I often call Second Life “the Land of Giants”, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. As Penny Patton has explained in her blog posts titled “A Matter of Scale” and “A Matter of Perspective“, Second Life’s default camera offsets, combined with the exaggerated height of the default avatars, make everything seem smaller than it really is. This drives us to not only design our avatars basing them on skewed, unnatural proportions (tiny heads, very short arms and torsos, extremely long legs), but also build our, erm, builds accordingly.
From houses to furniture, everything is huge to make up for this perception of smallness. If you were to own – in Real Life (RL) – furniture with the same size as is the norm in SL, I’m pretty sure you’d have a hard time using it; you’d have to literally climb on chairs, sofas, armchairs, bar stools and beds, you wouldn’t be able to reach the writing surface of your desk, and perhaps you wouldn’t even be able to fit some of that furniture in your home. Not that the dimensions of our SL homes are any different. In SL, we tend to see stairsteps 50 cm high; interior doors 5 meters high and 2 meters wide, and exterior ones larger still; ceiling heights of 7 or even 10 meters. The average home in SL has a footprint that is much larger than its RL equivalent.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I’ll once again attribute the perpetuation of these skewed proportions and build sizes to Second Life’s default camera offsets, which make everything appear smaller than it really is. Please note that I don’t claim to know what the situation is in OpenSim-based grids; many of them are private-use grids, and I’m not in any of the commercial ones. If they use the same default settings of the standard Second Life viewer and the TPVs that are based on it, things will be the same. If any readers are active in the commercial OpenSim grids, your experience would be most welcome.
Who’s to blame for this?
If we were to believe common Second Life “wisdom”, Linden Lab is the product of an X-rated “get-together” participating Satan, Vlad the Impaler, Idi Amin, Cthulhu, Elizabeth Báthory, William Edward Hickman, Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, and Sithrak the Blind Gibberer from the NSFW webcomic Oglaf. So, you can blame the Lab for everything; even for that speeding ticket you got last year.
It’s true, of course, that the initial decision was the Lab’s. If I’m not mistaken, they simply copied the perspective that was used back then in 3D and pseudo-3D games, without much research, and those settings stuck.
It’s also true that the Lab is unwilling – to say the least – to fix those settings. Penny Patton’s JIRA from a very long time ago was never acted upon and, although I’ve brought the subject up at Oz Linden’s Open Development User Group meetings a few times, the answer has always been negative, even though Oz himself has said he tinkers with all sorts of different camera offsets, depending on the situation at hand. This means, of course, that people within the Lab are aware of the situation, are aware of the detrimental effect these camera offsets have on immersiveness, user experience and everything, yet they don’t touch them and they don’t provide an easy-to-use tool to change offsets on the fly.
Why don’t they touch those camera offsets? Depending on who you ask, you’ll get all sorts of different answers. Some will say that the Lab is evil and rapacious and wants to force you to build large, so that you’ll run out of prims and purchase more land. Others will say the Lab is evil and likes to torture its users while roasting their newborn babies – or something similar. Others will say that the Lab is just plain stupid. And so on.
The truth is somewhat different: These settings have been there for so long, that now there is an extremely large number of objects made with and for them. If the Lab were to change the settings and replace them with Penny Patton’s overnight, it is feared that there would be content breakage – real or perceived.
My own settings differ somewhat from Penny’s. This, as Inara Pey pointed out, essentially prompts the Lab to say “Why bother? Those who want to change those settings will do so anyway.”
“Content breakage”, you say?
Yes. Real or perceived. Actually, there wouldn’t be any real content breakage that ould result directly from the change. Your furniture would still work just fine. So would your vehicles, your homes, everything. But you’d suddenly see that everything around you and everything on you is not right. You’d realise that your builds are oversized. You’d see that your arms and torso are too short, your head is too small, and your legs too long. You’d realise your avatar is too damned tall (and, if you’re one of those people, you’d suddenly feel stupid for claiming operators of realistically-proportioned are ageplayers). And then, you’d start trying to fix things.
You’d try to make your avatar proportionate, and then you’d realise that many of your animations simply don’t work well, because they were designed for the short arms of the default avatar. You’d try to modify your house to make it more realistic – if it came with modify permissions. And the results would depend on your building skills and your patience. I’m not sure you’d try to touch your oversized vehicles, or your scripted furniture, especially if the animations included therein cannot be adjusted. You’d end up doing an awful lot of work, through trial and error, and perhaps you’d break several of your virtual belongings in your effort to scale them more realistically. Perhaps you’d even pack or outright delete non-modifiable objects. Perhaps you’d say “it was well worth it” and not look back…
But the Lab fears (and rightly so) that you’d go up in arms in the forums, yelling, screaming and perhaps blaming those “cunning ageplayers” who “goaded the Lab into making camera offsets to accommodate kid and lolita avatars” and caused you to break everything in your inventory. A look in the official forums and other such outlets for opinion on all things SL justifies this fear. And no, I’m not exaggerating at all.
So, the Lab believes it’s a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” kind of situation, with the Lab believing that it’ll be more damned if it does. So, it opts to simply not do a thing and continue kicking the can down the road. Perhaps they’re waiting until more people have adopted better, more realistic camera offsets and then making a gradual transition, when the oversized content has become obsolete enough for people to not care about it anymore.
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