Wednesday, August 31, 2011
The FACES OF MESH
This is a cautionary tale about addiction. It is meant as a warning to all who might consider trying, even just once, the deadly drug (also 3D building method) which is polygonal mesh modelling, known on the street as mesh. Currently 1 out of every 6 SL residents has tried mesh. Someone you know may be using mesh right now. Symptoms include irritability, unusual behavior, discussing technology with no one in particular and ranting about prim counts. Users of mesh will often appear partially invisible to those around them or have body parts sticking out through various clothing articles.
This is one story, but there are many mesh users and the numbers are growing at an alarming rate.
I first heard about mesh years ago, even before my second life began. At the time it seemed some far distant and misunderstood tool for reaching a new type of creative nervana only accessible to Hollywood movie studios and underground, basement-dwelling computer geeks. It just wasn't something you heard about very often or saw your friends doing. It wasn't very available, and it certainly wasn't fashionable. When I heard a CG artist talk about mesh it was as if someone started discussing calculus in a room full of 2nd graders; You might look at them, but you had no way to relate to anything they were saying. You just nodded.
I was introduced to mesh by a friend, as is often the case. Any type of computer graphics is an exposure to this insidious practice. Prims and sculptys are often considered gateway drugs to harder 3D use, as you reach farther and struggle harder to make things more real. At some point, 2 dimensions just aren't enough anymore, and you find yourself looking for a new high, some way to get to that place with your art that pixels just don't take you anymore. It was when a friend emailed me some images of work he was doing that I first saw 3D models. He was using a very early version of a program called maya. I was immediately attracted to it. I nodded dumbly as he went on to describe what he was doing in a language far above my understanding. Polygons, vertex's, Boolean equations, triangulation, materials...none of this mattered to me as much as the flawless imagery I was seeing. Looking back, I think it was at that moment that I first became addicted to it. It would be years before my own deadly experiments with mesh took their toll on my life and my work but that moment was were the desire began. Life was good, I was eager for the future. I had a nice place on the mainland, I was dressing sharp and met a really nice girl.
Over the years as a business owner/creator in Second Life, I spent much of my time online working inside that world but found myself more and more outside of it working on various items in applications designed to allow the creation of sculptys, a watered-down version of mesh which, though not as refined, was no less deadly. It removed me from my social circles, my friends and loved ones and my business contacts, as I attempted to push my creativity into the sculptured medium. I spent less time in world and struggled to find the pure high of virtual realism which sculpty allowed, my customers encouraging me to provide more and more. Soon, I was hardly in world at all anymore, spending most of my working hours inside some 3rd party micro-application designed to streamline the sculpting process, an easy way to get that special result that only they could provide. I had several sims, a huge castle made almost completely out of sculpted prims, the girl that I met now loved me. I had it all.
Eventually I ended up inside the digital boot camp that is 3D Studio Max, where a new plugin allowed me to take my sculptys to places only imagined. Ease of use was the carrot I pulled my cart after, quality design dangling in front of me as I struggled to learn the interface. Though I did not realize it, this was my first time using. So insidious is this mesh drug that I didn't even realize I was doing it. I kept telling myself each time it was 4am again that it was just doing sculptys, it's just part of the job. As a business owner, you do what you have to do, I reassured myself. I was working harder but my work was BETTER! Yes, it took a little longer sometimes and I wasn't outside much, but my customers were rewarding me with business and sales. How can that be wrong? Little did I know how wrong I was and what a twisted path this would lead me down. I didn't spend time DOING things in SL anymore. Shopping, going to clubs, hanging out with friends...these were things I just didn't seem to have time for. I even went over to bluemars to get high on mesh there for a little while. I noticed my skin was kind of dated, and my hair was usually a mess then.
Then, on August 24th the Lab announced they were going to release a super drug. Mesh. Soon, we were told, we would be able to use the hard stuff, get high the way the rest of the big world outside our happy walled garden did. With promises of unlimited detail, ease of use, lack of restrictions on how we could manipulate things we were lured into trying out the beta. Just log onto this special grid, its even free over here - no upload costs! That is how they get you. Just come try this and you can be different, somehow better than everyone else. You can have something other people don't have. Thats the hook. You go over there and you spend a few hours uploading (for free!) your own or trying a few mesh items (they give you some for FREE!) and staring at how different they are. Its pure 3d, refined and distributed to anyone who wants the next new thing, that super high that can put your creativity next to Pixar and the games you like to play outside of SL. That is the lure of it, and that is where the evil starts to wiggle into your inventory, one prim at a time.
You notice the incredible details. See how you can edit anything anyway you want to? The textures dazzle the eye. Its sparkly in a way no other building method ever was. You look around the beta grid and see amazing things people built, things that look like nothing else in SL. It's so NEW and DIFFERENT and OMG I MUST HAZ. I CAN HAZ! This is how it starts. The psychological foundation for the addiction is established before you even create your first polygon. By the time you download blender you are already feeling the effects of the drug. That first time you fire up maya and realize you dont have to use the sculpty exporter, and you can put any vertices anywhere you want, you are already high. You're fucking stoned on mesh, man, and the high is like nothing else. Each polygon, each DAE export is like a rush of adrenaline taking your creativity to places you never dreamed of. It feels amazing, like some digital absinthe fairy uploading magic to your sim. The work was just BETTER. That is when things started to get darker.
At first, it was just a few logins here and there, just experimenting. I went over to the Aditi grid and looked around. I met a few people, eager eccentrics like myself looking for a new high, dazzled by the lure of doing something familiar in a completely unfamiliar way. We would sit alone in a mesh sandbox sim for hours on end, each lost in a digital, polygon-induced euphoria. Wow, look at that! Hey, come check out this thing I just uploaded. It's a golden time. Virtual Nirvana. The clothing MOVES with you!
Soon, however, you find yourself spending more time doing mesh. The first aspects of the dark side of using mesh start to show up. You try to convince your friends how cool it is, that they should get the newest, latest viewer du jour and come get high with you. "You have to see this!" You start off on the long, winding path to understanding polygon mesh modelling. Everything is new and different, yes, but you realize it means you cant do anything with it yet. So, you start to spend hours inside your application of choice, trying to understand in attempt to keep the high going. When that stops working, you start logging into online tutorials. You tell yourself that this is so you can learn, but deep inside you know its really just so you can see what it would be like if it all worked the way you wanted it to. Just seeing someone else making mesh successfully can be almost as good as making it yourself, for a little while.
The desire, however, becomes a need. You realize that making a sculpty just doesnt feel as good anymore. You want that rush that comes from uploading your mesh and seeing how different it is. That desire keeps you offline, keeps you "up" for more and more hours a week. What started as simple experimentation gradually starts to take up all your online time. For some, this is a time when they seek content from other sources, frustrated at being unable to do it themselves. They start out at the common gathering spots for 3d content, like renderosity and turbo squid. They may even spend a little money to get some models to upload, feeding the desire for more mesh. Before long, however, this leads to less and less reputable sites.
Soon, you will be visiting places like the sketchup library, user-owned content repositories and obscure foreign-language blogs where you dont even know what they are saying, as long as they have a model you can download. Just a picture of a model and a download button will do. For some, this is a time when their addiction enters into a more serious, and dangerous, territory. Hacking into game content, bit torrents full of an easy score - anything to get a fix, regardless of the security issues. At this point I was pretty much high on mesh all the time, and I looked like shit.
You start to ignore the signs that things arent going so well, that maybe you should consider giving up ever using mesh again. Things that before would have prevented you from using again start to become insignificant. You don't log into the aditi grid anymore now that mesh is live on the main grid. It doesn't matter that you have to pay for uploads, as long as you can share your high with a few other people, showing them all the cool things mesh can do in an attempt to justify your own growing addiction to it. Before you started using mesh, building things was always done with an eye toward keeping prim usage to a minimum. Now, however, its all about the polygon, and the dangerously high levels of prim usage are thinly disguised with the innocuously deceptive abbreviation PE. PE doesn't sound as bad as prim equivalent or prim count. Its just PE, how bad can that be? It even sounds good for you, like gym class. At this stage in your mesh addiction you upload recklessly as you get your fix, spending large amounts of linden dollars, ignoring the fact that your full sim is running out of prims and that no customer in thier right mind would pay for a tree thats 75 prims and only 20 meters high. It's mesh! How can they not see how cool it is?
At this point, the effects of mesh use start to take a toll on your personal life. You are almost always frustrated and your appearance is drastically affected. You are pasty and disheveled in real life, sitting for days at a time in front of your computer in your undies, hair sticking out all over, cheetos dust covering your keyboard and shirt. You miss seeing your friends, but if you can just get that mesh right then people will love you still, and you'll be the popular one. You can stay cutting edge! The pile of empty mountain dew cans on your desk only reminds you to finish those oil drum models you wanted to make. Your friends in SL don't come around anymore, tired of hearing you ramble on about polys and extrusions and optimization, nodding at you like the 2nd grader you used to be, but aware of your downward spiral. Your SL girlfriend leaves you after growing tired of seeing only half of you, wondering what happened to the creative sculpty guy she used to know. You haven't had pixel sex since the time you insisted on wearing the mesh avatar with the rigged genitals that caused her to laugh so hard she tweeted it. She just doesn't "get you," you tell yourself. But you can see how awesome your mesh self is, as you sit alone on your platform like a zombie.
The reality is that you arent awesome anymore at this stage of your mesh use. You are an addict. Most people cant see you anymore. You start to hang out with other users that have the same glazed-over stare that you do, your new mesh being interesting for the moment it takes for them to find something cooler. Then they are off for another fix, and so are you. When you aren't showing off your latest mesh victory, you stumble through your SL in a polygon-induced stupor. Your avatar skin and clothing are 2 years out of date. Your AO looks like something you got at the freebie store on welcome island. Your shoes, when you remember to put them both on, often end up up your ass or worn on the wrong foot, but you don't really notice. Your once awesome hair is now half in your skull, having been edited while you were meshed out last weekend trying on some new avatar body parts. You don't even texture your work, just lining up the raw, white uploads instead. No one talks to you anymore, because you are a scary, mumbling, half invisible pile of alpha maps and textured blobs. You spout random gibberish that only another mesh addict would understand, ranting occasionally about the Lab not giving you more prims to work with. Eventually, you end up in some seedy hotel mainlining polygons.
These are the final stages. Your business is failing, sales and traffic dropping to record lows as you continue to search for that mesh high that always seems just out of reach. Hopefully, someone you love will step in. Hopefully, people you know will intervene, preventing the loss of yet another designer to the evil that is mesh abuse. Friends don't let friends use mesh. Do not let them, and don't try it yourself.
You may become just one of the many faces of mesh.
NOTE: This post is satirical, though there are elements of truth within it. Im high on mesh right now. lol