Posts Tagged ‘terraforming in Second Life’

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Ah, the wonders of the ground itself…

February 15, 2010
Durer's detailed watercolor of plants in a small earthen patch

Albrecht Durer's "Great Piece of Turf" (1503)

I always loved Albrecht Durer’s watercolor “The Great Piece of Turf”  (1503) when I was in high school (oh, the wonders of Google–check out a virtual 3D model of a virtual planting of the “turf” in a short animation here). He went outside and actually studied the texture of the ground, the tiny hills and valleys of the ant world. Second Life demands you determine the texture of your ground as well, but limits you to four ground textures that meld into one another, but change according to terrain height.

A preliminary view of Africa Illuminated

A few of the physical features of Africa Illuminated

Hmm. Correct ground for three parts of the world? It couldn’t be absolutely accurate, not if I didn’t want Philadelphia to have a sparkling white beach or Ijile, the composite Yoruba town, to lack a granite inselberg backdrop. Lots of SL texture stores sell terrain textures, which should be seamless and 512×512 pixels. I knew I wanted a reddish sandy ground, a reddish muddy ground, ground with some hints of grass and a stony texture, because I was letting Ijile dictate my basics–the earth would be used for the 1796 buildings, so ground and building texture had to be compatible. My private sim, Saminaka is primarily beach and parched pale earth, a combo my sim designer Vanity Bonetto came up with–it’s successful, but that’s for Middle Belt Nigeria, not the more southernly Yoruba terrain. Not all Yoruba earth has a reddish tinge, but some does (from laterite), and I liked it. Also, the earth texture I chose has a muddy look, which will suit the rainy season.

a closeup of the ground texture

I found my best textures in a set by SL resident Totem Flow’ in his/her Flowscapes store (the XStreet address is here) that includes more than six textures for 500L. The artist provides a lot of choice within matched sets, and they’re expertly done; packs of 20 varied textures sell for 1000L, and terraforming is also available. However, I needed one ground texture with a hint of grass, so I downloaded my mud to Photoshop, and played with layering another grassy texture on top, while keeping it seamless. It took a while, but the results were satisfying. An upload required still more tweaks, as I adjusted the heights each texture should occupy under SL’s World>Estate Management menu.

An aside here to builders–I’m no graphic artist, but the whole process (from simple signs to textures to dressmaking) of creating an academic sim NEEDS Photoshop. Remember, you academics, there are academic software houses that provide a substantial discount to bona fide students and profs, like Academic Superstore or Creation Engine. You may also find your University has enough Photoshop licenses to toss one your way. I’m not sure if the cheaper Adobe Photoshop Elements can really do enough. There’s also a free alternative image editing software, known as the GIMP–plenty in Second Life swear by it, but I’m familiar with Photoshop basics and am lucky enough to have it, so no GIMP for me.

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Let’s get physical

February 15, 2010

Okay, you order the sim with delight and anticipation from Linden Labs (with a full budget, you can go through NMC, which provides all kinds of benefits)–it takes about two weeks. And there you are! A somewhat grassy blob, floating on a virtual ocean. What next? For some, a developer, to whom you spill your hopes and dreams, and watch the magic begin. If you want your own personal sim, homestead or not, the excellent SL terrain artist Vanity Bonetto throws design in with the price of the sim. I don’t know if there are normative prices out there for terraforming only, but I’ve seen prices on blogs that range from about $1400 and 10 days for terrain and landscape plantings, to about $350 for a simple job.

Backhoe program screenshot

A Backhoe program screen

But this is on the  cheap–so learning was necessary. I’ve tried terraforming before, but with mediocre results. using SL’s terraforming tools often left me with jaggedy uprises like stalagmites, or odd pits. I wanted to maximize my land, yet leave some edge water for a Brazilian beach and a Philadelphia port. I wanted a small orientation island, with “rivers” to divide the land further into three large segments. Frankly, the thought of doing this through terraforming was daunting.

Another possibility was buying a RAW file, which you can do in world, or trying to figure out how to use Photoshop to tweak a RAW file. I read about this, but my head was aching. Luckily, Google came to my rescue. There’s a free MAC program that can be used to download your land file, tweak it to your satisfaction, and upload it again–and it was fairly intuitive (good, because the documentation is minimal) and quick to get the hang of. It’s called Backhoe, and it allows you to set heights and depths and get to work by using your mouse on a sim model. I had to play with it a bit, but it really didn’t take long to see that a narrower river meant less of a dig spread, for example. I had some hills for Idanre, a flat cityscape for Philadelphia, and a Pelourinho-like steep incline for Bahia.

Woohoo! I felt like…well, let me not blaspheme. ; )

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