Saturday, October 27, 2007

A New Second Life Client

I am a CSI freak and interested in Second Life as an educational tool. So I eagerly last week's CSI NY which featured a crime involving a Second Life Avatar and promised a CSI Second Life site with crimes to solve and a CSI crime lab. Also involved was the use of a new Second Life client called Onrez from Electric Sheep. I must admit I was skeptical as was James Au over at New World Notes. He was afraid that Onrez would "AOL-ize" the Second Life experience.






But as he, I was impressed. First the interface is a bit more like using web browser in that there is an address window in the menu bar where you can directly type a Second Life address and teleport there. That saves a step in that you don't have to go to the SL world map first. Next, the menu bar includes a search feature for SL. Typing "education" into the search window gives a list of education sites in SL. Back and forward buttons work much like those of a browser but only within Second Life. Thus novice users might find Onrez more intuitively appealing.


There is more! Second Life supports the opening of web pages via its scripting language, but the Second Life client currently opens the web page externally by launching your default web browser. Onrez is much slicker. It has a built in Browser that opens a window within the client. Granted, the web as a texture on a prim would be slicker yet but Onrez's approach nice and clean. As James notes, right now you can't get certain web features such as quick time to work with in Onrez, but that apparently is coming.

The Onrez client does seem to be tweaked for graphics performance. For instance frame per second rates (fps) are better using Onrez (version 1). Earlier today on my land in Carmine, the SL clent gave fps of 12 and Onrez of 50 fps respectively in consecutive trials. That's is a bit extreme but Onrez seems to give around twice the frame rate as Second Life's current client release (1.18(3)5) on my machine (Specs here).

The average user will notice this speed difference and I found an amusing visual difference in the performance of particle scripts. For instance I have a script that produces little dragonflies around a coy pond in my SL house. (Hey haven't you always wanted a coy pond in your house?)




First, is a shot taken of this particle script's performance in SL. You might get a pulse of 10 dragonflies and they move at a pretty sedate clip. Next is a shot taken from the same vantage point using Onrez. Lot's more dragonflies and they move at a pretty good clip. I suspect this improvement is a graphic's issue rather than faster script execution time, but i don't have any good script bench marks such as are used to compare computer performance. I find it interesting that Second Life viewed via the Onrez client seems to use a lot less bandwidth than when viewed via Second Life's client. I don't know if that is real or how it is done.

Oh as for the CSI Second Life site, I quite frankly haven't played with the crimes scenes yet. I did visit the crime scene lab and was disappointed in the lack of functionality. Most of the equipment is not scripted. I think the CSI people missed a great chance to educate visitors about the science behind CSI. Also I found that novice visitors to the site were confused what to do. But at least they were spared to culture shock of Second Life's normal orientation since Onrez takes the user to CSI island by default.





The SL episode of CSI New York is a "two parter"; the second part to be shown in February. So it will be interesting to see how this experiment melding SL with broadcast television works out. Did I like the episode? Yes I did. There were lots of in world shots, and an arena fight involving some pretty nasty monsters to appeal to the novice gaming set. I am not a gamer but I suspect gamers might not have been impressed with the graphics. Maybe I am missed whether this is possible, but I would like to be able to visit the arena and other spots used to stage the CSI Second Life scenes.
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