How Second Life on Unity Will Also Improve the Virtual World’s User Interface as Well as Graphics (Comments of the Week)

Above: Current version of Chat/IM user interface on Crystal Frost

Many SLers are excited about Berry Bunny’s Crystal Frost, the Second Life-on-Unity project, because of graphics enhancements like physics- enabled water. In Comments, veteran metaverse developer Gwyneth Llewelyn notes how this will also enable the community to improve the user interface:

By pushing the rendering part out of Linden Lab’s code, Bunny is also able to tackle the interface part of it — and work on both as separate projects, something which currently cannot be done in the existing codebase.

It’ll be interesting to see what her approach will be. Unity, of course, can also handle all the interface bits — but then it’s just really replacing one source of trouble with another.

We’ll see if Bunny realizes that, and places the UI completely outside the viewer, running separately from it — possibly on a platform-neutral framework which strong support which can easily be expanded with the kind of tools that SL needs: its strong and solid inventory support (I mean, what kind of virtual world platform out there expects users to have hundreds of thousands of items in their inventory, with a complex permission systems on top of each and every one, multiplied by the million active users that SL still has?) but with terminally flawed UI.

The way groups, chats, objects and land management is closely tied together (with the permission system and the group roles!) — making Linden Lab opt to develop everything from scratch and giving us just the bare minimum (chat looks and feels like IRC from the late 1990s at best — I mean, we don’t even get emojis and/or bold/italic!).

I actually think improving the UI/UX is even more important than updating the graphics, at least in terms of having any chance at growing SL’s user base.

As for the launch of Crystal Frost last weekend, the viewer’s Patreon now has over 40 members, and their reaction with the first Alpha is pretty positive, Berry tells me:

“People are amazed, but their expectations have also been pretty well tempered by my being transparent and communicating what to expect… a severe bug has been found but it’s already been isolated and will be fixed by the next release.” They’re planning that release for March 17. 

As for Gwyn’s thoughts on the UI, Berry’s also replied in Comments, with some hints around how Crystal Frost might work as a mobile/tablet app:

I’ve taken a software architect into the team and he’s going to be helping out a lot. I’m actually taking a week and a half off of coding to give him time to catch up with the fact that in the last week I put in what would be several months worth of code from most other programmers.

He’s hoping to separate out everything that doesn’t 100% need to be handled in the Unity main thread so help improve performance, as well as get the project ready for multiple coders.

As for the UI, I don’t need to use Qt. [That’s Unity UI Design Tool for Applications].

Unity’s built in UI system is very platform neutral. As it is right now, the UI I have already supports multitouch. If you were to use a touch screen monitor, you could scroll the chat and contacts list with touch. In theory you should be able to also click objects with touch, but there’s no way to cam around without holding the alt key down at this time because I don’t have a working multitouch monitor anymore (used to have one) so I can’t test multitouch gestures.

But yes there are a LOT of user interface things to implement. Most of the rendering stuff is in and just needs tweaks and a few minor things fleshed out like updates to texture offset, repeats, etc, or implementing sound stop messages for sounds played via llPlaySound or llLoopSound.

But outside of basically those minor things, and implementing rigged mesh and animation interpretation, optimization and user interface are the main things that are needed right now.

I am really REALLY looking forward to getting it to the point that I can make a native VR interface for it. That’s something I already have a lot of experience with, and I’m hoping to put Second Life back on the map of metaverses. More than that, I’m hoping Second Life can become everything VRChat, Horizons, and Sansar have failed to be. I’m also hoping to render them and others irrelevant. I’m very passionate about dragging this 22 year old metaverse into the current decade and making it the big player it was always meant to be!

Love the ambition. Would be pretty amazing if it’s community creators like Bunny who update Second Life for the modern era where the company itself has so far fallen short.

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