Windlight release on the horizon.

Just back from today’s Windlight office hours.

Not much to report except to say that it looks like Windlight will probably see Release Candidate soon. Runitai mentioned maybe one or two more FL releases before all the kinks are worked out.

It’s been pretty interesting looking back at the last few months of Windlight development.

There have definitely been a lot of snags along the way, with a wide range of opinions all round from the appropriateness of the lighting offered to the operability of the client on the wide range of computers that run SL. And there will always be folk who feel Windlight is too ‘x’ in some way, always stuck firm in the opinion that ‘Windlight sucks! Why are you not working to make SL more stable??’ etc etc etc. But from what I’ve seen these past few months of keeping an eye on WL office hours, LL, and in particular the Windlight Team has been really good about keeping up with problems that are plaguing their testers.

They’ve added parts of the client that have definitely made things better form a stability point of view – allowing for av imposters has definitely helped cut down on lag in heavily populated areas. They’ve also run a lot of feedback surveys and have listened to feedback given on the blog, over JIRA and at office hours.

Overall, for such a major addition to the SL client, things have been working out really well and I look forward to seeing it in general release in the near future.

That said, as a resident using somewhat old hardware, I have to express dismay that something that was readily accessible back in June/July during its first trial in First Look is barely accessible to older computers at this point. My Mac Powerbook 1.67GHz, 2GB RAM, ATI Radeon 9600XT machine runs Windlight… reasonably well with no atmospheric shaders applied, but that means no Windlight skies – just an adjusted sky and slightly improved lighting structure. I can run atmospheric shaders, but doing so slows down performance to less than 0.5FPS, rendering any sort of movement or interaction nigh impossible.

This is a limitation of my computer to some degree, and I’m sure significant components were added to the latest Windlight compared to the original trial – I guess the visual benefits of the new client leave me wanting more than what I can get with the machine i use. And that’s a good thing I guess. But saddening since I don’t have the resources to see that happen any time soon.

Anyhow, getting back to the office hours commentary, I think it’s a good thing that the WL team has been so open about making things work for residents. For a time transparency from LL was not a strong point, and it’s good to see that change, since so much of what SL *IS* involves the community. It is nice to see Lindens recognize and appreciate that.

On Windlight, skins and face lights. (A small rant)

A common complaint that has been voiced in the wake of Windlight returning to First Look viewers new you has been the following:

‘Windlight SUCKS! My face is all dark and shadowy! I have to wear this 8 prim face light to keep my face bright!’

This complaint shows up almost anywhere the words ‘Windlight’ and ‘skin’ are combined.

The folks behind Windlight made it known that the new lighting in Windlight is meant to reflect a more realistic rendering of SL and avatars inside it, but have made numerous adjustments and concessions to user feedback throughout the various iterations of the First Look .

Yet, the fact that this does come up so often shows there are definitely a lot of people who dislike how their faces are lit in SL. But does this necessarily mean this opinion is justified?

For starters, let’s have a look at this experiment I put together, which compares lighting between the normal and Windlight client.

On the left, I’m wearing one facial light set at intensity 1, radius 0.35m, falloff 0. It gives off a soft, indirect & short-distance light that is not too obvious but still allows the face and skin to be recognizable as what I consider to be ‘me’. Photographed in the normal viewer.

On the right, the same face light, but multiplied a number of times and photographed in Windlight.

Preference and milage may vary as far as just how lit an avatar ought to be, but I found my preference still lies in one light prim at the same settings. Lighting for 2-8 lit prims became excessive, at times bordering on radioactive! Had I been wearing a lighter skin, i’d be at risk for being mistaken for Michael Jackson!

More to the point, here’s why using multiple prims is ineffective and greedy: SL, whether normal or windlight, only ever renders 6 lights at a time in your camera view. Additional prims that are light sources will intermittently turn on and off based on their vacinity to other light sources. This is why the figure above comparing 6 & 8 face lights has similar lighting, but a slightly different light configuration.

Worse though is this: You know how people complain about their faces being underlit even *with* a face light? Well, if they’re hanging around other people who have 6-8 prim facelights, light might be rendered from these other prims, and not their own face light.

Consider this photo of my friend, who was standing 5m away from me and wearing one light source at the time. You wouldn’t know it! In playing around with multiple lights for this experiment, I’d inadvertently caused her face light to not work at all!

The other thing that should be mentioned at this point is that, even if you really prefer a brightly lit face, you only really ever *at most* need one prim as a face light, since you can adjust intensity, radius and falloff to much greater than the settings I listed here.

That’s about it. This has gotten to be a little longer than I intended, but over the weeks I’ve heard words like ‘crap’, ‘ruined’, and a lot more cursing directed at people who deliberately take time to listen to Residents at two Office Hour sessions a week, PLUS through the First Light discussion group and really make the effort to make the SL experience work better.