The Devil’s in the Details

Dormitory in the People’s Worksite- the amazing details eating into our prims…

It’s one of the hardest concepts for newcomers to SL to grapple with: prim limits.

A “prim” is short for “primitive”, and denotes the basic building block of Second Life. A simple shape like a pillow might be 1 prim, but to create an entire bed (let alone the room containing it), you will need different prims for the mattress, the bed-posts, the blanket, etc… And so on and so forth, up through the levels of complexity, until you hit the limit, which is currently 15,000 prims per SIM (the basic unit of land in SL). The reason for this is technical- I suppose at the basic level, prims take up space somewhere on Linden’s actual servers, and in general, the more complex a SL location gets, the longer it will take for your own computer to process it and allow normal interaction of your avatar.

The logic is understandable. But in some of my most frustrated moments, it almost feels like a canvas that has a finite, limited number of brush strokes you can use upon it. Or at least, a limited number of “tiny” brush strokes, with a higher number of “broad strokes” permitted. This seems to be one major reason why so many territories in SL look the same – basic building shapes covered with various flat textures.

Obviously, every art form, especially in its infancy, has these limitations. The 100-foot reel in early silent film. The size of original 78 gramophone records. The inability to build skyscrapers before the advent of the elevator. What’s interesting is that as technological advances keep breaking (or at least “pushing”) these limits, often people romanticize the creativity that the earlier restrictions fostered. In the age of cheap and nearly-infinite digital video, older filmmakers complain that younger ones have no discipline in shooting. “Dogme 95”, the mid-90s filmmaking movement spearheaded by Denmark’s Lars Von Trier, revolved around setting up “new” rules and “obstacles for filmmaking, as a way to force more innovation. Certain musicians and sound-artists try to re-emphasize the object of the “album” and its linear structure as a way to combat the modern, fragmented, mp3 free-for-all. Perhaps someday, when we have reached the era of infinite prims, we’ll look back upon these days of scrimping and saving, trying to make a tree from only 2 prims (that still sways in the breeze), as a golden time of dynamic problem-solving and pure creativity.

Blog — Miniature Tigerpaw, October 13, 2008 @ 1:04 am

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