Thursday, August 11, 2011

Linden Lab Introduces New Starter Avatars

 I saw today that the August Update from Linden Lab included the introduction of new starter avatars. Given how impressed I've been with the progress LL has been making lately, you can imagine my disappointment upon taking a closer look at these new starters.

"In a world of  microcephalic thalidomide victims who also suffer gigantism..."

 If I seem harsh, it's only because I care and the mistakes made with these avatars just would not fly in a professional design environment. If Linden Lab wants SL to be taken seriously they need to put a better face forward in presenting it, yet that is precisely what they refuse to do time and again.

 Please keep in mind that I am only addressing the shapes of these avatars. The scale and, more specifically, the proportions. The mistakes made with these shapes are prevalent throughout SL, the reason I single out the starters is because the starter avatars are the face of SL to the public at large and a vital part of the new user experience.

 I took a close look at the female pirate avatar.

 A petite 6'3 / 191cm barefoot, this poor girl has arms that are each more than 5 inches too short for her body. Simple tasks you and I take for granted, like tying our shoes, would be exceptionally difficult for her.

 Her legs are more than half a foot too long for her body, nearly 7 inches longer than her upper body. Forget difficulty tying her shoes, she's going to need a caretaker to do that for her.

 In addition, the poor girl's head is far too small for her body. She is nearly 9 heads tall.

 Linden Lab has been making a lot of improvements lately, but this is a giant leap backwards and just doesn't cut it for a product currently being marketed as a "creativity tool" by Linden Lab's CEO. It's exceptionally depressing to write this so soon after my article on creating good body shapes in SL.


  1. Good article. I had the same reaction when I saw them. I've tweeted this article at @rodvik. I'd love to hear him address why Second Life can't get the avatars right.

  2. So here's how it went:

    byjupiter: Why can't #SecondLife get #avatars right? @rodvik

    rodvik: @byjupiter Yup, its a fair cop. I think Human AV's are a challenge. I hope to get to a new very stylised set at some point.

    byjupiter: @rodvik It's not so much about style, but proportions. It can be done. There are some great avatars!

    rodvik: @byjupiter I agree. But also I would love to set get us out of the uncanny valley feel as well at some point.

    byjupiter: @rodvik Do you think realistic #SL avatars make people feel uncomfortable? "Realistic" doesn't necessarily mean humanoid.

    rodvik: @byjupiter I think we should have them for sure but I think we should offer more stylized ones as a choice as well.

    byjupiter: @rodvik Style is great, but I think that's a secondary step. Get the right mannequin first and then dress it up nicely.

    I don't think he gets it.

  3. From reading that what I get is Rodvik is talking about shape, as in "realistic versus stylized or cartoonishly exaggerated shapes". I also agree some stylized starter shapes would be great for SL.

    What I don't understand, and what I don't think he understood you were asking, was that the proportions for the shapes they currently provide are so broken, why can't LL get that part right?

    He brings up "uncanny valley" as if without realizing that trying to make human shapes, but giving them such bad, not cartoonish but bad, proportions, is a large part of that problem in SL.

    Also, any cartoonist will tell you how important understanding human proportion is to making "stylized" caricatures. If LL can't get realistic/idealistic shapes right, how can they get stylized right?

  4. What I think it comes down to is that LL needs to hire an art director to handle in-world content used as infrastructure (QA for starter avatars, heading up DPW projects, etcetera) and marketing (creating the in-world imagery used to officially promote SL).

    If they have such a person I can only say it seems like they're either not doing a good job or they have not been given the authority or resources required to do their job properly.