A cooperative effort by several Second Life residents has, after many months of work, produced an offline app that allows SL residents to build SL-friendly objects outside the world, then import them via the scripting system. [Thanks for the tip, Prok!] Led by resident Jeffrey Gomez, the project, described (if briefly) in this forum thread, seems to take the form of a plug-in for the Blender open-source 3D modeling software. Jeffrey has created a UI for the tool, known as Prim.Blender (after the primitives that are SL’s basic building blocks) that mimics Second Life’s Build tool, and produces objects that are described by the same parameters SL uses. Resident Thraxis Epsilon completed the circuit by writing a script that allows those objects to be imported into Second Life.
I haven’t tried this out yet, but Jeffrey Gomez has long enjoyed a reputation in SL as a master builder. The ability to build objects outside of SL is something that many residents have wanted for a long time. The fact is, Second Life is often a place that’s hardly conducive to building: lag is an issue, and the inability to secure any privacy can make building large or complex objects a frustrating experience.
Prim.Blender will probably be a great boon for SL builders. But already the unique nature of SL society and the legal mess that surrounds IP issues have had a chilling effect on innovation: One feature notably missing from the tool is the ability to convert existing 3D models into parameters that SL could understand and manipulate, thus allowing an object built in a different modeling tool to be imported into Second Life. Jeffrey states in the forum thread that he does not intend to build such a capability: “First, it’s hard — and likely CPU-intensive on the maths. Second, it would allow people to take stuff from say, OGLE, and make it right back into prims. Which isn’t a good thing for permissions.” In other words, it would allow people to grab interesting objects from SL — even if they are designed not to be copied — export them via the OpenGL Extractor, re-create them in the Blender plug-in and then import them to SL again.
Jeffrey, of course, is under no obligation to create anything; all the work he’s done has been for free, a generous donation to the SL community. But it’s interesting that he deems it better to hamstring technological development than to create a tool that could be used to step on IP rights. Many SL residents are extremely sensitive about other people copying their creations. Much revenue is lost in SL by people whose products have been knocked off. That said, there has yet to be a lawsuit on the subject. SL residents so far have refused to take an active hand in protecting their own rights, other than by clamoring for Linden Lab to protect them on their behalf. Now, that passivity is actively stifling technological change. After all, Louis Vuitton — which loses far, far more income each year from the knock-off handbags that are sold on Canal Street here in New York than anyone loses due to knock-offs in Second Life — Vuitton is not clamoring for someone to do away with industrial sewing machines or other technology that would allow a thief to copy their products.
Those questions aside, though, you have to hand it to Jeffrey and Thraxis. Prim.Blender is a tool that should heighten productivity for many SL builders. The dream of SL as a place of cooperative content-creation has never really come true; such activity goes on, but it is almost certainly the small minority of such activity. SL is not really suited to it. It’ll be interesting to see what Jeffrey’s Blender plug-in adds to the world.