The ARCH


Casting Shadows

These past few months have brought about a rather exciting surge of announcements and renewed energy around the OpenSIM project, the open source virtual world platform. Though it is still alpha level code, the future potential is obvious, especially for those of us anxiously awaiting the ability to import 3D models created, textured and rendered in external applications like 3D studio, Blender, etc. This ability brings with it the promise of several game-changing opportunities, not the least of which is establishing a dynamic link between Building Information Models (BIM) and virtual environments.

Some of the most visible and promising new features cooperating with OpenSIM are coming from a Finnish group called realxtend. The actual look and feel of OpenSIM is very similar to the Second Life environment, but the realxtend client/server combo includes several enticing new items. For one thing, the File menu now contains an ‘Import 3D model’ option – and it works!  Also, under the prim-editing menu, you’ll find the ‘cast shadows’ option. Yeah, seriously… ‘cast shadows’… can you imagine?

What’s more, even a technical newbie such as myself can download their server code, and open your very own sim running on your own home computer. Better still, you can invite others into your sim to see what you’ve been up to. If you want to go beyond basic exploration, you can host the environment on a more powerful server for less lag and a smoother experience. Visitors to your personal sim can even teleport to and from the Second Life grid, and to other OpenSIM grids as well.

Within just a few hours, I had my own little world running on my computer. Shortly thereafter, I had imported my first 3D models created in 3DStudio. I suddenly had that same sense of urgency and excitement I experienced when I first started working in Second Life. My imagination ran wild!

You might think this experience would lead me away form Second Life itself, but I actually feel quite the opposite. I’ve never felt so confident and comfortable with the time and energy I’ve spent learning and promoting Second Life. It isn’t just OpenSIM either, but none of the new emerging platforms I’ve tried so far show anywhere near the same promise, in my humble opinion, as the combination of Second Life and OpenSIM.

Speaking purely in terms of professional/business applications, or as a platform for architectural practice and collaboration, I’m not convinced that Linden Lab shares the same vectors of interest as the more ‘platformist’ professionals who often think of it as a tool instead of a place, nor should they. The community, and the economy are vital, yet incredibly fragile components of Second Life – a combination that doesn’t lend itself well to liberal new-feature testing. Just like Philip Rosedale emphasized at SLCC last year, Linden Lab can only operate like a ‘lab’ for so long before they have to pull back a bit on experimentation and turn more attention to the ongoing challenges of performance and stability.

But when you combine the vital core elements of community and commerce with the features possible in OpenSIM-based grids, it seems a win-win combination. Despite the never-ending flow of criticism and complaints, I think Linden Lab is doing an outstanding job with Second Life, and I think they’ll be very hard to catch. But I’m excited and glad that the more specialized interests can now have their freedom, their privacy, their security, and any new feature they have the wherewithal to invent. I think Giff Constable said it best, “if something needs to be fixed, you can roll up your sleeves and fix it rather than crossing your fingers and waiting for someone else.”

Cory Ondrejka suggested in a great post today that “Attempts to strongly separate “play” and “work” virtual worlds will stunt the growth of both. Communities that play together work together better. And vice versa.” I think that statement reinforces the notion that the combined effort of SL and specialized OpenSIM places is a healthy mix. I might “work” in my Crescendo Design OpenSIM island, meeting with clients and bask in the greatness of prims that can ‘cast shadows,’ but it will surely get lonely in there. I’d be constantly checking my mini-map for green dots, and missing out on all the great stuff Second Life has to offer as a place, and not just a tool. When its time for a break, I can teleport back to SL, and enjoy the best of both worlds.

The combination of features I think are requisite for a virtual world explosion in professional practice are a tricky, yet inseparable kit of parts. For this reason, I don’t have a lot of faith in the other platforms aimed at surpassing Second Life. Just importing 3D models, or better graphics alone are nothing without a rich and diverse community.

Even if you include model-imports and community, what about object permissions? For 3D collaboration to work, you need a fairly robust permissions strategy, and a lot of the new platforms currently overlook this feature completely. I think most of us completely underestimate the genius and power of the prim system and in-world building tools. In fact, by the time you carefully prepare a 3D model with enough detail to look passable up-close in a virtual environment, you end up spending a comparable amount of time on it as you would if you had built it with prims in the first place. Furthermore, once you import it – its essentially frozen, since you can’t modify any part of it without re-rendering it and re-importing it. It would be a disaster for virtual collaboration if we lost that ability.

The community is equally critical. Even if, for example, Autodesk were to introduce avatars into Revit, they couldn’t possibly deliver as diverse of a community of non-architects. If you aren’t convinced that a public, global and diverse community is important in the future of architectural practice, keep an eye on Studio Wikitecture. That’s just the beginning.

I could be wrong, but when I add it all up, I still haven’t seen another emerging platform that includes both in-world building tools (with permissions system) as well as 3D importing, alongside an incredibly robust community and economy. Even if there were a potential competitor, they are nowhere near as far along as Second Life at solving the plethora of challenges and nuances of successfully running a virtual world (which happens to be yet another area I think many of us totally misunderstand and underestimate). By the time a competitor catches up with where SL is now, SL will be that much farther ahead.

In conclusion, I’m confident that Second Life is still a very safe and smart investment of time and money. I’ll admit to knowing very little about the back-end underlying this technology, which is why this post could be all full of baloney. But from what I can tell, the combined trajectories of Second Life and OpenSIM are a winning combination, and hold the underpinnings of what I think will be the next major technological evolution in the design and creation of the real-life built-environment.

Keep an eye on Ugotrade for further reviews of OpenSIM (including this post), and be sure to check out realxtend’s site for a description of their upcoming event in Second Life where you can learn more about the current technology, and their plans for the future.



Architects Enslave Programmers to Build an AutoCAD Import Tool for Second Life, Henshin IV Released

Hats off to the folks at AI Design Studio. Not only because they have been working so hard to develop an AutoCAD import tool for Second Life, but also because they make such entertaining machinima promotional pieces. Their choice of background songs is always memorable and distinctive to say the least! They have spent the last several months completely rewriting their Henshin tool improving its performance and making it easy to use.

Check out their website for more info: http://ai-designstudio.net



Drumroll please… realXtend + OpenSim = Importing of Proper 3D Models

I’m not a techie guy, but I know what ‘import proper 3D models’ means, and I know what a tremendous impact it will have on our industry and beyond.

We’ve heard about emulator plug-ins that enable SL-like models (built within the same limitations) to be imported.. We’ve seen sculpties… But it still isn’t the fluid and automatic tool architects and designers pining for. I can say that this announcement, found on UgoTrade, is probably the most exciting news I’ve heard so far. I realize they still have a lot of work to do before this is an easy and effective solution, but based on everything I’ve seen so far, it is really starting to look like OpenSim and realXtend might be the answer we’ve been searching for.

via UgoTrade



Importing and Exporting in Second Life: Oh, How I Pine
January 15, 2008, 3:12 am
Filed under: import tools, ryan schultz, Theory Shaw

By Ryan Schultz (Theory Shaw in SL), cross-posted from Studio Wikitecture blog

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I’ve been using Second Life for a number of years now to run experiments, through our ‘Studio Wikitecture’ group, to see if a Metaverse, such as SL might one day act as the platform for collective intelligence in architecture and urban planning. I’m also an active member of the ‘RL Architects in SL’ group. As you can imagine, most of the members that compose these two groups are architects. What I have found, participating in these groups over the last year or so is that new members are always excited about using Second Life as either a collaborative tool or as a platform to exhibit their work. Unfortunately, however, their interest soon wanes when they find out there’s no easy way to import in models from third party programs. I realize there’s a number of grass-roots initiatives out there that have developed rough and crude ways to import from the following:

Blender
Sketchup
Max
Maya

Although, I give my utmost respect to the programmers that have developed these projects, to say they are crude, is to pay them a compliment. What invariably happens is that after sharing these links with the many people that ask, they come back (if they come back at all) even more confused and frustrated having labored through the elaborate and evolved process of copying and pasting pieces of code back and forth between one program and the other. The process is about as easy as painting with rice grains.

Having had a number of conversations over the year with people about this, I can say with confidence, that SL’s lack of portability is the number one hurdle for our demographic and the main reason why many people never come back. Although speculation, I would imagine this is a major hurdle for other groups as well.

What I don’t really understand is why this issue is not pushed more by the SL community at large. I have noticed there were a number of issues posted on SL’s Issue Tracker that call for portability of a number of various file types, such as .OBJ, .3DM, .3DS, .DXF, & .DAE.

What I don’t really understand is why, firstly, the overall SL community is not voting on this en masse and secondly, why have some of these grass-roots initiatives outlined above, just withered on the vine? Some of these projects are over two years old, with no sign of life or continued evolution since they were first posted.

Having been in the middle of this conversation for awhile, it seems the standard responses usually involve two factors: technology and/or SL’s economy—Technology, from the aspect that it’s currently still too difficult to do and economically, from the aspect that the sudden influx of new models would dilute the value of existing in-world creations, resulting in a negative impact on SL’s economy. Although I’m sure there are more reasons, these seem to be at the forefront of the discussion.

What confuses me, from my perspective anyways, is that these reasons still don’t seem plausible to me and I’m found wondering if I’m missing a valuable part of the equation.

First, although I have a limited background in programming, it appears from the existence of these grass roots projects, that portability is indeed obtainable. Having dabbled a little with each project above, I realize the process is laborious—cutting and pasting code from one program to the other.

I also realize that most of these conversion programs drastically simplify the form when imported into SL, such as textures being stripped off, and meshes and certain objects such as cylinders and sphere’s being simplified down to plain ‘box’ prims in SL. Although these are indeed hurdles, the technology is currently there to do this on a very limited basis.

What I don’t understand, is why these projects haven’t evolved into a more user-friendly format after the years they have been in place. This is just a lack of user-interface design verses a lack of back-end programming. Even though they are crude and might only import texture striped SL boxes in some cases, i know that I, as well has a horde of others, would still jump at the chance to have access to a tool like this and in most cases would actually pay good money for such a thing.

On to the economic end of the argument. I guess I can see on the surface, why a number of residences might be fearful of a world where seamless importing and exporting becomes the norm. I would imagine their argument springs from the fear that they either think their creations would be diluted by all these new models or that their creations could easily be exported and in turn imported, further diluting their value. I think these are legitimate concerns, but are there not ways of regulating this? Could you not add an additional layer of modifications rights that would give the owner of the in-world object the choice on whether they allowed subsequent owners to export out their creations?

From the importing perspective, yes, I’m sure such functionality would initially effect the market. The problem is however, that in the long run, the longer SL holds out on this functionality, the more negatively it will impact the economy, that is, when they finally do implement it. I’m not an economist, but I would imagine this is the same phenomenon you see when age old tariffs are removed and the economy in which they were trying to protect in the first place, finds itself unprepared to compete in the more innovative and efficient economy that was growing up all around them the whole time.

The assumption here, of course, is that they will do this eventually. The reason being, I believe, is that they will be forced to from market pressures from other virtual worlds offering portability as standard service and perhaps. In the end, perhaps this is exactly the reason why SL hasn’t offered this service yet. There’s no real viable competitor yet.

Although part of the reason for writing this post is to rant a little, my main objective is to start a conversation around why you don’t think portability has become common place for the end-user by now. I just wanted to share my confusion with everyone and see if there are others that are either just as confused, or perhaps have a more nuanced answer to this problem.

And by all means, if this too is a thorn in your side, please place your vote on Second Life’s Issue Tracker. Pick your poison. .OBJ, .3DM, .3DS, .DXF, & .DAE. Voting is easy, just login in first.

And if you’re a developer, just know that I’ll be the first to put my order in and I’m sure I wouldn’t be alone. The market seems to be begging for it.



AutoCAD Import Demonstration: Transcript Posted

Let there be no doubt, the architecture and design community is pining for a fluid and automatic import process!!! I knew a meeting like this would bring lots of new faces. Even the slightest tremor of an import tool shakes out bunches of would-be SL resident architects and designers who are sitting on the fence around Second Life, waiting for the ability to import their CAD models into a virtual environment.

It is refreshing to see the kind of innovation coming from AI Design Studio. There is hope! Thanks very much to Impalah Shenzhou and Asha Eerie for demonstrating their new Henshin Autocad import tool. It is truly fascinating!

You’ll find the transcript HERE.



AutoCAD Import Tool Demonstration: Architecture Meeting Thursday, Sept. 13th, 11AM

This week’s Architecture Group meeting will be a demonstration of the new AutoCAD import tool (Henshin III), created by AI Studio. They will rez a full building, designed and modeled in AutoCAD, completely textured. They will also demonstrate the Layer functions and show how the system can change the visibility and position of imported objects.

Thursday, Sept. 13th, 11:00 AM

Discussion will be held on the new arcspace sim, attached directly north of Architecture Island: SLURL



AutoCAD to Second Life: New Version Video
September 8, 2007, 3:39 pm
Filed under: architectural resources, autocad, import tools

My friend Nicco Kuhn brought this to my attention.  A new demo video of the next generation Henshin III AutoCAD import to Second Life tool.  Please post comments with your experiences using this tool if you’ve had a chance to experiment with it.   Certainly looks very promising!