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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Avatar 2.0, A Wish List

I was recently talking to a girl who was almost all attachments...prim breasts, prim eyes, nails, hands, feet, and butt.  She said she looked forward to the day when we would all build our avatars like assembling a Lego model.

I don't agree.  I DO think that the basic Second Life avatar is way overdue for a makeover, but I also think that the idea of an avatar, with adjustable sliders to customize it, is still a good one.  It provides a starting point for resident creators to make all manner of accessories for it, a "ground base" that everyone can use.  So here's my wish list for Avatar 2.0.  Readers might not agree with all the things on my list, or may have some better ideas.  That's OK, and your comments will be appreciated!

More Detail in the Mesh.  The avatar mesh doesn't have enough polygons for clean deformation.  It's particularly bad in the inner thigh and buttocks region, in the face around the nose, and the feet, but more detail everywhere is needed...for example, to correct the blockiness in breasts or belly that becomes horribly apparent at larger sizes. 

Better Hands.  Fingernails, in particular, are a perennial problem.  There isn't enough mesh detail to paint a good looking manicure in the glove clothing layer, and prim nails that are attached to the only available point, the overall "hand" point, pop off the fingers when the hand is deformed into one of the very limited set of hand morph positions.  I'd like to see each finger with its own attach point.  Or, increase the mesh detail level in the hands, and add a set of Appearance sliders to change nail length and shape.  Or, even do both!  There should also be a special attach point for "held" objects, so that picking up a glass doesn't remove your nails and rings.  The hands should be actually animated, not limited to a set of morph positions.  Or at least, provide a much wider selection of morphs, or provide a system for creators to upload their own morphs.

Better Feet.  The clubs we have now are so bad that we happily chop them off and wear shoes with replacement feet.  How much nicer if the stock feet were pretty, and could be morphed like the hands, to take different positions and to fit into shoes, without the need for the current awkward workarounds.

Color Match.  At present, the colors in skin and clothing layers do not respond to the Second Life lighting models in the same way as textures applied to prims.  This makes it difficult to match the appearance of clothing layers with clothing attachments.  Both types of textures should respond to lighting in the same way!

Better Facial Expressions.  Here again, we are limited to a small set of morph positions.  Add facial animations to the avatar, or a system whereby creators can upload morphs for expressions.  I would also like to see some control provided over eyelid movement, at least a way to control the blink speed...and an attachment point on the eyelids for eyelashes, so they would move with the eyelids.  More control over the mouth is a must.  If we had a slider that would part the lips, as well as the one to turn up the corners, it would go a long way...especially if these parameters could be placed under script or animation control.  Facial expressions will become an even more important element of communication, if virtual reality headsets like Oculus Rift become a commonplace.  We will be spending a lot more time actually looking at others' faces!

Cloth and Hair Collision Detection.  This would let skirts drape properly when we sit, instead of falling down between our legs, and would keep hair from sinking into our shoulders or face.  While we're asking, let's ditch flexiprims entirely and substitute true flexible materials. (Flexiprims, like sculpties, are something of a cheat...the work is done by your graphics card, and the flex you see, or the organic sculpted shape, is not the shape seen by the Second Life physics system or servers.)

Better Hover.  The old Z-position adjustment allowed for fine control over an avatar's height above ground.  The new method of using the "Hover" setting in Appearance is far too granular, and it's not even usable if one is wearing a No Mod shape.

Built-in Facelight.  OK, I know some facelight haters out there are screaming.  But a subtle facelight can still add a lot to one's appearance, even with the new lighting models.  And a built-in light would save an attachment point, and provide a way to cut down on the number of folks wearing three, four, or six-emitter lighting systems and blazing away like a nuclear explosion.

User Defined Animation Priority.  At present, an animation's priority is defined by the creator, when she uploads it.  This isn't always the priority the user wants, and the ability to move an animation up or down in priority would be very useful.

Furries, Tinies, Petites, Giants, and Animals.  I don't often wear these types of avatars, but for those who like them, couldn't we have a wider selection in the "gender" box than simply "male" or "female?"  One click and your avatar and its sliders would transform into a whole new avatar category.  Granted, this would obsolete a huge amount of content overnight, but it would also open up a lot of new avenues for creativity.

Fitted Mesh.  A means of re-sizing rigged mesh clothing to fit the shapes we've spent so much time creating for ourselves.  (Yes, I know...this one is actually in the works.  Yay!)

And, although it's not an improvement to the avatar itself...support for Oculus Rift in the viewer...a variant of the user interface that can be used with virtual reality immersion headsets.


The Obligatory New Year's Post

Hello, faithful readers!  I apologize for having been an UNfaithful writer; I have not posted to this blog for far too long.

Not that I haven't written ANYTHING.  I have.  I have a number of unpublished posts that got done partway and then bogged down, for one reason or another.

But it seems that every blogger in existence is required to do a post at New Year's, either looking back or looking ahead or both.  I especially recommend Daniel Voyager's blog...he has SEVERAL end-of-the-year posts.

So...no tutorials, no Big Picture reminiscences or predictions about The Future of Second Life today.  Just a few bits of news and some small personal observations...

It's been a good year for The Masocado Resort, my 3/4 sim rental operation on the Second Life Mainland.  For the last half of the year, occupancy has been at or near 100%, which is a very pleasant change from a year ago, when things were stumbling along at around 50%.  I've even added several additional rentals...another liveaboard slip, and two beachfront detached homes.  All of them rented quickly!  It seems that property in and around the Blake Sea area is in high demand these days, and no wonder.  It's one of the very best areas of SL for travel by plane or boat.

Cindi and I had fun once again remodeling the place for the Halloween and Christmas seasons.  It's still snowing in Masocado at the moment, and it will continue to be winter through January.  Then we'll go back to our more usual tropical climate.  This ability to re-make your environment on a whim is one of the nicest things about virtual worlds, and Second Life in particular, and it's one very good reason to have your own land in SL!

My blogging and teaching skills got some flattering recognition this year.  I was approached by Jami Mills who asked me to do a piece for her monthly magazine about SL and the arts.  I haven't yet come up with a suitable piece, but just the offer was a wonderful bit of ego-boo.  I was also offered a Dean's position at Caledon Oxbridge University.  I turned it down due to a lack of time to take on another responsibility, but even so it was wonderful to be asked!

I am inclined to say that opening two of the Social Islands (the second place that newcomers to SL go, when they first start) to residents is a failure.  At first, the visitors were mentors and helpers.  There was even a special group formed, "Social Island Helpers".  But things changed, and Social Island 1 in particular has become no more than another griefer-infested Infohub.  The same jerks can be found there all the time now, they've made it their own little hangout, where they set off particle poofers, play rap music in the voice and gesture channels, and generally harass the perplexed newbies.  See, children...this is why we can't have nice things.

Caledon Oxbridge University, and the other resident-run (and policed!) newcomer areas, on the other hand, remain havens of peace and sanity, and are the REAL places where a newcomer can find out what Second Life can and should be.  It's proof of what I have always maintained -- that the initial SL experience requires the presence of live helpers, preferably those empowered to keep order.

Mesh is everywhere now, even though it cannot yet be re-sized to fit individual shapes...and even though all the current Mesh items will be instantly obsolete when Fitted Mesh does become available sometime in 2014.  That's OK.  I have come to accept the fact that things in SL eventually become obsolete.  Virtual items don't wear out like Real Life objects, but they do become dated.  Newer and better designs appear, and our inventory changes to reflect the improvements.  I still think there is a place for the humble prim, though.  It is by far the easiest method of building 3D objects for Second Life.

I'm actually surprised (though pleased) to see that there are still a great many excellent creators offering virtual goods.  This is despite the Lab's serious attempt to bite their own leg off with a new draconian policy on intellectual property rights.  In effect, anyone who uploads anything to SL agrees to give LL full rights to it, forever.  This hugely inequitable policy has yet to be tested in the courts, but I'm sure it's only a matter of time.

Besides new and astoundingly good creations, the cleverness of people is applied in other, less constructive areas as well.  Phishing scams continue, and have become more subtle.  People have begun selling counterfeit items in the Marketplace using throwaway alts.  Many such items are high-dollar things like skyboxes and deluxe homes.  The scammers aren't even bothering to copybot the actual items any more...they just steal the advertising of the legitimate items, put up Marketplace listings, and sell you an empty box.

But, as always, the good things outweigh the bad, and the virtual world, like the Real one, keeps on turning.  There are new places to see, new friends to meet, and new things to experience!  I'll see you on the grid in 2014.