Making Meshes

by Maxwell Graf and Aisling Sinclair

Today, Tuesday 11th October at 2pm SLT, Designing Worlds will be filming an important discussion show at our new studio in Garden of Dreams2. The topic is mesh, and the special project to develop improvements to mesh for Second Life and other virtual worlds.

That project – a crowdsourcing initiative on the fundraising website and reported first on this blog – has at this writing raised over half of the funds necessary to achieve the project.

The Mesh Clothing Parametric Deformer Project , the idea of designer Maxwell Graf and developer Karl Stiefvater, shows a total of US$3,322 received so far toward the US$5,400 goal. Fifty-five days remain to complete the project’s funding.

But why is mesh important? What impact will it have on the average resident? And actually – what the heck IS mesh?

In our earlier conversations with Max about his project, he answered some of those basic questions…

What in the world is mesh?

In fact, everything in the world is mesh. Mesh is what virtual worlds are made of. Every prim and sculpted prim you see is composed of lots of little triangles called polygons. To see the “bones” of Second Life the way your computer does, press Ctrl-Shift-R on your keyboard.

A wireframe view: it all comes down to geometry.

Aha! That view is called the “wireframe” – all the textures are removed, revealing that your avatar, your hair and other attachments, all buildings, furniture, land, sea, and sky are made up of those little polygons. And that is mesh.

Textures just cover up the polygons.

Many things in Second Life, particularly sculpted prims, use a huge amount of polygons to form the mesh – the geometry – of the objects around you. In fact, so many are needed that they are beginning to take a heavy toll on Second Life’s servers, causing more and more lag and draining system resources grid-wide. To a large degree, this is one of the main arguments in favor of using mesh as a new creation tool inworld – because when made properly, mesh is more efficient, similar in many ways to the content you see in most video games and MMOs outside of Second Life.

So then why is mesh just now starting to be used as a building tool in Second Life? That’s because this virtual world was made especially to allow residents to create. Our original building blocks – regular prims – were devised to enable anyone to build anything they could imagine. And residents did create astonishing builds with those tools, limited though they were. Then sculpties were  made to extend builders’ capabilities, but they have limits, too.

How is mesh different?

Mesh objects are similar to both regular prims and sculpties, with the benefits of both and improvements over both.Imagine being able to start with a regular prim cube, but then to be able to shape or manipulate that cube any way you like. Choose just one corner and pull it out of line, cut a shape out of any portion of it, combine it with other shapes or add more points to it. Sculpties can do something similar, but they place limits on the geometry – hence the complexity – of an object. Mesh has no such limits.

Also imagine having no limits on how you can texture that cube. Your textures won’t pucker at the top and bottom like they do with sculpties. And there’s no specific way a texture has to wrap around your object.

This is what mesh tools allow – they remove the limitations on the geometry and texture of an object. They let creators make full use of the 3D graphics programs outside of Second Life that are used to build mesh objects. This is a significant advantage for creators, but also a huge jump in the variety and quality of content available to everyone on the grid. Mesh polygon modelling is what everyone in the world uses to make 3D content – except in Second Life, where we have, up to now, used a proprietary system of prims and sculpted prims to make things.

There are downsides to mesh, however. Mesh is generally more difficult to create. Creators must learn a new set of tools, and then understand how those tools work in Second Life. But creators faced and overcame the same situation when sculpted prims were introduced.

However, with all the additional possibilities inherent in adjusting and creating mesh objects, they can also take more work and time to make. Creators must understand how to design their objects so that they are efficient and don’t cause lag.

Current mesh technology is even more problematic for creators of mesh clothing, because they must learn a variety of techniques to help your avatar fit inside their clothes. At the moment, mesh clothing – while it will move with you – generally doesn’t fit you. You must adjust your shape to fit the clothing, or you must hide parts of you that are underneath the clothing using an alpha layer. The shape you take on when wearing an article of mesh clothing is whatever shape that item happens to have. Mesh cannot be adjusted to fit the avatar.

To compensate, many clothing creators must pursue a nightmarish scenario of creating multiple sizes and alpha maps, rigging the garment to the avatar skeleton, and adjusting the weights of each joint on the garment so it bends and moves with you accurately. All very technical and complex – and yet the result is still not pleasing to customers. As a person buying mesh clothing, you must choose which size most closely fits your avatar, configure and adjust the multiple alpha layers, and perhaps adjust your shape and size so that you can wear it accurately.  You have to compromise your identity to wear mesh clothes, as it stands.

For all practical purposes, there are major usability issues with “rigged” mesh clothing now for just about anyone who has made them or tried them on.

Join Designing Worlds today in our studios at 2pm for what promises to be a lively discussion of these issues and – most important – what’s being done to improve the situation.


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