Becca observes that, as in real life, Body Shaming is a thing in Second Life. She then goes on to talk about mesh heads vs system heads, and the fact that how we look in Second Life defines us even more than in real life.
Last week I joined a Facebook Group called “Second Life Friends” and there was a discussion on facelights, so I decided to post a link to an old blog article I wrote back in 2012 that is as still as relevant now as it was then.
During the resulting Facebook thread, I got body shamed by a poster over the fact that I do not as yet use a mesh head, and who poured scorn on me and my look, as if how I look made my opinion irrelevant.
Then, yesterday, I updated my post “Unencumbered by the trappings of Real Life” about whether there should still be a clear separation between Second Life and real life, or should Second Life be merely an extension or augmentation of our online presence.
I posted it to the same group, and it started off a lively debate. The debate deviated somewhat into the whole thing of mesh heads again. On the whole it was a civil and interesting debate, and my replies to it gave rise to this article.
Becca asks: “Should there be a clear separation between Second Life and real life, or should Second Life be merely an extension or augmentation of our online presence?”
Back in 2012 I wrote an article called “Unencumbered by the trappings of real life“. Some things are still as true then as they are now, whilst other things are a little out of date, so I have decided to revisit it and update it.
Some of the people I meet in Second Life want to know all about my real life, about how I look or where I live, or how old I am, or any number of other things. And I tell them that, quite apart from privacy, I simply don’t see things like that as having any relevance to my Second Life. And, further, I don’t particularly want them to volunteer anything about themselves either. I’m simply not interested in their “skinvelope” (or, as I have heard others refer to it, their “meatsack” or “meat rider”, which I confess aren’t phrases I’m particularly enamoured with) and want to get to know the real person, unencumbered by the trappings of real life. Some of these people have got quite defensive about my attitude and asked how I can know the real person when I say I don’t want to know the real life person. Some have even called me crazy. Well, allow me to explain what I mean.
A friend sent me an article today about news that every Ozimal digirabbit in Second Life will soon starve to death (or, rather, go into permanent hibernation) because a legal threat has shut down their food-server, since the virtual pets are designed so that they can only eat DRM-locked food.
This is very sad for breeders, of course, but it also raises some interesting questions in my mind about Second Life in general and also real life.
The concept isn’t just limited to Second Life, of course. There have been high profile cases of people having iTunes libraries worth many thousands of dollars and wanting to transfer or bequeath them upon death, and been unable to do so. Likewise people being banned from Steam and denied access to all their purchases. In fact any system where you buy digital products that are locked by DRM and reliant on a remote server are susceptible to being locked out from you for whatever reason. This raises the question as to whether you have actually purchased that item or merely have an open-ended license to use it that can be unilaterally revoked by the seller. This is one of the reasons I still buy physical CDs and DVDs, although I often make use of “buy the digital version and we’ll send you the physical disc as well” services offered by Amazon, Sky, and others. With Steam purchases I don’t bother with physical media any more as the games are DRM-locked and reliant on the Steam servers (and useless without them).
If Linden Lab were to shut down the Second Life servers, we would lose everything. Sure, we could migrate to various other virtual worlds based on OpenSim, but it would be without all our DRM-locked inventory and our Linden Dollars. I don’t know about you, but I have spent literally thousands of real life actual GBP pounds sterling buying L$ and have spent all of it, and many more tens of thousands of L$ that I have earned in-world, or been gifted, on the Second Life economy. All that would be lost, like tears in rain. Same goes if Linden Lab banned me for whatever reason, as it is notoriously difficult to get un-banned again. I very much doubt I would start again if that happened.
Linden Lab could shut down Second Life for any number of reasons. One is that they go bankrupt of course, but another is if Second Life were to become unprofitable for Linden Lab and not worth continuing.
Although Sansar isn’t intended to replace Second Life, perhaps Linden Lab will pour all their development effort into it at the expense of Second Life. Or, more feasibly, the content creators could decide to move away from Second Life to newer and more interesting pastures (whether that be Sansar, or something else). With no new content to buy, the Second Life economy would wither and die, and shopaholics everywhere would starve to death, just like the rabbits.
I’m definitely not the only girl with a massive investment in Second Life and who would be reluctant to throw it all away and start again, so hopefully Linden Lab will keep the Second Life servers running for many many years to come, and the wonderful people who make and sell content for Second Life will continue to do so too.
Whilst shopping lately, I’m increasingly seeing what seems to be the same dresses being sold at various different shops. This is not reselling, but a case of designers buying in meshes from third parties.
This is not a new phenomenon, of course. In the past designers often bought full permission sculpts for use in their products, but it was less noticeable as using a sculpt here and a sculpt there is more finely grained; it still creates an overall unique product. In other words, two outfits using the same sculpts might look radically different, because you don’t notice the common sculpts so much, or the designers may be using them in different ways, with different placements, sizing, and the like. They may even be using different permutations of several sculpts from different creators. The overall look is therefore completely different, and the end result unique to that brand. By contrast, a mesh for a dress is entirely monolithic which gives rise to the situation where several clothing brands appear to be selling the same dress.
Clothing has gone through quite an evolution over the life of Second Life. From the original “slider clothing” (a.k.a. “system clothing”) with or without user-created textures, through to texture + prim, texture + flexiprim, texture + sculpts, texture + unrigged mesh, and finally to rigged mesh. At each step in this evolution, the bar for entry to the next level has been raised. Also, from sculpts onwards, they require external software for creation which has its own (often steep) learning curve.
Often, a designer may find they have insufficient skill (and/or time, motivation, commitment or, indeed, ability) to move up to the next level, and can sometimes buy in the 3D models (ie. sculpts or mesh) and texture them into full products. The reason is that in some cases others may have the skill to create the 3D models but not the inclination to make them into products and have the hassle of selling to Residents. In some ways this is roughly analogous to Retailers and Wholesalers in Real Life.
As each level of the ladder gets harder and harder to reach, so the number of people reaching it falls, and so the probability of those people selling their creations to designers lower down the ladder rises (since there is an increasing demand). Or, to put it another way, there is a very small pool of people creating rigged meshes, and from that pool some are keeping them unique to their clothing brand, and others are selling them for other designers to use. And that is why we are seeing many brands selling the same clothes (or appearing to), since not only is their choice more limited but the very nature of rigged mesh means the clothing is more obviously the same (as I mentioned earlier on).
The net effect of the above is that we are seeing a stratification of the clothing market in Second Life, with the “top tier” of brands being created by very talented people who can create 3D models (ie. mesh clothing), rig it to become rigged mesh, skilfully texture it, and then sell it to ordinary people like you or I. The “second tier” are the designers who are unable to create their own rigged meshes and must buy them in, thus running the very real risk that some of their clothes will be extremely similar, if not identical, to those of other brands.
Further on down the ladder, the hobbyists of old who would dabble with prims in-world and with simple textures created with the aid of clothing templates, are increasingly finding that their efforts look unsatisfactory compared to the top designers. They are either having to make their clothing very cheap to compensate, and find themselves unable to afford the rent on their shops, or else are giving up, disheartened. Neither scenario can be good for the long-term health of Second Life.
Nor is this situation looking likely to improve. As mentioned in my previous blog entry, Linden Lab have decided to go down the path of using collision bones for their Fitted Mesh project. Whilst this is a technically simpler and, some may say, more elegant solution to mesh clothing deformation, it makes the task of rigging mesh even harder for content creators, thus making that top rung of the ladder even harder to reach.
I’m not sure where this state of affairs will take Second Life, but I do believe that warning alarms should be ringing somewhere. By making content harder and harder to create, so less and less is going to be created. Not only that, but people who may have found Engagement in Second Life through content creation might decide it is not worth it and instead drift away. However, having said that, I do acknowledge that we need to move forward and people are expecting ever more complex and realistic-looking technologies which, by their nature, are harder and more complex to create. But that doesn’t necessarily negate my point.
So, anyway, those are my thoughts on this. They’re only my opinion, so please feel free to comment below with yours.
Before I start this post, I’d just like to point out that this is old news. I’m not adding anything new here but the reason I am writing this is that many friends and acquaintances haven’t been aware of the current direction that mesh deformers are taking, so this article is a convenient place to direct people to. It seeks to be a fairly short and easily-digested article, which links to further reading.
Mesh has been around for a while now, and I think most people have decided where they are with it. At one end of the spectrum we have people who pretty much won’t wear any rigged mesh unless it just happens to fit them “as is” and at the other end of the spectrum we have people willing to have a different version of their shape for almost every outfit they own. And I’m not exaggerating here; two of my closest friends fall into those two extremes.
It’s clear that the Standard Sizes are far from perfect. They were a reasonable workaround to the problem of Rigged Mesh being uneditable, but they are not a solution. Many people (myself included) have been extremely reluctant to alter their natural shape, feeling that the whole point of Second Life is to be who we want to be and that clothes should fit to us and not us to the clothes.
One of the first people to propose a solution was Karl Stiefvater (Qarl Fizz) who proposed the Mesh Deformer project (also known as the Parametric Deformer), which was successfully Crowd Funded and which Karl put a lot of work into. I think it’s fair to say that a lot of people know about this project and of those, a majority are wondering why it hasn’t made it into the Official Viewer yet.
However, it was by no means the only solution and Redpoly Inventor proposed rigging garments to the “collision bones” of the avatar skeleton, which is what evolved into “Liquid Mesh”. The shortcomings of this in its current state is that really there aren’t enough “collision bones” to do a proper job and because it is not officially supported by Linden Lab, it was an unofficial solution and hence prone to breakage in the future.
However, on 20-Nov-2013, Linden Lab posted an entry on their blog entitled Making Mesh Garments Fit Better outlining how they intend to officially adopt the “Liquid Mesh” approach and develop it further, adding additional custom bones in order to overcome the shortcomings of the current approach.
Where does this leave Karl’s Mesh Deformer? Well, parked up and thrown away essentially although one could argue that perhaps it spurred Linden Lab into action and Karl has said that he thinks that what LL is proposing is the technically simpler solution (although is correspondingly more complex for content creators). You can read more on an article that Inara Pey wrote, which includes an analysis of it all and also quotes Karl’s response to the news. If you don’t follow her blog then I would really recommend it as it is always very well written and very in-depth.
It will be interesting to see how quickly Linden Lab progress this. It’s way overdue, and the sooner we get an official (and effective) solution to the issue of garment deformation the better.
Initially I based my shape changes on Standard Size ‘Small’, but after a couple of weeks I have realised that ‘Medium’ (with some modifications) is closer to my desired shape, as ‘Small’ lost too many of my curves and made me look skinny. I’ve therefore updated this article accordingly.
After a long absence from Second Life, I’m kind of rediscovering it again.
One of the reasons for this is that I have finally bitten the bullet, so to speak, and created a copy of my shape and made it compatible with Standard Sizing. Although this seems like a massive climb-down from my previous stance on not wanting to change my shape, the thing that influenced my decision (quite apart from the desire to wear more modern clothing) is that there are surprisingly few parameters you need to change in order to have something that is broadly compatible with one of the Standard Sizes.
I chose to bring mine closer to the ‘Medium’ size, which meant adjusting the following parameters:
Body Fat: 11 (15)
Torso Muscle: 38 (38)
Breast Size: 58 (54)
Love Handles: 31 (11) [Note: I chose not change this]
Belly Size: 6 (2)
Leg Muscle: 56 (42) [Note: Again, I chose not to change this]
Butt Size: 44 (45)
Saddle Bags: 36 (41)
(Figures shown in brackets are what my normal size was)
The two things that looked awfully wrong with that were the Love Handles and Leg Muscle values, which I chose to leave unchanged. The former gives me the more curvy look I prefer, and I predict should not affect many clothes as the important thing is not to clip, although obviously some clothes will hide my narrower waist and make me look slightly shapeless. Some crop tops may require a “half-way house” version with more waist in order to look right.
With the Leg Muscles value, I figured that this would predominantly affect only boots and I could go for S or XS ones for that.
I have to say that I am really encouraged by the fact that I still look like “me” after the changes, and I’d encourage anyone else holding off from Rigged Mesh clothing to try similar (assuming your shape is modifiable). It has really opened up the doors to a whole new round of shopping in SL for me. And you know how much I love shopping!
I managed to make a comparison pic using an animated GIF. You can see the differences between my natural shape, the adjustment for Medium, and the Small from the original. Whilst I still prefer my natural shape, the Medium one is an acceptable compromise.
In the 5½ years I have been in SL, I’ve experienced the usual ebb and flow of interest that I think most long-timers do, but I’ve found myself in a particularly long ebb lately, to the extent that I felt I was mainly logging on in order to be with my SL hubby. He had been feeling much the same, and sadly a few weeks ago announced to me that a number of factors, including increased workload, RL, and this same lack of engagement, meant he did not know when he would next be logging into SL again. We’d been together well over a year, which is a long time in Second Life terms. We still email each other every day (he never fails to leave an email for me when he goes to bed so that it is waiting for me when I wake up), but I have no idea when I will see him again in SL.
Since then I have gone from logging in every day to rarely logging in, and when I do log in it’s been for a specific reason such as a music event (usually the wonderful Gina Gracemount or the amazing Tukso Okey) or to spend time with my friend Bunny. But most of the time, I find that other things are holding my interest more. My own RL has got a little busier and is filling my evenings more, such that I don’t have as much time available to spend on SL. But the fact is that if I was bursting to go on SL, like I once was, then I know I would find the time. So this really corroborates what Inara is saying.
Perhaps I should be trying to find new things in SL to experience, maybe increase my circle of friends, perhaps try to re-ignite my love of SL photography. But I just find myself without any real motivation to do so. My SL photography is particularly depressing, because I can take ages (hours, even) over a SL picture and then find myself lucky to get 200 views in a month, yet with my RL photography I can post a picture of me in a nice dress and get 200 views in a day. I’m not saying that in a self-aggrandising way, but to illustrate how soul-destroying that is for the SL photography. I have a very similar experience with blogging.
So where does this leave me, where does it leave my SL, my SL photography and also this blog? I don’t know. Certainly this is the first time since August 2012 where I’ve felt I have had anything I wanted to say and I don’t know when I next will either.
Well, perhaps not quite. But Linden Lab has made an announcement that Second Life will be expanding to Steam ‘in the next month or so’.
The announcement reads: “As some sharp-eyed developers have speculated, we’re going to make Second Life available on Steam in the next month or so.
Many of us have friends who are avid Steam gamers, but if you’re not familiar, Steam is a very popular online game platform that offers a wide range of titles (and will soon also offer other software as well).
What does this news mean for Second Life? You’ll still be able to access Second Life just as you can today; there won’t be any change to that. But, the more than 40 million people who use Steam will also be able to get Second Life as easily as they can get games like Portal.
We’ll make an announcement on the blog when Second Life is actually available on Steam, but in the meantime, if you have friends who are Steam gamers, let ‘em know it’s coming!”
This is a very interesting announcement, given that Valve have recently announced that they will soon be allowing non-games applications to join Steam. This does give an ambiguity as to whether Linden Lab are continuing to move Second Life towards a games platform or whether this is simply a case of them taking advantage of Valve’s more relaxed policy on what applications can join Steam.
Certainly there is a strong case that Steam has a high density of the kind of people who have the computer hardware necessary to run Second Life at its most graphically-intense settings, so raising awareness of the Second Life platform on Steam may have benefits.
However, I see a less positive side to it too. As anyone who has read my previous articles will know, I have a strong sense of wanting to live my ‘second’ life unencumbered by the trappings of my first. And I view this (hopefully optional!) integration with Steam as being yet more example of the lines between SL and RL being blurred. Steam is a real life service, with your real identity (although ‘handles’ / nicknames are allowed). And it strengthens the concept that SL is just yet another service that you create a username and password for.
Having said that, as someone who has played Skyrim a lot (which is a Steam game), I didn’t feel that it was RL ‘me’ playing it – I created a character and advanced her though the game. So perhaps I am unduly concerned here. Perhaps all will work out ok. But I do still have this nagging feeling that entering SL via Steam will make people think it is just another game, or MMPORG and I feel that would miss the point of Second Life being a Virtual World and not a game. Or, certainly how it started out anyway. I’m not so sure what it is now or where it is going.
(All in my opinion, of course)
[With thanks to Inara Pey for her blog article that alerted me to this]
Some interesting (and long) articles that give further insight into the ramifications of this move. Really worth reading if you have the time:
Some really interesting points raised by Qarl here. I have to concur with his comments about the new TPV policy and how it stifles innovation; it can’t do otherwise.
It’s funny that he should comment that Linden Lab didn’t see Mesh clothing coming because I was having the same discussion with a friend just recently. The Lab’s response has been very much “but why would you want to do that?” and then bury their head in the sand about it. The fact that pretty much every major clothing Designer is offering Rigged Mesh clothing now is surely a pretty bloody strong indication that sorting the Mesh issue is of prime importance, yet their support of Qarl and the Parametric Deformer project seems lukewarm at best.
I’m still unswayed in my opinion that this is make-or-break for SL.
Mesh seems to be all the rage at the moment, despite the fact that Rigged Mesh for clothes simply doesn’t work for many of us. With many designers throwing themselves headlong into Mesh and the awful “standard sizes” to the exclusion of all else, options feel like they are getting limited for those of us who don’t get on with it.
Why doesn’t Rigged Mesh clothing work for me? Well, the primary reason is that I can rarely get it to fit me. I’m a slim, petite avatar of just over 5ft in height, with a ‘real world’ body shape (ie. curves, hips and boobs) and none of the “standard sizes” are anywhere near similar to my body shape and I don’t want to change. I also find that many Rigged Mesh clothes suffer from an issue of being “invisible inside”. If you cam up your skirt or down your top, either you are invisible due to the alpha mask you need to wear, or the clothing itself is invisible due to the designer saving some prim equivalence by making it transparent on the inside. It’s particularly evident on long gowns where you can see it even without camming.
The Parametric Deformer that Qarl Fizz is working on (and that I mentioned in my article “Unencumbered by the trappings of real life”) promises to solve many of these issues and I’m following it with interest, but in the meantime what else is on offer?
I was shopping at GothiCatz today, a store I like very much, and I’m heartened to see that the designer Looloo Beck has adopted a different approach to her use of Mesh. She uses non-rigged Mesh attachments just like in the past she would have used sculpted prims. This has the advantage of being able to resize and move them to get a good fit and can be scripted with traditional resize scripts too. This really works for me and I wish more designers would make use of this hybrid approach rather than using Rigged Mesh. To me it seems like the best of both worlds, or certainly a good compromise.
One area that I am finding Rigged Mesh works well is on boots. I find that boots are much more likely to fit me than clothes, and you are also less likely to suffer from the problems I mentioned earlier. Boots seem to lend themselves better to the strengths of Mesh, bending naturally at joints. Certainly they render non-Mesh overknee boots instantly obsolete. I think one of the reasons they work better is that there is less movement with legs and in less directions. On the torso you get twisting, shearing and bending that cause all sorts of deformations. In contrast, boots experience very little of this. The knee is a very simple joint and even the ankle has limited movement, so the Mesh is subjected to way less deformation.
Guns similarly gain an advantage by being Mesh. I have a number of guns from Breach by Eata Kitty which I buy because they are so beautifully detailed. However, I’m quite petite and it’s often hard to get these guns to look right on me. Their MP7, for example, looks like an Assault Rifle on me despite the fact that in Real Life it is a machine pistol. But their new Mesh pistol “Raven” is fantastic because the Mesh allows it to have a resize script that can scale the entire gun down to fit my small hands. This is simply brilliant and I so wish they would re-do the MP7 the same way. I’m really looking forward to seeing what Breach bring out next.
So, as we suspected, designers are starting to find their feet with Mesh and are starting to innovate as we knew they would. Likewise, we as customers are beginning to understand what works for us and what doesn’t. Personally, I still consider the “standard sizes” to be a dead end and until Qarl’s Parametric Deformer becomes widely adopted I doubt I will be buying much Rigged Mesh clothing (despite regularly trying demos – I haven’t completely given up on it) and I think it will be interesting to see where things go.