After Linden Lab CEO Ebbe Altberg appeared at the VWBPE sporting a new fitted mesh avatar, there has been a period of anticipation and speculation as to when these new avatars would hit the grid. Finally, on Thursday, May 15th, the Lab announced their availability – 24 new avatars in total, available through the Avatar Selector, both for new users and existing ones. The announcement reads:
Today, we’re updating Second Life’s default avatar options with 24 brand new mesh avatars. You may have spotted a sneak peek at a few of these as Lindens tried them out recently, and starting today, you can start using them yourself!
These avatars are designed to give new users a more appealing set of choices as they start their time in Second Life. Based on the most popular avatars picked at registration, these new options are much better-looking and take advantage of technology incorporated into Second Life over the past year (like fitted mesh and materials) for a more modern feel.
These new avatars are all based on the human form and are divided in three categories:
By “People”, the Lab defines a bunch of normal human avatars, male and female, with some welcome ethnic diversity. “Vampires” on the other hand denotes a number of avatars that range from vampires to demons and from a werewolf-like creatore to zombies or ghouls. This, of course, makes the term “Vampires” a bit unsuitable. Maybe “Horror” (as Inara Pey proposed in her own coverage) would be more fitting. Then comes the “Classic” range; these are your typical basic avatars. No rigged mesh bodies, no fitted mesh bodies. Just the bog-standard SL avatar skeleton, with all of its well-known and well-documented faults. I’ll admit I haven’t taken those ones out for a test drive, because I had no interest in them. To be honest, I’d never consider switching to a Lab-provided starter avatar; I’m happy with my own looks, which I’ve developed through years of tweaks, thank you very much.
So, what do I think?
Meh. Yes, meh. First of all, I was not impressed by the skins used on the “People” avatars. They looked like… 2003. The skins were bland, featureless and completely unattractive. Furthermore, the shapes of the mesh bodies themselves were – at least in my opinion – nothing to write home about. I also considered them to be too tall for my liking. OK, maybe they were no longer the giants I remember from previous years, but they’ve still got some way to go. Their proportions also need some more work; I wish the Lab had paid more heed to Penny Patton’s articles on avatar proportions and camera positioning, but they live in (unjustifiable, if you ask me) fear of “content breakage” as far as the default camera offsets are concerned.
Yes, but they’re fitted mesh, so you can change the shape to your liking, right?
You’d be surprised rather unpleasantly. The shapes provided were non-modifiable, so there’s really no scope for adjustment for the time being. And I’m saying “for the time being”, because, after Inara Pey tweeted on this attribute to LL CEO Ebbe Altberg, he responded as follows:
So, I suppose this will be fixed soon. So much the better, because the werewolf avatar’s underlying shape really needs some extra fettling by the user. In the image below, you will see that its feet are buried in the ground, so one would need to tweak the “hover” slider in the “Body” tab… I honestly expected that the Lab’s people would have spotted this issue earlier.
Potential issues for newbies with the new avatars
To dress up our avatars, we either purchase old-style texture layer-based clothing, or we opt rigged mesh clothing, with fitted mesh clothing slowly getting some popularity, while unrigged mesh, and old-style prims and sculpts remaining as an option for accessories like bracelets, anklets, shoes, hair and belts. These garments and accessories are usually designed for the default avatar skeleton, for certain “after-market” avatar enhancements (such as rigged mesh hands and feet provided by several vendors out there), or for specific “after-market” rigged mesh avatar bodies.
To the best of my knowledge, there are no accessories designed for LL’s new mesh avatars, and I can easily see how this could cause confusion and frustration to new users.
Then, of course, the fact that the skins of the human-like avatars leave a lot to be desired makes them rather unlikely to “stick” as a choice. Unless, of course, a range of “after-market” skins, clothes and accessories becomes available for these avatars in a timely fashion.
First of all… Lag. Sadly, it’s a fact of (Second) Life that a region where everyone is wearing (high-polygon) rigged mesh avatars, avatar components (heads, hands, feet, hair), clothing and accessories (rigged or unrigged) becomes a lag hell, with the problem becoming exacerbated by the overuse of high-resolution (1024×1024 and 512×512) textures in parts whose size simply doesn’t justify this sort of resolution. Neither SL’s infrastructure nor the capabilities of most SL users’ computers give me any reason to believe that people will not experience reduced frame rates and texture thrashing/discards (and eventual crashes) on their aging machines in regions where most residents wear these avatars (or other such avatars).
The second issue has to do with an officially-sanctioned third-party product: Onlive’s SL Go, which I had reviewed in an earlier post. SL Go provides people running on Android tablets, and low-spec (or old) Windows PCs and Macs with a way to enjoy SL in the highest graphical quality the official viewer can offer (however, without the tweaks you can get with an option-rich TPV like Firestorm). Where am I getting with this? Well, I first saw these avatars while they were being tested by Inara Pey. I was logged in with SL Go, because I was soon going to visit a very busy region that my laptop can’t really handle. The fitted mesh avatars (i.e. all avatars except for the demon and the werewolf) did not render correctly. All of them stretched to the region’s 0,0,0 coordinate.
This is not the first time I’m encountering fitted mesh rendering problems with SL Go. In fact, I’ve encountered them even on the official viewer and Firestorm’s most recent versions (4.6.1 and later). My own case, however, was the BUG-5139 issue, which affects certain AMD graphics card/driver combinations.
To encounter this stretch issue with SL Go was a nasty surprise. At first, I thought SL Go’s servers were relying on AMD hardware and were therefore affected by the bug. Now, after testing the fitted mesh avatars myself with SL Go and with Firestorm 4.6.5 (and I’m using an ATI Mobility Radeon HD4500 graphics chipset, which relies on the legacy drivers), I see that my own laptop renders the avatars correctly, while SL Go doesn’t. Thus, I’m led to believe that SL Go’s viewer is built on an older version of the official LL viewer that doesn’t support fitted mesh. Personally, I find this to be rather disappointing, especially considering that SL Go was developed in very close collaboration with the Lab and is promoted by the Lab itself. Also, keep in mind that quite a few users who are on Mac OS X 10.6 are currently stuck with Firestorm 4.4.2, so these avatars won’t render correctly for them either.
Well… I’m not thrilled. I’m not going to comment on the non-modifiable shapes right now, as this will be fixed. Most of the new avatars are – at best – nothing to write home about. I’m not into the horror movie-inspired avatars, either; horror movies have never been my favourites, after all. And, as I said, they don’t play well with SL Go. I do think, however, that there was some pressure from the community for the release of these avatars, and I’m not entirely convinced that this launch was not premature after all.
- New Mesh Avatars Now Available In Second Life – Second Life official blog
- Fitted Mesh Is Here! – Second Life official blog
- Get the New Materials Viewer Today! – Second Life official blog
- Lab launches new mesh avatars – by Inara Pey
- [#BUG-5139] Windows & Macs – Certain rigged mesh stretches to 0,0,0 (only workaround disabling Hardware Skinning) – Second Life Bug Tracker