Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The construction of Second Life Musical Venues






The subject of virtual real estate, 3-dimensional building and managing lag issues in Second Life is a very large topic, which I can only touch on here.



Artists and arts organizations may wish to know that non-profits can apply to purchase virtual real estate at a reduced price if they use that land for their non-profit activities. Virtual building is a highly specialized skill and can be costly unless you are able to access highly skilled volunteers. Everything in Second Life is built by users out of basic shapes (virtual building blocks) and textures (graphic images applied to shapes). Poor building is costly in efficiency and in performance for people visiting your site.


However, it is not necessary to buy land or build for the artist or ensemble to begin to present concerts in virtual reality. There are many venues and now several established concert series. You do, however, need to understand SL building, economics and technology to some extent to choose project partners wisely.



In my role as one of 4 Officers of the Classical Music Group in Second Life I have helped support classical musicians and ensembles in presenting and promoting their concerts in various venues across the virtual world. Very early on, I identified a number of issues with many of the venues that held concerts.



Very briefly these issues were of three types:



  1. The largest problem was venues constructed for appearance—visual impact—rather than maximum capacity of venue

  2. Lack of support for technical problems

  3. The venue lacked the support people or knowledge to deal with occasional trouble-makers

To a large extent these problems were the result of either ignorance or lack of interest in the art form. Most concert venues in virtual reality are built with the simple goal of attracting more people to simulation in the hopes that it will directly or indirectly serve commercial goals: The hope is that people will stay and shop at virtual stores, buy or rent virtual property in a lovely sim they have visited, and/or the increased traffic in the simulation will boost ranking on the SL search engine, rather like boosting Google rankings.


Naïve virtual builders are swept up in the desire to create a wonderful replica of gothic cathedrals or baroque salons. They believe that this visually impressive space with detailed, high resolution textures will be a fantastic place to hold classical concerts. The reality is that the amount of RAM needed to draw & re-draw all those textures at 15 fps or above for ideal display means that with the addition of just a few moving avatars in the scene, people will experience lag and crashing.


As avatars move about a visually rich environment, their computer has to draw and re-draw all the textures from different angles and proximities as they move their field of vision. The more avatars doing that in a simulation, all running on the same server, the slower the simulation becomes until eventually the server can crash. Individuals within such a slow moving simulation experience problems called “lag” which disrupt their enjoyment of the experience in various ways, often even causing individual avatars to “crash,” to be abruptly disconnected from the grid.


I brought this problem back to my own non-profit, open-learning community and gained consensus that we would hold a broad-based consultation to explore the idea of constructing a classical music venue built purely for music. We spent a half-day meeting with sound experts, builders, event planners with experience with large SL events, and classical musicians.


From that consultation we came away with the following advices of excellence:



  1. Use as few textures and as low-resolution textures as possible

  2. Keep the audience view as simple as possible: looking out to open sea was thought ideal--the less the avatar's viewer has to draw the more efficiently the program runs

  3. Build the venue in two simulations with the stage in one simulation and the audience area in a separate simulation. That way, audience lag will not affect the performer(s)

We have used all these advices in the construction of our classical amphitheatre, placing it on its on islet that we simply called “Music Island”.





1 comment:

  1. Beautiful, its like a place in one fairytale story.

    ReplyDelete