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Interviews: Talking to the Weather Makers

By David Greene on April 13, 2009

Talking to the Weather Makers

What defines one virtual world as being more immersive than another? Although there are many variables and answers to this question, one thing most can agree on is attention to detail. Realistic environments lead us to achieving suspension of disbelief more easily. One thing that makes an environment very believable is an active weather system. That’s where Garrin Guffey comes in, Garrin designed a dynamic weather system for Second Life that is extremely true to life. Thankfully Garrin took some time to talk about it with us.

Thank you for taking the time for our readers today Garrin

Garrin Guffey:

It's my pleasure, Arra. Glad to meet with you.


How did the concept for your weather system first emerge?

Garrin Guffey:

Well, it was a few years ago, and I was helping a good friend set up a group of Role Play sims. We wanted it to be as feature-rich and unique as every other RP out there...and one of my first projects was to see about getting some dynamic weather. I looked around and found some very good products, but they all required manual control to change the weather. That's fine if you want to go for a specific effect, but as a sim-owner and land manager, something that ran itself would be best. I knew a bit of scripting, so I started work on it.

When you started did you have any form of background in meteorology?

Garrin Guffey:

Oh, no...Nothing more than climatology course in college. I used what I did know about weather systems to create the basic framework of what I when it is cloudy in Second Life (there is a variable for cloud cover in every sim) and if the atmospheric pressure is past a certain marker (another Second Life environment variable), with a random chance, it will start to rain...and so on. The actual science came when I had to look for formulas that converted these Second Life variables into something else the system temperature, relative humidity, heat index, a ton of others. Most were simple but some were very hairy.

Second Life Screenshot

Weather must have become a serious part of life for a while, almost hobby status I would imagine.

Garrin Guffey:

Absolutely. I paid closer attention to my own local weather forecast and did plenty of reading. I began to notice neat correlations between my real life weather conditions and the simulated one here...because I used the Texas climate as the initial model.

What was the development cycle like for the system, and how long did it take from research to prototype?

Garrin Guffey:

Oh, wow. Well, it was pretty unorganized at the time. I worked on it when I had time away from my other responsibilities here. There was a lot of trial and error...I'd say I had it took maybe three months over time, but actually working on it was only a week's worth coding time totaled. That first prototype was pretty fun, and it showed me some big holes that needed to be a HUD... Typing commands on a channel was pretty cumbersome. And at this point, I had not thought about selling the user experience was very unpolished.

Second Life Screenshot

What types of weather will your system produce for a land owner?

Garrin Guffey:

Good question. I noticed that dynamic weather was nice, but to be really appealing a variety of climates should be available. That's when I came up with the idea of Climate Settings. Custom notecards that held all the info on any particular regions' environment like monthly average rainfall, monthly average dew point, how much the temperature varies per year, etc. Since I used the Koppen Climate model, I chose the most likely to be used: Tropical, Temperate (Mediterranean, maritime) Continental Climate, dry climate, arid climate, and Polar.

What sorts of accessories are available for your weather system?

Garrin Guffey:

The core unit gives you three things: The Weather Station, Copiable Weather Generators, and the HUD. Add-ons are definitely optional, but make things more interesting...there is a tree that changes foliage according to the season, as well as flower paths that can be laid down that change. For the winter, I have icicle and snow overlays that can be rezzed on roofs or wherever that are modifiable so the owner can put them anywhere they want snow or fade in when it gets below freezing. There's a radio that listens for the current conditions and warns of extreme events like thunderstorms, freezing, and tornadoes. Oh and a little weathervane that shows the wind direction...the image is togglable between 4 or 5 different looks. Oh, also there is an analog dial thermometer that can be rezzed.

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