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Archive for October 5th, 2011

by Saffia Widdershins, Maxwell Graf, and Aisling Sinclair

They say that clothes make the man, but in Second Life, it’s an avatar’s shape that is defining – garments are fitted to the individual. That’s been challenged by the advent of mesh clothes; with them, the individual must be fitted to the garments. But now, an exciting new crowd-sourcing project is in the works that will allow us all to take back control of our identities.

Ever since mesh went live on the Second Life grid, there has been murmuring about the fact that there are holes in the technology as delivered – which show most glaringly as holes in mesh clothes themselves. This fact is a result of mesh’s current configuration in Second Life – it cannot be tailored precisely to fit the wearer – so an avatar wearing a mesh garment must also don an alpha layer to make her body invisible, lest it poke out through her dress in places. Thus, she essentially is forced to let her clothes determine her shape, which, of course, results in every avatar’s body looking the same.

This issue has been discussed in many blog posts – on this blog, by Rowan Derryth; elsewhere, by Trinity Dejavu, Tateru Nino, Vaki Zenovka, and others. Many agree the current technology conflicts directly with one of the core reasons for participating in a virtual world such as Second Life – the ability to establish, in detail, one’s appearance as a reflection of one’s identity. Our avatars become an extension of who we are. They are how we identify ourselves, and how others identify us. Unfortunately, mesh clothing currently does not add to one’s identity, it takes away from it. You lose your shape, because mesh doesn’t fit you.

No woman we know wants to change her avatar’s shape for a pair of jeans! Mesh, as it stands, is a mess.

But help – indeed, a real solution – is on the horizon. And it will surprise you.

Regular readers of this blog will remember that in July, designer Maxwell Graf submitted to the Second Life JIRA system a request for some changes in how mesh clothing is created and used. Max requested that Linden Lab develop some changes to the Second Life client that would make mesh clothing easier for designers to create – but even better, would enable mesh clothes to shrink to fit the wearer’s shape, no matter what that shape is. We could stay who we are!

The technology Max requested is called a parametric deformer – a series of algorithms. Think of a parametric deformer as an invisible cage that hovers just slightly around your avatar body by a very small distance, but with the same shape as you. When you wear an item of mesh clothing from your inventory, that item would “shrink wrap” to fit that cage around you, no matter what your shape happens to be.

Downgraded

Over 800 people gave a thumbs-up to Max’s suggestion in the JIRA system. While voting, many commented that a parametric deformer could make mesh clothing the kind of thing we all want it to be. Designers in particular were excited about what they consider a necessary adjunct to the new tool.

Unfortunately, Linden Lab recently downgraded Max’s proposal to “someday/maybe” status, meaning, as Charlar Linden explained yesterday, that “it’s something we want to do, but can’t commit to a timeframe yet.” The Lab feels there are other aspects of mesh that are a priority, mainly stability of the platform, which is understandable and should be a focus. Charlar continued, “I can’t promise anything – we might come back and say ‘no,’ we might say ‘yes, but later’ and we might say ‘here’s what we’re doing.’ We might say something I haven’t thought of yet.”

“We have Top People on it,” he concluded.

This indefinite response was met with dismay by many in Second Life’s designer community as well as in the press. Max’s response: “This ain’t cutting it.” As a result of the downgraded status of his JIRA, he is now seeing people shying away from mesh clothing purchases and from creating mesh items.

“Top people need to be doing something now about it,” Max says. “In fact, there are top people who could be doing something about it. Mesh deformation systems aren’t a new idea – they’ve been used in many online games and MMOs, such as Aeon, Eve Online, and Blue Mars. We wouldn’t need to re-invent the wheel… if we could just find someone who is familiar with these types of systems and with Second Life!”

So Max went out and found one.

Enter Karl Stiefvater, formerly known as Qarl Linden.

Top Guy

Graphical wizard, inventor of the sculpted prim, developer of Second Life’s original mesh code, designer on the game Riven, special effects artist on the films Matrix 2 and Matrix 3. Now there’s a guy who could accomplish this task if anyone can. Best of all, he’s already familiar with mesh deformer systems and how they work. Clearly, one of the very top Top People.

Max contacted Karl and broached the idea – along with another idea that is perhaps even more revolutionary.

Max explains, “I put forth the proposition that a private fund could be established to hire Karl to do the work that Linden Lab is unwilling/unable to do thus far, if he were willing to do it. He has graciously accepted the idea and agreed to do the project!”

To which we say… wow.

How Will This Work? How Can You Help?

Below is a statement from Max that explains his plan in detail.

“I have established a fund on the website http://www.indiegogo.com [a leading international funding platform] for this project. You can go there and read about the project and use the secure transaction methods to contribute to hiring Karl to do this project. Our goal is US$5400.00, $5000 of which will go to Karl, and $400 of which will be used to pay for the project and website fees. No amount of donated funds will be for my personal profit or use.

“The direct link to the project fund site is here:

http://www.indiegogo.com/Mesh-Clothing-Parametric-Deformer-Project

“There is no fixed amount for donations – contribute what you can. That’s the beauty of a project like this. Small amounts add up!

“We have 60 days to collect the amount we need to make this happen. While that is not a small amount, consider that hiring a software company to do such a thing would cost considerably more, and that even if Linden Lab were to do it, it would cost them more to do so.

“What will we get?

“To be clear, this will not solve every problem with mesh clothing. It will not create a layered hierarchy system of deformers as mentioned in the JIRA. Once the work is done, mesh clothing will not suddenly work perfectly for you, or work in the official LL viewers (unless they put the code in).

“What it will do is this: We will have a working version of a single mesh deformer in the Snowglobe open source client. For clothing designers, this will eliminate the need for rigged items, weight adjustment, alpha maps, and multiple sizes of mesh clothing items.

“For anyone who wears mesh, this will mean mesh clothing items will adjust automatically to fit your size and shape and you won’t have to use an alpha map to hide your body.

“The code that Karl will write, being part of the Snowstorm open source codebase, can then be taken freely and implemented by any third party developers. In addition, this code can serve as the basis for future/additional feature development (such as the layered hierarchy and slider adjustments). When completed, this code will be global domain, so come and get it, devs!

“The idea of this project, aside from the goals listed above, is to enable the community of developers out there to offer these features in the Second Life clients, whether official or third party. It is our hope that Linden Lab will take this code and utilize it, as well as the various third party viewers. The goal here is simple: to further enhance the capabilities of mesh clothing and avatars within the Second Life and Open Sim grids. This project, while fixing a few major flaws right off, is only the beginning!

“Please take a moment to view the project page and contribute to making this dream a reality for us all. We will all benefit from this, in the end. Just like you, I want my end to stay the same shape.”

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