Monday, January 12, 2009

Throwing a Fit

I've mentioned that Lou in Second Life is analogous to Lou in real life: although my avatar can't be a precise simulacrum of my Real Life Self, I try to keep the broad strokes accurate. I am slightly built, my hair is a dark muddy brown, I do have a (proportionately) large head, I am a cheeky smart-ass, I am so pale that it's probably possible to read by moonlight reflected off me at night. And, yes, I admit my Second Life self is magically able to keep her hair nicely styled despite wind and rain (and sometimes flames and smoke and weird particle-emitting objects), SL Lou actually has a cooler pair of boots than RL Lou, and SL Lou lacks the scar from that encounter with a salad fork that we won't go into here.

Anyway—if I take a deep breath, stand up straight, and try to do that "good posture" thing my dad was always on about, I top out just over 1.5m tall. (That's about 5 feet.) Therefore, Lou in Second Life is also short of stature. However, in SL avatars routinely approach (or exceed!) 2m in height, and anyone (male or female) under about 1.8m (about 6 feet) tall is considered short. (Much commentary could be made of people making themselves taller and skinnier/more muscular in SL—saving that for another day.) So, Second Life's fashion industry tends to be geared towards giants—impossibly skinny (female) or muscle-bound (male) giants. For clothing based on SL's default types, this isn't much of a problem: the graphic textures of the clothing are stretched between points like shoulders and elbows, regardless of the physical size of the avatar. In fact, since clothing textures are a fixed resolution—I think 512px for, say, pants—short avatars might have an advantage over tall ones. Why? We can cram the same number of pixels into a smaller area, so clothing on a short avatar might look marginally higher resolution than the same clothes on a lumbering giant. Call it one of Second Life's little ironies.

But one of Second Life's little cruelties is that most of the good clothes—you know, the stuff all the cool kids are wearing—isn't made solely of SL's default clothing types: a lot of it is augmented with prims of all types to supplement the basic clothing types. (These attachments work just like jewelry—they're objects attached to avatars at predefined points.) Most skirts (and, say, the bottoms of some jackets) are built using "flexi" prims that move with an avatar or the wind. Cuffs on a shirt or sweater might be made from traditional cylinders to simulate the look of a rolled-up sleeve or a thicker fabric. And pants—oh sheesh. Pants might use prims (often a special type called a scultpie that has to be created in another application) to simulate cuffs because all default pants in Second Life are floods! Yes, it's true: if you want pants that go below your anklebones, you have to effectively strap other objects to your shins to simulate the lower leg of the pants. Oh, and another funny? Default pants in Second Life simulate flares and boot cuts by bloating out your avatar's leg like a some sort of human balloon. The result looks like a really, really bad cartoon.

And those prim attachments? That's where being short can bite you. Unlike default SL clothing that scales automatically to an avatar's size, prim attachments are the same as any other object like a chair, wall, or building: they're a particular size until their owner or someone with "modify" permission changes them. And because something like 90 million percent of Second Life's population are gigantic amazons Barbies or Conan the Barbarians, most prim attachments are way too big for avatars who are a normal, realistic size. Like 150 cm tall.

The result? If I buy a pair of pants with prim cuffs, they might look good when I first put them on…but as soon as I bend my leg or sit down, the problem becomes apparent: the cuff objects are way too big for my legs, and wind up sticking out of the tops of my knees like some kind of hockey or BMX gear:

Now, if I want hockey or BMX gear? Not a problem. If I want a simple pair of cotton pants? Kind of a problem!

Fortunately, many designers who make clothing with prim attachments give buyers "modify" permission so they can resize and reposition the items to fit their avatars. So, in the case of the pants above, I was able to fairly easily shrink down the cuff attachments and make them work. However, even with modify permission, it doesn't always work: with the resizing, textures and seams often fail to line up, with the result that fabrics that display a gradient or pattern fall apart where the prims meet default SL clothes. So, the best prim-enhanced clothing items tend to be simple, plain colors…because they're less likely to fall apart when resized.

Just because most designers give buyers permission to resize prim objects doesn't mean they all do. That cool pair of boots I mentioned earlier? Even though they claim to be made for "size zero" feet, they almost make me look like a cartoon character because they're too big for my frame…and I can't resize them. Yes, the boots came in two sizes…but the other size is even bigger!

Similarly, I've seen many clothing items I would like to buy, but I can't tell if they'll work on my frame. Sometimes when you want to buy something, you're presented with a list of the objects you're buying. For instance, a sweater might consist of two versions of a sweater (one as a shirt, one as a jacket, so you can choose what layer it's on) along with prim cuffs and maybe a collar. Usually you can see whether you'll be able to modify the objects. But sometimes—typically when designers use product vendors—all you get to see is a low resolution picture of a product, and your only option is to pay money. You can't see how they're made, what you're getting, and what permissions you'll have if you make a purchase.

So, all you SL fashion designers who read this blog (ha!), let me throw this down on behalf of all the short people out there. You can sell us a lot more stuff if you:

  • Tell us whether items use prim attachments
  • Tell us what kind of attachments they are (flexies? scultpies?)
  • Tell us whether we have modify permissions so we can resize attachments
  • If no modify permissions, do attachments include scripts so users can resize them?
Oh, and here's another thing: don't tell us we can make all these problems go away if we just made our avatars taller. (Which two designers said to me when I asked if their clothes would work on someone my size.) My response: hey, if you made your clothing smarter—or described what you're selling adequately—I wouldn't be your problem.

There ya go. Get on it, peeps.

(P.S.: Yes, it's true: Lou in SL is significantly taller than Lou in RL, coming in at about 160cm, or about 5′4″ tall. Not because I can't make my avatar 150cm tall…but because that's as short as I could get and still make most of my pants fit. How sad is that?)


  1. The issues sound similar to what tinies have shopping at normal stores. It is nice when they tell you all the details of what you can do with what you're about to buy.

    Maybe 1cm in SL is only .7cm in RL?
    or it's not the same measurement system?

  2. Lou - can't believe your complaining about clothes - and after the hard time you gave me about my oversized shoes !

  3. Pearse, your shooz were huge. I'm sure you know what they say about guys with big feet, but your shoes were definitely...compensating for something.:)

  4. Heh, I feel your pain Lou (just discovered your blog after the MP thing, so here I am commenting on this months later, etc.). I'm way too skinny for a lot of standard guy prims -- the average man's belt is a hula hoop on me. Some people have told me to buff up, which is annoying. If I'd wanted to be as thick as tree trunk and have a chest broad enough to house the population of a small country, I'd have made myself that way in the first place. I echo the cry for smarter design.

    I'm also too tall to fit into some buildings, but I like being tall in RL and SL. I disagree with you about height: RL height doesn't and shouldn't translate to SL height. The virtual environment itself is proportional to heights/sizes that are larger than actual humans. So while technically I'm almost 7 feet tall in SL, in a room full of avatars my height is visually proportionate to RL me in a room full of RL other people. The numbers are meaningless.

  5. Hee! I just brought "home" two new belts - er, hula hoops - yesterday that I can't wear. But I was pretty sure I wouldn't be able to wear them and they were free: I mainly wanted to see how they are built so I can make my own.

    I've always thought SL's propensity towards super-high ceilings and cavernous rooms had more to do with the SL client's walking capabilities (clunky) and the camera defaults (a users' viewpoint a couple meters above and behind an avatar). In order to navigate places with those constraints, they need to be bigger and taller.

    I don't think RL height *must* correspond to SL height; it's just the way I'm choosing to go. For some reason Lou is Lou is Lou is Lou; I just can't get behind play-pretending to be someone else. (Except, apparently, a duck at Chadd's rez-day party! Quack!) But it turns out that while I can position prims to within sub-millimeter measurements, SL really has no idea how tall an avatar is: there are at least two different ways of measuring and they're wildly divergent. So either I'm a little bit taller in SL than in RL...or a LOT taller, depending which virtual yardstick you use.


Comments are moderated. You can use some HTML tags, such as <b>, <i>, <a>. If you'd like to contact me privately, use a blog comment and say you don't want it published.