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[TIPS] Get the most out of your input devices!

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Torley Linden

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What gadgets can I use to control Second Life?

At a minimum, you need a keyboard and mouse to use Second Life. But they're not the only options.

While it's largely uncharted territory, some experimenting with other input devices — or even maximizing what you already have — can yield great results. In other words, taking an hour to customize your controls can save you many more hours down the road.

(Even more adventurous in our history, see The Rig and Hands Free 3D.)

For example, most mice (including popular Microsoft and Logitech models) already have drivers that let you map extra buttons to keyboard shortcuts. Some builders I know mapped side buttons to Link (Ctrl-L) and Unlink (Ctrl-Shift-L) so they can quickly modify sets of prims when building. For awhile, I mapped a side button to Ctrl-Shift-S for taking a snapshot — until I figured out something even better (more on that in a bit).

We'll check out more gadgets later in this post.

What's the next step up from keyboard shortcuts?

Macros! With a macro, you can execute a whole sequence of keystrokes from a single keyboard shortcut. And in turn, you can make a single mouse click trigger that macro. There are various macro programs out there; on the Windows side I like PhraseExpress, but I recommend checking out Lifehacker for lots of info you can precisely apply to Second Life.

http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2513/3881460763_0d96d7bafe_z.jpg

Ever feel like the keyboard and mouse are too stiff to see what's going on? While it isn't the most publicized thing, many machinimatographers (moviemakers) and other fans of smooth motion are fond of the SpaceNavigator (learn more about usage), which has been marketed as a "mouse alternative" and makes it easier to zoom through scenes because it was built with 3D in mind. While it's been awhile since Linden Lab declared official partnering with 3Dconnexion (makers of SpaceNavigator), the setup still works the same way on Windows & Mac (not Linux) in the latest Viewer (2.4 as of this writing) and what you need to do is:

  1. Install the SpaceNavigator drivers.
  2. Plug the SN into a free USB port.
  3. Start the Second Life Viewer and login (it's easier to test when you're inworld).
  4. Go to Me menu > Preferences.
  5. In the PREFERENCES window, click the Move & View tab.
  6. Click the Other Devices button.

It should recognize the SpaceNavigator by name here. The default settings work fairly well and all the fields may look scary, but here's an example setup which is good for capturing inworld sporting events. Notice it disables Pitch Scale (0.00) so you don't get flip-flopped upside down when tracking motion:

http://farm6.static.flickr.com/5286/5263836936_1b22fa2bea_o.png

An odd thing about the specific SpaceNavigator model that I have is that it's gone up in price over time. This is because the "cheaper" ones some of us got ages ago were a "PE" model: functionally the same hardware-wise but lacking the same level of tech support — something to consider if you use the SN with other apps. Typically, you can find the "SE" model for under US$100 on Amazon and other places, although if you hunt around on eBay, you may be able to score one closer to US$50, which is what the old price was.

The SpaceNavigator isn't the only USB input device compatible with SL: I've heard from Residents using XBOX 360 controllers and other gamepads and joysticks. None of these have been certified to work for sure, so before you go exploring, I recommend doing research for pre-existing experiences and buying from somewhere with a good return policy.

What other input options are worth considering?

Not long ago, I acquired a Scythe USB Foot Switch to solve a problem: taking photos and videos when my hands are busy with the keyboard and mouse! Now, all I have to do to grab some footage is STOMP! It's a lot of fun, the Foot Switch seems to be built pretty well.

usb-footswitch-3-large.jpeg

Mine is the 3-pedal model and looks somewhat like a guitar stomp box. I got it for about US$44 from Newegg; cheaper 1-pedal and 2-pedal versions also exist. The setup software is really crude but you can map it to most keys on your keyboard. One drawback is that I could only find Windows-compatible software, although interestingly enough, it retains the keys in memory so you might be able to set it up on a Windows machine (or Boot Camp install), then plug it into a Mac. I'm unsure of Linux compatibility.

In my specific (read: geeky) setup, I've been using the F-keys at the top of my keyboard as PhraseExpress triggers. That way, I can have the Foot Switch setup so:

  1. The left pedal is mapped to F11 - Starts/stops movie capture in FRAPS.
  2. The middle pedal is mapped to F10 - Triggers PhraseExpress macro to (1) take a snapshot to disk (good ol' Ctrl-`), (2) hide the UI and take another snapshot to disk, and (3) send a postcard. Whew! I did this because postcards are flaky and I wanted to have an easy copy of the hi-fi original.
  3. The right pedal is mapped to F12 - Takes a picture in FRAPS.

Note that the F-keys themselves are pretty much arbitrary and I've configured this simply as I feel comfortable. I'm still exploring the possibilities and these are very specific needs, but specific needs are often the most timesaving for one's particular workflow. And you can always adapt these principles to your own processes.

Can you remap Second Life's keys?

Yes, you can. It's not the most user-friendly but it's not brain surgery, either. What you need to do is open a text file and change some lines. I previously wrote the "Keyboard mapping" help page to show you how.

Have a question or a tip about using input devices with Second Life? Ask/answer away in the comments!

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The page on "The Rig" really needs pictures.

postpics.gif

Just sayin'.

 

 

P.s. Are there any other "more affordable" alternatives to the SpaceNavigator? Most of the ones I've seen have cost in the range of $60 to $200 and beyond, before shipping.

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Myself I've had some success with using a Playstation2 controller with a USB adapter (I just lack the hand-eye coordination to really make the best use of it though), it's not as nice as the spacenavigator for moving around but the abundance of buttons makes it easy to set up special actions and the dual analog joysticks and directional pad make it fairly easy to use.  By using a program like 'joy2key' (http://electracode.com/4/joy2key/JoyToKey%20English%20Version.htm a program that allows you to map your joystick so that the controls generate a corresponding keypress in response to button presses or movement) it's easy to setup macros like what Torley mentioned, and best of all these PS2 controllers are really cheap so if you happen to wear it out it's inexpensive to replace.  Of course you can also use similar game controllers from other manufacturers (some of which look identical to a PS2 controller).  Walmart used to sell a game controller adapter for connecting a multitude of different game controllers to a computers USB port, it had support for Playstation controllers, Xbox controllers, Gamecube controllers and the old PC gameport style controllers too if I remember right, I don't know if they still sell it but I'm sure you can find adapters like it online pretty cheap, I bought my Playstation adapter from Radio Shack about 6 years ago for less than $10US (I don't think they sell them anymore though).  Additionally if you want to use an old Xbox controller you can hack the end off the cable and splice on a standard USB plug and with a special driver you can use the Xbox controller with a PC without having to spend money on an adapter, here's an article on making the necessary changes, http://www.ocmodshop.com/ocmodshop.aspx?a=223, do this at your own risk though as it is possible that if you make the wrong connections you may damage your USB port or your computer, USB is only 5 Volts but that's still enough to fry a chip if it's sent in through the Data lines, most USB ports have a sort of circuit breaker to protect them but not all do.

ETA: @Torley, I don't see the relevance of an article on Lifehacker about Notepad++ macros to SL.  That article is specific to creating macros for Notepad++ and those macros cannot be used outside of Notepad++.  A better site to link to would have been the site for the scripted macro tool 'Autohotkey' (http://www.autohotkey.com/) which can be used to create macros to automate many tasks.  There is even a utility to compile the macros into standalone executables, the link for that utility is on the main Autohotkey website somewhere (can't remember exactly where, sorry).  I was able to use Autohotkey in combination with a simple homemade infrared receiver and the program Winlirc to create a macro to allow me to control Windows Media Player and other programs using a Universal Remote Control (cheaper than buying one of those fancy add on remote kits).

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Very cool, Torley! I might actually get 1 of those stomp pedals. Could be very handy for combat too.

I said this before but I will say it again as I really feel this is the best way to move around. I use a Microsoft IntelliMouse Explorer 3.0 mouse, and I buy extras, as I tend to use very clicky programs. They run about 35 bucks. The mouse has 5 buttons, and I connect 1 extra button to the Forward Key, 1 button to the Backwards Key, and my middle mouse button to the Page Up key. This basically allows me to move around using my mouse and only use the keyboard to chat or whatever. The software for it allows you to configure different settings for different programs. So, in 3ds Max, I have completely different settings for the mouse than I do in Poser.

What I really should get is a pen to draw with. If any1 can recommend 1, please do.

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While it's been awhile since Linden Lab declared official partnering  with 3Dconnexion (makers of SpaceNavigator), the setup still works the  same way in the latest Viewer (2.4 as of this writing)

Actually, with a somewhat recent Linux kernel, it doesn't, unless you build the viewer yourself. See STORM-312 & VWR-19643. This has been fixed for some time in the linux NDOFdev library, but LL still links its Viewer with the old, incompatible version, it seems.

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I'm searching the Future Shop website (Canadian electronics store, http://www.futureshop.ca) and I'm looking at Computer accessories > Gaming gear under Gaming pads and joysticks and noticed that the gaming pads sell between $19.99 - $77.99 CAD before taxes, and the joysticks, the cheapest avaliable is $32.99 CAD and the expensive one $500 CAD. I'm hoping it works for Second Life. I may try Zellers, Staples, Best Buy and Walmart for similar ones. I don't have to go to USA to go to Target, etc to shop, but Ima shop for gaming controls and/or joysticks for my computer to play Second Life (and maybe Garry's Mod when I play that game later on in 2011.) and maybe the Foot Switch as Torley Mentioned (I dunno if they have International shipping since I live in Canada thus the Canadian dollar is barely above parity (C$1.0000 CAD = US$1.0047 USD as of post))

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@Winter I haven't found a cheaper 3D mouse; somewhat like Wacom tablets, more affordable alternatives would be healthy to make devices more easily accessible.

@Aeronya Thanks for sharing your PS2 experiences. Game on!

I actually linked to Lifehacker's "macro" tag which shows ALL articles they have about macros. (See the right sidebar; they recently updated their interface; the new layout has some bugs.) Some prefer Autohotkey over PhraseExpress, so thanks for mentioning that.

@Jura I didn't know that still worked! Thanks! Specifically, it applies to "3DX-700028" (aka "SpaceNavigator SE I referred to above) on https://www.3dconnexion.com/buy/shop/view/ListView.html

@Medhue The stomp pedals TOTALLY SAVED ME when doing lots of rapid filming just yesterday, I was jumping between two computers (setting up alts for animations) and having a bigger target to hit when I wanted to record/stop worked so well.

As for a pen, have you tried the Wacom Bamboo series, or higher up, Intuos4?

@Boroondas I was ignorant about that because I don't use Linux, I've edited the original post. Thanks!

@Elite Garry's Mod is wild, I laugh so hard at those YouTube videos showing all the ways you can build contraptions. It's been years since I've visited a Future Shop. Hope it works for you!

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I love those foot pedals! I was thinking about buying one or pair of them, but only after I give up on my idea of modifying gamepad (oversizing it) to use it as foot switch. And I love Autohotkey, too! I can't believe you haven't mentioned it, Torley, I use it ALL the time. Combining those two would be awesome for games and applications. Right now I'm thinking of making autohotkey script that orbits camera around avatar or object, just like holding ctrl+alt or alt+moving mouse, but without user needing to move mouse around. Kind of like what orbit tool in Autocad works like. Next thing I would like to see is SL viewer that accepts parameters ( especially windlight parameters) form autohotkey or any other application. Can you imagine turning your SpaceNavigator and watching sun go around as you turn it? Or fog getting closer/further as you turn your mouse wheel? All that without need to move sliders in Advanced sky settings with your mouse. That would be fantastic for machinima!

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@Medhue The stomp pedals TOTALLY SAVED ME when doing lots of rapid filming just yesterday, I was jumping between two computers (setting up alts for animations) and having a bigger target to hit when I wanted to record/stop worked so well.

Oh, man, I could, also, probably use it to start and stop recording of motion capture. It is not easy being both the mocap model and techie at the same time. A pedal, just outside the recording area, would really make things easier.

Thanks, I've seen the bamboo, and actually bought 1 for my niece. Even though my background is really drawing and painting, I was always more into animation in SL. With mesh tho, I really need to do more work in Photoshop, so I want a good pen. Plus, I've seen alot of 3d artists use pens with 3ds Max. Heck tho, I'll even use the Stomp thing for 3ds Max, might be really handy for those shortcut keys that I use all the time.

Just imagine using the stomp thing for walking forward and back in SL. That, alone, is cool.

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If you can get a Space Navigator for $60 it's well worth it. This is a solid professional tool mainly designed for 3d cad work. It's not a toy. The base is machined stainless steel. Having had mine for a bit over a year, I will say there isn't anything I can think of that will improve your enjoyment of SL as much as using one. I've had three people try mine and within 10 minutes each of them wanted all the specifics on where they could get one.

And Torely, if you could PLEASE poke whomever needs to be poked to add the flycam indicator back into the viewer?

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And Torely, if you could PLEASE poke whomever needs to be poked to add the flycam indicator back into the viewer?

 

Yes! Please!

lol, I thought I was the only one

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The Space Navigator works in Kirsten's S21 viewer for Linux, but not in s20 or the latest LL viewer for LInux.

It is possible to distinguish some Space Navigator input from keyboard input in Control messages by enabling some undocumented bits.   Are these bits going to stay around?  Shoud we add them to the wiki?

 

Has anyone modded the viewer to work with TWO Space Navigators to provide some additional Control inputs?

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@Jura and Crim Correct me if my memory here is incorrect, but I thought the Flycam indicator was removed because it didn't disappear when the rest of the UI was hidden and making machinima? Not unlike how typing Alt-Ctrl-Shift-H leaves the "Hippos!" text. Well then, sounds like a better solution then would be to have the little Flycam text visible when the UI is, but hide it when the UI is hidden. Can you please file a bug @ http://jira.secondlife.com ?

@Rufus Two SpaceNavigators? Oh gosh that sounds EXTREME. I actually have two of them but haven't tried that yet! And yes, please do add other yet-undocumented info you find to the wiki, it exists to receive your knowledge so others may know! Thank you.

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Does a microphone for the Wii work for voice chat? it has a USB connecting part. (Forgot what else I was going to say! Dang it!)

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It's a very simple post. I am a developer and I am also comfortable with this one because when I am a design of any website then I feel relaxed.

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