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Small Things that make a Great Build

I’m putting together a course for the Academy that concentrates on fundamental dos and don’ts for SL architectural builds in New Babbage and other steampunk sims. Here are a few that I have so far:

  • Eaves. Real buildings have them, most new builders ignore them. Walls almost never give way cleanly to rooftops. Make rooftops overlap, or line the border between them with a prim.
  • Large uninterrupted surfaces of simply tiled textures. Avoid these. All textures show as tiles when you view them from far enough away, so exposing a wall with brick gives away the fact that you’re building in SL.
  • Large setbacks in urban neighborhoods. The value of land in urban areas is high enough that wasting good square footage on empty space is economically costly. Build to the edge of your parcel. If you are going to have open space, wall it in, or put it in a semi-urban neighborhood.


What else?

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  1. Avariel Falcon Avariel Falcon September 19, 2010

    Always allow sufficient space around any high voltage electrical items to avoid killing anyone who casually wanders past your house. Generally killing passers by with 1000000V arcs from your Tesla coil is bad. However if they climb on top of your giant tank capacitors they are fair game. Health and safety! Bah! We live in the era of common sense!

  2. Gabriell Anatra Gabriell Anatra September 19, 2010

    Good advice all.  I’d consider taking a look at Clockhaven and/or the area near the Bucket before starting out as well. These areas seem to capture that urban victorian feel very well.


  3. Ceejay Writer Ceejay Writer September 19, 2010

    Create ‘shortcuts’ through your property (or across it’s rooftop) if you can, and assuming you don’t mind some traffic.  Walking through Babbage is more fun if one can dash down alleys, jump from roof to roof, or otherwise get off the sidewalk now and then.  I think my inner urchin never quite grew up!   

  4. Victor1st Mornington Victor1st Mornington September 19, 2010

    Glass Roofing…

    I’ve seen a few folks go down the glass roof or glass dome road when doing the roof of their house.  In some ways doming or glassing the roof of a building adds that something extra to the outside look of a build.  One thing to remember though, your glass will NOT stay clean for very long in New Babbage.  A domed glass roof or plate glass roof at least has to have that worn look on the framing (and yes it must have some sort of framing, ya cant just have solid glass).  For that extra special look, try and work in some dirt and soot patches into the glass.

  5. Victor1st Mornington Victor1st Mornington September 19, 2010

    Inside Ceiling Height…

    Second Life avatar sizes are stupid, there, i said it…STUPID!  The avatar size which is considered “normal” has you avatar at a height of roughly almost 7ft tall with some being almost 8ft tall.  In actual fact, Mr Tenks avatar size would be considered a “true” scaled height of real life, he looks like his avatar height might be about 5ft 8ish maybe?

    The same goes for inside your building.  Having walls of 10 metres is all well and good, having a ceiling height of 10 metres make your room look like a giant cavern inside.  The trick with making a room look much more “lived in” and cosy is to bring down that ceiling height to about 6m or at most 7m.  Brunel Hall’s rooms (apart from the bathing hall…cause thats an actual hall) are at the 6m to 7m mark.  It makes the rooms more cosy and even with just basic furniture it packs the room out.

    (Thanks to Kaylee for mentioning this tip ages ago at the Gangplank)

    • Odnar Halberstadt Odnar Halberstadt September 19, 2010

      I am 4 feet 6 inches. Tenk and I compared our heights. He is 1 – 3 inches shorter than me. ((The exact heights were posted on the now closed NING. Stupid NING.))

    • Gabriell Anatra Gabriell Anatra September 19, 2010

      That it does. A normal ceiling is about 8ft or a little more hereabouts so most of those in SL look like raised ceilings to us.

      Gaby was intended to be a bit towards the tall side as I’m 5’11” in RL. She ended up 6’4″ or so thanks to SL wonkiness. Not too far off but still quite tall. That’s without the horns and heels of course, with them she’s probably near 7′.  

      • Edward Pearse Edward Pearse September 20, 2010

        Of course it’s worth remembering that in RL 19th century architechure a 12′ ceiling was considered quite common. Public buildings such as banks, libraries and Societies would probably have been even taller.

      • Grendel Footman Grendel Footman September 20, 2010

        always meant Grendel to be fairly tall and somewhat gangly ((stitched together parts afterall))

        but he was originally based more on my rl height (6’5″)  but then keep seeing people that tower over me in SL  miht of grown him slightly



    • Kristos Sonnerstein Kristos Sonnerstein September 20, 2010

      :is thankful for the unusually tall doorways, considering his 7’7″ height: It’s bad enough smacking my brow on the street signs, walking in a doorway is considerably more solid.

      • Zaida Gearbox Zaida Gearbox September 20, 2010

        ((The first incarnation of Zaidaville was unintentionally urchin sized and no full sized avis could get in.  The floors are now 6 mm, and now I’m wondering if I shouldn’t have made them 10 because what if Mr. Lunar comes from over in Steelhead to visit – him 8ft tall))

    • Mr Tenk Mr Tenk September 20, 2010

      7m ceiling height is really pushing it. 4m is building to real scale, but it creates a lot of problems for your camera. 5m to 6m seems to work best. 10m? it better be a factory, a warehouse, or something that makes sense to do that. your little parlor furniture set looks ridiculous against that 10m wall (which is as putting the texture wainscotting up around 4m). the ceiling in the red rum cave was raised from its original height.

      ditto on large glass panes – it sends your build into the 20th century and beyond. large panes started being used aroud 1900, made by pouring out molten glass onto large tables. sheet glass process was invented in 1914.

      plywood – it sends me out of period. lamination was used in fine furniture veneers, but modern plywood was introduced by the city of portland, oregon at the 1905 world fair. i’ve got a peeve about that door texture.

      • Mr Underby Mr Underby September 20, 2010

        While large panes of glass and plywood were not around in the 1880s, it’s also worth noting that neither were airships, automatons, or zap guns. 

        A culture that could create those giant guns on the walls of they city could probably stumble their way through the complicated process involved in creating plywood.  No? 

        Keeping period in mind is very good, but let’s also remember this isn’t a simple Victorian sim, its a Steampunk Victorian sim, some things will be different.


        • Mr Tenk Mr Tenk September 20, 2010

          much of pre-1906 san francisco was built with old growth kauri from new zealand. those suckers were centuries old. there just isn’t a need for construction grade plywood when you still have vast virgin forests to chew through. when they take the siding off the houses in my part of town, you see lathe slats and solid planks. what we make plywood out of was probably considered junk wood in the 19th century, because bigger trees were available.

          the glass.. yeah… we got those glass tubes in the vernian that are hard to explain.

          • Mr Underby Mr Underby September 20, 2010

            So glass tubes are hard to explain but zap guns are not?  Ooooook…

            *tiptoes backwards out of thread*


            • Ceejay Writer Ceejay Writer September 20, 2010

              *tiptoes with Underby*

              I think you’ve stumbled upon another topic of discussion worthy of it’s own thread.  One I am interested in.

        • Grendel Footman Grendel Footman September 20, 2010

          pluss, with large glass parts, the vernian tubes tend to have large glass parts

  6. Victor1st Mornington Victor1st Mornington September 19, 2010

    Alpha Windows In Walls…

    Second Life (or more especially OpenGL’s) handling of alpha layers backing up against another alpha layer is…well…bad, just…bad.  There is a trick to sorting that out in the Advanced menu, its called “Fast Alpha” and does get rid of about 90% of the alpha clashing you see.

    However, more than half of the general SL users dont even know about Fast Alpha.  If you are lining the outside of your build with alpha windows built into the actual texture think of two things…

    1: Whats behind that window?

    2: Whats outside that window?

    For folks looking INTO your building from outside, to avoid alpha clashes you need to make sure there is a solid texture wall “boxing off” your rooms.  Looking through an alpha layered texture into another alpha layered texture is what cause the clashing.  Simply putting partitioning walls to box off your living room, dining room, mad science lab does the trick.

    For folks looking OUT of your building if they are inside, is there another building infront, to the side, or behind you thats using an alpha layered texture window wall?  If there is, its best to use prim windows on that particular side of your home, this way when you are inside your building looking out, your wall wont alpha clash with your neighbours wall.

  7. Avariel Falcon Avariel Falcon September 19, 2010

    I guess its worth adding to this. Try not to use alpha textures for entire walls that could be covered quite well with non-alpha textures.

    There are some textures going the rounds that are alpha textures, and have an alpha channel, but do not have any obvious transparent parts (windows etc..). If you have alpha windows these cause alpha clashes for people looking out of the windows.

  8. Verlia Bilavio Verlia Bilavio September 19, 2010

    Don’t neglect roofs. They can be tricky, but done right, they can be amazing.

    • Verlia Bilavio Verlia Bilavio September 19, 2010

      The key is planning the dimensions of your building before hand so that you have some roof overlap

    • Verlia Bilavio Verlia Bilavio September 19, 2010

      and research. research into your architectural style is key.

  9. Fono Heninga Fono Heninga September 20, 2010

    Consider how your build will look in different lighting conditions. Some uses of glow to suggest reflected light on shiny surfaces can work well in a strong light or in the day, but look a bit odd (or radioactive) at night. Have a look at your build in as many lighting and weather conditions as possible help to catch any inadvertant full bright or glow.

    Also, something else that’s good to do, even just as an exercise, is to switch all the graphical effects off on your viewer: particles, local light, reflective and bitmapping, bumpmapping, and switch basic shaders on. If your build holds up and still looks like the thing you designed it to be without all the bells and whistles, then it’s solid and will be seen as what you want it to be by more people, and will have extra kick once you make use of the extra graphical pretty.

    (No, it isn’t necessary to design to the lowest specs of computer, but it’s something to consider as your starting point, and going from there.)

    I’ve seen quite a few pipe-heavy builds that relied on the shiny render to make pipes look metallic, especially copper and brass – without that turned on, it looks like a mass of yellow spaghetti.

  10. Edward Pearse Edward Pearse September 20, 2010

    Texture all sides of your prim.

    I’ve seen various builds where, when seen from a distance, the untextured edges of two prims making a dark wall will have a pale line running between them. This is even more noticable where the prims have been aligned by hand rather than grid numbers.


    Just a personal bugbear on this. Doors should open INTO the building. It wasn’t until after the Collinwood school fire in 1908 that outward swinging exit doors were implemented on public buildings. Even then it took the Coconut Grove fire in 1942 to have inward swinging doors banned on private buildings.

  11. Mr Tenk Mr Tenk September 20, 2010

    exterior lighting – gaslamps point up.

    putting too much trust in building tools/builder tool belts – the grid will only align prims that are of lengths of even multiples of the grid interval. that means if you set your grid interval to 0.25,  your 1.75m box is going to overlap and make flutter when you butt it up to your 2.5m box. please prove this to yourself sometime, and notice the workarounds.  i bring this up in the megaprim class.


    • Osric Worbridge Osric Worbridge October 19, 2010

      I wish I had the chance to go to your megaprim class.

  12. Zaida Gearbox Zaida Gearbox September 20, 2010

    *crosses arms and makes a pretend mean face*  How come you never tell me dat before?

      • Zaida Gearbox Zaida Gearbox September 20, 2010

        I don’t remember you ever telling me to build the roof first – unless you put it in big mathy terms that I don’t understand.  My personal favorite still being:  “opposite over adjacent, put result into arctangent calculator, thats the pitch angle.”  I still have no idea what that means – except that it’s trig, which I never took in school.

  13. Mr Tenk Mr Tenk September 20, 2010

    Note about setbacks/use of parcel space – this seperates the americans from the europeans. americans tend to set back, europeans don’t. strange observation from the building inspector ;-).

    personally, i think all the canals are built backwards, to american sensibilities. the walkways should be on the insides, and canals should be back alleys with small high walkways going between buildings. if i did it again, i think i’d put the canals THROUGH the parcels, not bordering them, the result would be a denser, much more interesting, build.

    • Zaida Gearbox Zaida Gearbox September 20, 2010

      Zaidaville is only set back a little bit because when I was building it (and before it was linked) auto-return kept sending the clocktower back to me.  :-/  So, I made the whole building smaller to make sure the clocktower was within the boundaries of my property.

    • Gabriell Anatra Gabriell Anatra September 20, 2010

      I do like a little setback sometimes, say a meter or two, no more. Large setbacks in Babbage do look weird, like cobblestone ‘lawns’.

  14. Bela Lubezki Bela Lubezki September 20, 2010

    what a great thread (and probably a great class).

    i have some minors:

    – if you can not avoid overlapping of prims and they are on the same level, try to offset them just a bit to avoid this flickering.

    – if you have a painted glass window or your company name painted on the shop-window. be sure to mirror it at the (other-) inside.

    – try to think of some other than just historical or practical reasons and functions of your building. is the inhabitant sad, happy, mean? do you want to impress, try to fear visitors, let them feel welcome? dominate or support the street/corner/line of sight with the building?


    … /me has to double check her european cobblestone lawns

  15. Zaida Gearbox Zaida Gearbox September 20, 2010

    Doesn’t it also avoid the flickering if you use phantom?  It’s what I did with part of my clocktower, and it seems to be working okay.

    • Mr Tenk Mr Tenk September 20, 2010

      No. flicker is what happens when 2 textures are occupying the same plane, it has nothing to do with parameters. as your camera swings around, your computer is doing calcultions to decide which one to show you (also what is going on with alpha glitch, which is why it is not ‘curable’ on the lab end).

  16. Breezy Carver Breezy Carver September 20, 2010

    /me  loves gingerbread trim work  :)   ((just saying))

  17. Serafina Puchkina Serafina Puchkina September 20, 2010

    I enjoy occasionally exploring Babbage via rooftops and have always appreciated when a builder has included something extra, different, unusual up there. It could be a realistic detail, as in a smokestack, or a bit of humor such as a dead rat or whimsical poster. Several buildings already include this small detail, and it’s great. 

  18. Jonathon Spires Jonathon Spires September 21, 2010

    Great post. Gave me a lot to think about. I went in last night to add eaves. Thought it would be a 20 minute job. Spent all night redoing things. But I got eaves, and it does look better, even on my Crystal-Palace-Meets-Quanset-Hut hovel.

  19. Aeolus Cleanslate Aeolus Cleanslate September 22, 2010

    Excellent posts, folks. Keep it going if you can think of more. I notice Obolensky hasn’t chimed in yet – I’d expect a small encyclopedia of gripes from him! ;-)

    Now to make a list and take screenshots of each. Bwahaha!

    Will schedule the class soon.

    • Mr Tenk Mr Tenk September 22, 2010

      i’ve got some screenshots of don’t’s i’ve been meaning to post…

  20. Zaida Gearbox Zaida Gearbox September 22, 2010

    One of the things I’m doing as I’m continuing to learn to build is going back and adding little details – like the moulding/trim/eaves at Zaidaville, lifting Zaidaville up to put a foundation under it, adding steps up to the doors, and I’m sure more changes will be coming – not the least of which is that I’m not in love with the textures, but I haven’t found any that I like better.  I want the non-alpha windows for Zaidaville specifically because I don’t want people outside to see in.  Yes, I’m well aware that people can just walk in, cam in, or see in by any number of means – it’s just how I want the exterior windows.

    In the not too distant future, I’m going to be doing a rebuild/adding details to the exterior of Church of the Holy Innocents, but I need help from a sculptor friend of mine (sorry Doc O).  Plus, redoing the church will probably require putting it back on the build platform because there’ll be significant change to the roof which is a pain in the well – you know……

  21. Grendel Footman Grendel Footman September 22, 2010

    ne thing I keep seeing in other sims and occasionally in babbage, if it’s supposed to be on the ground, double check to make sure whatever it is you’re building actually is on the ground.

    I’ve been in sims where the trees hover a foot or so in the air, it can look okay from one angle, but then when you move arond it can become incredibly obvious

    • Edward Pearse Edward Pearse September 23, 2010

      Triple check this for furniture inside the building too!

      Very good point.

  22. Zaida Gearbox Zaida Gearbox September 23, 2010

    It occurs to me that the reason people sometimes skimp on details is that dreaded prim limit.  This is already over 140 prims, and it’s not finished.  The foot print of the building is meant to fit nicely onto a 512, but the primminess of the building almost requres something bigger so you’ll have prims left over for furnishings.



  23. Zaida Gearbox Zaida Gearbox September 23, 2010

    Maybe you guys could teach a class on savin’ prims without losing details.  As high prim as my house above is – if the window frames, porch railings, porch steps, and the poles that hold up the porch roof weren’t all sculpts the prim count would be A LOT higher.  I probably could have used megas on the roof, but we’re only talking about six prims and megas are a pain.

    • Edward Pearse Edward Pearse September 23, 2010

      You’re right. Prim count is invariably the reason that details are skimped. This is usually when megas and sculpts get involved. The little towers on top of my shop originally took 120 prims. Thankfully I was able to get a custom sculpt done to replace 3 prims on each of the towers bringing it back to 40 prims. I know I’m dreading the Halloween decorations over at the Seraph Club with what I have remaining.

    • Cyan Icewolf Cyan Icewolf September 23, 2010

      My Brewery originally (just for the building itself with nothing interior yet) was about 240 prims. I think since I potitioned it differently and took a lot of the windows out it has since shrunk although there’s still a lot of changes I can make to have fewer prims in it. But yes the more detial you want the more prims they take which is why finding a decent detailed texture to function as basically the same is quite hard.

  24. Zaida Gearbox Zaida Gearbox September 23, 2010

    The white boarder in the front of the the house is 10 prims.  I haven’t done the back yet, but I think it’s pretty obvious that I’m going to have to.  I don’t have the eye windows or any windows in the back third floor of the house, and I think it looks like it’s lacking something for it.  But, at the same time – more prims.


  25. Grendel Footman Grendel Footman September 23, 2010

    I’ve cut down so often on prims with my plant through it’s assorted rebuilds, it’s why I made it a large blocky warehouse rather than a gentrified victorian home, only real details I need are in the textures.

    I even redid my eel generator to use a few less prims (it’s incorporating a 7seas aquarium filled with electric eels, so I actually can say I’ve caught the eels now)

    currently looking for more ways to cut down on prims so the graveyard can grow, without losing my basement/skybox lab and Dr. Dino’s time machine.

    most the graveyard’s easy at least, the stone are either 1-2 prims, or sculpties, as is the new fence, all sculpties (thanks miss Tripsa) the only real prim heavy part is the crypt, or the occasions I leave ghosts out

    I’m also usually attempting to leave the 32-35 prims free for vehicles to pass through as well.

  26. Bela Lubezki Bela Lubezki September 23, 2010

    i have two more:

    – try to add handmade shadow onto planes that are facing down, facing to the back or inside a walkway. since we have no real shadows, i do this by darkening the colour or greying the white colour of a texture, like i would do in a RL drawing (example would be the two steel archways into my factory┬┤s inner yard)

    – never forget to “lock” the linked prim cluster that is your building, after changing a minor detail. prevents the accidently deleting of the whole (well positioned) masterpiece.

    • Zaida Gearbox Zaida Gearbox October 19, 2010

      I have done that more times than I care to admit.

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