A Month Building in OpenSim: Lessons Learned

November 24th, 2010 | Posted by iggy in General Information | The Rebel Yell

It’s hard to fathom how fast it all happened: Linden Lab doubles prices in the middle of an academic and fiscal year, The University of Richmond decides not to renew its Second-Life contract, I talk to a few people about their grids, I pay a very reasonable six-month rent out of pocket, Nevermore sim is born in Jokaydia Grid, the walls of The Virtual House of Usher rise again in a new place.

The new grid offers me advantages I had never considered in SL, such as the ability to control an entire region and design all of it to a theme. To avoid juxtapositions with other campus buildings, we put the SL House of Usher in a Megaprim “bubble” far above the rest of the virtual campus, in order to create the mood of isolation essential to Poe’s tale.

Now, with a whole sim and 20,000 prims to torture, as a builder I have applied several lessons from SL even as I learn new ones:

Lesson 1: Have a Master Plan and Job Out Each Structure to One Master Builder

This applies to walled-garden grids like SL as well. We reveled in the collaboration with students in building Usher in SL. Now, I want my colleagues and students to decorate my built. I’ve called myself “Frank Lloyd Wrong” before, but I do share the prima-dona (in my case, prim-dona?) architect’s believe that a consistent vision must guide a site. I don’t share his belief that even chairs must be placed under the Master’s watchful eye.

Beyond fussiness, however, there’s a practical reason for at least designating one builder for every major structure. In SL, one cannot make off-system backups of objects not created by ONE person, even if others give the items to the project-owner. And even in OpenSim, the perms must be set so I can manipulate a balky wall or window. I want to avoid the problems I had in SL when I waited hours, and wasted more, hunting down perms when students were less than diligent about setting them as instructed. In one case, mixed-permission items changed perms seemingly at random, even when our student builder had been very careful.

With these woes in mind, and wanting to be able to port our build to another OS grid if needed, I decided that I’d build all major elements on the island but leave room for new builds by others.

First, I did not go wild terraforming, a Promethean temptation that comes with one’s first piece of wholly controlled land. I restrained the urge to hurl mountains into the blue, and did little beyond sinking the tarn from which the House rises and sculpting a range of rugged escarpment and inlet for a shipwreck called The Grampus, linked to the gruesome (and finally, heroically flawed) novel The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym.

Lesson 2: Understand The Technical Differences For Building in OpenSim

OpenSim builders love to talk about the availability of megaprims, a boon for avoiding one’s quota of prims and a potent weapon in the war against lag. Linden Lab only allows such large prims on private islands.

On the other hand, the technology of OpenSim is a bit less stable at times than SL, though upgrades from the community of developers lead to rapid improvements. One area of continuing concern during my build has been what I’ve referred to as “The Case of The Premature Linking,” and solving it required some prim-acrobatics that led me to assess several OS shortcomings (some with a silver lining):
Hair Mistake

  • Beware of playing with a worn or linked prim. If you resize a shoe or hair on your head, you end up with something like the  photo. My advice is to link a large build into segments (outer walls, crypt, attic & roof, say) that could be easily unlinked to adjust one balky prim.
  • Back up constantly. This would be just as true in SL if you were exporting builds with the Imprudence client or another permitting export. But I also mean in-world duplication. I rezz a prim called “Usher Texture Backups” and periodically dump all of my uploaded textures in it. If you are VERY paranoid, leave one copy in your inventory and another on the sim. I plan to put them in textured cargo crates in the flooded hold of The Grampus, where they can do double duty as flotsam bobbing about in the water.
  • If you want it, you will probably have to make it. I was lucky to find a tall ship to ruin at Virtual Caribbeana, the sim of VWER member Oronoque Westland. I’d have had to settle for a bunch of debris for my shipwreck, otherwise.  I also found chairs (and had to add a sit script) but they are all of one style. So for other furniture, I’ll be making it and, when Mesh imports arrive, bringing in goodies from Google’s 3D Warehouse.
  • Make your scripts (if you can) or find open-source ones. The chairs were only one example of items needing Linden Lab Scripting Language (LSL) or the Open-Sim Scripting Language (OSL) to do anything. I don’t think I’ll ever bother to learn one of these languages, in any case. As with Javascript in the Web 1.0 days, there’s not enough reward in my annual faculty evaluation to justify the ordeal it would involve for me. I’m better off spending even my hobbyist time otherwise. I’ve had to rely heavily on the Scratch for SL script-builder as well as the Scriptme! sites. Thank God for them, as well as Jokay’s free scripts at the Newbie Dome in the welcome area. I found even more at the Linden Lab script libraries and resident sites. I won’t provide links to this last category because I have not verified the safety of all the scripts. Caveat builder! Look at the maker carefully; I’d be more likely to trust scripts developed by faculty colleagues than by some unnamed fan at a private site. If you wish to take risks, just use “LSL free scripts” into your search engine. Wherever you get the scripts, however, your build would be dull if no objects could interact.
  • Do Not Go Wild With Prims. Roderick has many familial heirlooms noticed by Poe’s narrator, “sombre tapestries of the walls. . .phantasmagoric armorial trophies which rattled as I strode.” The tapestries are easy. What about those trophies? Gee, I could MAKE a suit of armor with my 20K prims, right?? Um, no. Instead, I did this shadow-box trick, until I got some mesh armor for Roderick’s family collection!

1) make a shadowbox of two prims. The back prim is a flat rectangle; the top prim is a hollow cube aligned to show the back prim.
2) color the inner surface of the box black and give its outside a wooden texture.
3) put your “model” (some armor, a skeleton) on the front surface of the back prim at the rear of your box. I used Photoshop to simulate, in the 2D .jpg, the 3D interior of a box. I tweaked the color of the inside of my shadowbox from all black to a shade that matches the perimeter of the Photoshopped .jpg.
4)  I’m still playing with how to tilt the back prim inside the shadow box to make the 3D effect most realistic. From close up, of course, it vanishes.

Extra credit awarded if you put the shadow box behind an archway. I made one of those with a single prim as well, using alpha-layers and other geeky Photoshop tricks that require their own post, if not a full-on tutorial.

If you try making some shadow boxes, send me the pictures! If you are in Jokaydia Grid, stop by for free decor. Both suits of armor are full perm so help yourself to a copy.

Lesson 3: Leave Room to Grow
Raising the Roof
Usher is only the start. By including elements of Pym, that adorable tale of cannibalism, disease, madness, rapid decomposition, shark attacks, mutiny, and starvation, I’m going to play with Poe’s own habit of what scholars today call intertextuality. In Poe’s case it was the inclusion of real and invented works, in ours the inclusion of Poe’s tales and poetry within the Usher storyline.

Poe’s world could be seen, to use the title of Ray Bradbury’s anthology, as a continuous “October Country.” I want our visitors to be immersed in that spooky and sad world of the writer’s obsessions and his (and my) native city.  Richmond is a place of many losses and shadows, despite the suburban cancer  of cheaply made homes and throwaway consumer delights that now grows around it like a moldy crust on a once-fine loaf of bread.

Thus Nevermore needs to be more than its centerpiece and less than a museum of all things Poe (to be honest, I really don’t care for much of his poetry!). So I made our House of Usher smaller than the SL version. Students noted that the SL build is a frightfully effective labyrinth but some did not, get this!, find it oppressive enough!  It had a lot of empty spaces, too, that we’ll avoid in the new build by the judicious use of textures in the place of prim-based objects.

For a build like Nevermore, consistency of theme counts, though I put in a bit of whimsy. I have a hand-drawn map, like one of Poe’s crazed narrators, for the rest of the island, including lots of blank space but also a graveyard based upon Hollywood Cemetery, most of which postdates Poe. Including Hollywood permits us to erect the tomb of W.W. Pool, a “thrice-buried” Richmonder and, according to legend, a vampire. He was a real-life accountant, so depending on your personal experiences, he may have already been a blood-sucker.
Roderick and Dad
I think Pool’s Tomb will be our hypergate portal to other grids. As modern madman like to exclaim, “Muahaha!” Poe’s shout things more like “The Teeth! The Teeth!” (we won’t go there).

Well, Pool probably would. Perhaps you will, too, when Nevermore is done.

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9 Responses

  • RaR says:

    you might also want to be careful dragging linksets around 😉 I also don’t suppose you can share perms, so group builds might be a bit tough as well.

  • Ener Hax says:

    as to paranoia, if you have server access, simply export the items or folder as an IAR file

    textures are a great example and you can simply export the texture folder for safe keeping (of course, it is about the same amount of time to just export your entire inventory)

    for community builds, the same can be done, the final building could be exported as an IAR or . . . for uber longevity (seeing that students will move on at some point) have an agreement in place that there builds will become yours. personally, i would make sure to remember and credit them in perpetuity with a mention on flickr pics or a website (so they can reference it in their resume)

    if the builds become yours, then you can edit them to your hearts content. the way to do this is once student A’s build is done, take an OAR of the region ad then load that OAR. now that building will be yours. before people poop all over the place with the creator name being yours, this is how real life operates. i have a home in the US and in Canada. both are in my name and i have no idea who the builder was

    go nuts with prims! i mean not crazy nuts, but i am enjoying being able to do about double what i did inSL. of course, i figure i can realistically do 135,000 prims on our grid! not bad for half the price of an SL sim

    just a thought . . . =)

  • Nice post, Iggy.

    @Jon – I believe it is possible to share perms with the groups module in 0.6.9-post-fixes and 0.7 though the functionality might be a bit dodgy at the moment. Of course, one alternative is to turn off permissions altogether at the server level 😉

  • I fully expect to make every mistake possible in OpenSim. After all, I deleted or took into inventory that “ski chalet” in SL about 10 times, often at 50m above the ground.

    Jon, for now I’m lord of the manor, or at least of the House of Usher, for building. I’m going to leave ample real estate open for a couple of Richmond colleagues who may want to build out part of our Poe-themed sim. By having just one builder for each structure, I figure we can more easily handle the export/import business for item backups.

    If all else fails, I’ll be yelling “Jokay! Rollback! Help!”

    Ener, it’s going to take some doing to get over my prim-phobia brought with me from SL. I’m in a 12-prim program now XD

  • Pathfinder says:

    ReactionGrid will be rolling out Groups hopefully by the end of the month, which means jokaydiaGRID will be getting Groups at that time as well. So you’ll soon be able to use Group perms to help with collaborative builds.

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  • Hat to to the folks at Third Rock Grid: from their newsletter, here’s an additional tip if you do have the grit to edit a worn prim:

    –When you get it right, detach it before logging off
    –This will save the state change (and thus give Roderick Usher some black shoes!)
    –Relog and put that prim back on.

    • Margaret says:


      Thanks for the Hats off. They try to give the tips and tricks of OpenSim as many assume many things are like SL which is not true in many cases. But this entire concept of starting from nothing has been a great learning experience.

      Sure I am no major complex builder but I am still proud of what I did build. If you talk to several in 3RG they will tell you that they are suprized that I actually did want to do it all myself rather than having someone else do it for me. The only major problem is scripts.

  • Interesting, however if you want to run your own dedicated virtual world server in a data center, you’ll want to check out my “How to Build Your Own Virtual World” article at


    It’s the most comprehensive yet on setting up the Diva Distro version of opensim.

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