Sunday, 3 February 2013

I wish I had more time to work in Second Life, but I’ve made some recent progress on the villa. Here I’ve filled in more detail for the portico and balcony, and built and scripted some doors. The outside walls are all in place now. The textures are still placeholders, and there are some plywood surfaces poking through.

My stunt double and I wonder if the front door should be a bit larger. But maybe seven-foot avatars with three-foot-wide shoulders shouldn’t be allowed in anyway.

The to-do list is still long:
  • Add sculpted architectural details to articulate things more. At present the outside walls seem to blend into the inside with little sense of depth. Sculpted mullions, window arches, and window bars might improve that. Corbelling, sculpted pilasters, heroic statues on the topmost parapet...
  • Decide on final textures, at least for the exterior stonework.
  • Complete a texture alignment script I've been working on, so that I can easily make the textures join seamlessly over walls built of many prims.
  • Interior decoration and furnishing. That's a whole project on its own.
  • At some point I'm going to run out of prims, as the castle is still there, down below. Then I'll have to take a deep breath, delete the castle, and move the villa down to the ground. I don't want to do that, though, until the exterior at least is in a reasonably final state.

I’ve been thinking about the building tools. On the whole, if I was fluent in using Blender, it would be a lot easier to build this in mesh instead of prims. On the other hand, I am wondering how you would texture something like this in Blender. Does it have the tools to make a texture repeat regularly across a flat surface with a complicated shape, like the walls of this building, pierced by arched windows and doors? What would the UV map even look like? Whereas in SL, it’s just (ha!) a Small Matter Of Programming to programmatically align the textures.

On the other hand, in SL you can’t easily get precision alignments without a lot of arithmetic and copying and pasting of coordinates. More scripting can deal with a lot of that, but in this case I haven’t written the script yet.

And on the third hand, there’s something that neither SL nor (as far as I know) Blender support: parameterisation. Suppose I decide at some point that I really want the walls to be 0.2m thick instead of 0.25. No way, without a huge amount of tedious manual work of the sort that, you know, we have computers to do for us. I’ve only briefly used serious CAD software, the sort of thing that engineers use to build million-vertex finite element models of car engines — and, for that matter, what architects use in RL. The standard way of operation there is to use named parameters for everything. Change one named constant and, for example, the thickness of all the walls would change, or the width of the windows, or the texture of the pilasters.

This is why, when making sculpts, I’ve never used either Blender or the in-world tools. In my own code, I can decide on the shape of the mouldings at the base of a column, and get a sculpt of that shape automatically.

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