UPDATE: Nalates Urriah pointed out that the Mesh Deformer did in fact support avatar physics, so I have updated the post accordingly.
In keeping with my habit of always being in arrears when it comes to discussing important issues, this post comes quite some time after the Fitted Mesh project viewer was announced on November 20th, much to (I believe) everybody’s surprise. Personally, I didn’t expect them to move forward with any technique that would change the current state of affairs regarding fitting rigged mesh clothing to our avatars. Before I continue, I’ll need to summarise the situation as it’s been so far.
It appears that, when LL decided to introduce mesh and rigged mesh, they didn’t expect fashion designers to take advantage of this technique to use it for avatar apparel, accessories and components. So, much to everyone’s frustration, they no provision was made to make rigged mesh clothing fit the avatar regardless of its shape. Furthermore, avatar physics didn’t play nice with rigged mesh, because of the way things have been implemented so far. This meant that:
- Rigged mesh is not resizeable and you have to modify your avatar’s shape in order to make it fit the garment.
- Even so, alpha layers are necessary to hide various body parts inside the garment’s mesh.
- If you use avatar physics (for bouncy boobs and butt), these parts will bounce through the mesh garment.
To make matters worse, early rigged mesh garments were often made by their designers to fit certain shapes that they thought looked good while designing the clothing. This meant that customers often needed to change their avatar shapes drastically, leading to a fair dose of frustration. To alleviate the problem, several content creators got together and decided to standardise things a bit by establishing a standard sizing system, which has been adopted practically by every SL fashion designer making rigged mesh clothing ever since. However, this was not a panacea, and I’m sure the designers behind this system knew it all along.
The standard sizing system lists avatar shape slider settings for certain parameters for a set of sizes from XXS to XXL. However, there are some caveats:
- Users are still required to adapt their shapes to fit the garments they bought.
- Alpha layers are still required to hide various body parts that should not be visible while the avatar moves.
- How well these bits are hidden depends on how well-designed the alpha layer is. Personally, I had bought garments whose alpha layers didn’t cover what should be covered (such as shoulder blades), even though my shape conformed to the relevant size – and I’m talking about garments from perfectly reputable designers.
- It is up to each individual designer which sizes they’ll support.
- Many designers don’t support avatar shapes where sizes are combined; for instance, a female avatar whose above-the-waist dimensions correspond to “medium” (M) in standard sizing, but with below-the-waist measurements corresponding to “small” (S) in standard sizing would find it a bit hard to find a one-piece garment (dress, jumpsuit, catsuit or gown) that would flatter her figure.
- And, of course, all the other technical limitations are still there.
However, standard sizing was a step in the right direction, because it helped provide a template on which SL fashion designers could work with a degree of consistency – always depending, of course, on each individual designer’s care, capabilities and skills. Also, it encouraged many consumers to eschew the worst excesses in their avatars’ proportions and bring their avatars closer to what a real human looks like (of course, provided that we’re talking about human avatars and not robots, anthropomorphic animals, vehicles etc).
The Mesh Deformer
Almost two years ago, on November 24th 2011, Qarl Fizz (née Linden, real name Karl Stiefvater) filed STORM-1716 on Second Life’s JIRA system, proposing a capability for Second Life viewers (official and third-party) that would make the clothes fit the wearer and not vice versa. Back when I first blogged on the matter, I had quoted the Mesh Deformer’s functionality, as described by Qarl himself. Qarl also produced and provided code that could be incorporated in a viewer. Development of this code was crowdfunded by 141 persons who responded to Qarl’s campaign on Indiegogo, raising $5,555 for the project. Also, on July 6th 2013, InWorldz hired Qarl to improve his mesh deformer code and incorporate it in their own viewer, thus becoming the first Second Life-compatible grid to officially adopt his mesh deformer.
The discussion that followed in STORM-1716 showed that, while people indeed wanted the deformer (or an equivalent), they also were unhappy with several other things concerning the avatar itself. Tonya Souther of the Firestorm team was especially vocal in her criticism of Second Life’s default avatar mesh, and for good reason.
Also, Qarl’s deformer did not provide for avatar physics. So, you still wouldn’t get bouncy boobs and butts.Another issue that Qarl’s deformer fixed regarding the behaviour of rigged mesh clothing was physics – with the deformer, rigged mesh clothing followed the “bounciness” of your avatar’s boobs and butt.
On June 10, I specifically asked Oz Linden about the deformer during the Open Development User Group meeting:
“What’s the current status of the mesh deformer? What features have been requested by content creators? Of these features, which are the most important and which could be omitted or postponed?”
Oz’s reply was:
“The deformer is waiting for LL resources to evaluate how well it works and what its performance impact is. I have not been able to get the required people on it yet. I’m optimistic that will happen, but can’t offer any timeline. Sorry… I know that’s not a great answer, but consider that it could be worse.”
I dwelt on the matter a bit, because I wanted a more detailed answer. Also, I wasn’t satisfied with much of the speculation that is still going around on the matter.
“Oz, what features have been requested for the deformer to have? I know I might sound like a broken record here, but there have been discussions – on a level of discourse I don’t really care about, to be honest – where LL is portrayed as simply not bothering with the deformer or even plotting against it.”
And Oz said:
“Mona – don’t believe 90% of what you hear. The target functionality is, I think, clearly described in the Description of the JIRA issue. Note that I did not say, ‘and the comments.’ That having been said, I personally have some doubts as to the total workflow – the confidence that the avatar bases being used are actually consistent. But I’m not really the right person to answer that question, just someone asking it. Note for example that if we accepted any of the changes offered in STORM-1800 [The vertex weights of the default character mesh could be better.], we’d be changing some aspects of that base.”
Of course, I didn’t need Oz to tell me that most of the speculations and “analyses” regarding SL matters have a poor signal-to-noise ratio – I’ve been in SL since September 2006 (that was when I started my first account), I’ve seen more than my fair bit of bullshit and know-it-all pundits, and also, because of where I work, I understand the considerations and worries that come with software development. Also, thanks to my fiancé, I understand that solutions to decision problems where multiple criteria have to be satisfied are never optimal; they are always sub-optimal and which solution is considered “best” depends on which criteria are considered to be more important by the decision makers. In a nutshell, it depends on what trade-offs the decision makers deem acceptable. I’d imagined that these things should be pretty obvious to anyone, but, sadly, I was mistaken.
Now, does Qarl’s deformer have drawbacks? Yes, it does.
As said, it doesn’t support avatar physics. As Nalates Urriah notes, it could lead to confusion in the marketplace w.r.t. the “specified shape”. It would be hard for SL fashion designers to tell everyone which shape they based their design on, when there are thousands of different shapes.
Also, as I happen to have a piece of rigged mesh clothing that has been designed for deformer-capable viewers in mind, it has a collision box around it. This collision box is also scripted and has the colour change scripts in it. The thing is that, if you’re wearing other attachments and they are inside the garment’s collision box, editing them and/or manipulating their scripts (by clicking on these objects) becomes considerably more difficult, especially given the fact that people will need to Ctrl+Alt+T in order to show it and figure out how the clickable attachments within it – a step that is not particularly convenient.
Furthermore, Qarl’s mesh deformer only works with the current avatar mesh, which has received a good deal of criticism over the years.
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