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Beauty is only mesh deep. As promised, Linden Lab released its timeline for Second Life mesh features today. Mesh is the third major object content type, adding to the existing ‘prims’ (lightweight parameterised mesh object primitives) and ‘sculpties’ (spatial displacement maps).

Prims are relatively easy to grasp – or about as easy as three-dimensional construction ever gets – being rather similar in practical use to a kind of smart Lego. While individual prims use very little data and the blocks can be resized, cut, hollowed, tapered and twisted, fine detail usually comes at the expense of many, many prims, and the verisimilitude of organic surfaces is limited.

The spatial displacement maps of sculpties allowed more organic shapes and the possibility of concentrated detail – within limits – but the process of creating the maps themselves (and texturing the subsequent object) was a specialised process requiring special tools and skills. These increased barriers meant that only relatively few content-creators made sculpties themselves.

The upcoming mesh features, in turn, require the most knowledge and skill – if you want to create good-looking content. The creation of mesh models and components usually requires the use of professional-quality tools with arcane, specialist user-interfaces and considerable amounts of time, spatial-awareness and attention-to-detail. The results, then, can be of as high a quality as you’d like them to be – subject to your knowledge of the limits and quirks of the platform and renderer, of course.

That said, most people can pick up the necessary skills, save only that they’re sufficiently motivated to do so.

Linden Lab is planning to roll out mesh features progressively via the release-candidate channels, starting in July and anticipating complete deployment of the finished product by the end of August – if all goes well. All doesn’t usually go well with a major feature roll-out in a live environment, so if things were to slip into September, I wouldn’t be completely astonished.

Nevertheless, Q3 is where the mesh action is – the Lab says ‘Summer’ but what that means is ‘Q3’. I believe that will put us roughly two years’ planning and development from the inception of the project.

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