USCSS Conrad 11 : Cocoons

As it turns out aliens are really bad at cleaning up after themselves.



I’ve been working for a little while on how to make a good looking cocoon that doesn’t consume too much LI. I think the one in the picture above works pretty well, and only with an LI of 1.


Freebies : Football textures

This was a prop I made for the Conrad build but unlike most of the other things I’ve made it’s just textures that can be applied to a standard SL spherical prim.


When applied to a sphere prim you’ll need to rotate the textures 90 degrees in the texture panel. For some reason SL places the pole at the side of the texture.

The basic textures are the diffuse and normals:

Football diffuse

Football diffuse

Football Normals

Football Normals

I’m also going to include the ambient occlusion layer and the pattern blocking texture so you can mix up your own textures yourself:

Ambient occlusion

Ambient occlusion

Pattern blocking

Pattern blocking

Feel free to use these textures for whatever you like so long as you include a link back to this blog with anything you distribute.

USCSS Conrad 10 : The lower decks

The build for the upper deck of the Conrad is mostly done now – I’m letting it sit for a time while I work on how the story will flow through it. I’ve reconfigured it a little and I’ve had to abandon some areas due to land impact issues – when I’ve finished the build I may come back and fill in what I’ve left out if there’s any room.

For the building work I’ve moved on to the lower deck. The lighting effects are going to be stronger and more animated down there – the upper deck should introduce the players to the way the Conrad uses light without overwhelming them; the lower deck turns it up to eleven.

I’ve been working on various props and effects and some fairly cool looking sets are beginning to come together.

One of the things I definitely wanted to have was dangling chains for the industrial-looking parts of the build. This presented a couple of challenges.

Chains are hideously complex shapes that just eat polygons like mad. Even games like Skyrim resort to using a pre-rendered texture on a single flat poly in places. With a bit of poly-bashing in Lightwave I managed to come up with a satisfactory looking chain that will give me about 120 links for an LI of only two – I’m still fiddling with this and may be able to get it down further with a little luck. In any case it’s enough right now to give me a 10m chain that looks heavy without being too oversized.

The second problem was that the chains need to move. Just hanging still really did nothing for the scene. I fiddled with scripts for quite a while and eventually ended up with a system that used llSetKeyframedMotion to add a gentle swaying to them. Several copies of this, moved to slightly different levels and angles, produced a really nice little cluster of subtle motion.

Prior to tackling the Conrad I’d never used llSetKeyframedMotion before so it’s been a little bit of a learning curve but it’s turning out to be a fantastically useful tool.

Conrad Lower Decks

In the picture above you can see the chains in place in a roughed-out industrial build. What I can’t show you on this blog is the animated lighting in that set (well, not until I get a proper vidcap solution sorted out, but that’s way down my list of priorities at the moment – you’ll just have to wait and see it in-world!). I’ve gone with the old cliche of having light shining into the scene through a ventilation duct with a fan in it. I’ve never understood why anyone would mount a light above a fan like that but I can’t argue with the atmospheric effect it produces.

It took some experimenting to get this effect to look right, though. The obvious solution, and my first attempt at it, was to have a simple light projector shining down from above a mesh fan. This sort of worked but the SL rendering engine is picky about what shadows it renders – if the shadow-casting object is too far away it gets culled from the shadow mapping and all the effects disappear. With the fans mounted on a high ceiling the effect of their shadows rarely made it to the ground.

What I eventually ended up with was a (fairly crude) mesh fan that projected its own shadow map into the scene.

Mesh objects can act as projector lights as well as prims. They will project light along what Lightwave labels as the +Z axis and Blender labels as the +Y axis. This makes it fairly easy to construct a mesh fan that will be able to project a light from its face and a projection texture that will reflect the effect of a light shining from behind the fan.


Projection texture for the fan

SL is much more reliable when dealing with light projectors – there’s no awkward culling; they project their light over their configured range reliably.

Add this to a small mesh duct that places a poly behind the fan that I can assign a white fullbright texture to with a little glow and you get a convincing effect of light shining into the scene through a fan.

Each fan has a small script that uses llTargetOmega to set them spinning – the projected light spins with the prim that’s projecting it – and the effect is complete.

This technique adds reliable dynamic lighting to a 14m high room – no problems with shadow culling. The effect seen in-world is great, especially when interacting with normal- and specular-mapped objects.

I’d like to add some volumetric lighting effects to this as well but I’m still working on that and I suspect that I won’t be able to make it work effectively in any case. Still, I’m happy enough with what I have so far 🙂

USCSS Conrad 8 : More building and lighting

Despite the lack of updates the work continues on the Conrad. Over the past few days I’ve been polishing off a lot of the scripts and builds that were just roughed in. Now all the doors work, trigger the correct lights; the cargo lift is functioning and the ambient sound effects system is coming along nicely.

The sound in particular is very important to the atmosphere. Despite my familiarity with the build I’ve actually got properly creeped out a couple of times doing a walkthrough with the lights out and the sounds on.

I’ve fleshed out the starting point of the experience at last. You begin in a docking tube extended from the USCSS Montero, a salvage ship, to an exterior airlock of the Conrad.


First view into the Conrad

First view into the Conrad

I’ve also added a lot more detail to the airlock corridor – texture work to add a patina of dirt and a lot of extra normal map detail to stop the walls looking boring and flat.


There’s also been a fair bit of work on props for the interior, the largest being an escape pod system:

Room for everyone

Room for everyone

Hmm...looks like someone may have got out

Hmm…looks like someone may have got out

Unfortunately as things go on it looks like I may have to abandon some of the things I’d planned for this build. I need to get it into an LI of less than 700 and I’m nearly hitting half that already without even really beginning on the lower deck yet. I’ll have to see what I can save with a bit of cunning linking here and there and maybe the odd rebuild of a prop or two.

I’ve had a fair bit of success in hitting my LI targets for the props – I’ve gone over a few times, but on the whole things have worked out about as well as I could expect.

There’s still experimental work going on and I’m still finding more efficient ways to get the effects I want.


Notes on lighting

As I’ve mentioned before a big part of the idea behind this build was to see how far I could push SL’s Advanced Lighting Model to get atmospheric effects. It’s a powerful system, despite a number of flaws and peculiarities, that I just haven’t seen used all that much around the grid. There’s not much call for it when you’re making clothing either 😉

I’m mostly making use of projector lights – if you haven’t tried them yourself or seen them elsewhere they act like a slide projector, shining an image into the scene.

For maximum effect they need to have something to project, of course. To get projection textures I’ve been making realistic physical copies of actual lights in Lightwave, creating models with emissive filaments, reflectors and lenses, then capturing their light as a baked texture. I’ve found that a lot of the time the best effects come from introducing some imperfections into the model – a misaligned filament, imperfect lens or smudged reflector.

These textures only need to be low-rez most of the time but the subtle texturing really seems to add something to the scene. It certainly introduces a lot of lovely soft edged shadows into the build, so I can’t complain.

I’m including a few of the textures I’ve been using in this post for you to have a play around with. I’m releasing these under a CC Attribution NonCommercial ShareAlike 4.0 International license at least until the Conrad build is complete. Have a play for now and wait for the free components I’ll be releasing when it’s all done.

Luminous tube cluster

Luminous tube cluster

Point filament torch with imperfect lens

Point filament torch with imperfect lens

Linear filament with faceted reflector and perfect lens

Linear filament with faceted hemispherical reflector and perfect lens

Linear filament off-centre in faceted hemispeherical reflector with imperfect lens

Linear filament off-centre in faceted hemispeherical reflector with imperfect lens