May 21, 2012

DV8 closes in Second Life

I don't know if it's the generally slow Second Life economy or if the owner/creator is just giving up. Whatever the reason, DV8, a mainstay for alternative, punk, goth, sci/fi and grunge fashion is apparently closing it's doors forever. No word from the owners on the DV8 website as to why. In fact no real notice at all.

Anyway, everything in the store is $50L or less (except fatpacks).

Sadly, I'm stocking up on a few things. :(

May 13, 2012

Summer Hunt at Inga Wind Clothing

You are searching for this cute little mesh outfit called "Sally in Yellow". Find all 11 parts in the bees located throughout the store.
        1  *IW* Sally Alpha for SHOES
        2  *IW* Sally Alpha for TOP
        3  *IW* Sally Alpha for TOP & SHOES
        4  *IW* Sally in Yellow Blouse L
        5  *IW* Sally in Yellow Blouse M
        6  *IW* Sally in Yellow Blouse S
        7  *IW* Sally in Yellow Blouse XS
        8  *IW* Sally in Yellow Blouse XXS
        9  *IW* Sally in Yellow SHOE L
      10  *IW* Sally in Yellow SHOE R
      11  *IW* Sally in Yellow Shorts
Not all bees have clothing parts in them so you'll have to click them to see which do! Hmmm that could keep you busy -- as a -- bee.

SLURL to Inga Wind Clothing

May 5, 2012

Second Life Marketplace Direct Delivery fails

I continue to hear nothing but problems with the Second Life Marketplace since Linden Lab officially launched "Direct Delivery". In case you don't know, this change eliminates in-world "Magic Boxes" and replaces them with direct uploads from the seller to the Marketplace.

While seemingly a good idea on the surface, so far it's been a disaster.
  • Items have been mismatched
  • Images of items from one seller show up on another seller's products
  • Items can no longer be edited -- they are stuck.
  • Some items are stuck in permanent upgraded listing mode meaning the merchant can't "unlist" it from being featured. Yet, the merchant's account continues to be dunned for the upgrade amounts.
  • Some items never make it into the marketplace.
  • People have LOST their items including all the great reviews that went with them.
  • Editing and updating items has become tedious.
  • Support tickets are not being acted on. Customer Support blames the software and says they can't do anything. The Commerce Team tells people to file support tickets. WTH?
  • By my count, at least 100 JIRA items (bug reports) have been filed relating to Marketplace issues since Direct Delivery was formally implemented.
On top of this, it has slowed down the Marketplace a LOT. Searches are taking longer, the Marketplace itself often takes 20 - 30 seconds to simply show up, and browsing for an item can be pure torture.

While Magic Box deliveries can be a little flakey at times (mostly because of offline regions), they worked about 99% of the time. I think in my 4 years of using various Magic Boxes, I might have had a total of 4 completely failed deliveries.

Under Direct Delivery, I am hearing about failed or borked deliveries from my fellow merchants ALL the time. It's a deluge.

So it's a good thing I haven't switched to DD yet. But come June 1, unless Linden Lab relents, I'll have to. That's doomsday for Second Life Merchants aka the day when Magic Boxes are supposed to stop working. Uggh. LL, are you TRYING to kill commerce in Second Life? Seriously folks, why did you do this?

May 4, 2012

Alpha-sorting (masking) in Second Life revisited

Recent comments in an open Second Life JIRA that I've been fairly involved with have caused me to take another look at how Second Life treats alpha (transparent) textures. Now this semi-geeky stuff gets pretty anal but it can make a huge difference in how things are rendered in SL. In my case, since I make clothing, I get annoyed that prim skirts with transparencies always fight each other where they overlap.

I wrote an article to explain the issue way back when: Alpha sorting and masking in Second Life.

So this time around, I thought I'd go into a viewer setting called "Automatic alpha masks" which is accessible off your Advanced menu (CTRL-ALT-D / Rendering). There are two choices, Automatic alpha masks (deferred) and Automatic alpha masks (non-deferred).

Basically, what these two do is tell the viewer to treat any alpha as either all 1-bit (deferred) or as a blend (non-deferred). The exact algorithm for detecting the alpha and the cut-offs are not published but you can kind of see the results in the photo above (this comes from SL Universe in a post by Inhandra)

While on the one hand, hair looks better with non-deferred and horrible with deferred, other prims show texture fighting against semi-transparent backgrounds.

BTW, these settings used to be called Fast Alphas but the nomenclature was changed to make the intent more obvious.

So the point of the JIRA mentioned above is that the alphas need to be controlled by the creator, not by an arbitrary setting that may or may not apply to the original creator's intent.

Just to get even more anal about this, I did some photos of my own to show the edging effects of various textures and settings (just thought I'd use a basic Torley Linden color scheme here). These should display as crossed circles just like my old article. I tried 3 different types of textures -- TGA with alpha, PNG with transparency and PNG-8 with 1-bit transparency. To see the effects up close, click the photo to view at full size. I tried this with 256x256 pixel textures and with 1024x1024.
Default viewer settings - 256x256 TGA, PNG and PNG-8 crossed circles.
Automatic alpha mask - Deferred.
Default viewer - PNG
Automatic alpha deferred - PNG
Default viewer - PNG 1024x1024

Automatic alpha deferred - PNG 1024x1024

Obviously the worst of the bunch was the PNG-8 with 1-bit alpha (transparency) which ends up with a white edge when rendered with Automatic alphas on (picture #2). And, to be fair, these hard geometric shapes render the best under automatic alphas. Regardless, there is a fair amount of down-sampling going on in all (thus the jaggies). The down-sampling was why the setting used to be called Fast Alpha -- the smaller images rendered faster. Not so much a factor with today's much better graphics cards.

More subtle images, such as deliberate drop shadows render very poorly with auto-masking. Here's a screen shot from JIRA MAINT-651 showing this effect:

Left - pre-upload, Center - no auto alpha, Right - deferred.
To throw yet ANOTHER monkey wrench into the mix (and exactly what is a monkey wrench??), Lighting and Shadows can break alphas even further depending on what form of masking is in use -- resulting in whole black areas.

So the real solution, which has so far been avoided by Linden Lab, is to allow the creator to upload textures as they choose and designate the alpha type on a per-face basis. Given that fixing the z-buffer sorting issues are probably not going to happen, this really is the second best approach. IMHO.

(Good lord I've become geeky in my 5 years on SL. Eeek!)

As always, corrections and comments are welcome.


Because of the apparent confusion over the PNG-8 format, I'm adding a few piccies to show what's up with it. :)

First I made a pink circle using a shape with pink fill in Photoshop. Next I SAVED it for Web & Devices using PNG-8, No Dither, Transparency, No Transparency Dither, Matte: None, Colors 256. This brought the output file down to just two colors. Pink (well fuschia really) and transparent. Size of final file was 256x256 pixels.

PNG-8 Source Image (see text above)
PNG-8 texture placed on prim and viewed against black background. Viewer set to normal.

PNG-8 texture placed on prim and viewed against black background. Viewer set to auto alpha mask (non-deferred)

I'm not sure what to make of this except that the auto-masking setting seems to make the image slightly more artifacty. Regardless, nothing changes here. With the auto-mask on, the alphas don't fight each other. Turned off, they do. Which just shows that SL converts the uploaded image with true 1-bit transparency into it's usual messed up format that has to be interpolated to stop the alpha fighting.

BTW, if you're going to use PNG with transparency for clothes or whatever, matte your output into whatever the main color of item is. If it's red, use red as a matte. Blue use blue. Etc. Or use black. This will at least avoid some of the white halo effect. But it won't work quite as well as TGA with alpha blended using something like Solidify in Photoshop.