Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Gods of K.I.S.S.

We all know the rap. Simple is to be preferred. We also know the real Einstein quote is
Make things as simple as possible, but no simpler.

As I've been polishing and adding features to The River of Life this week (now registered at VRMLWorlds), I've also been part of a thread on the www-vrml list discussing if VRML is Too Hard, are the abstraction levels right, and why is SecondLife getting all the press. My conclusions:

  • Yes, it is too hard for Joe Web Page. All graphics are too hard for Joe Web Page. That's why most professional web pages are built by professionals.

  • Yes the abstraction levels are about right. It is difficult to do easy things because there are no easy things when building virtual reality with real time behaviors. They call this programming. VRML/X3D makes it possible for professionals to build prototypes (protos) that a less skilled builder (say me) can then drag and drop into a scene for spectacular effects. If you visit The River of Life, all of the best behaviors (the sky, the doves, the star fields, the meteors, the sun) were created by other artists who let the world use them as long as their names are left in them. I continue to be awed by their generosity.

  • Linden Labs owns the servers and the IP for everything going on in SecondLife. This succeeds for the same reasons that Microsoft succeeds and with the same results. In a market, only money matters when it comes to fast growth. Any closed system with an internal money machine moves faster than one that has to openly share sources to sell resources. Time and the river determine if it monopolizes a market, but as Eric Maranne rightly points out, virtual reality is an emerging market even twelve years after it was given web presence by the work on VRML, and VR is only ONE market for real-time 3D which is it's medium, not its market. There are more challenges in front of that market than behind it. It is an exciting time in to be a VR hacker.

  • In the end, it isn't simplicity or technology but chops that count. Every script that I've written in the last few weeks was replaced by one that was simpler than the first one, or altogether with a better understanding of the methods of the objects in the standard VRML browser framework and smarter routing of events. On the other hand, a lot of these have been replaced by even more complex scripts written by stellar programmers like Braden McDaniel, Eric Maranne, Cecile Muller, Miriam English and Russ Kinter and the results are spectacular. There is no substitute for a more powerful understanding of math, physics and abstraction.

    Every day I get up and wash the feet of the Gods of K.I.S.S. and watch them wag their tongues at me. I am grateful for the blessings they bestow. I also know that if the Demons of Complexity cast a better spell, I can manage it even if I can't speak it... yet.

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