Firestorm, often called Phoenix-Firestorm, is the series 2 viewer that will replace the Phoenix viewer. The Firestorm team is endeavoring to make Firestorm a transition viewer that series 1 viewer users can use without too much trouble. Also, new users coming from Linden Lab’s viewer won’t be totally lost. Plus the viewer can be customized to be more series 1 or 2 like.
Download and Install
(Download) The Firestorm announcement recommends a clean install of Firestorm and suggests the previous settings file won’t work with the new viewer. Unfortunately the Firestorm uninstall while asking if you want to remove all files, doesn’t. The cache files and folder are deleted. (C:\Users\[user_name]\AppData\Local\Firestorm\). The settings and logs files are left behind. To remove them one needs to delete the files in: C:\Users\[user_name]\AppData\Roaming\Firestorm\.
If you are into saving your chat logs, remember to move them to a safe location before deleting the folder.
The install uses a new folder for the actual program. It reuses the previous cache and log-settings locations.
In the above image (click for larger image) You can see the new look for Dialog Menus (#1). The Radar (#2) is active but does not pop to front. The Mini-Map (3) also remains on top of the sidebar Radar panel. In the Stats panel I blanked out FPS as it was not representative of actual performance (I went from Word to Snip and the viewer was in background, which reduces FPS by half or more.)
The install is simple. Agree to the EULA and you’re on your way.
The first thing that popped up was the horribly annoying Media Filter. This feature was added into SL and third party viewers after the RedZone exploit. Some viewers have created a less intrusive filter. Most users with viewers using this style of notification tend to turn the filter off. At least I do. The filter does have white and black lists. So, after a time it becomes less intrusive. Enable or disable in the upper menu: Avatar→Preferences→Sound & Media→Enable media filter.
The next noticeable feature is the floating panel that is the sidebar panel we see in Linden Lab (LL) viewers. It can be opened and closed with the HOME icon in the bottom menu.
Except for minor menu differences there are lots of similarities to the SLV2.
In Preferences General and Chat are what you expect, nothing much new here.
Graphics settings includes Lighting & Shadows, but enabling it pops up a warning advising one not to use the feature. So, it appears they don’t have this quit ready for prime time yet. The panel also includes Ambient Occlusion and Sun/Moon or dynamic shadows. But, one needs Lighting & Shadows enabled before they are active choices.
On the Graphics tab there are four tabs not seen in SLV2 viewers; General (the SL settings), Hardware Settings, Rendering, and Global Illumination.
Hardware Settings – to understand these and decide how to set them see: Graphics Tweaking for Second Life, which is mostly for nVida but the concepts of things like Ambient Occlusion are the same in all systems regardless of video card.
Render – There are some settings on the render tab that we usually find in the snapshot panel. Fortunately they are repeated there. A feature not in SLV2 is a setting for the number of parallel texture downloads. There is more control over textures and how they are displayed.
Global Illumination – This feature is about creating more realistic lighting. In the simplest terms it adds reflected light. This option requires newer video cards and lots of GPU/CPU power.
Sound & Media – is similar to SLV2’s with the addition of features. Media Filter (see above) being the main additional feature.
Network & Cache – replaces SLV2’s Setup tab. Firestorm provides much more control over the caches than the SLV2 does. Firestorm has the 10gb cache now used in SL viewers. An indexing system has been added for caching textures in SLV2 and I assume it is part of Firestorm, but I didn’t see where they say. The idea is the index and larger cache will make the cache faster and more efficient. So, when returning to a region you should see faster rez.
Move & View – this is the panel where the double-click teleport is enabled or disabled. Otherwise it is similar to SLV2.
Dialog Alerts – renamed but the same as SLV2.
Privacy – similar to SLV2. Chat log settings and Firestorm unique features are on this panel. Controls for what info the viewer puts out, like Selection Hints, are on this page.
Advanced – This contains the control that allows one to turn on the grid manager and grid selection at login. Enabling it pops a warning that the viewer may not work on all grids. The only grids in the grid drop down at login are ADITI and AGNI, the two main SL grids, beta and main respectively.
UI Extras – User Interface Extras – This is unique Firestorm feature that collects many of the viewer’s UI behaviors into a single place. The measages popping up in the lower right are called toasts. You can control how they work and disappear here.
Skins – what you expect… alternate viewer skins. Be warned. Using skins other than the default in a Beta release is likely to produce more problems. But, the Firestorm will appreciate any testing bug reports you do.
Firestorm – The RLVa enable control is here (Restrained Love Viewer). The control for vertical or horizontal chat tabs is here. A nice feature here is the ability to select which Search is used, the older SLV2 Search or the new SLV2 Beta Search. Use the Beta. The Search button in the bottom menu is off by default. Right-click and empty part of the bottom menu bar to open a button selection menu. Also buttons can be dragged to rearrange them.
The new search is slow opening, taking 10 to 15 second to appear. Search results live in a closed search panel for a few minutes, but eventually time out and searches have to be run again. To find people and not have to mess with figuring out whether to use Display or login name, click the People Filter to the right of the search query window. It seems to find people whether you use Display or login names.
There are 4 tabs on the Firestorm panel; General (described above as Firestorm), View, Chat, CmdLine, and Windlight.
View – Has some settings like Camera Restraints.
Chat – this panel has a load of settings related to chat. The OOC close and other handy features. When you first see the chat window in operation I think you’ll be impressed. This is probably the best Nearby Chat window of all the SL style viewers. I don’t care for the avocado green used… but that is my problem. When looking to change the color I found the control in Avatar→Preferences→Colors→Chat Headers. It would be nice to have all the chat settings in one place… but they do seem to have all the color choices in one place. So, it is kinda a how you think about it thing. (The color change doesn’t seem to stick… sometimes it does… confusing.)
CmdLine – These are the setting that allow one to type commands in chat and have the viewer execute them. Like dd 64 to set the Draw Distance to 64 meters.
Windlight – This is the feature that allows you to tell the viewer how to handle Region Windlight settings. These settings are not the LL Windlight Region Settings. These are the Phoenix style region settings. A region owner can set region Windlight to suit their build. Your viewer will use those setting automatically, if you allow it.
LL has a project viewer out that allows estate managers to set Windlight values for their region. That viewer allows one to see THOSE SL Windlight settings. For now we have two versions of region Windlight. I expect in the next Firestorm release the LL style will be adopted. But it may be some time before LL rolls the out, like a month or two.
Profiles are the early SLV2 style… sort of. It seems to be a hybrid profile from the old series 1 mixed with series 2 look. One can open more than one profile. I suspect updating the profile in Firestorm is unlikely to update one’s web profile. So, this profile feature will likely have to change to the newer Web Profiles LL is using at some point. The service that supplies info to the older profiles will likely be turned off at some point.
A trip to the ADITI Grid’s Mesh Regions shows mesh is not handled well. Also, there is no Mesh Upload Feature.
In my cottage with High Graphics settings I get 35 to 44 FPS. In Celtic Myst (Stygia South) once things rez I get around 33 FPS. Sleet was empty (no avatars) and I got about 25 FPS. So, the viewer is pretty fast.
I jumped over to Dance Island, in the shopping area. Here you can see the area rez speed is fast as there must be a billion textures to download. Even with textures downloading I was getting 22 to 33 FPS.
The Firestorm Team purchased the right to use KDU. KDU is the same proprietary package that LL uses to decompress images in LL viewers. This should make the viewer faster . Whether it is KDU adding the speed, I do find Firestorm a fast viewer. That will make it a hit with combat gamers.
However, KDU is a proprietary program and the team cannot release the code their DLL is compiled from. So, like the Emerald Viewer we have a chunk of code no one but team members can review. This is not a problem unique to Firestorm. Many TPV’s have DLL’s that we can’t see into.
For many residents Radar is a necessary feature. In combat regions it can be a point of contention. Whatever the case, Firestorm now has radar. It has moved to the side panel. The image I show also includes the Mini-Map, which is not part of Radar. Radar has map that is mostly hidden in the image.
When right-clicking on an avatar for the menu, one gets a pie menu. The handy items are in it; Goto (at the top), mute, Profile, IM, More…, Pay…, Add friend (which should probably be labeled: Add Possibly Lame PITA), and Report.
Firestorm has an AO built into the viewer. The instructions for setting it up are in the Phoenix Wiki. See Client AO. Since I change from viewer to viewer, I keep my AO in a HUD.
At some point it would seem all viewers would have a built in AO and eliminate the need for HUD AO’s. The challenge comes for the need to be able to easily set up and change AO sets. With the coming of mesh avatar replacements the need for quick and easy changes will likely increase.
Only the basic SLV2 build options are in this viewer. The Build Math, copy Position, Size, and Rotation haven’t made it in yet.
The texture and prim alignment tools from SLV2 are included.
I didn’t see the Projector Settings in Build. May be I missed them. But, lights, shadows, and projectors are incomplete in this release.
The stats panel (Ctrl-Shift-1 toggle) does not seem to remember how I configure it. So each new secession, I have to deal with an expanded set of stats.
Viewers are probably the most complex application most people use. Applications like 3DS Max, Photoshop, Blender, and Excel are deep applications that few, if any, people know everything there is to know about them. Linden Lab is striving to create a simpler viewer, thus the introduction of Viewer Modes and the Basic and Advanced modes.
It appears Firestorm will be a power users’ viewer. To support the complexity of Firestorm the team is providing classes and one of the best viewer manuals available. See the Firestorm-Phoenix Wiki for schedules and support. Additionally they have a very active in-world group with ‘official’ support personnel.
Over time we will see how these two approaches work.
I’ve been using SLV2 style viewers far more than the series 1 viewers. Firestorm is probably a good transition viewer, but I’m not a good one to say. I’ve heard some saying it will work for them. But I think it feels and looks pretty much like a series 2 viewer on default start. In the default state several people trying it out feel it is too much like SLV2. Some want a viewer that is exactly like the Phoenix or SLV 1.23, user-interface-wise. Unfortunately that is not going to happen. There are too many new features coming and old features based on services LL is going to be turning off. But, one can customize the look… arrangement of things mostly.
As time passes the viewers based on series 2 code will enjoy LL making the user interface and render engine more modular. As that happens TPV Dev’s will be able to do more with the user interface.
I used it for a couple of hours. No problems, hangs, or crashes. I like it. The team is doing an amazing job. If you like the viewer drop by their group and say thanks.
Firestorm is incomplete. It is way more complete than the previous preview viewer. Everything most of us need is available in Firestorm. It is certainly complete enough to be your daily use viewer.
There are lots of questions popping in the Firestorm Help group. So, getting help is easy. The new chat upgrades in LL’s utility servers has really helped group chat. I could carry on a conversation in the Phoenix-Firestorm Preview group from Dance Island with only a few seconds lag. That I could even participate is a change.