Project to Improve Graphics Rendering in Second Life

Via Linden Lab


One of the challenges that virtual world creators face is the trade-off between rich visual detail and geometric complexity. Ideally, by adding more and smaller faces to an object, a designer can model different surface textures and create realistic variations in the interplay of light and shadow. However, adding faces also quickly increases the size of the model and its rendering cost. Normal and Specular Maps are ways to address this by allowing for the appearance of a complex surface without actually modeling fine scale geometry.

A Normal Map is an image where the color codes indicate how the renderer should reflect light from each pixel on a surface by modifying the direction that the pixel “faces” (imagine that each pixel could be turned on tiny pivots). This means that pixels on a simple surface can be rendered so that they appear to have much more detail than the actual geometry and at much lower rendering cost. Light and shadow are rendered as though the surface had depth and physical texture, simulating roughness, bumps, and even edges and additional faces.

Similarly, a Specular Map allows each pixel to have its own degree of reflectivity, so that some parts of a single face reflect sharply, while adjacent pixels can be dull.


The open source developers of the Exodus Viewer are contributing Viewer support for Normal and Specular Maps, as well as some additional controls for how light reflects from faces. Linden Lab is developing the server side support so that this powerful tool will be available in Second Life.


Design and development are under way. Watch this blog and the Snowstorm Viewers page for information on when test Viewers with these new capabilities become available.


For additional information, or to learn more about how you can participate in the open source program, please contact

The scenery just got prettier

Yesterday’s Linden Blog posting heralded a major step forward in the visual strength of the SL platform – Linden’s acquisition of the Windlight graphics technology from Windward Mark Interactive.

As Linden Labs say themselves, the short story on the technology is “killer skies”. The initial shots supplied certainly live up to that description:

(Photo part of set created by Torley Linden – access the full set here)

The Windlight-enabled viewer is available “now” for PC users – though I can’t find the specific download link. No firm date on the Mac release as yet.

What’s not clear for Australian users of SL is the impact on bandwidth and whether lag will increase further. However, announcements like this do flag the oncoming wave of enhancements resulting from open sourcing SL. And here’s a YouTube video provided by Linden Labs to showcase Windlight:

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