Sunday, October 14, 2007

Bye Bye Megaprims

As Second Life goes on to boast more than 10 million accounts, a shadow of doubt on the future of the megaprims has descended on the hearts of eager SL residents.

Linden Lab has requested "comments" on the use of megaprims — a useful hack, once created by Gene Replacement, allowing prims larger than 10x10x10 m (as well as nanoprims, smaller than 0.1x0.1x0.1) to exist and be integrated into buildings just like "normal" prims. Gene's popular package of oversized prims have been copied over and over again, and after several months of being around, they're now regular features of Second Life.

It's major advantage, of course, is to allow to build with far lesser prims. If you need to create, say, a 50x50m bit of ground, instead of using 25 10x10 prims, all it takes is a single megaprim. Megaprims can also be tortured, and this allows things like giant staircases made of a single prim that are seamless, or doing racing tracks with a handful of prims instead of hundreds. Megaprims can also be sculpted and thus create fascinating and amazing statues, or very large, organic structures, or even smooth landscaping, by economically saving prims.

Less prims does obviously mean less viewer lag, but there is even another hidden advantage: it also means far less textures to manipulate. Even if a stretch of wall or ground has always the same texture — thus requiring a single download, and a single texture on video RAM — using a 50x50 megaprim means that the rendering engine only needs to track down 6 textures, instead of 150 using normal prims.

We are all aware of the huge consequences of using megaprims as the ultimate building tool — it means faster and better building (less tweaking of unaligned prims and textures), it means faster rendering of the scenes, it means less prims (less work for the sim server to do; less client lag), and, well, ultimately, it leads to a far better Second Life experience.

Linden Lab is getting rid of all this. Why?

There is a social reason, and a technical one. As is sadly more and more common with Linden Lab, they get the social consequences all wrong, and throw sand in our eyes with the technical reasons.

Megaprims are one of the uncountable thousands of ways used for griefing on the mainland. It has several uses: fast encroachment of whole plots, huge megarotating prims, but more important than that, since many of these prims with unusual sizes are complexly sheared/cut shapes of far huger prims, they create weird oddities when rendered — namely, bounding boxes get miscalculated (making avatars and vehicles collide with what seems to be empty space), or you can effectively place prims on other people's land which cannot be returned (megaprims, like linked prims, can be rezzed on "your" place nearby — sometimes a sim or two across, and overlap everybody else's prims).

So Linden Lab is cleverly capitalising on the few people that have been griefed on the mainland — but who are pretty vocal about it! — to gather a strong "moral" support to remove all megaprims.

The issue, obviously, is that the mainland is collapsing under its own anarchy, as less and less Liaisons are able to do their duties there. Because of LL's lack of policing, and no real enforcement on the mainland, they're removing features from the whole grid?

Not likely. After all, there are hundreds of known (and possibly thousands of lesser known) ways to grief people, and we haven't seen any announcement on the removal of particles, llRezObject, or, well, scripting altogether. So the argument that LL's is removing megaprims just because of griefing doesn't stick to the wall.

The second reason is more important one, and it's the technical one. Apparently, Havok 4.0 is not much better (or might even be worse) at dealing with megaprims than Havok 1.0, and LL seems to be pressing very hard to get Havok 4.0 on the main grid quickly (who knows, perhaps they're preparing for October 24). A quick fix is simply to delete all megaprims from the 1 billion asset database, launch Havok 4, get CBS and IBM very happy, and then deal with the horde of furious residents later.

It's not just the residents that are going to be furious this time. From one day to the other, Linden Lab is going to hurt the ten thousand RL companies in SL, too; one might believe that whole virtual presences (hopefully not CBS's own!) will be left with gaping holes where truly amazing content once sat. And the companies will demand from their outsourced builders to replace all the prims as quickly as possible, or threaten with a lawsuit. In some cases (like the Greenies sim, which uses sculpties on megaprims) this might not even be possible — on others, there might not be enough prims left to suddenly redo everything with the regular prims any more, thus forcing content to be remade from scratch — all unpaid work, of course, just to keep the corporations happy.

Needless to say that this is a major catastrophe. But knowing very well Linden Lab's modus operandi, it seems that this post on their blog is yet another one of their a posteriori discussions, well after the decision has been made.

I eagerly await the first company that will sue LL in Europe, where their ToS doesn't hold, and demands compensation for getting all their content destroyed.

What Linden Lab needs to do in these cases is to give people options. And there are many: like enabling/disabling megaprims on demand, say from the Estate Tools (or, in another word, turn Havok 1 or 4 on, depending if you wish megaprims to work on your estate or not). Since megaprims are forbidden on the mainland anyway, it'll be a matter of disabling them all on Governor Linden's estate; but LL has to keep in mind that the griefers' utopia on the mainland is not any more the place where most people live and spend their time.

Getting rid of them is no short-term solution; it's just wasting people's time, energy, and patience as they go through yet another ordeal, and hope that their RL customers understand that the content creators have no leverage on the tyranny of Linden Lab, who still behaves as if they're allowed to do what they please with our content. Again, forget what the ToS says — it has more holes than an Emmental cheese anyway — but what the world will look like after the ultimate griefer attack: Linden Lab's removal of a lot of content based on their technical inability to deliver Havok 4 quickly.

[UPDATE 20071017] Andrew Linden apparently is listening to us, and only the megaprims over 256 m on a side are going to be removed (or "clamped" down to 256 m, as he describes it).

More info here:

And here:


  1. We definitely need what Michael Linden calls "some other, more creative action". Losing the Greenies sim is a perfect example of why megaprims should not be removed indiscriminately.

    It's interesting that at least there seems to be a dialogue between LL and residents on this subject: . It's a very long thread and I only browsed it, but most people there seem to be for allowing megaprims. If LL still removes the megaprims after everything that is being said in that forum, then it will be a disaster not only in terms of building in SL but also in terms of the SL residents' trust in LL, which is very low already.

  2. I don't know that any Lindens actually want to get rid of the megaprims...

    ...But since the majority of SL users aren't builders, their complaints are loud and hard to deal with.

  3. Getting rid of megaprims would be a big mistake. In fact, not allowing us to use edges bigger than 10 meters is a big mistake. While I understand huge objects creates problems for the physics engine, how about coming up with a logical set of rules? For example, how about any prim with an edge larger than 40 meters is automatically set to be phantom? That would allow for sculptures without having to worry about collisions. Check out the sim "Rezzable Hallucingen" to see some of the stuff we'd be losing; like Greenies, it is also done by Starax / Light Waves. Gorgeous work.

  4. Gwyneth, brilliant article. I don't want to share your skepticism - but unfortunately, I do.

    I presume this is actually less a technical issue than a money one. Mega prims - or better yet, increasing the maximum prim dimension to (say) 30m - would reduce the need for prim capacity, and thus LL revenues.

    But I think this thinking (hard 10m limit in order to artificially drive up prim demand) would be terribly short-sighted on LL's part. The demand for prims is growing, and will grow further if LL will adapt by making SL a more attractive place to be. Yes, there are some technical issues, but I'm sure nothing the wizards of LL can't solve. Parcel encroachment? This is *already* an issue. How about just providing an "eject encroaching objects" feature to parcels? Isn't this every landowner's right??? And as to physics issues, just limit physical prims to a certain size?

    My (fading) hope is that LL will legitimize legacy megaprims - at least up to a reasonable size, say 100m ? - and go a bold step further by easing some of the existing constraints that drive us all nuts (max and min prim sizes, link radius, max number of groups, etc.). LL: stay with the times, or be left in the dust.

  5. Hey! Nice blog! if you have nice second life tutorials just try to submit them on our homepage and support other users getting ready in SL!

    Maybe you will add our page to your blogroll!

    Wasn't able to find your email to contact your personally! Greets FLoriano

  6. Hey! Nice blog! if you have nice second life tutorials just try to submit them on our homepage and support other users getting ready in SL!

    Maybe you will add our page to your blogroll!

    Wasn't able to find your email to contact your personally! Greets FLoriano

  7. The Lindens should press RETURN ALL on all objects made by Gene Replacement, alt of Plastic Duck, who has repeatedly crashed the entire grid and caused havoc all over the place against many people -- for which he was rightly permanently banned.

    I don't care if IBM made a dome out of it and every one thinks giant prims are groovy. On the mainland, they are mainly used for griefing.

    If the Lindens don't have sufficient spine to stand up to the 2 percent of the population who pressure them in the FIC and dev lists, they could at least have the decency to ban them from the mainland and allow them only on islands.

    At the end of the day, Gwyn, it's not that Lindens bow to social and moral pressure. They sure didn't. Andrew "Throttle 'EM" Linden sure didn't but hedged.

    The Lindens are merely reacting to the use of their own staff time in returning the monsters laid down by griefers, as nobody else can get them returned when they plague mainland sims.


  8. @crissa, no, what we've learned time and again is that people who don't build and pay tier and make up the bulk of the population can scream as loud as they want, but they can't get heard of heeded, and tiny cabals of coders can whisper in the Lindens' ear, and they win.

    You've totally distorted the picture of politics in SL, and you imagine you are a victim of the mob, when in fact you are helping the Lindens, who basically want to keep cool stuff IBM likes, victimizing the mob.