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Textures, viewer settings, and rendering cost issues


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The post about building codes has inspired me to ask about something that is bugging me lately.

I noticed that every day more builders include "shaded" o "shadowed" textures in their building, houses and stores but what called more of my attention, is that I can see that effect in almost every new item. I think that trend started with the sculpties mostly, it's not too difficult to include ambient occlusion in a texture, or even shadows. In the "old" times, we didn't had reflection and shadows, I don't remember if we had them by the time the sculpties came to life into sl, but certainly we do now! Problem: you need a decent video card, a decent computer, etc, to be able to appreciate those client-side capabilities. With textures seems easier... But... a few things I noticed too:

1) some sculpties could be easily textured with a single texture, flat ones specially, and some shapes too, but if I use ambient occlusion, I most likely need to generate a uv map for that certain sculpt, that when deformed a bit won't look that nice, this causes some buildings that require more than one prim with the same texture if to require a different texture for it, and in the client side, a lot of rezzing time.

2) some builders tend to use (I think it is quite popular) one texture with darkened borders, and you can see it in different stretching sizes in same building, so the borders match, but the deformation of the patterns is visible.

3)abuse of shadows: this is, in places like a building outdoors that isn't  occluded by any building at all, and wouldn't be occluded because it is too tall, and it is surrounded by a significantly void area, still it haa textures with shadows, in some cases I'd think the person who rezzed the building didn't payed attention to that detail, or the builder had some other landscape in mind, but the more I look around, I see this as a tendency, and I see quality buildings with this kind of details that make me wonder: why? why?!

I assume most of this details and buildings are made considering a vast majority of users use the client in lower quality settings, and in those cases most buildings might look better, but is this an improvement? what should be the client settings and performance settings took in consideration when making a "quality building" for everybody to enjoy?

 ETA: corrected spelling and grammar mistakes (english is not my first language sorry!)

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This reminds me of a discussion I had Inworld, the idea was to send all of the Destination's Textures to the teleporting Avatar before teleporting. Residents could Cache the textures before arriving. The quantity of textures sent would be based on individual Draw Distance Preference setting.

 

When arriving at a location, data is cached right? That's why we clear the cache, get rid of all the data from the places that were visited. I tell people that I would be happy to cache them and they don't understand.

 

If I have it backwards please set me straight.

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I like that idea, if I delay too much to teleport, then I choose not to go :P

But my question, is more building oriented, what I have to consider when building? a user that will see the lowest quality possible of everything, and needs the shadows to be stressed and exagerated for them to see some realism on the scene? or a user that will see the scene at full client quality, without excess of details added to replace client quality?
I feel it is a vicious cicle, if there are too many textures used merely to replace what client can do and does, but people lowers it because at full quality it is slower, but at same time it is slower because we have to render too many. There shouldn't be some general criteria for this? there is an accepted criteria for this and I am missing it?

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Hi Ars.  I'm having a little trouble understanding some of your points.  I realize English is not your first language, so perhaps I'm just misreading you, but it seems you're operating based on some incorrect assumptions, particularly with regard to how textuirng of sculpties can or should be done.  Allow me to try to explain.  I'll take it one point at a time.  :)

 


ArsHarmonia wrote:

I noticed that every day more builders include "shaded" o "shadowed" textures in their building, houses and stores but what called more of my attention, is that I can see that effect in almost every new item. I think that trend started with the sculpties mostly, it's not too difficult to include ambient occlusion in a texture, or even shadows. In the "old" times, we didn't had reflection and shadows, I don't remember if we had them by the time the sculpties came to life into sl, but certainly we do now! Problem: you need a decent video card, a decent computer, etc, to be able to appreciate those client-side capabilities. With textures seems easier... But... a few things I noticed too:

Just so you know, the main reason why we see so many more textures with baked shadows nowadays than we did years ago is because texture artists in SL have had the ensuing years to hone their techniques, to get better at making thing look more realistic, and more aesthetically accomplished. 

Back in the day, SL looked quite awful, for the most part.  Just about everything, textures included, was very underdeveloped, very flat, very amateurish.  People hadn't yet figured out what worked and what didn't, artistically.  But now, a great many content creators know how to make things look very, very good.  Shading is a HUGE part of that.

But of course, as with all things, there is a downside.  Not everyone knows how to optimize.  The SL population is still made up primarily of amateurs who have no idea what they're doing.  They see a nice looking build, made by a professional, and it inspires them.  So they set out to make something that looks just as good.  But because they lack the proper knowledge of how to do it efficiently, they end up creating what amounts to a very good looking lag monster.

Eventually everyone does learn to make things that are both good looking and well performing.  But it doesn't happen over night.  The majority of people will always be somewhere in the middle of the learning process.  As a result, most content will be inefficient, and SL will never run as smoothly as it otherwise could.  That's just something you have to accept in SL.  It's the nature of the beast (and it's not a bad thing).

Bottom line, if you want a virtual world for which you don't need high end hardware to experience high performance, go to one that is not made up of user generated content.  The requirements for World of Warcraft, for example, are extremely light.  In a world where amateurs make almost everything, system requirements are always going to be relatively high.

 

 


ArsHarmonia wrote:

1) some sculpties could be easily textured with a single texture

I'm not sure what you're trying to say here.  The words "some" and "could" do not apply in this context.  EVERY sculpty IS textured with a single texture.  By definition, a sculpty is a singular contiguous surface.  One sculpty can't have more than one texture on it, ever. 

Am I perhaps misunderstanding what you were trying to say?  If so, could you please clarify? :)

 


ArsHarmonia wrote:

1) but if I use ambient occlusion, I most likely need to generate a uv map for that certain sculpt,

This assumption is not accurate, for two reasons:

First, by definition, all sculpties have the exact same UV map, just a perfectly uniform grid, nothing more, nothing less.  If you change a sculpty's UV map, it won't be a sculpty anymore.  The uniform grid layout is absolutely essential in order for a sculpty to be a sculpty.

Second, there's absolutely no reason you'd need to alter the existing UV layout just to add ambient occlusion to a texture.  All you need to do is apply the proper render settings (or possibly apply an occlusion shader to the surface, depending on what modeling program and renderer you're using), and bake the texture image.  That's it.

 

 


ArsHarmonia wrote:

I most likely need to generate a uv map for that certain sculpt, that when deformed a bit won't look that nice,


I don't quite understand what you mean.  Why would the UV map be deformed? 

Terminology issue, perhaps?  Are you maybe talking about something other than a UV map? 

 

 


ArsHarmonia wrote:

this causes some buildings that require more than one prim with the same texture if to require a different texture for it, and in the client side, a lot of rezzing time.

 

Yes, if two prims that would otherwise have the same texture on them require different shading, and you want to bake the shading into the texturing, then the result would be two different textures.  This will, of course, increase rezzing time, just as you've noted.

There are a few things you can do to cut down on this, though.  One is to combine your textures into multi-panel "texture sheets".  For example, instead of having two unique 256x256's, you could put them both on a single 256x512 canvas, and then just display half the image on each prim.  This won't lower the total amount of texture memory being used, but it will cut down on network overhead, since only one asset needs to be delivered instead of two.

Another option is to put the same texture on both prims, and then create the shading with additional prims that have "shadow textures" on them.  Since the shadow images themselves typically don't require much detail, they can be really, really small, like 64x64 or less.  Small shadow textures, laid over the top of larger diffuse color textures, will often cut down significantly on total texture overhead.  But of course, prim usage goes up, as does the amount of render passes, as well as the likelihood of alpha sorting issues, so it's not always a win.  Sometimes you come out ahead this way; sometimes you don't.

Beyond that, the remaining options are either don't have shadows, or bake the shadows in.  Until and unless we get better technologies built into SL, such as lightmaps, there's no really elegant solution.  It's always going to be a balancing act between aesthetics and performance considerations.

 

 


ArsHarmonia wrote:

2) some builders tend to use (I think it is quite popular) one texture with darkened borders, and you can see it in different stretching sizes in same building, so the borders match, but the deformation of the patterns is visible.

Yeah, I hate seeing that.  While it's possible that it's sometimes done for efficiency reasons, the impression it tends to convey is of a lazy, sloppy builder who either didn't know how to make it look better, or just didn't care.

 

 

 


ArsHarmonia wrote:

3)abuse of shadows: this is, in places like a building outdoors that isn't  occluded by any building at all, and wouldn't be occluded because it is too tall, and it is surrounded by a significantly void area, still it haa textures with shadows, in some cases I'd think the person who rezzed the building didn't payed attention to that detail, or the builder had some other landscape in mind, but the more I look around, I see this as a tendency, and I see quality buildings with this kind of details that make me wonder: why? why?!

 

Well, in RL, even items that are entirely unoccluded still have shading.  There's only one object you see in everyday life that has no shadows on it at all, and that is the sun.  Everything else, including buildings, trees, people, clouds, even sheets of plain white paper, all have highlights and shadows on them, always.  Heck, even the sky has shading (it's darkest at the horizon, and lightest where the sun is).

Now, if someone shades something over-dramatically, or otherwise unrealistically, whether it's an indoor or outdoor item, well, that's just poor artistic judgment.  I'd have a hard time calling it "abuse", just because it doesn't look good. 

That said, do keep in mind, not to shade something at all, simply because it's meant to be an outdoor item, is to be just as unrealistic.  Surfaces don't become immune to the natural laws of physics, just because they're outside.  Everything has shading, everything.  Unshaded surfaces look flat, under-developed, and amateurish.  If you want your builds to pop, you must give them some shading.  Otherwise, they'll always be dull and cartoonish.

 

 


ArsHarmonia wrote:

I assume most of this details and buildings are made considering a vast majority of users use the client in lower quality settings, and in those cases most buildings might look better, but is this an improvement?

 

Most people don't run on Ultra, if that's what you mean.  And the vast majority certainly don't have dynamic shadows enabled.  That's not even an option in many of the viewers that are out there right now, and it's not yet an officially supported feature even in the viewers that do have it.  It's still under development, and highly experimental.

As for what does or doesn't make a building look "better", and what is and isn't an "improvement", that's obviously subjective.  Ask a hundred people, and you'll get a hundred answers.

For my part, I usually shade outdoor scenes with the "overcast day" look.  That means lots of non-directional lighting and shading.  That way, it looks plausible, no matter what direction the sun is currently in.  Also, it tends to compliment, rather than contradict, dynamic shadows.  It's really only when baked shadows are too directional that they start to conflict overtly with the actual in-world lighting.  Non-directional global illumination effects, such as ambient occlusion, final gather, or even just good old fashioned gradients or inner shadows, don't tend to cause issues, no matter what the state of the real lighting conditions, as long as they're used tastefully and intelligently.

 

 


ArsHarmonia wrote:

what should be the client settings and performance settings took in consideration when making a "quality building" for everybody to enjoy?


 

You're barking up the wrong tree with that question.  There's no single collection of viewer settings that is going to match what everybody else is using.  Everyone's got different settings.

And even if it were possible to figure out some kind of "average user" settings (which it's not), there would still be the problem that eveyrone's got different hardware configurations.  Take two viewers with identical settings, and look at them on different monitors, and with different video cards, and they're going to look quite different from each other.  There's no way to have things look exactly the same unless the settings and the hardware are identical.

What you should instead be thinking about is how you can make your builds look good at all different viewer settings.  When you make something, don't just examine it at your usual settings.  Lower the settings, raise the settings, look at it under as many conditions as you can.  If it doesn't look reasonably good at all settings, redo it until it does.  With enough practice, you'll get a feel for what kinds of things always work.

By the way, I use four monitors on my main computer.  I've got two ultra high end artist-quality Eizo flat panels, and two eight-year-old Samsung panels.  Whenever I texture something, I make sure to look at it on both sets of monitors.  If it looks good on the Eizos (which are way better than what most people have) and the old Samsungs (which are quite a bit worse than what most people have), then I know it's going to also look good on everything in between.

If you don't have access to that kind of setup, don't worry.  Chances are you've got something in the middle anyway.  What looks OK on your screen will likely look OK on most other people's screens as well.  You just don't have the luxury of being absolutely certain unless you can test on the full range.  But you can still make reasonable assumptions.

 

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Hi Chosen. Thanks for going through the pain of reading my post, while reading your reply I realized I made more than  the spelling and grammar mistakes I already fixed, and sometimes simply used the wrong terms.

I spent quite a while trying to post quoting you and explaining step by step, but apparently results in a very very long text and when I try to post it I got all kinds of warnings. So, sadly, I'll summarize.

First and perhaps most important, because I believe it took you, and probably others, a lot of work trying to figure out what I was trying to say (it was late last night when I wrote it, and some neuron in my brain was crashed), I meant to say "baked texture" whenever I said UV map, so I was trying to explain that the same texture you can use in several different prims (I know each sculpts requires only one) is not re-usable when you replace it with a texture with shadows baked into it, because the shadows for one prim hardly match another when you change its shape (i.e..: from sphere to cube). Even thou, you managed to answer me! and that's amazing in itself :smileyvery-happy:

True, what you stand about the different stages content creators went through, the Linden Lab was part of that learning process also, and I have absolutely nothing against "amateur" content creators, quite the contrary, I've seen over the years talented people that had a "second chance" making a career here, without previous practice in a certain area, and successfully compete with others that were experienced professionals in the same subject. I think that is perhaps one the biggest values of SL. Specially when it comes to arts, skilled artists tend to be undervalued in RL, many people prefers to have in their RL other sources of income and relegate art, in SL some of them shine and marvel with their "relegated" skills, or at least they find a place to show them. That's perhaps also the main reason I wouldn't change SL for World of Warcraft of anything of the likes. Others, (perhaps like you?) come here with a well worth background,, and a worthy set of advices of what to do and what not to, and what might be done, or a simple answer to why this works better than that, those are indispensable for speeding up our learning curve too.

Now to the more interesting point: textures with baked shadows or not. Before reading you, and for the last few months since I came back (I spent around a year away) I been blaming textures for lag, and I had the feeling the lag in some areas rises in exponential scale, so I blamed shades, if I spend a good while rezzing a place, and when I finally see it, I find walls and objects with a good amount of shadow baked textures, I tend to blame them. This is a one side perception, it could be the same lag that was there before, could be my computer, could be my IP provider, could be a hundred reasons, but that got into my head and was the reason of this post, and the reason I also started building what you might call "cartoonish" objects. I thought dynamic shadows were more common too, now I have to rethink the whole concept... but I also like your alternatives (multiple textures in a larger one, which I already considered) and the additional prim. I knew that last "trick" but I never pondered it too much, or considered it a way to improve the efficiency of the textures rezzing process, I even have an objection to it, some buildings rezz completely and you keep seeing them gray and having no clue what are them because that shadow texture might delay more rezzing (due to the use a big resolution texture on it instead of the low res? too many different textures for shadows similar to too many baked textures?) I'll certainly have to experiment more with this.

And finally, your answer to the settings question... Oh my!!! I thought I had a cool computer but now I have had a glimpse of what being a digital god might be!!!!:smileyvery-happy:

 I design software and hardware in RL, but I never been above 2 monitors in my life, I don't think I'd ever even feel comfortable, I sometimes loose myself in one alone  :smileytongue: I'll have to be happy to try different client settings with what I have.

Thanks for your reply Chosen! It's most appreciated.

 

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