Meshes, third-party viewers, ModRex, and OpenSim

It was widely reported recently that Qarl Linden (also Qarl Fizz in civvy street, and Karl Stiefvater in real life), had been fired from his job at Linden Lab as a result of the restructuring/cost-saving exercise that they carried out earlier in the year. (It’s still not clear whether, after the announcement of his joining the Emerald team, whether he remains there, has transferred to Phoenix, or is no longer associated with either.) The importance of this is that he was the major developer behind the adoption of meshes in SL, which it appears has now been abandoned. Meshes, for those that don’t know, can do two things:

(1) Allow objects to be any shape natively, avoiding the halfway house that is sculpted prims. Sculpties appear first as blobs and then take their shape according to an additional texture which acts as a texture map. Instead, mesh objects could be imported from external 3D modelling software and other sources already on the Web.

(2) Allow avatars to be any shape, no longer necessarily relying on the crude controls created by Linden Lab, which survive from its early days. This allows shapes to be imported from external sources, and would allow far more realistic avatars, as well as all sorts of other shapes for avatars, including non-human ones. This is possible using ModRex and RealXtend with OpenSim.

At present, it is possible to use ModRex with OpenSim, but the majority of grids running OpenSim do not. Why? The main reason is that most third-party viewers, e.g. Phoenix (formerly Emerald), Imprudence, Hippo, Ascent, do not support meshes. You would have to download the RealXtend Viewer to do this. There is also an experimental viewer called Naali, which has been designed to avoid using any code from the Linden Viewer and thus avoid the GPL licence. However, Naali does not yet support multiple regions, which means that you can’t teleport out from the sim that you log into. So the best solution for most people remains the RealXtend Viewer at present, which is a heavily modified third-party viewer, based on the standard Linden code.

The problem with RealXtend is that it is only used by a handful of devoted developers and has not achieved any market penetration. There is little point using it with SL, which does not support meshes. Few people use it with OpenSim. Would it not be better to capitalise on the market penetration of popular viewers like Phoenix and Imprudence by enabling meshes in grids that support it? Naturally, this should not affect their performance in SL, or in OpenSim grids that do not enable ModRex. As the RealXtend code is under the GPL like the other third-party viewers based on Linden code, the necessary modifications to the code are already available to and reusable by the Phoenix and Imprudence developers.

Although the third-party viewers support OpenSim grids, it has not by and large been their focus. I’d suggest that they need to wise up to the increasing flow of users to OpenSim grids, which are now viable, stable alternatives to SL, some of which have currency and functioning economies. If the major viewers support ModRex, its development will become more of a priority for the OpenSim developers, and their eventual plan to make it a standard module for OpenSim will be realised quicker. The metaverse would, at a stroke, become far more attractive because of the ability to support modern, games-style graphics that meshes would deliver. For a long time now, SL and OpenSim have been visually old-fashioned, and thus they lose users to otherwise less sophisticated virtual worlds. If OpenSim supported a functionality that SL doesn’t, and yet the viewers that are used to connect to SL can support, there would be a strong impetus to implement it in SL too, in order to remain competitive.

In short, mesh support in Phoenix, Imprudence and other viewers, taken from the GPL RealXtend code, would dramatically increase the attractiveness of OpenSim, and probably SL as soon as the risk of being outdone by the competition drove them to follow suit. One ModRex becomes standard in OpenSim, content will be better, cheaper, and the metaverse will move into a new, more modern era. The revolution in content quality will be greater than what was offered by flexible and sculpted prims put together. While meshes are not available, other platforms will increasingly steal users away from OpenSim and SL. It must therefore be the biggest priority for OpenSim, if our way of life in the 3D metaverse is to develop, thrive and survive.

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  1. mariakorolov

     /  September 13, 2010

    Starflower —

    I second your proposal. I would love to see the popular multi-grid clients like Hippo and Imprudence more fully embrace the possibilities of OpenSim.

    Showing meshes on grids where they’re available would be great!

    So would hypergrid address landmarks, a hypergrid address bar (similar to the URL address bar in a regular browser), a fix to the 4096 teleport bug, and automatic switching between Whisper/Mumble and Vivox/Freeswitch, depending on what voice system the region is running.

    I’m sure all of this is coming, and in a few years we all be wondering how we ever got any work done without the hypergrid… just as, today, I can’t imagine doing my job without the Web!

    — Maria Korolov
    Editor, Hypergrid Business

    • All sound like really great ideas. The 4096 bug has been solved before, then unsolved again as the various viewers was built on newer codebases, if I remember correctly. By now, I’ve completely lost track, but it’s fundamentally a viewer-side issue and not difficult to solve, as I understand it. Thanks 🙂


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