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  My Second Life, Part 9  
Posted 2004-06-10 by Tony Walsh

is a multi-part journal detailing the Second Life exploits and observations of Tony "Zero Grace" Walsh.

Catching Up

Ahh yes. Nothing kills your leisure hours and side-projects like a new full-time job--up until recently I've been freelancing exclusively and was graced with plenty of cycles to burn on fun stuff. I've had a mere trickle of minutes over the last few weeks to spend in Second Life, but managed to host my first event: A meeting of the Monster Makers group. The rather informal rabble took turns transforming into a range of horrific critters. New acquaintances were made, and plans for a Halloween parade discussed.

While it's not likely I'll be banging off a new Second Life article every week any more, I did manage to get another edition together. While you're waiting for my next installment, you might be interested in keeping tabs on Cristiano Midnight's personal journal of Second Life goings-on. Between Cristiano and Hamlet Linden, you'll be set for frequent SL news.

Drifting Apart

Second Life is quite literally coming apart at the seams. "Drifting primitives" might sound like a phrase that relates to ancient nomads, but instead it describes a digital cancer that is destroying user-created items bit by fractional bit. "Prim Drift," as it's also known, is a bug in the system that has been present since the dawn of Second Life, and residents are growing weary of their prized creations becoming an off-kilter mess.

Nobody feels the pain of "prim drift" more than those who wear carefully-constructed outfits containing dozens—if not hundreds—of primitive 3D objects. Michi Lumin spends most of her time in the guise of an anthropomorphic purple dragon. The 350-prim costume took over half a year to perfect, but was recently attacked by prim drift: Every single one of the prims in her outfit was randomly shifted, requiring about six hours of tweaking. "[O]f course it still isn't right, and probably never will be," Michi explained on the Second Life forums. "I did have backups from a few 'generations' ago, but since the drift is slow, cumulative, and often subtle - I didn't even notice it until I was a few iterations into the avatar's build, beyond a point of reliable restore."

"Drift happens [over] time as an object is linked or unlinked (or just from use)," wrote Tiger Crossing, a game developer within Second Life's universe. His puzzle-game "Deus Via" is constantly in need of repair due to prim drift. Even a small flaw in his prim-based Heads Up Display (HUD) system is glaring. "I found that after several links/unlinks to edit the pieces of the HUD, its icons will have moved. Because the HUD is very small, I have elements positioned at the smallest increments possible, so even the tiniest drift results in quite [visibly misaligned] graphics." Tiger's findings corroborate those of Luskwood officer Arito Cotton, whose group's carefully-crafted anthropomorphic outfits are deteriorating as you read this text. Arito has discovered that prim drift's effects are worsened at high altitudes. "[R]ocket yourself high into the sky… As you get higher, your attachments all break apart and cannot be recovered. If they haven't broken yet, you're not high enough." Arito recommends that builders stay as low to the ground as possible, since the distortion of distance that prim drift introduces is directly proportional to one's relation to sea-level.

Prim drift doesn't just affect the creators of custom objects—it affects object owners as well. On creation, items in Second Life are bestowed a set of permissions that define what the end-use of the object includes. Most objects up for sale are unable to be copied or modified (otherwise customers could put manufacturers out of business). The inability to modify a purchased object means that if that object becomes damaged by prim drift, the owner of that object—who has likely paid good money for it—is not able to repair the object. Since the effects of prim drift are not yet widely known in Second Life, most builders and their customers are exchanging goods in ignorant bliss. When a purchased object ends up askew, a customer is more than likely to assume they've bought a faulty object, turning to the manufacturer for replacement or compensation.

Ironically, Second Life users seem to be more educated about the prim drift bug than Linden Lab's CEO and founder Philip Rosedale. He outlined plans for future iterations of Second Life at a Town Hall meeting, and was asked about a fix for prim drift. "We will work on the drifting problem," replied Philip, but added: "Hadn't heard of that one." It seems at least one person at Linden Labs is tackling the problem head-on. Andrew Linden reports that most of the drift will be eliminated in the next major patch (1.4) for Second Life. The bad news is that prim drift won't completely be banished until the implementation of the long-awaited "Havoc 2"-based game engine later this year. Until then, Second Life's primitives will still be drifting—its building-blocks cracking apart at a slow enough pace to avoid detection by average citizens, yet faster than Second Life's most creative builders can stand.

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