Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Project Materials Viewer

There is an early release Project Materials viewer (i.e. one supporting normal and specular maps) for Second Life. It's not the official release, but something people can use to try the features out.

Normal mapping involves taking information from a high polygon count version of an object and then applying it to a low polygon count version, so that you have the appearance of detail without the overhead.

Specular mapping lets one make things shiny. Without it, the best one can do is to paint on textures that show how an object reflects light for a fixed arrangement of lighting. With it, objects with a specular map reflect the light or lights actually present (if one can say "actually present" about a virtual world!). One has to admire the efforts of SL builders to prepaint highlights on their work, but having them actually generated on the fly helps enormously with verisimilitude, as you can see if you head over to New World Notes for Iris Ophelia's article on the subject with accompanying video and images that I suspect will provoke salivation.

One must note that
  • Existing items won't magically become shiny or more detailed; builders will have to create new things to take advantage of the new features.
  • They don't apply to avatar skins, alas. (Someday, I hope...)
That said, I am very happy to see the progress being made. Thank you to everyone working on Project Materials, and to Ms. Ophelia for writing about it!

P.S. Normal mapping will make gratuitously high-polygon mesh items even less desirable, because one can achieve the look at a much lower overhead.

P.P.S. Aliasi Stonebender points out in the comments on the NWN post that while stock avatar skins won't (at least initially) be affected by normal and specular mapping, mesh avatars with normal and specular maps probably will be. I wonder whether this will affect the adoption of mesh avatars?

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