Signpost Marvin compiled an experimental branch of the Second Life Viewer - the so called shadow-draft branch and lookie, behold, a comparison between the normal and the experimental client:
Neat, no? Of course, as Gwyneth Llewelyn points out in Shadowy Details, this is bound to raise discussion:
Can my computer handle this?
No, probably not. Mine won’t. But they are still working on it, and computers are evolving. Wait for your turn? Until then, let’s make work of decently shaded textures. And if you are a builder or designer and think ahead, you may to give people the option to turn those shadow textures off and replace them by normal ones?
Rendered ft. baked shadows
Yep. But this is the glimpse in the future we’re getting here. Don’t worry yet, and consider the option in the paragraph above. Also, if you are used to build whole sims, what about the override time on sims? You can either set sun position and stop it from moving, or make that your estate follows the sun position as it is on the ‘mainland’ and create your textures accordingly. If you have your sun moving, then why don’t make a few different textures, and let them cycle, according to the mainland time and the position of the sun that follows from that?
Virtual shadows: Good thing? Bad thing?
Do I personally think if this is a good thing? Oh yes! Anything that allows us to compete with those top notch game engines is ‘total awesomeness’. But what confuses me, is that all those top notch games only render shadows for some items - most of the time the moving stuff (avatar, enemies, vehicles, …). As you find yourself in a certain ‘game scene’ with fixed time & environment settings, lots of the shadows may be static and thus baked textures. An example: Play ‘Iron Man the Game’, in the first level - yeah, yeah, did not get further than that - you will see that the grass is shaded to the ground. Stand on that shaded part of the ground. The shading will not reflect on your game character, thus the shading is baked to the ground texture. But move your character, and that character will have a moving, rendered, shadow. Why do they do this? That’s simple, to safe resources.
So if Lindens would give us - together with nice shadings - a ‘do not render shading for this object’ button which does not only stop your client from showing them, but also from ‘doing the math’ for shadows on those objects, we’re all set for the future and nobody needs to be scared? ;)