I admit it: I’m having a dry spell. (Oh, like you haven’t noticed.)
Or, to be more accurate, a dry year. At the moment, I have no less than 31 draft blogposts in various stages, which are waiting for me to finish and publish (see image, right, from my WordPress blogging software). I keep waiting for inspiration to strike, and it just never seems to come lately. And, as somebody who used to push out as many as 6 or 7 blogposts in a day, this creative desert I am experiencing is something new and unexpected.
Frankly, I’ve been feeling a bit overwhelmed in my life these past six months, which is part of the reason why I am just not feeling that spark. I come home from my job as an academic librarian, and most evenings, the last thing I want to do is blog.
And it’s not like there is any shortage of news in virtual worlds, social VR, and the metaverse to report on or editorialize over, either. If anything—even though last year’s metaverse craze has clearly been traded in for this year’s artificial intelligence hype cycle—the number of things happening out there for me to react to, or pontificate on, is still quite a steady stream. Zero shortage of news and events.
I feel tired and burned out, and more than a little overwhelmed by it all, to be honest.
The virtual reality lab project my university library system is working on (an initiative I am involved with) is moving ahead, slowly but surely, but I’m having trouble feeling excited about it. (Or perhaps, it’s more accurate to say that I am 50% excited and 50% terrified!) Even though I have been working with virtual reality since December 2016/January 2017, I am struggling with a massive case of imposter syndrome. I remind myself that there’s literally nobody else in the University of Manitoba Libraries system who has the right kind of background and experience to work on this, but some days are a struggle nonetheless. Perhaps it’s the late summer doldrums; I don’t know.
I know that part of the problem is that I’m just not feeling that sense of wonder and magic that I used to, when I slipped on a VR headset. Perhaps what I really need to do is to go seek out that magic again, actively look for it. I know that there are some truly wonderful projects out there that people are working on, projects that I have started to write about, and then somehow they still sit in my WordPress drafts folder, unfinished.
It’s a mystery to me. Maybe it was inevitable after five years of break-neck blogging, that there would be a dry spell, a pause.
I’m not sure when I will be back. I find myself escaping into Second Life a lot lately, my first love and my first introduction to the power and potential of virtual worlds. I do feel a bit guilty that so much of my recent coverage has been about Second Life and its 20th anniversary celebrations, but I do consider it a significant milestone that was worthy of the attention. But it bothers me that I have not paid nearly as much attention to VRChat where, for example, I have recently had some wonderful experiences exploring the delightfully bizarre worlds of DrMorro, a talented Russian world-builder with a vivid imagination.
Perhaps the problem is one of format. I know a lot of people don’t follow blogs that much anymore; some consider them an outdated form of communication (which I disagree with). But maybe a blog just isn’t the best way to cover everything that’s happening in the metaverse. Maybe a switch to a newsletter, or a podcast, or perhaps a resurrection of the moribund Metaverse Newscast, is in order?
But I digress; I am rambling. I will end this post here.
I have spent my weekend testing out the new Senra line of mesh starter bodies, Blake and Jamie, which were launched in beta last week. While I think that there is a lot to like about these bodies, my investigation has led me to the following conclusion: that these mesh bodies, while nice in many ways, have a big problem.
But first, I want to talk about what I do like. I really like fact that Linden Lab has, finally, created a mesh starter avatar system that gives new users an out-of-the-box, modern mesh body, with a generous, mix-and-match unisex capsule wardrobe to get them started.
For example, here is my oldest male avatar, Morden Winkler, hanging out at the bar, listening to the music at FogBound Blues. I used an old Belleza male skin called Ewan from my inventory, and if I may say so, he looks damn good for a completely free avatar (an important consideration because, unlike the many options for women, men have relatively few free/inexpensive mesh body choices in Second Life):
The Senra bodies and wardrobes I like; it’s the heads that are giving me conniption fits. Let me explain.
I am rapidly coming to the conclusion, after trying on innumerable older skins on both the Blake and Jamie bodies, that they all have this weirdness to the eyebrow and upper eyelid area, such that any SLUV skin (i.e., any skin based on the standard system avatar mapping) is simply not going to work with these heads. 🙁
Morden may look great in still pictures, but watch this 8-second video and see what happens to the eyebrows on this old Belleza skin when he blinks:
You see how his eyebrows get deeper when he blinks? This problem, as near as I can tell, happens with all SLUV skins. It means that the older skins that many of us have in our inventories will be absolutely useless on the Blake and Jamie heads, no matter how much fiddling we do with the eye and eyebrow sliders (and trust and believe, I tried everything!). It’s a problem with the underlying mesh of the Blake and Jamie heads. It’s incompatible with SLUV skins.
I shared this problem on the Second Life Community forums, and someone suggested I try a Bakes on Mesh eyebrow concealer from Izzie’s (exact SLURL; it’s also available on the SL Marketplace), for L$149. It comes in a variety of skin tones to match just about any skin, and they are tintable to match any skin.*
Here’s two pictures showing another old female skin I had in my oldest female avatar’s inventory, the “photorealistic” Bella Snow skin from IC Skins (a store long since vanished from the grid and the Marketplace). The picture on the left is the skin as it looks on the Senra Jamie mesh head (where the eyebrows do move when the avatar blinks). The picture on the right is the same head and skin, using the Izzie’s eyebrow concealer and the Jamie brows, taken from the hair folder in the Senra Jamie package.
You can very clearly see just how much higher up the Jamie brows sit. There is a lot of real estate between the eye and eyebrow, which is fine if that is what you want. But I set the eyebrow height slider to its LOWEST level, and they are still sky-high compared to the regular brows! I’m sorry, but this is a deal-breaker for me.
At this point, it is very clear to me that entire eyebrow/upper eyelid area on the Blake AND the Jamie mesh heads is VERY different from the SLUV used on most older skins, and it is therefore unlikely that any will work with the Blake and Jamie heads!
I do consider this a MAJOR problem with the Blake and Jamie heads, and frankly, I’d rather just use one of the free LeLutka heads I picked up at previous Christmases than try to find an old SLUV skin in my inventory that will work with it. It’s extremely disappointing; I was so looking forward to being able to use all the old skins in my avatars’ inventories with these heads.
However, the Senra line of starter mesh avatars will provide an opportunity for creators to make new skins which will work with the Blake and Jamie bodies. But part of me is also hoping that Linden lab is taking the word “beta” seriously, and listening to the feedback from users like me, and are willing to make some changes to these starter mesh avatar heads so that they do work better with older SLUV skins.
Also, please keep in mind that this is an experienced SL user talking here (almost 17 years), and most SL newbies will not be aware of this issue, not have any older skins in their inventories, and be happy enough with the Jamie and Blake bodies as they are, until they decide to upgrade the head and/or body to another brand.
I guess we’ll see, won’t we?
*I did test out the Izzie’s Eyebrow Concealer on the older Belleza Ewan skin that Morden Winkler is wearing in the top photo, and unfortunately, it does not completely cover the bottom part of that bushy male eyebrow, so I cannot use it with that skin. It’s a shame, because I really liked it a lot, and wore it a lot, back in the old pre-mesh days.
Strip the blink script out of the head. Think of it—when was the last time you actually noticed someone blinking in real life? The blink animation in the head is unrealistically slow, and I’m not sure, it’s even possible to have a realistic instant blink by animating bones anyway.
And I went and tested this on both the Senra Blake and Jamie mesh heads, and it works! Both Senra mesh heads are modify/no transfer, so here is how you do it, step by step:
Make a copy of the Jamie (or Blake) head first, by right -clicking on the head in your inventory, then selecting Copy from the drop-down menu.
Then, click on or in the folder you want to place the modified head in, right-click again, and select Paste to save it.
Find a place with rez rights, like a sandbox, and drag the head you wish to modify from your inventory onto the ground.
Right-click on it, and select Edit.
IMPORTANT! In the first tab, change the name of the head to indicate that it is non-blink, e.g. “Senra – Jamie Head NOBLINK”. Otherwise, you’ll never know which is which! 😉
Then, click on the Contents tab in the Edit window, and delete the blinking script (there is only one, you can’t miss it).
Close the Edit window and take your modified, no-blink head back into your inventory.
I have tested this, and it works well! The head no longer has that slow blinking motion which seems to deform the skin around the upper eyelid and brow, but the eyes still have natural, looking around movements (you can see all the eye movement animations in the same Contents tab as the script you just deleted).
Please note that this is a solution for older, SLUV-based skins to get them to work with the Senra Blake and Jamie mesh heads and bodies, and it should not be necessary for any skins created specifically for the Senra line. In fact, one quick-working creator, Alaskametro, has already released a line of female skins for Jamie, and an associated shape (SL Marketplace link) . The skins cost L$50 per skin tone, and the (modifiable) shape is only L$10 (I used it as my starting point in the pictures below, fiddling with the head and body sliders a bit until I got my desired look).
I found it very interesting that, even with a skin designed for Senra, and using the default body shape from Alaskametro, that the inner parts of the eyebrows still deformed, ever so slightly, when my avatar blinked. So I stripped the blinking animation out of a copy of the Senra Jamie mesh head, and used the non-blink version instead.
I’m quite happy with this avatar look, and after spending only L$60 grand total, I think she would blend in seamlessly in a bar or club, mingling with other avatars wearing much pricier, brand-name mesh bodies and heads!
So now you have two different solutions to the problem with the upper eyelid and eyebrow area on the Senra Jamie and Blake avatars! Personally, I am just going to go with deleting the blink script from these heads, since I do want to be able to use older SLUV skins from my avatars’ inventories with them, and that solution is cheaper (in fact, free!) than purchasing Izzie’s Eyebrow Concealer I mentioned up top, and using the brows that come with this body, supplied by Linden Lab.
As I stated in my original review of the new, free Senra Blake male mesh body, while the six included head and body skins Linden Lab provided for it are prefectly serviceable, I still find them a little too unblemished, flat, and “pretty” for my tastes.
So I loaded my oldest male avatar, with the actual legacy name of Morden Winkler (shoutout to all the Manitobans!), created on March 14th, 2007, whose inventory has never been cleaned out in almost 6,000 days (16¼ years!) and therefore has lots of older skins intended for classic, system bodies.
And man, I gotta tellya, I hit paydirt with one old Belleza male skin, which was a particular favourite of mine back in the old days! I can’t remember where I picked it up (I think it was a hunt gift), but it’s called Belleza Ewan 0 tan (0 stands for clean-shaven, I seem to remember; it also came in various versions with facial hair). Here’s what Morden Winkler looks like with the Belleza Ewan skin paired with the Senra Blake body (click on each image to see it in full size):
And the second problem? When he blinks, the eyebrows get slightly deeper! Something you can’t tell, obviously, from my still pictures. So, while I loved the final result, I decided to spend my Saturday afternoon looking around the grid for free and inexpensive skins that would work well with the Senra Blake body, with a minimum of fiddling and fuss.
My first stop was, of course, the Belleza store, where (if you join the Belleza group for free), you can still pick up two packages of older men’s skins, which date from 2013/2014:
Here’s what some of their gift skins look like on the Blake mesh body (see image captions for skin names; all these skins are tan, but they also come in other skin tones):
Again, you will have the problems I outlined above with the Ewan skin: white patches on the fingertips, and some eyebrow movement when you blink.
My next stop was a store, Brox, which features L$1 skins for male avatars. I had picked up a free package of eight of their skins as a past L’Homme Magazine gift, so I tried them out on Morden, and I was pretty pleased. Here’s what they look like (again, please click on the images to see them bigger):
At first glance, I thought that these Brox skins did a good job of covering the fingers, but then I noticed a small white spot on the thumbs, so you will probably still have to use something like Sweet’s Quick Nail Cover Fix on them anyways:
Also, I noticed that the toenail textures for these skins didn’t apply correctly to the feet! Again, you can try the Sweet’s nail fix (they also have one for toes in the package), and if your avatar is wearing shoes, nobody will notice it. But it is rather odd.
Next, I tried out some skins from the SL Marketplace. Sweet’s has three L$1 sets of Basic Male Skins, Tones 0 and 1, Tones 2 and 3, and Tones 4 and 5. They come in Classic Style (for calssic, system avatars), and Mesh Style (intended for mesh avatars). Here’s what Tone 3 (Mesh Style) looks like on the Senra Blake body:
There is a separate package of matching head skins with four different styles of beard, which you can unpack and try on for size:
But again, when your avatar blinks, the eyebrows distort; here’s a quick video, so you can see the problem for yourself:
I’m starting to think that any of the older male skins are going to have this problem, for which I have not yet been able to find any sort of workaround (I tried adjusting the sliders on the eyes and the eyebrow shape, to no avail).
Anyway, I will stop here and keep investigating, and if I find out anything, I will update this blogpost.
UPDATE Sept. 14th, 2023: I have updated the comparison chart above to version 1.2, because somebody informed me that Kalhene is now charging L$99 to join the Erika group (it used to be L$50). Please note that the Flickr snapshots of the chart below have not been updated.
Note that I have deliberately excluded some mesh bodies, for example, the free Altamura bodies you can pick up at various locations (because you cannot change the skin, and you cannot use Bakes on Mesh with them). I have also left out those bodies which have poor or even non-existent third-party designer support. An example of this would be the Ultra Vixen mesh body, which is now only free to avatars under 30 days old and—as far as I am aware—only has clothing that fits it, which is made and sold by the body’s creator.
Looking forward to hearing your comments and suggestions!