From Part 4 onwards I’m going to be looking at viewers that are based on V2 or V3 code. Linden Labs launched Viewer 2 in 2010, bringing a new look to the User Interface and new functions to Second Life.
This review will be looking at a third-party viewer based on V3 code: Exodus.
Download and Installation
It is worth noting that the developers’ work on this viewer has a focus on in-world combat functionality. Both the developers’ website and the viewer log-in screen provide information with this in mind. I am not a combat gamer/role player in Second Life, so I am unable to provide an in-depth review of those functions.
Download time was eighteen seconds for a 56.2 MB file. Installation was without any problems. Exodus uses 196 MB of space once installed. The Exodus viewer versions are beta-only and, at this time, there doesn’t seem to be a finalised, stable release available.
The log-in screen when launched was automatically sized to full-screen mode. I re-sized it to take a screen shot. There is a drop down menu for Grids, this defaults to the main SL grid Agni. There are no OpenSim or other non-SL grids listed at default log-in.
The Exodus website includes: the developers’ blog, team information, viewer downloads, viewer features, FAQs and Support. The Features page has a quick reference layout which includes screenshots of the UI with a short description. The Support page lists contact methods for the team. There is no official in-world group but there is a Forum page for bugs/feature questions. An additional note; this is the first time I can recall any dev team listing their Mac versions first! A welcome sight for me.
Information and downloads can be found at: Exodus Viewer
In comparison to other TPV developer websites I did find that some viewer information appears to be listed only in the blog posts. If you do jump straight to Downloads it can be easy to miss on the first visit. On the Downloads page the viewer versions are not labelled as betas. I chose the latest version for Macs – 12.01.03.01 and only realised it was a beta when the viewer was installed. If you read the blog pages this information is given on specific posts. The blog posts also contain the change logs for each release.
On logging into SL, you can see the immediate differences between V1 series and V2/3. Your main controls are a single row of buttons on the bottom of the screen. Other options are in an icon-based Toolbar on the left-hand side. Voice Chat and Name Tags are on by default. I pulled up my Preferences window to turn these off. The Advanced drop down menu is also on by default.
Before going to look at the Graphic Preferences I decided to customise the Toolbar options. Some of the icons/buttons that are on by default are not ones I would use regularly.
I found the Toolbar Buttons window fairly quickly in the drop down menu “Me” (top left-hand of the screen). By dragging and dropping the relevant icons and buttons I customised the UI to a configuration I prefer. I also turned on the Mini-map and the Camera Controls. Although the Camera Control box does offer more options than the V1 series, the box is rather large and not obviously re-sizeable. Having it on-screen all the time is not really desirable. I believe this is common to some other V3 viewers and not just Exodus.
In the left-hand Toolbar there is an “E” icon. This brings up a window for Exodus specific settings. This is where you will find some of the controls for the combat aspects of the viewer. You will also find some of these options in the drop down menus, they are marked in yellow-coloured text.
Like in the Phoenix 188.8.131.520 viewer; there is a Quick Preferences window. This button is located in the icon toolbar with a single cog-wheel.
The controls in this viewer are a little different: a Ground Offset slider is included and the WindLight settings are less extensive than in Phoenix, although all the standard SL ones, plus Caliah Lyon’s and Nam’s are included.
In the main Preferences window my default Graphics setting was at High. Unlike in the Phoenix viewer; the Hardware Skinning option was on by default which meant that the rigged mesh hair I’d worn was visible immediately. Under the Hardware option: Anti-Alias was also turned on by default, but only at the 2x setting. I changed that to 8x and the screen did not go black, as usually happens. It did need a re-log to update.
I started to notice a slow response time from my camera and avatar movements. I used the Exodus option for a Minimal Statistics window (found under Performance Tools in the Advanced drop down menu). With the above settings I was getting about 7 frames per second out of the viewer. I re-checked this with the Lag Meter and then teleported to two empty sims to check performance there. Unfortunately, I was still getting the same reading.
By moving my Graphics Slider down to Medium I was getting around 15 fps, then on Low it was between 39 to 45 fps. I also noted that once the Graphics slider was turned down the Anti-Alias setting automatically disabled and would need to be reset before re-logging.
Avatar Appearance Editing
One of the features I hadn’t been able to try before is to layer alpha channel tattoos by using Add instead of Wear. In the above image I’m wearing a hair base, make-up layer and facial tattoo. I did find that they looked fuzzy at first, so I needed to use the Rebake Textures command but after that they rezzed clearly.
Something I did note in the Inventory window is that the Inventory item count increases and decreases when you wear, add, remove or take off any item. I did not look this up so I’m unable to say whether that is normal behaviour or not.
Summary – Updated 14/02/12
Originally I had to cut short my full review. Due to the frame rate difficulty it seemed clear that Exodus was not going to perform well on my 2007 iMac, unless it was at the lowest graphic setting. This does make it useable but far from the best visual experience.
The other, rather painful, problem was that reading light-coloured text on a dark background provoked an eye-strain headache. Even with regular breaks I found it consistently happening whilst testing the UI functions. Although I searched for a change of UI skin theme I was unable to find if this feature was available.
Since the initial review:
I installed this release of Exodus on my 2011 i5 iMac. I don’t currently intend to extensively re-write this post as I believe it is somewhat unfair to jump from one generation of iMac to another mid-stream. My first thought that Exodus would be an impressive viewer on a newer machine does appear to hold true though.
The problem I encountered with fps on my older iMac was not present and keeping the viewer window size to full-screen (rather than re-sizing it as I did for the review) has helped to minimise the reading strain I experienced with the UI. On further experimentation of the graphics settings I’ve found that it is possible to enable anti-alias as well as shadows, ambient occlusion and other tools. This, in my view, is a remarkable feat. No other viewer I’ve tried so far has this level of visual capability, on either of my iMacs.
A special mention has to go to the Visuals options in the main Preferences window. This offers a range of photography tools: HDR (High Dynamic Range), Camera and Lighting. I think these are pretty exciting to have if you’re interested in virtual world photography or filming.
However, speaking as an amateur digital photographer in my first life, it has to be said that the control interface might not be the most intuitive or user-friendly for everyone. For people who aren’t acquainted with camera or 3D HDR terminology I think it would be helpful if there were some tutorials or other support to encourage users to try them out. These tools could be overlooked as too complicated without some pointers.
In conclusion; for Mac users with newer generation machines, looking for a stable and graphically capable V3 client, this could well be the one you’ve been looking for. I hope that development towards a stable viewer release will go well.