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Linden Lab investigates new/updated technologies for Second Life

Tateru Nino

Over the last few weeks, Linden Lab staff have been talking about a few upcoming Second Life projects during their in-world office-hours sessions. Now the Lab has always been quick to stress that the accuracy and reliability of information obtained through those venues is questionable, and that we shouldn't assume that anything said at them is actually accurate.

With that in mind, we went back to the Lab about several identifiable (or at least apparent) projects to get the skinny on them and find out what's actually happening with them, and where they're at.

Project Firefly

Project Firefly was hinted to be a client-side scripting project, that is making the Second Life viewer itself scriptable. Exactly what the scope of that might be remains unknown. It might allow for very simple alterations of the user-interface, or might extend to the capacity for full-blown automation of a viewer.

Probably the actuality, if it goes ahead, will be somewhere in between the two.

Linden Lab says that Project Firefly is "at the earliest stages. We cannot discuss this project right now. We'll share more – and work closely with the Second Life community – when we're farther along."

"At the earliest stages" could mean a lot of things, ranging from drawing straws to see who goes to the meetings to figure out if it is even feasible, how much functionality to include, or even coding up a preliminary framework. Your guess is as good as ours.

Linden Lab sounds confident that this is going ahead, but there's no timeline at this stage, and heaven only knows how much of the viewer code will have to be ripped up in order to provide functionality. It's possible that it might happen in new viewer, built mostly from the ground up as an alternative to Viewer 2.0 – but then we'd strongly advise against holding your breath. It could be a while.

Havok 7

Havok physics is the underlying third-party middleware physics system that underpins Second Life simulator operations. Unfortunately, Havok's not been all that optimal for Second Life, being that the sorts of tasks that Havok is not so great at performing well are relatively common on Linden Lab's simulators. It's not that there's anything actually wrong with Havok, it's just that it is a tool made for slightly different tasks.

Nevertheless, the demands of games have expanded significantly since Havok 4 (which is what the Second Life grid runs on at present), and Havok has grown with that. Havok 7 might present a much better option for the actual conditions that prevail in Linden Lab's virtual environment nowadays.

Linden Lab recently hired Falcon Linden (a former Havok engineer) specifically to work on Havok physics.

Falcon Linden and Oskar Linden seem certain that Havok 7.0.0 is already going ahead and that it will be ready for public testing around May this year.

Linden Lab's official comment was considerably more hesitant, "We're also interested in upgrading Second Life's physics engine and are examining Havok 7, but cannot share an implementation timeline at this time."

"Investigating" is a softer term than "at the earliest stages", and implies that the Lab isn't even really at the planning stages yet and hasn't decided what, if anything, they will do about it.

Someone's wrong, definitely. It remains to be seen exactly who. If Havok 7 gets announced before the end of Q2 2010, we'll know that "investigating" probably really means "in heavy, active development" and we'll be able to put that in our Linden-to-English dictionaries.

C# scripting

Since the first mention of the introduction of a Mono runtime engine to handle scripts written in LSL, there has been talk on and off about actually providing object-scripting support in Second Life for other source-languages. Python, Ruby, and C# have all been mentioned.

Less fortunately, the Lab has identified a number of fairly serious-looking language and performance issues that would actually make LSL a far more preferable source-language for object-scripting; at least from performance and sanity standpoints.

Now, though, the Lab says that (and here's that "investigating" word again), "We're investigating C# as an alternative to, but not a replacement for LSL."

That naturally leaves us wondering whether the problems that the Lab's previously noted with general-purpose languages running in grid objects have been solved, worked around, or simply ignored – in the latter case, LSL would still then be the language of choice for performance and lag-reduction.

We're also wondering whether this use of the term "investigating", is the same as the one for Havok 7.

Second Life 2.0 Viewer AKA Viewer 2

On a final note, during a Web-site update yesterday, a link appeared for what appears to have been intended to be the Second Life 2.0 viewer. It didn't actually go anywhere, and was taken down fairly quickly (after only a few thousand people noticed it and started asking questions).

Quoth the Lab, "As we've announced previously Viewer 2 is coming soon. Today, we mistakenly published a link leading to a placeholder download page, which was visible for a short time to Residents logged-in on the website. The Viewer is not ready yet, and the link did not lead to a download. We're looking forward to releasing Viewer 2 to everyone as an open beta very soon, and we'll make that announcement when it's time via the Second Life blog."

We can only guess at what "very soon" means, but smart money says that it will be within two weeks as the Lab only has until the end of March to get the new viewer out of beta and into production if it intends to meet the Q1 2010 target.

Are you a part of the most widely-known collaborative virtual environment or keeping a close eye on it? Massively's Second Life coverage keeps you in the loop.

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