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Web pages: how well do they tell the story?


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I'm feeling grumpy about documentation problems. I was trying to look up details of how Materials work, trying to figure out a complete picture from a rather messy, scattered, set of web pages. What I find feels like a snapshot of the exchanges between an author and publisher over a draft text, rather than a final published story, sometimes feeling as if a character has accidentally changed names.

But let's move to an example. I was looking up how specularity is controlled, and I suspected alpha channels had a part in it. I didn't expect much here, but the links could be better. The next article I found was more specific, but was first posted in 2013, with an edit in 2018, but only deals with the alpha channel in the Specularity map. But at least there is a link to the Good Building Practises portal

That's a very general link, we're just getting a list of web pages to look though, on all aspects of building. "Texture Usage" is from 2013, and implies some features are still new. Not really relevant to the alpha channels. Case Study - Katana using normal and specular maps looks promising, but something odd is happening with the images. It might be my browser, but that doesn't exclude the changes in HTML over the last seven years. It's for the LightWave crowd, maybe assumes too much for the rest of us, and since there's a company make wifi-connected lighting using that name, maybe "LightWave 3D" should be substituted.

Finally i hit a useful page "Alpha Modes Do's and Don'ts". Suddenly I find an explanation of what the Normal Map alpha channel does, as well as a version of the Specular Map alpha channel that feels a bit different. I think it's the same, but some of the language is a little different. What is the " reflected environment map"? It seems to be synonymous with the sky, which might matter a lot more with what EEP is doing. The Normal Map Alpha modulates the Glossiness, the Specular Map Alpha modulates the Environment reflection. So you could have a flat surface using a normal map to produce a criss-crossing pattern of ridges, with the three alpha channels making the gaps transparent and different reflective: think of stained glass windows, You'd have to use Alpha Blending on the Diffuse Map, and I am not sure that has ever worked quite as described.

That page also introduces the idea of an "Emissive Mask", which seems to use the same alpha channel as the transparency... Turns out it's in the options for a Diffuse Map with an Alpha Channel, one of the set None, Alpha Blending, Alpha Masking, and Emissive Mask. Trouble is, if we use the story-telling analogy, somebody was thinking they were writing Hamlet, when they should have been writing a story for a grade school audience. I had to furkle around in my viewer when they didn't even bother with a picture.

Pictures tell stories too.


That could do some interesting things with an animated texture.


But the key point is that the web site needs better organisation and management, keeping up to date with changes and telling a coherent story about how Second Life works.


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