(Region) Crossing Into a New Era?

Is it really possible? Did Linden Labs finally fix a problem that they have seemingly ignored for so many years? From where I sit, it seems so.

History

For countless years, it seems the nemesis of our existence in the aviation world (as well as road and watercraft) has been region crossings that were sluggish at best and crash traps at worst. Years of pleading by so many players failed to garner any real attention to this. So, as determined aviators, drivers and sailors, we endured. We tolerated often getting booted out of our seats. We accepted sometime landing with some attachments missing or sometimes even naked at the end of a flight. We screamed and stammered when that dreaded death sentence of finding ourselves stuck at a region corner unable to move without relogging.

As SecondLife® matured and the demands on performance and network traffic increased, the problem became worse by the month. Aviation, boating and driving fans started fading. Many have found other interests, as the frequency of failed crossings for some outnumbered successful ones. While some builders were able to minimize the damage, none completely eliminated it.

A Big Change

Now along comes the year 2020, which most of us will wish to forget more than any other year in our lifetimes from an RL perspective, comes a change in SL that may be the polar opposite of the painful real world we live in. That change is Linden Lab’s decision to migrate the SecondLife® grid to Amazon Web Services (AWS). In and of itself, this move should have been relatively transparent to us other than “some” performance improvement. For Linden Labs, it was to mean a significant reduction of their infrastructure and hardware costs, along with much more flexibility to expand and contract with market demand.

While there has been talk about this for some time, this talk was met with a huge amount of crickets chirping from anyone not familiar with cloud computing. From the enlightened in the cloud came some degree of excitement based on knowledge of the overall benefits of cloud. But no real expectations that our worst enemy, the dreaded region crossing, would be significantly expected. After all, a problem has to be recognized before it can be fixed.

What Actually Happened

As with all migrations like this, the move to AWS had to be done in steps. The first step was the Blake Sea regions. After some testing on Aditi (beta grid), these regions were brought live on the main grid. Immediately , reports started coming in that there were improvements in region crossings. As I recall, since all this was over the general aviation chatter, it was not “grid shattering” but definitely noticeable.

But the bad news was, crossing between a region still in the legacy data center and the cloud based regions became more deadly than before. So deadly in fact, that Linden Labs knew it would be an unacceptable situation during the transition. Lo and behold, the light dawns: something in region crossings is not quite right. Imagine that!

Testing Crossings and Tempting Fate

Having heard about the improved crossing performance in the transitioned regions but not yet warned of the danger of entering them from legacy regions, I decided to brave a test. To make it a real challenge, I chose the EG ATX-72 for a test flight from Half Moon Bay Airport (SLMB) to Second Norway Airport (SLSN). The ATX-72 has had a long standing reputation as being extremely painful for crossing regions.

Again, not knowing about the transition of data center problem, I made two attempts to complete this flight, resulting in a hard crash in the same region both times, just a few regions out from SLMB.

I then attempted the same flight using a McKeenan BAE-146, which for me is probably the most reliable plane in SL for crossing regions. Its performance was a bit sluggish at the same region, but after passing that previously deadly point, it was smooth all the way to SNO without a hitch, even managing a landing score of 92 despite being somewhat rusty from my hiatus from flying. Was it better? A bit hard to say given my historical good luck with the BAE-146. It did seem like there was improvement.

Linden Labs Wakes Up

The short version is, the near death experience people started encountering when crossing between legacy and AWS based regions forced Linden Labs to acknowledge the problem. They set out to fix it and found a problem so significant that they decided to roll out the fix grid wide without waiting for the cloud migration to complete. For the long version, please see April Linden’s article titled https://community.secondlife.com/blogs/entry/5560-whoosh-what’s-up-with-region-crossings/.

More Testing – This This Time Successful!

After seeing the above article, it was time for more testing. Again, again I decided to use the ATX-72. Back to SLMB and off I went. I would be happy if I could just say that the performance was “better”. In fact, the ATX-72 not only did well, it exceeded my wildest expectations. The entire flight from SLMB to SLSN was completed without a single glitch. The longest region crossing I encountered was maybe three seconds. No snap backs. No plane spinning out of control then recovering and most notable of all, no dreaded unseats (except when I accidentally “cornered” but more on that later). Just a smooth and uneventful flight and even another high score landing.

Since that test, I’ve done multiple additional tests from White Star Airfield (SLWS) to SLSN, using the ATX-72, the ZSK LJ-45XR and the BAE-146. All have been successful with similar results.

After gaining satisfaction with flight, a bit of driving was in order. So off I went to the roads of Heterocera. Until recently, very few cars really performed well at region crossings.

Over the past couple of days, I ran multiple tests with cars off my own lot, finding that they did indeed perform much better after the change. Additionally taking out a few cars from other creators, some of which I recall suffering from frequent “fly away” syndrome as well as diving into the ground similar results were encountered. All now cross smoothly with little or no delays. Even cranking them up to speeds I’d never dared try when crossing a region boundary, significant improvement was gained and no incidents encountered.

Don’t Get Cornered

Region corners still carry some risk so should not be attempted at higher speeds. They are not impossibly dangerous like before. But unless you are driving where Linden’s original architects, in their infinite wisdom, decided to run a road through a region corner making them unavoidable, avoid them. They can still cause headaches. When driving try to stick to the small part of any corner crossing that is not directly over the corner and take it a little slower. When flying, just…don’t.

Quick Tip for Firestorm Users – Movement

Some time back, Firestorm currently called Region Crossing Movement Prediction with two options. The legacy options were Predict and Stop. Now, having been modified somewhat, they are called “Unlimited” and “Stop when error gets too large”. Basically the first choice mirrors the SL viewer while the second one effectively dampens the crossing to make the crossing happen less painfully. Working with IAPS (Institute of Aviation Passenger Safety), we conducted a study that concluded that for flying, the legacy mode was the most desirable mode, while for driving and sailing, “Stop” mode performed better.

My tests this week seemed to prove that is still the case, although the difference is now is not significantly noticeable unless you are watching for it. In the past, it was really not safe to use Stop mode while flying because when hitting a badly lagged region, the airplane was typically not able to recover whereas hitting the same region in Predict/Unlimited mode it was more of a 50/50 chance.

Final Notes

Quite often, including during some of this testing, I am using Advanced Lighting. Past recommendations have been to turn off advanced lighting for flight and maybe driving. However modern vehicles in SL quite often utilize advanced lighting for effect. Your mileage may vary with this, but for me I noticed very little if any degradation between on/off. This will depend mostly on the power of your graphics card. It may or may not affect a successful region crossing.

For my experience, this long overdue update has made flying enjoyable again. With that in mind, I really hope to see a lot more of both pilots and passengers taking to the skies again. As a pilot for one of the older airlines in SecondLife®, I look forward to seeing you all back in the air!

Blue Skies!
Starbuckk

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