people in neighboring sims. Some from people I cannot find on the map or in my groups and with whom I have no connection whatsoever.

As I write this, sitting alone in my mainland home, I have just received an Instant Message from a stranger on the other side of the sim. Blank profile. They followed up the IM with a teleport offer, which I'm very pointedly ignoring. That is how frequently this happens.


It's always about sex.

It's constant and what's more they are always from people trying to come on to me. Not have a friendly conversation or talk about some common interest, no, it's always someone looking for digital sex.

 Always.

 While I can imagine every unsolicited IM being a lazy pass at them puts a lot of SL ladies off, that's not even what bothers me. I'm fairly libertine when it comes to e-sex and I'll admit that if the person messaging me like that is cute, then I'll probably roll with it. However let's be frank here, most guys in SL don't have great avatars.
 

 Most male avatars in SL have severe proportion issues and other problems.

I'm sorry, I honestly don't know how to put it any more gently, but it's true! Most guys in SL, nearly all of them*, feel they need to be 8 or even 9 feet tall for some reason, and the SL appearance editor simply does not allow for proportionate bodies at those sizes, so the guys end up looking like stretched out victims of Willy Wonka's taffy stretching machine, or Slenderman's hipster cousin. Tiny heads, super broad shoulders, wasp-like waists. T-rex arms are another all too common trait. And many guys in SL stumble around without an Animation Overrider, instead using SL's super awkward default animations which just scream "newbie" no matter the rez date in your profile. There's also no shortage of guys so bad at making avatars that they forget to hide or detach their digital penis when clothed and wandering around. Just letting it jut out from their pants as if it were leading them around wherever they go.

 The above describes almost every guy I've seen in Second Life**. There's very few exceptions.

 So, if someone is going to make an awkward pass at me I at least want to see what they look like. If they're cute, I'll be far more inclined to overlook the awkwardness and give you a chance to impress me. If you have a bad avatar, sorry but I'm going to quietly close the chat window and go about my business. If you're not bothering to put any effort into either your appearance or your pickup attempt then you've given me no reason to give you a chance at getting into my digital panties.

 Again, many of the unsolicited IM pickups are from people not even in the same sim as me. Often with a blank profile or at least no pictures of their avatar. Like I said, if the guy is cute I'm more likely to go with it, if you're not even in the sim and have a blank profile you don't get that chance.

How to pick up women in Second Life.

 Look, if you want to pick up women in SL it's really not difficult. You just need to take that voice in the back of your head telling you "If you're not the tallest man in the room all of the ladies will laugh at you!", punch it in its non-existent not-face, and get yourself a proper, decent shape. If you can manage that much then you're well on your way to having a good looking avatar.

 Yeah, it should be easy to get a good shape in SL without even trying but it's not, even the makers of great looking mesh bodies tend to suck at making shapes. The starter avatar shapes are terrible. The appearance editor gives you no help at all. You're just going to have to bite the bullet and learn about proportions.

 Also, try not messaging a woman you don't know who is deep in conversation with a bunch of people like you're some kind of sex offender trying to lead their prey away from their friends and into a dark alley. Rather than be a creeper, try joining the conversation.

 Say hello in regular chat now and then instead of always trying to single women out with an instant message. Sure, some people in SL react to open chat like the rest of us react to IMs but it's worth rolling those dice now and then.

 Talk to some of your lady friends and ask them for their honest opinions on your avatar. Don't get angry if they tell you it's bad, instead try and figure out why it's bad and fix it. No one owes you e-sex just for existing, put a little effort into it!

 What it comes down to is you can either be angry at all those women who won't give you the time of day, or you can try and make yourself an appealing catch

* When I say "nearly all" I'm referring primarily to human men. Guys with furry and anime avatars seem to suffer this problem far less. Fantasy beast-men on the other hand seem to have it worse often sporting 12'+ avatars.
**Again, talking the human population. 

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Second Life vs. World of Warcraft

A picture is worth a thousand words. Here is a height comparison of the various WoW races, with a typical, maxed out SL avatar superimposed into it. The SL avatar is in scale to the WoW characters.


Actually, after I made this, I realized that the Aesthetic, I believe, uses deformer tricks to be larger, so it would probably actually be over 9' tall with the height maxed out.

The odd things is, more and more women avatars in SL are actually human sized, and it's pretty common to see SL women who are about 5' to 5'10", wearing 6" heels so they don't look quite so short. Not all of them, of course, but definitely a lot of them. More and more as time goes on. So I've added an example of such an avatar as well.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The Penny FAQ

 Over the years I've said a lot about SL, but when I post in forums or talk to people in SL I keep running into people who put words in my mouth instead of listening to what I actually say. I end up repeating myself a lot in correcting these people. So much so that a poster on SLU wrote up a "Penny FAQ".

I've taken that and rewritten it slightly and will add to it as I come across more constantly repeating questions and accusations.

* Why should the average SL user have to be an expert on digital design?  

I frequently talk about how optimizing content can greatly benefit your SL experience and this has lead to some people mistakenly taking this to mean that I believe the average SL user should be doing these things.

I do not. My position has always been that the average SL user should not even need to think about optimization or any other digital design issues. Good content should be made available by proficient builders.


* So then you believe only those who are experts on digital design should be allowed to create content?

 

 Again, no. I believe there are things LL can and should do to make it easier for the average SL user to follow some basic practices which result in a better shared experience for everyone, without SL users even thinking about it.

* Why should LL force people to do things according to what you think is best?

 

LL should not force people to do anything. They should make it easier, though, to create content that conforms to standards which result in a better experience. LL should also make it easier for people to find information to support their efforts. Having said that, if people want to sell things on the LL hosted marketplace then they should be open and honest about what they are selling.

* Are you saying that lower resolution textures and fewer details look better? What the hell are you smoking, Penny?

 

No, I am saying that higher resolution textures and more details will not look "better" in some circumstances and the trade off is not worth the degradation in the viewer's and network's performance.

* But Penny! My customers are very discerning and demand the most biggest textures and most finest details imaginable.

 

Fine, but what you do impacts others. You should consider communicating with your customers and offer them choices and alternatives. If you want to deliver the very best quality and experience to your customers you may discover there are ways to deliver a high quality appearance without such a heavy toll on performance.

* Dammit Penny, I just want to build stuff and not worry so much about all these technical details. 

 

Me too, but this is not about you. It is about a few basic practices and ways to make it easier for us to just muck about and have some fun. This is also why the emphasis of my arguments is always on the fact that LL should provide us with better tools.

* Penny, you are a cow. I mean, you are literally a cow. Does that not imply that you a furry and your opinion means nothing?

 

Moo.

* *Sigh* Not THIS again? Why do you have to bore us with this over and over.

 

Because what you do impacts me. Unfortunately, this is a community, and we have to share SL. Also, nobody is forcing you to read this. Seriously, just move on and let me rant and get over yourself.

* My products are most precious, and I cannot let those savages change them. Why should I make them mod when those bastards will ruin it?

 

Those "bastards" are giving you their money in exchange for a little entertainment. If you let them change things in ways that make it a little more enjoyable for them then they will be happier with you.

* But Penny, those idiots will ruin my things, and then will expect me to fix it. What kind of drugs are you on, Penny???

 

Yeah, some of them will. That is what people in the real world call "customer service," and yes it sucks. Most people are better than that, but people ruin everything. If you do not want to deal with people then maybe selling things to anonymous people on the Internet is not your best option.

* Maybe so, but my things are wonderful as they are. I cannot imagine those savages ruining my pretty things. 

 

Then put your things in a museum behind glass. If you do not want people to touch your things then do not let others have them.

* Sell my things modifiable? But that will let people steal my content, won't it? Penny, is this some sort of scheme to ruin the livelihood of every SL content creator? I read this on a blog somewhere!

 

No. Letting people copy and modify content will not also somehow let them steal it. The people telling you otherwise don't understand how SL's permissions system works.

* Penny, why are you trying to force everyone to shrink their avatars?

 

I'm not. I just point out how a consistent sense of scale can make SL more immersive, more engaging, and better looking. I understand that for many their priority is simply fitting in, and if the places they go are filled with 8' tall avatars they will feel more comfortable in an 8' tall avatar. I also understand that some will choose to be giants specifically because they want to be a giant. They benefit from a consistent sense of scale in that it allows their 8' tall avatar to feel like an 8' tall avatar.

 * But what's wrong with scaling things to 8' tall avatars? As long as the scale is consistent, what's the difference?



An 8' tall avatar is 1/3 taller than a 6' avatar. Don't forget that when talking about land, everything is squared. That 1/3 linear difference when squared scales out to a 6' avatar having almost twice as much space on a 512 plot as an 8' avatar would. Instead of just a house, you can have a house, an outbuilding, a garden, and a boat dock. Given the price of land in SL, using a 6' avatar puts money in your pocket.

*More space is good and all, but won't I run out of prims/Land Impact faster by scaling down and trying to put all this extra content on my land?



Mesh costs less prims/LI the smaller you make it. Already smaller items like a chair or book probably won't cost fewer LI points, but larger structures like a house, outbuilding, garden, or boat dock could end up being reduced to nearly half their original LI cost. Again, using a 6' avatar instead of an 8' avatar puts money in your pocket.

*Even if that were true, it's impossible to make a 6' avatar that doesn't look like a dwarf!



If you only use the height slider you'll ended up with your avatar looking like it's been squashed down. Unfortunately LL doesn't provide us with an Avatar Scale slider, so we have to adjust a whole bunch of proportions manually to achieve normal proportions if we make any significant changes to our height. Luckily there's a guide that helps you do this.


Wednesday, March 8, 2017

A Tale of Two Content Creators

A Tale of Two Content Creators

A short story of two ways content creators can
respond to criticism and what their decision
means for you.

I can be rather blunt when positing a marketplace review. When I was in art school, the value of blunt, honest criticism was drilled into me because if you can't accept criticism you'll never improve and your career won't last long.
In Second Life, the rules are a bit different. You don't need years of school, decades of training, to become a content creator for SL. Anyone can put their creations on the marketplace and become a seller....and that's fantastic!

There is, however, a downside. Since the Lindens themselves lacked any sort of background in 3D rendering when they set about creating SL, they neglected to develop the tools in such a way as to discourage the bad habits common in inexperienced artists which can be harmful to performance. Lag and poor framerates are not the result of "old, badly written code", they're the result of unoptimized content.

There is a lot of unoptimized content in Second Life.

When I purchase such content I try to shine a light on these issues where I see them in the hope that more people will begin to understand how 3D rendering works, and why they need to reduce their polygon counts and texture use as much as they can.

 Sometimes it works, sometimes it backfires.

 Years and years ago I was building a fantasy sim in Second Life and I purchased a fantastic looking set of viking style buildings. These buildings looked great. The creator clearly had talent and I told them as much. However, their texture use was death on framerates.

A single small house, the smallest of the buildings available, used around twenty 1024x1024 textures. Twenty! Many of these textures were nearly identical. The walls for the building, interior and exterior, were nearly identical, with only the slightest of differences in backed shading. These textures were so similar that they could have used the same texture on every wall and no one would have noticed the different.

In addition, many of these textures were filled with blank, unused data. A 1024x1024 texture where half the texture went unused. These textures could have been condensed into a single file at no loss to visible detail.

 When I reviewed the item on the marketplace, I mentioned all of this. In retrospect I should have contacted the creator directly, but at the time I felt these issues were obvious and should be treated as such. The creator did not take the review kindly, accusing me of setting out to destroy their business and banning me from their sim.

 Currently, they are a very popular content creator indeed, but their content still suffers from the same overuse of textures that their old village set did. They seem to have gotten better about wasting texture area with unused space, but there's still a lot of room  for improvement and they still do not use repeating textures to increase detail without driving up texture memory. For some of their creations this has meant very blurry, N64-ish looking items even with their high texture use. They seem to be trying to get around this by throwing yet more textures at their creations which is not the way to go.

 I'm not naming names because I'm not setting out to shame anyone. That's not the point of this. The point is that abusing textures in this way, filling up content with what amounts to gigs of unnecessary files, is why everyone has such terrible performance in SL. I want to see creators like this succeed by recognizing this problem and learning to create better looking items that don't kill framerates.

And sometimes it works.

During that same period, I was also putting together a fantasy look for my own avatar and purchased some items from a store that had the exact same problems described above. I purchased a body harness where each strap, although appearing identical just mirrored, was a separate sculpt map and texture. There was a chain across the front, each link in the chain was it's own 1024x1024 sculpt map and 1024x1024 texture.The whole thing had to be like 30-50 sculpted prims, each with its own 1024x1024 sculpt map and 1024x1024 texture.

 It looked fantastic but was murder on framerates, and I said as much in my review of it.

 This creator also sent me a message. This one was a positive message. They said the information I'd provided was eye-opening and that they would be using this feedback in creating their next product. As they switched to mesh they began releasing content that was far and away better looking than their old sculpted work, but also much lighter on textures.


 They released a mesh version of that same body harness and despite looking far more detailed than the old one it uses only 3 textures, total. And that's only because it includes spec and normal maps. I will name this creator, Dais Abonwood, because everyone should shop at their store, Dark Prophet Designs.

 And that's why I speak up about these issues. Not because I'm out to destroy someone's business, or try to humiliate them or whatever. If I comment at all it's because you're doing something right, and I want to see you improve.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Draw Weight Revisited

Draw Weight Revisited

About two years ago I wrote an article showing how, with some modding chops, it was possible to drastically reduce avatar draw weight. I posted this image, showing how I cut my fantasy style minotaur woman avatar down to about a quarter of the original draw weight.



Recently, I got the fantasy bug again and decided to dust off that old avatar and update it.

I purchased the Nana fitness body from ::dev::, the creator of which was willing to sell me a modifiable version when I asked, which included hands and a mesh head using Bento, and had a couple of features I've been constantly astounded are lacking from other mesh bodies. Namely, the left and right arm are separate texture faces, meaning they can have two different textures, and the mesh hands are separate attachments!


 Because of this, I was able to put an underarmour texture on the right arm and while I used the included bento hand for the left arm, the armoured right arm instead has a heavy mesh glove. I've always been going for this ancient gladiator style armour look to my minotaur outfit and these details made it so much better.


 On top of that, there was a fitmesh bikini top I was able to mod into a scale mail top, I don't think it looks as good as the PFC scale mail bikini, but being fitmesh it fits perfect and I can use physics with it. And with the texture work I put into it, I don't think it looks bad.

 So lets put a draw weight to these improvements. As my avatar appears in these screenshots my draw weight is currently 34,740, which means I've made my goal of getting my base avatar, fully dressed, under 35,000.

So what's my point with all of this?

Mainly, I wanted to show that having a good looking, detailed avatar does not require a high draw weight as so many people believe. I also wanted to show that it's not mesh, that drives up draw weight, and that the newer mesh features like fitmesh and bento aren't to blame, either.

 I think it's important to say that I'm also not trying to say that optimizing content you've purchased in SL is easy. It's a lot of work, and you need to have some fairly advanced chops when it comes to modding.

What it comes down to is that the biggest, perhaps only, reason any avatar in SL has a draw weight over 50,000 is because content creators aren't optimizing their work. So many content creators in SL either don't know enough about 3D rendering to understand why optimizing is important, or they're just lazy and don't want to put in the extra effort to optimize. Some believe they can't optimize without sacrificing quality, which isn't true.

 If content creators did optimize their work it would be easy for anyone to keep their draw weight low with off the shelf content, no modding required.


 I don't want to sound like I'm placing the blame solely at the feet of content creators, either. Many people came to SL to have fun and discovered that they enjoyed creating content. Everything they know they learned over the course of creating content for SL, and let's face it: Linden Lab could do a lot more to encourage better content creation habits.

 LL ignores, or is ignorant of, the impact heavy texture use has on framerates. LL placed no real restrictions on the render weight of avatars. None of the tools in SL really try to encourage good building habits because the Lindens themselves never bothered to learn about content creation.

 Of course now we have the "jelly dolls" feature which renders avatars with excessively high draw weight as a brightly coloured pixel figure and while some just turn this feature off, a lot of people do keep it on in order to boost their framerates, so there is some incentive now towards having a lower draw weight.

Content Creators: Start optimizing your work. Reduce your texture use. Don't release content bloated with hidden surfaces. Utilize LOD.

Modders: Only buy moddable content then look for all the ways you can reduce the draw weight of that content. Unlink hidden pieces. Replace oversized textures. Set alpha textures to masked instead of blended. Check out that previous article for more tips on how you can reduce the draw weight of items you've purchased.

Lindens: If you're reading this, start encouraging your userbase to be smarter about content creation. Hire someone who knows how all this works and can help your programmers create tools that discourage bad habits and push people towards creating better content. Don't be afraid to be firm where you need to, like finally putting hard restrictions on avatar draw weight. You can tie them to new features, like Bento, so you're not breaking old content. Ultimately, you're the only ones who can solve SL's performance issues by addressing the issue of bloated, unoptimized content.

Everyone Else: Just keep enjoying SL. Like I said, reducing draw weight isn't easy and it's unreasonable to expect everyone to learn how. So don't fret about it. That said, when you buy something, take a moment to see how it affects your draw weight. If it causes your draw weight to go way up, make sure you tell the content creator so that they know customers are expecting low draw weight content. Let them know you don't want to be a jelly doll on someone else's screen.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Are Rigged/Fitmesh Items Impossible to Mod?

 No. There's plenty of ways you can mod rigged/fitmesh items. Stop making them no-mod.


 Ok, so there's this trend going around where content creators are making their rigged mesh items no-mod, explaining that since you can't resize or reposition rigged mesh, there's no point to it being mod. We're going to put this misinformation to bed and explain why content creators should not be releasing rigged/fitmesh content as no-mod.

First: Resizing and repositioning are not all there is to modding. They're not even half of what there is to modding. Here's a list of ways you can mod rigged mesh.

  • Adding scripts
  • Removing scripts
  • Retexturing 
  • Tinting the colour
  • Adding custom materials
  • Adding custom alpha masks
  • Changing the objects alpha textures from "blended" to "masked"
  • Making parts fullbright
  • Removing fullbright
  • Linking the object to others so you use fewer attachment points
  • Unlinking parts to use individually
  • Renaming

 This isn't even a complete list. As you can see, resizing and repositioning barely scratch the surface of what it means for an object to be moddable in Second Life. Every single piece of rigged mesh clothing, every single rigged mesh hairpiece and bodypart I own is modded in some way or another.

 Here are some specific examples of how I've personally modded rigged/fitmesh items:
  • Replaced multiple 1024x1024 textures on a hair piece with custom 256x256 textures.
  • Changed the alpha textures on hair from "blended" to "masked" to solve a variety of rendering issues.
  • Scripted fitmesh shirts to change my shape, physics and add/detach nipples when worn/removed. 
  • Added custom materials to mesh body.
  • Fixed issues with a mesh head caused by the applier leaving alpha skin texture as "blended" by switching it to "masked" manually.
  • Linked multiple rigged/fitmesh items together to be worn as a single attachment.
  • Removed the unused clothing layers from my mesh body to greatly reduce my draw weight.
So whenever you hear someone claim "rigged/fitmesh cannot be modified anyway" you set them straight and tell them that's just not true.

 Another explanation I've heard for making rigged mesh no-modify is to protect it from content thieves. The problem with that explanation is that making something no-mod offers no protection whatsoever from content theft. None. It's not even an inconvenience. The tools they use to steal content don't care what permissions the content has.

 So there you have it. There is no reason to sell rigged/fitmesh content no-mod. None. It provides no benefit to the creator, and it only has downsides for the customer. If you are a content creator who sells no-mod hair, bodies, clothing, I just want you to ask yourself, "Why am I selling these items no mod? Is there a reason, or is it just habit? Am I just doing it because everyone else seems to?"

 If you're a customer, I want to encourage you to support those content creators who do release moddable rigged/fitmesh content and I want you to encourage more content creators to do the same.