I, Avatar …

Posted July 31st, 2010 by wonko

…so, an AVATAR is your representative in a virtual environment, right (just checking we are on the same page here).

Hi Mom!

Hi Mom!

..so at the moment I rather like being a Borg (sorry, star trek reference there) and maybe next time in-world I will want to be a girl – who knows. We have been exploring the pre-made avatars that can be selected from the avatar list, and surfacing issues with CAV (customised avatars), but more on that later…

I went to the uploaded “avatars” directory, got a list of those up on the world server already, then set about seeding a spawn of one copy of each one, just so we could have a look at what was available. I used a file reference “trick” to do this – I had a vanilla-flavoured primitive object and then changed it’s instance to ../avatars/name.rwx (where name is the name of the avatar file) and it spawned a dispossessed copy of the avatar in-world in the place of the primitive … nice trick I think.

Spawned collection of standard avatars

Spawned collection of standard avatars

Such an interesting collection – some clearly articulated (you can see the joints), others not so – I assume they actually are articulated (as in they bend where they should be bendy – knees, hips, shoulders etc) but will have to test that. Someone has gone to an awful lot of trouble with some of these, faithfully wrapping photo realistic textures on them so they look quite convincingly ripped and detailed.

Ground Zero with an Egyptian fellow and his pet falcon

Ground Zero with an Egyptian fellow and his pet falcon

The naming nomenclature employed amongst this collection of objects is just as hopeless as the object catalog and not really useful for grouping these (why would i want to group them you ask??? well I figure if we are going to offer access to them then some functional grouping makes sense, at least to me), then there are obvious groupings based on style and era of avatar: Ancients (Egyptian and Greek), Wild West, Medieval, Modern (realistic contemporary synthepersons), Future, Toon (humanoid but you can see the polys and the colouring/texturing is primitive), Alien, Mythical (mer-persons):

Cultural Grouping

Cultural Grouping

After a few hours, it was clear that there is a large variety of avatars available, but will leave it to the powers that be to decide which we want to use.

Much mental energy has been exerted to deal with the political application of CAV – the custom avatar system in an Activeworld. When enabled, punters with avatar rights can sculpt their own body shape – this is all well and good in a normal civilised situation with a network in good shape. Oddities occur when this is not the case.

If there are filters, blocks and network throttling (I shall forthwith refer to this as notwork issues), parts of the content for an avatar arrive, others may not. The base geometry of a CAV is a near-naked man or woman – well, they have briefs and she is wearing a bikini, but to primary kids and their frazzled teachers and panic-stricken parents, this is near-naked. After the customisation (adding and colouring clothes and accessories) the avatar rezzes in-world and if the notwerk is, well, not working as it should, they might not get their clothes. Imagine the carnage, if you can, of a primary classroom full of kids – boys and girls, virtually running around in their underwear – poor teachers.

Now I can see the funny side of this, but recognise that I am being contracted by an organisation that seems not to have a sense of humour when it comes to a knee-jerk reaction over a vocal complaint including “offence” and dismay. I guess we need to look for solutions as the CAV blank is a fully formed “adult” without the sticky outey bits (like nipples and penises that exist in virtual environments like Secondlife) but I can sort of see their point if not understand the urgency of the complaint.

In saying that, I know that some of the few things that have actually shocked me, disgusted me and generally made me feel uneasy have happened to my avatar in Secondlife, perpetrated upon me by others with modified avatars with all sorts of strap on appendages, so at least an Activeworld protects the punters from that sort of assault. I do understand the concerns, but also understand mis-information, fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) that can be used to derail an otherwise sound project.

MyWorld is a work in progress, I understand that more than most – we do have to make as many people as we can happy if it is to continue to receive funding – I only hope we do not have to dumb it down so much that it becomes functionally useless, and I also hope that some day we get to deploy it on a network as opposed to a notwerk. I wonder how other Activeworlds that are designed for little kids cope with this problem – anyone used Quest Atlantis? Do they allow CAV? *tap tap tap is this thing on?*

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