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  Advanced ‘Second Life’ Modeling System Coming Soon  
Posted 2007-04-28 by Tony Walsh
Advanced ‘Second Life’ Modeling System Coming Soon
Sculpted prims on a silver platter.
Linden Lab has announced that "sculpted prims" are coming to Second Life, allowing modelers to create organic shapes not possible with the current tool set. The term "prims" refers to the primitive 3D building blocks which make up the majority of the virtual world's objects--cylinders and spheres, for example can be sliced, diced, and mixed to come up with a fire hydrant. Sculpted prims will be available within two weeks, according to the official Second Life wiki.

Sculpted prims are shaped by a "sculpt texture," a standard pixelated image that dictates X, Y, and X coordinates in 3D space through its Red, Blue, and Green channels. Artists and modelers will be able to use industry-standard 3D tools such as Maya and 3ds Max to export sculpt textures to Second Life. Previously, modeling for the virtual world was only officially supported through a built-in tool set. Apparently the new prims will be no more demanding on Second Life's 7 year-old physics engine than the old ones. Future plans for the technology include the ability to morph objects by using QuickTime- or Flash-based animated sculpt textures.

The availability of sculpted prims will be a major milestone for Second Life creatives, like the introduction of custom avatar animation in 2004, streaming video support in 2005, and flexible prims in 2006. The fact that "real" 3D tools can be used to export sculpt-textures means that the universe of resident-created items in Second Life will only get better-looking. Efficiencies may be created by using a single sculpted prim over a combination of standard prims, benefiting not only resident land-owners, but the back-end system that runs the virtual world, and the client-side rendering.

And now, the griping. While it really is fantastic that there's a new outlet for creativity in Second Life, sculpted prims are just a cosmetic upgrade. The improvement doesn't do anything to solve the numerous, crippling technical problems that affect users on a weekly basis, or the usability issues that still haunt the Second Life experience. As I suggested back in 2005, Second Life looks great in screen-shots but doesn't perform as good as it looks. I'm hoping sculpted prims were developed on Linden Lab's free time, because the company should be rebuilding its platform's foundation, not slapping on yet another fresh coat of paint.
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Comment posted by Ordinal Malaprop
April 29, 2007 @ 3:35 pm
It must be said that there are clearly a lot of things which need addressing in SL.

However, this may be a cosmetic upgrade, but it is a seriously significant cosmetic upgrade. We are talking about not only adding a level of mesh support but also dynamic mesh support. Much as I have grown used to the building system within SL, and much as it is relatively friendly and learnable for new residents, this not only allows other modellers to come in but also gives residents an incentive to learn skills which are useful outside of SL. I have been worried for a while that SL building would end up being some sort of ghetto.

Of course, the details aren't fully obvious as yet, but I am tentatively very positive, and downloading Blender as I write this.
Comment posted by Tony Walsh
April 30, 2007 @ 12:08 pm
I agree sculpted prims are a big deal for creators--that's a good point you've made about learning pro-level tools. Sculpted prims might actually encourage prosumer-level builders to sign up for SL. I think some fantastic builds are going to result from this.
Comment posted by Taran Rampersad (Nobody Fugazi)
May 1, 2007 @ 2:11 am
Honestly, pointing at a $7K USD application and saying "You can do this with Autodesk's software" is a good ad for Autodesk, but is of low use to the average SL user.
Comment posted by Ordinal Malaprop
May 1, 2007 @ 9:43 am
Well, no. It certainly needs other exporters, particularly for Blender, and also proper specifications so that people can make their own.
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