25 July 2013

The default SL avatar mesh sucks

I've been working on a rigged mesh avatar replacement. The idea is that it's a full-enclosure bondage suit, with some design features inspired by a story on the excellent Gromet's Plaza website; in particular, the feet are replaced by ballet boots, the hands by mittens with no fingers, and the head by a rounded hood. Eventually, I want to apply normal and specular maps to make it look like authentic latex, but that's down the road a little.

I've been using Avastar to make mesh replacements from avatar shapes for a while now. It works well, and reliably, once I figured out the requisite workflow. Avastar uses the standard SL avatar mesh, as would be required to maintain compatibility for clothing designers and the like (its intended audience). Unfortunately, that mesh deforms badly as the avatar moves.

This picture shows the biggest problem for what I'm doing:
See the weird edge sticking out on the inner thigh? That's not the only problem: there's a corresponding pocket on the other side of it that turns the edge you see into a wedge shape. That's the worst part, though the crotch deforms badly in front, as well, and the hips deform weirdly, though not as bad.

There's a JIRA, STORM-1800, that gives a start on fixing avatar weight issues. I don't know if it fixes this problem or not, though I would hope so. However, that doesn't solve my problem.

The real problem lies in the low number of vertices in the standard avatar mesh in that area. I don't know why they skimped on this way, but the avatar's old enough that they probably didn't think it was important when it was made - since that was long before SL became popular in the ways it has.

Compare this:
 with this:
The second is much less haphazard, with vertices and edges at places where the avatar needs to deform. As you might expect from looking at these, the second avatar does indeed deform much, much better with movement. It's Utilizator Mode's Avatar 2.0, his idea of what a replacement avatar should be. He gets it right, for everything I've seen.

Unfortunately, I can't use it directly, both for reasons of intellectual property and because the shape isn't what I'm looking to make for this project. He also only offers this in a female version; I want to make a male suit, as well, and the proportions would need fixing for that. Considering that he offers the avatar for L$300, it's not reasonable to expect that he'd release the base avatar mesh in a usable form for others to work with directly - and rip off and sell as their own.

What this tells me is that the only way to get from point A to point B is to completely rebuild the avatar mesh from the ground up, as Utilizator Mode has done. That's a metric buttload of work, and one that not only am I not prepared to tackle for this project, but is probably beyond my limited artistic abilities. As an artist, I make a decent programmer.

Reweighting the SL avatar mesh is probably going to be of only limited utility because the geometry just isn't there. That's also a nontrivial amount of work, all by itself.

What a nuisance. Poor design decisions - or ones that are simply optimized for a much different set of conditions than ones that actually prevail once the product is launched - have bitten number products as they go through the lifecycle, and the SL avatar certainly is an outstanding example of that.


  1. With no competition, it will never matter. I'm not saying that they have none... the demand simply isn't there for good competition in this area. Decently competing with Second Life would lead to no profitability for either.

  2. Also, why wouldn't clothing vendors band together to create a better mesh? It affects all of their products. They could even (as a collective) make the better mesh available to anyone who buys any of their products or make the mesh globally available. I wouldn't like being dependent one guy selling a decent mesh to avoid 'thunder thighs'. But, that's just me.