Today Linden Lab gave Second Life users an update on mesh support and lifted the NDA for current beta testers. I can now tell you that for about the last year, we here at Sand Castle Studios have been deeply involved in working with the Lindens to bring mesh support to Second Life.
A Brief History
Mesh support was first announced at SLCC back in 2009. Back then we wrote a detailed post defining mesh support and how it would change Second Life. In a nutshell, mesh support allows content created in professional 3D modeling software, such as Maya or Blender, to be imported directly into Second Life. This feature gives content creators new levels of freedom and therefore will bring creations with new levels of detail and realism to Second life.
The Progress of Mesh
The Lindens have been working extremely hard and mesh in SL has come a long way since we here at Sand Castle Studios first began beta testing.
Here are some of the technical details of mesh as it stands now:
* Import format is COLLADA (other formats may be available in the future)
* Meshes will need specifically made textures.
* Meshes will have custom UV maps.
* There are no scale restrictions on mesh objects.
A scale conversion of 1:1 for mesh objects when being brought into Second Life is available. This means that if your mesh asset is 25x15x30 (beyond the usual Second Life scale restrictions of 10x10x10), once in world it will retain the size, shape, and scale reflected in the third party 3D modeling software used to create it.
* Each mesh will consist of five component meshes: four for different Levels Of Detail and one for collisions (for Havok).
Levels of detail will be needed for each object, as they cannot be generated on the fly (as they are with sculpted prims). This means modelers will need to create four versions of the same object. Starting with the most detailed version of the asset, each decrement will need to consist of around a 50% less polygons than the previous level. These levels of detail can technically be generated by the Second Life client’s mesh import tools, but this takes exact control out of the hands of the user.
* COLLADA allows rigging which makes it possible to have entire avatar replacements that bend with animations.
Once rigged to the Second Life avatar skeleton, a worn mesh is able to move along with the movements of an avatar in-world. Rigged mesh objects can be worn as simple attachments such as jewelry, more complex objects such as clothing or hair, and can even replace the entire Second Life avatar if desired.
In its present state, the rigging system does not allow the creation of arbitrary skeletons or bone offsets (moving the joints around). Mesh objects must be bound and rigged to the default Second Life avatar skeleton AS IS. Essentially, this requires artists to build their assets around the skeleton, instead of building their assets and putting the skeleton into position accordingly. However, Linden Lab is presently working on adding these features.
* Like other in-world objects, mesh objects will have an associated prim cost. The prim count of mesh objects is determined by the file size of the highest level of detail, or the physics cost, whichever is higher.
As it stands, the mesh economy is governed by virtual prim count associated with each mesh object. This prim count is based on the storage (memory) size of a given object, a rough translation being the higher amount of polygons an object consists of, the greater its prim count will be. However, other aspects of a mesh object can also play a role in its associated storage size, such as smooth versus hard-edged normals. There is a hard limit of ~60k polygons per mesh object, although such an object would cost a great deal of prims.
* There is no set upload fee for mesh objects as of now.
It is speculated that fees could be in the ball park of L$10 per prim.
Open Beta Coming Soon
During Philip Rosedale’s keynote at this year’s SLCC , he committed to bringing mesh imports to Second Life before the end of the year. As of today, Linden Lab says that they are planning for mesh to go into open beta in about two weeks. In order to access this, users will need to download a specific Project Viewer that will allow them access to a development grid where mesh is enabled.
Mesh has some incredibly exciting implications for content creators, and I have no doubt that the Lindens want to get as much feedback as possible. Some possible implications from the addition of mesh imports may be:
- More detailed, realistic looking content
- Less lag, increased performance
- Virtual content market and economy growth
- Ability to legitimately back up content inside and outside of Second Life
- and More!
Linden Lab has opened a door where the potential of possibilities are endless.
Take a look at myself (Gianna Borgnine) and SCS’s Chief Creative Officer, Reed Steamroller, as we introduce Draxtor Despres to our mesh creations.
You can view more videos of our work and others on Second Life’s YouTube page.