Whether or not you're interested in World of Warcraft, this recent post about their reworking of the female human character model is worth a read. Blizzard's artists have been hard at work updating the earliest avatars in their decade-old MMO to bring them up to the same detail level as models from more recent expansions, increasing texture resolution (which controls the quality of the model's "skin"), upgrading their skeletons (which allow a model to be animated), and in some cases quintupling the model's poly count (which represents the level of detail in the model itself). All in all it's an impressive undertaking, and something that Blizzard is very wise to do to keep their aging MMO looking fresh.
It made me wonder, though. Second Life is around the same age as World of Warcraft, so wouldn't it be possible for Linden Lab to revamp our rickety old avatars in the same way? In my opinion the answer is both yes and no, and here's why:
All of these changes could absolutely be made to the Second Life model, but it all comes back to what user content they would break in doing so. For example, just about any modification made to the avatar mesh (especially increased detail) would result in changes to the UV map which is used to lay out and apply textures to that model. Skins and most clothes in Second Life use this same UV map, meaning that even a few tweaks could break half or more of your existing wardrobe. This point comes up time and again when discussing how the Second Life avatar could be improved, and even though some users would certainly say it's worth the loss, many others would disagree.
This isn't really a problem for Blizzard, because they control all of that content anyway. World of Warcraft has no user-generated content, so it's possible (if work intensive) for them to go back and adjust every single item and animation in the game themselves to suit their upgraded characters. But that cuts both ways; they also don't have users constantly creating better and better looking content for them, meaning that they have to do any and all upgrading themselves. While the Second Life avatar isn't much to look at on its own, there's no shortage of beautiful skins and add-ons available to pull it out of the '00s.
So no, we may never get an upgrade to our avatars (at least not until the fabled Second Life 2) but look on the bright side: At least Second Life doesn't need it quite as badly as World of Warcraft did.Tweet
Iris Ophelia (@bleatingheart, Janine Hawkins IRL) has been featured in the New York Times, and has spoken about SL-based design at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan and with pop culture/fashion maven Johanna Blakley.