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Second Life Users Waiting on Firestorm to Implement PBR. Trouble Is, PBR Broke Some Firestorm Features. (But a Fix is Coming.)

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Firestorm viewer SL PBR update

PBR before/after comparison from the official Firestorm blog

The addition of PBR to Second Life greatly enhances the virtual world's graphics. According to our recent survey, however, the plurality of Second Life users are waiting to use physical based rendering when it's added to Firestorm, the highly popular third part SL viewer (or TPV).

One small problem with that, says Firestorm developer Beq, writing in Comments — PBR and Firestorm aren't yet playing well together:

PBR breaks a number of features our users love, and we need to fix those or find alternatives where necessary. We also need to be sure that it fits our user base, the full breadth of which runs the gamut of hardware, from high-end gaming machines to very low-end bargain laptops. In fact, our lead developer, Ansariel, has spent months trying to pin down a performance issue that many would not have noticed. It affected only the "lower-end" machines, those who, one could argue, could least afford that performance loss.

When LL released their PBR viewer, we were still gathering data points from our testers; the good news is that Ansa has not only identified and fixed the issue, and it can be tested by anyone in our preview group, but it will soon be part of the next Linden Lab Maintenance release, benefitting the wider community. We are not there yet, but we are getting there.

So PBR integration with Firestorm will have to wait awhile before it exists for the vast majority of Second Life users who prefer TPVs.  Then again, there's also been problems with PBR in the official SL viewer, which is to be expected. As Beq writes:

Linden Lab released what they themselves have said was not entirely as ready as they'd have liked in an ideal world, but in doing so, they have opened up the space, and raised the profile of the project. It was the right thing to do; they have the product live, and the feedback is coming in where perhaps it had plateaued in the enclosed pre-release audience.

In any case, as I noted last week, it remains mind-boggling that a major graphics improvement to Second Life, a highly profitable virtual world, is effectively waiting on the efforts of Firestorm, which is serviced by a voluntary development team.

Beq writes that the Firestorm is quite cognizant of that paradox — and that it still falls to Linden Lab to address these underlying issues:

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The chicken and egg position that we face is not entirely new, but it is one that we at Firestorm take seriously. We have a responsibility not just to the few early adopters but to the wider audience that we serve, and while we will never please everyone (this is Second Life, one of the most diverse communities you'll have the pleasure to find, to try to please them all would be futile!) it is important that we try at least to reach a point where we feel that the viewer is ready for the majority of our users to adopt.

But while, as you correctly note, a lot of the pressure and responsibility falls upon our small band of unpaid volunteers, it would be disingenuous in the extreme to not acknowledge the reality that most of the rough edges that remain are going to be solved not by the Firestorm team, but by the ongoing efforts of the teams at Linden Lab. We do, of course, have our part to play, both interacting with the Lab to help them help us, and in cleaning up our own house too.

People who are really eager to sample PBR, see what the noise is all about, or just help us and LL get things to a point where it's ready for broad consumption are very welcome to join the Second Life group "Phoenix-Firestorm Preview Group" where they can find the early access builds of Firestorm PBR. [Editor note: Links available on the of Firestorm blog – WJA

We have only one real rule, don't share the links outside the [in-world] group; it is not a supported viewer, so you need to join the group to keep in the loop with issues and advice, and if you cannot live with a problem, then you move back to the release viewers and try again later.

To be clear, I am definitely not criticizing the Firestorm at all! My larger complaint is the systemic one: There must be a better way to update Second Life into the modern era that doesn't depend so much on a team of unpaid volunteers working on a highly sophisticated and ancient codebase as a labor of love.

At the very least, I hope Linden Lab buys the Firestorm team a case of, well, PBR. 



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