New Babbage

When Sculpties Attack

Sculpties can be a great building tool in Second Life, particularly when you need to create organic shapes that may either not be possible with conventional prims, or would require dozens, if not hundreds, to achieve the desired effect. Unfortunately, there aren’t any rules governing their use, and as a result they often get over-used.

Over-used, you say? How is that even possible? Easy. While a sculpty only counts as a single prim for things like sim and parcel prim counts, they carry a relatively high price when it comes to computing. After some research, I’ve come to understand that a single sculpt requires the same amount of computing power on the Viewer end as rendering 12 tortured and twisted prims. Additionally, the sculpt map itself eats up a modest amount of texture memory. It’s usually tiny (under 256K per sculpty, depending on the resolution of the sculpt map used), but it’s there consuming a very limited resource nevertheless. And that’s on top of the amount of video memory that will be used for the actual surface texture. A sculpt that uses a 256x256 sculpt map and a 256x256 texture, for example, uses 512MB of video memory compared with only 256K of video memory on a regular prim using the same texture.

Individually, that may not sound too bad. And when you use them judiciously in a build, they look great and everything rezzes quickly for most visitors. But when used excessively in builds, it can increase viewer lag dramatically (each prim taking 12 times more computing power to render, and double the video memory consumption). The end result for visitors can be as extreme as causing their Viewer to crash (because the video card was overwhelmed), or more likely lower frame rates, a field of gray blobs, and untextured prims that takes an unusually long time to load. While some folks have patience and will come back, crash after crash, moving in slowly and dialing back settings & draw distance until they can get through, or on beefier machines just sitting it out and waiting the additional time it can take... most people don’t.

For my case study, I submit the photos below. Periodically, I like to try and “see the world through a visitor’s eyes” as much as my computer will allow. To do this, clear your cache and re-log into Second Life and then explore. While my current machine isn’t the latest and greatest CPU and graphics card combo, it is ahead of the ‘average’ system out there with plenty of RAM, discrete GPU & plenty of video memory and very fast internet connection. So my assumption is that the world is rezzing more quickly for me than it is for most others. It took just over 2 minutes to render the scene below (each shot is approximately 10 seconds apart).

I’m not picking on any one build (either pictured, or anywhere else on the grid). It is worth pointing out that the scene above actually shows several different builds across a number of parcels, and includes a few of my own objects as well as those of the neighbors. These photos are intended merely to illustrate the cumulative effects.


After quite a bit of consideration, and with a slightly heavy heart, I recently undertook the project of removing the sewers from the New Babbage region.

Providing a bit of background, they were the city of New Babbage’s original sewer system. Last winter, when planning for the region and what I had hoped would be a secure future for the shoppe, the sewers were a key element. Since I wanted the tunnels to be at least partially navigable, it required that the surface level be raised to accommodate the larger tunnels. During different stages of the build there have been a number of other secondary tunnels and spaces to explore, including an enormous cavern connected to one of the warehouse buildings, complete with elaborate docks and half-gutted pirate ship (in the process of being re-fitted with steam-power). As word spread of plans for a city-wide sewer system in New Babbage, I envisioned the systems being connected, and thought of additional tunnels and retro-fitting that would create a vast network stretching through the city-state.

Alas, it was the future that never was. My suggestions and requests to connect the systems went without response, and it was soon clear to me where things were heading. The traffic measurement devices at the sewer entrances confirmed that as the new system was put into place, fewer people were exploring the old sewers.

I had given thought to a few different possibilities, including the idea of creating some sort of winter wonderland ice cavern. Such a build would have been a lot of fun to work on, but unfortunately would have either required significantly more resources than I had available or not fit well within the victorian steampunk theme.

With the sewers effectively redundant, the entire north side of the region needed to be re-thought. I was excited at the prospect of Babbage getting some elevation, but the clockwinder eventually decided that BlakOpal and I were the only ones getting any altitude. At least until the region to the north came online. Unfortunately that region has been pushed back a few times in the development of New Babbage, with the last comment I’d seen leaving me little hope that it was coming anytime soon. Having a great view and being on a hill is all fine and good, but being the only guy on a hill is a little weird, and definitely not my sort of thing.

The elevation and the sewers and tunnels also present some technical hurdles, not the least of which was that we had to use a forced landing point. Due to the nature of how SL teleportation works, if you don’t force folks to a specific landing point, you run the risk of folks arbitrarily winding up below ground, stuck between levels, or generally landing in places they didn’t want to land.

So as I began the winterization process last weekend, it became clear... Level it. Sounds simple, but execution is a bit trickier. Even though New Babbage is no longer the main store, it still has quite a bit of traffic from the folks who’ve got old landmarks. Terra-forming and moving thousands of prims is a challenge on even a good day (and as Murphy’s Law would dictate, yesterday was not a good day in SL), but becomes even trickier when folks keep dropping by.

So, slowly but surely, I made the move. Actually, hundreds of little moves. Every prim that wasn’t pulled completely was dropped by anywhere from 2 to 20 meters, and then all of the typical fidgeting and fussing to get things to look and feel the way they should. Miraculously, I was able to move the shoppe itself without disaster striking. Once the builds were moved, I began the process of re-winterizing and filling in some of the spaces. It’s still wide open in a few spots, I’ll likely use some fill for the short term. While it’s a shame to see some things go, I’m quite pleased with the results so far, and excited to see what will happen next.

The snapshot below was from a hilarious moment later in the evening. As I was finishing up some of the details and getting to work on the sidewalks, I heard a loud rumbling sound. Turning to see what was the cause of the commotion, I saw that the place was being visited by a 50 foot marshmallow man! He explored he new space and continued on his sugary way - I can only hope that any future visitors of gargantuan proportions are as friendly as he.

Holy Crap!

I can think of no more appropriate title. Really. It's been that kind of day. But I mean Holy Crap in a good way, if not the best possible way.

As I mentioned earlier, I was lamenting the loss of so many great photos from Miss Breezy's amazing event and the combination of stress and excitement regarding our runway show at the Virtual London Fashion Week event. Alright, well if I didn't mention the stress part it was an oversight. It's been a point of vast quantities of stress for me. Even though the event was being produced by a capable team, I was stressing about all the ridiculous things - whether the models got everything and they were able (or even cared) to make adjustments for fit, whether they would look good on the runway, whether the folks in attendance (in person or on the other end of the streaming video) would appreciate it, and of course the music.

While there are some great DJ's providing music for the event, and they offered to handle everything or even handle any special requests, I decided to take a stab at providing a soundtrack for each of the shows. I wasn't sure whether I'd be able to pull it off, as I hadn't been spending much time in the studio or playing lately (not since early July, really), but hearing it today I'm really pleased with the performance and the music seemed to set the perfect atmosphere for the show. Afterwards we received some very wonderful compliments and stayed a bit for drinks and hello's before I made my way back to the studio.

It was around that time that I found my lost pictures from last night's ball. Woohoo! Long story short, they'd been saved to another location on the network entirely, and hooray they're all there. I've scrubbed through them all and gotten the gallery put together, you can check them out here. And speaking of galleries, BlakOpal grabbed a few high quality snaps from today's runway show, you can check those out here. Where are my pictures? I didn't take any, as I was attempting to shoot video. I've got plenty of footage to edit, and will hopefully have something put together from that in the near future. Whew - it's been a long day!

Soot-Filled Brain

Last night was one of the best nights yet at Piermont Landing, with the Engineers Ball. Wonderful hot air balloons, impeccably dressed folks, wonderful conversations, and with the recently upgraded SL seemed to be performing quite well (sim crossings and teleports are greatly improved, and lag seemed way down). I was even able to snap a few dozen stunning pictures. Or so I thought.

Due to some form of technical glitch (read as: user error), I had apparently been saving my snapshots to the aether instead of to my local drive. D'oh! How very disappointing, as I was convinced I had gotten some real gems and was excited to be writing a post about having just uploaded them. Now I feel a bit like a fisherman telling people about the one that got away. Members of the New Babbage community can, of course, check out the New Babbage Ning to see many wonderful pics taken by others who were there (and quite honestly, have better skills than I do), and of course if you're interested in the greater New Babbage community, then I suggest you head on over there and join (membership is free).

Waking up with my morning medicinal, my thoughts now turn towards London. Rather, towards Virtual London and Fashion Week. The last week or so has been a whirlwind of preparation for BlakOpal and I - our work is in two runway shows this week (the first is today at 2PM SLT, the second is on Tuesday). Oddly enough, many others are working even harder. The event organizers have been putting months of preparation into the event, and the other designers have all really been outdoing themselves - each booth I've glanced at has been filled with wonderful things. Go check it out here.