Thursday, January 23, 2014

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World of Warcraft is Updating Its Character Models -- Should Second Life Do The Same?

WoW Human Female 1
Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

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:

WoW Female Human

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.

Mixed reality iris 2013Iris 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.

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Metacam Oh

Should Second Life upgrade it's avatar? Yes. Will they? No.

It costs money and probably will net them very little in return for that investment, and we all know Second Life is only about making Linden Lab money so anything that doesn't make them money is not going to be a priority.

Shug Maitland

I would say yes and long overdue.
The trick to backward compatibility is not even to try, maintain 2 avatar types (call them traditional and improved). After a few years, when usage of the traditional avatar has dropped to near zero it can be removed from the system with little objection.
Of course this assumes that the improved avatar is so much better both in appearance and usability that no one is making clothes for it any more and hardly anyone uses the traditional version.

melponeme_k

Considering how fast the mesh changes were adopted, I don't think a new avatar would be as big a problem as most think it would.

However there would be a problem if the new avatar mesh did not allow users to modify it to the extent they can with the current model.

Zauber Paracelsus

It actually would be possible in theory to create an updated avatar with the same UV mappings. It wouldn't be a walk in the park, though.

Tracy RedAngel

It would be a serious undertaking. I'm not expecting them to update the avatars anytime soon. I can live with it because I have nice mesh arms and feet with skin appliers. I wear high quality skins. They are updating the skeleton to allow better mesh clothes rigging (Project Fitted Mesh) so that's a start. I think if they would have just have just updated the entire avatar at that point it would have been a better sell. Yes, if stuff broke people WOULD be upset. I don't want to lose any of my inventory either! But the default avi is OLD and out of date, and they could have piggybacked the decision to update it onto the fitted mesh project.

Pituca FairChang

Please don't retire the original avatar! I have been using it since Beta. The only thing I have updated is I now use prim hair. Everything else is done with sliders.

Tracy RedAngel

It's not about the single user experience. Why should the rest of SL residences be stuck in 2006 because a handful of people don't want change to occur? The default avi is old, out of date, and badly rigged. I do think it's a legitimate concern that updating may cause mesh to break because that will effect a good number of users.

GoSpeed Racer

SL has become a backwater ghetto of obsolete, balky technologies. I look at and experience all these new games and MMOs and revel in the high fidelity and awesome physics models. It's not just the avatars but the whole foundation of SL that is creaking with old age. Avatars are a good start though. An SL 2.0 has been overdue for about 5 years.

David Cartier

It's not fun to make hard decisions. This is basically all about money, and every decisio9n Linden Lab makes now is apparently based on how many nutjobs will sue them, whenever changes are made, but if they offered subscribers an upgraded avatar, and maybe a year's premium membership, as recompense for the old crap we lost, most people would jump on it. It would be a huge blessing for fashion designers and other content creators. All created content that is older than three or four years old, it's just useless crap now; we only hang onto it out of sentiment. When I see some of the old garbage that is still clogging the Marketplace, and people's inventory, it's almost appalling. So much waste. It all needs to just go away. Maybe all created content should have a set lifespan, just like real things do.

Catten Carter

I think that the avatar should have been upgraded years ago, if they were afraid to break backwards compatibility, make a transition period, where people could select if they want to wear the v1 or v2 avatar, and dress appropiatly, it is what most software companies do anyway when introducing radical changes.
On the positive side, the switch to mesh clothes, means that the old UV mapped clothes will become less used, making the transition easier, if they later on decide to make a v2 avatar. They just have to make sure the v2 avatar is compatible, which is much easier than supporting an outdated uv map.

Aliasi Stonebender

Thing is, the avatar IS upgraded, in a manner of speaking. There's numerous mesh avatars out there that are higher poly, but set to still use the standard SL texture map - or a close variation. It would be a difficult, but not impossible, task to take such an avatar and make it backwards-compatible, although being forced to use the lower-resolution texture of the default SL model would certainly contrain things.

Cyberserenity

Thats a simple one. YES.

bodzette

On the contrary, it should be fairly straightforward to add higher detail - take the original avie and subdivide it. The UV map will remain the same but with higher detail. Then just upgrade the size of the texture map to 2048x2048 (or 4096x4096). That should be plenty.

Iris Ophelia

@bodzette Hmm I'm still skeptical. Specifically, consider what would be necessary to do with the UV map in changing the avatar model's flipper feet to feet with proper toes.

Pussycat Catnap

Yes, updating the avatars is LONG overdue.

For the "OMG the t-shirt I bought for $1l in 2003 no longer works" people... do it as a toggle.

Make a new avatar the default, and an option in the outfits system to toggle to wearing the old one instead.

As for the design of the new avatar - don't use programmers this time, hire some actual 3D artists... even if you hire the 'hobbyist on renderosity who makes the worst junk for sale there' it will be an improvement... (and frankly, most of the 3D modeling artists there are very good, at least at art-quality 3D, downscaling to low-polygon models is its own art form though).

But yeah... Ruth needs to move to the old folks home... the time is long overdue...

But I don't see LL's as having the vision to figure this out...

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