UPDATED! Taking a Second Look at the Viva Full-Mesh Avatar: Why the Mesh Head and Body Wars Are Just Getting Started in Second Life

A month ago, I first wrote about the Viva Full Featured Mesh Avatar (Level 3), available for free on the SL Marketplace. After playing around with the Kalhene Ariadna full-body mesh avatar, and documenting its strengths and weaknesses (notably, a lack of alpha sections on the HUD and support for clothing alphas), I came back to the Viva mesh body with a renewed appreciation for all the work the creator had put into it. The HUD truly is amazing, allowing you to combine both alpha sections and clothing alphas to make just about any outfit fit!

For example, here is one of my alts, who wears an Akeruka Lulu Bento mesh head (one of their early group gifts), which I have grown attached to and wanted to keep. I originally wore it with a classic, SL system body; Akeruka had provided system skins to match the entire range of the Lulu head’s available skin tones. And for a long time I was happy with that.

But today, I decided to upgrade this avatar to a full mesh body, and while I was thinking about how best to do that for an inexpensively as possible, I remembered the free Viva Bento, Bakes-on-Mesh compatible mesh body and decided to try that again. (I wasn’t too crazy about the head that came included with the Viva mesh body, but that is a separate attachment, and you can use literally any head with it.)

Here is what she looks like now:

The only problem I encountered was that the system skins that came with the Akeruka Lulu head were older, and as a result there were white spots at the nail bases of the mesh fingers. To fix this, I used the free set of Bakes on Mesh feet and finger fixes available at League (exact SLURL):

This avatar is wearing:

Mesh Head: Lulu by Akeruka (L$1 group gift, no longer available; the Akeruka group costs L$150 to join).

Mesh Body: the Viva Full Featured Mesh Avatar (Level 3) from the SL Marketplace.

Skin: I used one of the system skins that came with the Lulu head in a matching skin tone, adding the League Bakes on Mesh finger fix in the pale colour, which was the closest match.

Hair: Chella by Analog Dog (I picked this hairstyle with scarf as a free gift at previous gacha event)

Necklace: Metamorpheses Temple Necklace (a gift from the 2019 BURN2 celebration of Burning Man in Second Life)

Top: Cream embroidered peasant blouse by Petite Mort (this is one of my favourite freebies, available from the excellent freebie store at Ajuda SL Brasil).

Jeans: Skinny jeans from Mara’s Mysteries (a free hunt gift, no longer available).

Flats: Amy flats by Hilly Haalan (free group gift from their freebie store; the group is free to join; I found that the Viva mesh body’s flat feet are compatible with both Maitreya and Belleza flat shoes, but the Belleza ones fit a bit better so I used those)

Bag: Boho Bliss fringe bag (with hold pose) from a previous Witchwood hunt (Witchwood is the sim where the Petite Mort and Oubliette stores are located, and they regularly hold small hunts; I believe I paid only L$10 for this delightful bag!)

TOTAL COST FOR THIS AVATAR: Only L$161! (L$150 to join the Akeruka group, L$1 for the Lulu Bento mesh head, and L$10 for the bag)


I am very pleased with the result of this makeover! After my experiences working with both the Viva and the Ariadna mesh bodies, I can say this: with the advent of competition from free or inexpensive Bakes-on-Mesh compatible, Bento bodies, we are getting closer and closer to the time when stores charging (and users paying) thousands of Linden dollars for a mesh head and/or body is going to become harder and harder to justify. Yes, I know it’s a bold statement; hear me out.

The Viva and Ariadna mesh bodies are just the first shots fired in a war for marketshare between the established, big-name brands (Catwa, LeLutka, Maitreya, Belleza, Signature, Slink, etc.) and the smaller, nimbler upstarts. For now, the big-name brands have better designer support and offer more options, but, as we see with the fully-featured HUD that the Viva mesh body offers, that gap is starting to narrow!

I’d strongly encourage you to take a look at the Viva and Ariadna mesh bodies on the SL Marketplace, and give them both a test run. Although they are not perfect, they do give an indication of the direction the market is moving. The days of paying L$10,000 or more for a full-body mesh avatar may be numbered!

UPDATE June 11th, 2020: The Kalhene Ariadna mesh body has just updated to version 2.0, with alpha layer support (SL Marketplace link). It now has a HUD with alpha cuts and skin shininess levels, addressing some of my most serious concerns about the product.

In these final two pictures, I have combined the beautiful head from the Kalhene Ariadna mesh body with the Viva mesh body, using one of the Bakes on Mesh skins that came with the recent Limited Advanced head group gift from Akeruka:

Looking fabulous for zero Lindens! The Viva mesh body offers many more features on their included superHUD (such as a better selection of alpha sections to choose from, five different fingernail lengths, and three foot height options), which the Kalhene Ariadna body does not have. Here I just picked the shortest nails, in a natural nail colour, to go with this makeup-free look.

One particularly nice feature is the option to alpha out the wrists but not the hands, as I did for this long-sleeved minidress (a gift from Little Fox at the recent Cosmopolitan shopping event anniversary round). Surprisingly few HUDs that come with mesh bodies allow this—even the expensive brand names!

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Second Life Steals, Deals, and Freebies: Pale Beauty

I am in a resolutely foul and cranky mood this evening, for two reasons.

First, I realize that I have spent EIGHTY CANADIAN DOLLARS to change the name of one of my Second Life avatars, which, even for someone who loves SL as much as I do, is an filthy, obscene amount of money; and…

Second, I am still struggling with bouts of anxiety, depression and anger at having to self-isolate in my apartment because of the coronavirus pandemic. I started working from home March 16th, 2020, and I feel as if I am slowly starting to fall apart at the seams, and it hasn’t even been ONE FULL MONTH YET. And today Helen Branswell reports for STAT:

A modeling study on the new coronavirus  warns that intermittent periods of social distancing may need to persist into 2022 in the United States to keep the surge of people severely sickened by Covid-19 from overwhelming the health care system.

The research, published Tuesday in the journal Science, looked at a range of scenarios for how the SARS-CoV-2 virus will spread over the next five years. Those scenarios included variables like whether people who are infected develop short-term immunity — less than a year — or longer-term protection. But, overall, the research concludes it is unlikely that life will return any time soon to the way it was before the virus’ emergence.

2022? 2022?!??

And, just to add insult to injury, I have developed an ugly, painful reddish-brown rash on the backs of my thighs from spending 16-to-18 hour days perched in front of my personal computer, sitting on one of my wooden kitchen chairs, and it has has just made me even more cranky, upset and ill-tempered. (I plan to drive out to my office in the science library tomorrow, to pick up my lushly upholstered and much-missed executive office chair, praying to God that I can fit it into the back of my subcompact car, so I can bring it home.)

As a virtual hermit who largely lives his life on the internet, all of a sudden I can no longer sit for long periods in front of my computer! (So much for my admittedly unhealthy coping mechanism.) In between sessions on my PC, I lie on the sofa, with my legs propped up, rubbing a corticosteroid cream originally prescribed for my eczema on my thighs, seething.

So, no, I am NOT a happy camper today. I am not a happy camper at all.

However, I still take some small amount of pleasure from my weird little hobby of designing a complete Second Life avatar look from head to toe. So tonight, I have plunked down an avatar at the side of the (New) Frank’s Jazz Club, listening to the music stream as I lie on the sofa:

Here’s a few more shots of my avatar from the front:

This avatar is wearing:

Mesh Head: The Limited Edition Bento head from Akeruka (L$1 group gift; the Akeruka group costs L$150 to join, and I would strongly urge you to pick up this Bakes on Mesh head before it’s gone, which comes in eight different skin tones and with matching skin appliers for Maitreya, Belleza, Slink, and Omega-compatible mesh bodies included). The beautiful mesh eyes are also included in the package.

Mesh Body: Juliet by Altamura (a limited-time group gift from Valentine’s Day 2019, which I turn to again and again on this blog; at the time I joined the Altamura group it was only L$50, but it now costs L$100 to join their group; this Juliet body is now for sale at the full price). In order to use the Serenity II skin below, I needed to buy and install the Omega system kit for Altamura (available for L$99 at this exact SLURL), as well as use the free Bakes on Mesh relay available at the Altamura store.

Skin: This beautiful pale Serenity II skin with blonde eyebrows is a Bakes on Mesh skin by Alaskametro (available for free from The Free Dove freebie store). This was my inspiration to get creative tonight!

Hair: This elegant updo is called NO.KEY and is by NO.MATCH (it was a freebie during a short period of time last year when the store was giving away a free gift each day).

Dress: This truly lovely retro Celebrate Spring! dress in opal is by steampunk/historical roleplay outfitter Cog & Fleur, and it was a free hunt prize in their recently-concluded Good Eggs hunt.

Shoes: Jai pumps by Rowne (free group gift; unfortunately, the Rowne store seems to have disappeared from the grid).

Necklace: This is an oldie but a goodie: the Glazed Heart necklace from Eolande’s (remember them? they have long since closed up shop).

TOTAL COST FOR THIS AVATAR: L$300 (L$151 total for the Akeruka head, L$50 to join the Altamura group to get the Juliet body, and L$99 for the Altamura Omega system kit)

Second Life Steals, Deals, and Freebies: The Limited Akeruka Bakes on Mesh Bento Mesh Head

Akeruka posted the following message to their group, called [AK] Heads News & Support:

Hi ladies, since we all are in this incredible hard time because of coronavirus, we thought about giving to you all ladies a bit of happiness doing this amazing GROUP GIFT; [it] is a LIMITED head, this head will NEVER be sold after it.

We don’t know until how much time it will be as gift, we will just wait [for] the things to get better in our life.

Guys, I know you want a gift as well but we are still working on [a] beta male Advanced head. Soon more news for you guys!!!

If you are not already a member of the [AK] Heads News & Support group, it will cost you L$150 to join it. Then visit the Akeruka store (here’s the SLURL) and click on either the big poster up top, or the three smaller ones underneath it. Pay the vendor L$1, and you will receive the Akeruka Limited head package.

As you can imagine, the store is quite busy, and it might take you a little while to be able to teleport in. In a second message to the group, the owner of Akeruka added:

Ladies, the gift will stay DAYS so [you] don’t need to rush, and do not click multiple times on vendor, it will not make difference, [the] vendor is processing all deliveries, so [you] need to be patient!!

So, if you can’t get into the packed sim, use a tool like the handy free Teleport Hammer, or be patient and wait a few days. But please, don’t wait forever!

Also, and this is a very important point: Limited is the name of the head, but this does NOT mean this is a head with limited features. This head is Bento and fully-adjustable. The package comes with many extras and nice additions.

Instead, Limited only refers to the fact that this is a limited-time offer, and after it is over, this head will no longer be available for purchase, unlike the past group gifts of Akeruka Bento heads, which would then be placed for sale at the regular price. Once this head is gone, it’s gone.

One more very important thing about the Limited head is that it is 100% Bales on Mesh. There are no skin appliers for this head, unlike previous group gifts; there’s just a folder of system skins in eight skin tones (in versions with and without eyebrows), and a folder of tintable eyebrow, blush, and hair base tattoos.

The Akeruka skin tones have quite a range. Here is the darkest skin tone of the eight (the eyes are mesh, they are included in the package and their colour can be changed on the HUD):

And here is the lightest, which would work well for goth girls and vampires! The alien version of the eyes is also included as an option in the Limited head HUD. Included in the Limited head package is a separate teeth HUD, which gives you the options of monster or vampire teeth—a nice touch, and something to keep in mind if you do vampire roleplay in Second Life.

I must confess that I spent a quarter of an hour tearing my hear out, trying to pull a look together using this new Limited head! No matter what I did, the Limited head remained a stubborn red colour. I was obviously doing something wrong, but what?

You see, I had paired it with the Altamura Juliet mesh body I had picked up as a group gift on Valentine’s Day in 2019, adding the Altamura Omega system kit (available for L$99 at this exact SLURL) to it, so that I could apply matching body skin. (The Limited head package contains a separate box to unpack, which contains body skin appliers in all eight Akeruka skin tones for Maitreya, Belleza, Slink, and Omega-compatible mesh bodies, so you should be all set to go without having to purchase anything else, something I have always liked about the Akeruka group gifts. Other stores sometimes offer a free head, but then you have to shell out for matching body skin.)

What I did wrong was, without thinking, I automatically added the default body-and-head alpha from the Altamura Juliet package like I usually do in setting up a new head and body from scratch, completely forgetting that you need to remove all alphas for Bakes on Mesh to work! Once I took off the Altamura body-and-head alpha, and put on a body-only alpha which was part of a freebie version of the eBody Curvy mesh body which I had in my inventory, I was then able to see the skin properly on the Limited head. It just took me a while to figure out.

So, let’s take a look at our finished avatar!

This avatar is wearing:

  • Mesh Head: Limited head (L$1 group gift from Akeruka; it costs L$150 to join their group)
  • Mesh Body: Juliet by Altamura (a limited-time group gift from Valentine’s Day 2019; at the time I joined the Altamura group it was only L$50, but it now costs L$100 to join their group; this Juliet body is now for sale at the full price)
  • Head and Body Skin: Akeruka skin tone 4 (part of the Limited head package; I bought an Omega System kit for Altamura for L$99 and used the matching Omega body skin applier that was also part of the Limited head package)
  • Hair: Iris by D!va (free group gift located on the other side of the wall behind the front counter; the group is free to join)
  • Dress: Kattie by Arcane Spellcaster (purchased using a free group gift card last year; at that time the group was free to join)
  • Shoes: Sonnet pumps by Hilly Haalan (free group gift; group is free to join)
  • Animation Override: Chubby Girl AO by [ImpEle] (unfortunately, this free product is no longer on the SL Marketplace). This is a nice, simple, calm, free AO with no crazy movements. The Limited head includes a complete facial animation HUD in the package. The Altamura Juliet mesh body comes with natural Bento hand animations built in.

TOTAL COST FOR THIS AVATAR: L$300 (L$151 for the Akeruka head, L$50 for the Altamura group fee at the time I joined it, and L$99 for the Altamura Omega system kit)

Editorial: The Bento Head Wars of Second Life Have Begun in Earnest

For the longest time, Catwa absolutely ruled the Bento mesh head market, almost having a monopoly. But I get the impression that they are now under attack from all sides lately, and possibly losing market share.

The Genus Project has truly fired a shot across the bow with their release of the completely free, absolutely gorgeous Strong Face Bento mesh head group gift, which comes with a couple of fully-featured HUDs (including some things that Catwa used to charge extra for, after you shelled out L$5,000 for one of their heads). Seriously, this has got to be one of the best freebies I have ever picked up in Second Life, and I have seen one hell of a lot of freebies in my 14 years in SL!

I did a little tinkering with the free Strong Face head, and last year’s free group gift of the Altamura Juliet body, and I came up with the following look, which I am rather pleased with:

This avatar is wearing:

Mesh Head: Strong Face by Genus Project (free group gift; includes the mesh eyes)

Mesh Body: Juliet from Altamura (free group gift from Valentine’s Day 2019)

Skin Applier: Mila in the Milk skin tone, from Insol (dollarbie hunt prize in their current hunt); matching Omega body skin applier is free!

Lipstick Applier: free group gift from D’Selles from last year’s eBENTO Advent calendar

Hair: Bella hair in blonde (free Advent calendar gift from JUMO)

Ballgown: Cannes ballgown (free gift from Son!a Edge from the Valentine’s Day Shop and Hop event)

Necklace and Bracelet: Wild Whimsy by Chop Zuey (former free gift from The Free Dove)

Shoes (Not Shown): Sonnet pumps (free group gift from Hilly Haalan)

Animation Override: Chubby Girl AO by [ImpEle] (free from the SL Marketplace). This is a nice, simple, calm, free AO with no crazy movements. I added a free, separate Bento hand animator from the Altamura Juliet package. I am also using the Basic Animation HUD that was included with the Strong Face head by Genus Project.

TOTAL COST FOR THIS AVATAR: Only L$200! (L$100 to join the Altamura group, L$99 for the Omega system kit for Altamura mesh bodies, and L$1 for the Insol skin applier.) If this isn’t proof that you can have a stunning-looking avatar in Second Life without spending a lot of Linden dollars, I don’t know what is. I mean, that works out to less than one U.S. dollar, folks!

This is genius advertising for Genus Project heads, and if I were Catwa, I would be worried. Akeruka has also been slowly chipping away at Catwa’s lead with semi-annual free group gifts of Bento mesh head gifts over the past few years (although they seem to have stopped now). Other Bento mesh head retailers are having sales more often, I notice. Add in the recent avalanche of free and inexpensive Bakes-on-Mesh compatible Bento mesh heads, and the writing is truly on the wall for Catwa.

It didn’t help that, back in 2018, Catwa threatened rival Bento head creators Akeruka and GA.EG with a lawsuit, saying that they had copied the Catwa head UV map (The Whisperer website has all the receipts). Eventually, Linden Lab was forced to release a statement to respond to the brouhaha. Catwa was widely seen as bullying other, smaller Bento head creators, and as a result the company lost a lot of goodwill and respect among SL users.

The question is: how will Catwa respond to the Bento Head Wars? Will they hold their head high, pretend nothing has changed, and continue to charge L$5,000 for their heads? (To be fair, most other well-known Bento head brands cost a similar amount.) Will they lower their prices, throw more sales, perhaps even give away a free gift of their own?

Things are getting very interesting…please discuss amongst yourselves, and feel free to leave a comment with your own thoughts on the matter. Who do you think is winning the Bento Head Wars?

The free Strong Face mesh head group gift from the Genus Project
is truly a shot across the bow at Catwa…