Editorial: Why Unoptimized Mesh Bodies and Content Are a Problem in Second Life—And Why Most SL Users Don’t Care

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Image of a well-optimized mesh avatar body with a lower triangle count
(from New World Notes)

I am going to broach an unpopular topic in Second Life. (Some have even warned me that I might get hate mail from some readers.)

Wagner James Au has been writing his blog about Second Life since the very beginning of the platform, and he has seen a lot come and go in his time. One of his regular rants lately has been about just how horribly unoptimized and inefficient many of the modern mesh avatar bodies are in Second Life. (Frankly, it’s not just mesh bodies; there is quite a bit of other poorly-constructed content in SL—houses, furniture, decorations, etc.—with sky-high rendering costs. Part of the problem is that Linden Lab doesn’t want to break any old content if they can help it.)

Why is this so important? Well, the more complex your avatar is, the more effort it takes for the graphics card in your computer to calculate and display what you see correctly on your screen. And it’s not just your mesh avatar; it’s everybody else’s mesh avatar who is on the same sim as you, plus all the scenery around you, too! Every Second Life user has experienced irritating delays in rendering scenery when they first spawn on a new sim, and significant lag at busy events where there a large number of avatars to render. These problems have been going on for years and years now.

The problem is that Wagner is pretty much beating a dead horse with his critiques. Most Second Life users care only about how good their avatar looks, and they don’t know (or don’t care) about how much unoptimized mesh content negatively impacts SL and other users, particularly those on older, slower computers. I myself have an absolute beast of a gaming computer, built especially to support my Oculus Rift VR headset and to run VR games and apps at the requisite 90 frames per second (to avoid VR-induced nausea). I routinely run my Firestorm viewer for SL at the maximum, Ultra quality settings, and usually my computer handles everything just fine.

Linden Lab well knows that this can be a problem, and some years ago they introduced something called the Avatar Rendering Cost (ARC for short). Here’s a summary of how ARC is calculated. Basically, it is a figure calculated for each avatar on a sim, based on whether they have a classic or mesh avatar, what they are wearing (clothes, hair, shoes, accessories), etc. Showing the ARC on yourself and other avatars is easy to turn on in Firestorm: just press Ctrl-P to bring up the Preferences panel, click on the General tab on the top left-hand side, and check the box next to “Show avatar complexity”:

Many SL viewers will allow you to automatically derender avatars whose ARC is above a certain limit (which means offenders will appear as the so-called “jelly dolls”). This feature can improve Second Life performance significantly for some users. (Like I said, I have my settings adjusted to properly view everybody around me on a sim, regardless of how high their ARC is. I want to see what everybody is wearing, dammit! I often find new stores to visit and new things to buy by doing a right click/inspect on avatars around me. I can’t do that if they are derendered! But obviously, there is a significant rendering cost on my computer, especially at busy events.)

But today’s discussion of this topic on the #second-life channel on the RyanSchultz.com Discord server really brought home to me just how serious the problem of unoptimized, inefficient mesh can be in SL. Recently, a Second Life vlogger named Cassie Middles created a chart showing how many triangles make up each of the popular mesh bodies. (Here’s a direct link to the Google spreadsheet she created. The higher the number of triangles, the more complex the object, and the harder your computer graphics card has to work in order to render it properly. As well as everybody else’s computer.)

One of the mind-blowing facts I learned today is that the brand new Legacy mesh body (just the naked body with hands and feet, without any clothes, shoes, jewelry, a mesh head, hair, etc.) comes out to a whopping 794,368 triangles!

To put that astronomical figure into some perspective, someone said that that number is significantly higher than the rendering cost of an entire match of Overwatch players (two teams of six avatars each, at an average triangle count of 40,270 triangles per character, for a total of 483,240 triangles). That is truly insane! And the feet alone on the new Legacy mesh body come to 380,368 triangles! Mind you, most games are deliberately designed to be as optimized as possible, but nobody needs that level of complexity! It is complete overkill.

But, as I said, writing about this is kind of like closing the barn door after the horse has bolted. There is really no incentive for mesh body makers (and other mesh content makers) to create and sell better-optimized mesh in Second Life, and no penalty if they don’t. Linden Lab does not ban or restrict avatars for having very high rendering costs. For example, here is one outfit I put together for my main avatar, Vanity Fair, which has a total Avatar Rendering Cost of 702,597! This means that, when I wear this lovely outfit to a place like Frank’s Jazz Club, I am pretty much seen as a jelly doll (i.e. derendered) by everybody around me. In other words, I am only dressing to be seen by me.

If I take off the three sets of shimmery flexiprims that are part of the skirt of this beautiful gown, the ARC drops to 108,365. If I remove the jewelry, the ARC goes down to a quite reasonable 59,575 (some older jewelry in particular can be quite badly optimized):

Even making these simple changes to an outfit can make a big difference to performance (for you and others), especially at crowded events.

So, even though it might be a losing battle, I might just decide to add my voice to Wagner’s about the proper optimization of mesh content in Second Life. I still think it’s a losing battle, though. Most SL consumers could care less.

I think that the best that we can do at this stage is two things:

  1. Promote awareness of the problems of unoptimized, inefficent content among Second Life consumers (for example, including triangle counts or some other complexity measurement in SL Marketplace listings of products);
  2. Educate SL content creators to make more efficient mesh by using proper decimation and other techniques in tools such as Maya, 3ds Max, and Blender.

Yes, it’s an uphill battle, but it’s worth fighting for a better-performing Second Life for everybody, don’t you agree?

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Sansar Avatar Clothing: Are We Going to See a Repeat of What Happened in Second Life, With Designers Having to Create Separate Versions for Multiple Brands of Mesh Avatar Bodies?

This red ballgown by Nicky Ree Designs is all system layer clothing with a flexiprim skirt, worn on a classic, system avatar with a Catwa Bento mesh head and Slink hands. Bakes on Mesh now allows you to wear this outfit on a fully mesh avatar like Maitreya Lara.

In the early, pre-mesh days of Second Life (before 2011), avatar clothing designers had it pretty easy. All clothing for the classic, system avatars was applied on overlapping layers, with extra prims for features like sleeves and collars and flexiprims to simulate flowing clothing like skirts and cloaks. It was simple, everybody knew how to use it, and best of all, it worked with any combination of avatar body sliders: fat, thin, muscular, short, tall…

When mesh clothing started to make an appearance, around 2011, it was still mostly designed for classic, system avatars. With the addition of an alpha which removed the parts of your body covered by the outfit, it still worked well. Clothing creators pretty much adhered to the agreed-upon five “standard sizes” for classic avatars, which meant that if your avatar was one of these five sizes (i.e. adjusted to fit a specific predefined set of body slider numbers), your clothing pretty much fit you perfectly. A more complicated system, but still fairly easy to understand and use.

However, with the advent of mesh avatar bodies, avatar fashion designers faced a much more daunting task. Clothing makers now had to learn how to rig their outfits for an ever-growing, seemingly endless number of mesh bodies. Even worse, clothing rigged for a specific mesh body might not work with a different mesh body!

Strawberry Singh used to run an annual mesh body parts survey, and the results of the 2018 survey showed the most popular options at that time:

Women’s Mesh Bodies

  • Maitreya Lara
  • Belleza Freya, Isis, and Venus
  • Slink Physique and Hourglass
  • Abar eBody Classic and Curvy
  • Tonic Fine and Curvy
  • Altamura
  • Kemono
  • V-Tech for Maitreya
  • Ocacin Standard and Voluptuous

Men’s Mesh Bodies

  • Belleza Jake
  • Singature Gianni and Geralt
  • Slink Physique
  • EXMACHINA Davide
  • Altamura

That’s a whopping 15 options for women and 6 for men! Most avatar fashion designers decided to deal with this situation by restricting the mesh bodies that they would design for.

In most cases, for women’s clothing, this has meant rigging for only six of the most popular mesh bodies:

  • Maitreya Lara
  • Belleza Freya
  • Belleza Isis
  • Belleza Venus
  • Slink Physique
  • Slink Hourglass

(An increasing number of designers are now also creating clothing to fit the new Legacy avatar by The Mesh Project, in come cases dropping one of the “top Six” mesh bodies listed above to incorporate it.)

Obviously, this situation in Second Life is far from ideal, either for creators or consumers. Newer mesh body creators like Altamura must feel like they’re bashing their head against a brick wall trying to get designers to create clothing specifically for their bodies.

Linden Lab wants to avoid this nightmare in Sansar, by eventually releasing a completely adjustable human(oid) avatar on which all Marvelous-Designer-created clothing will fit. However, at a recent in-world Product Meetup, it was revealed that Marvelous Designer clothing is limited in how much it can be adjusted. For example, while it can be easily scaled (resized), it will not be possible to make just the sleeves of shirts or just the legs of pants longer, for example.

At the moment, we are all in an uncomfortable interim situation with human avatars in Sansar, waiting for the full body deformation capabilities that Linden Lab tells us is coming within the next 4-6 months.

In the meantime, we are already beginning to see some Sansar avatar fashion designers start to make multiple versions of clothing for different popular custom avatars (which are non-adjustable/static), like this Harley Quinn outfit from Daisy Winthorpe:

In addition to a version for the new Avatar 2.0 female body, Daisy has released versions for Fabeeo Breen’s Daphne custom avatar and Cora’s line of Alina custom avatars:

Frankly, until Linden Lab releases the final version of its human avatars with full body deformation features, I am reluctant to buy any clothing from the Sansar Store. There is also going to be a trial-and-error period where we figure out what works and what doesn’t with these upcoming avatars. Hopefully, incorporating Marvelous Designer clothing will still prove to be a satisfactory solution for most people.

Linden Lab is working hard to try and save avatar clothing designers from the problems that have occurred in Second Life with multiple competing brands of mesh bodies. However, it might still happen that we will see the same problems happen all over again in Sansar. Only time will tell. Let’s keep our fingers crossed and hope for the best.

Second Life Steals, Deals, and Freebies: Altamura Clodet Full-Body Female Mesh Avatar

As you might have noticed, I am taking a bit of break over the holidays from blogging, but I did want to mention yet another free full-body female mesh avatar from Altamura, called Clodet. You can pick up Clodet at three vendors located behind the Christmas tree at the Altamura store (just pay the vendor L$1 and it will be refunded):

Clodet 3 28 Dec 2018.jpg

As with past freebies from Altamura, you cannot remove the head on this one, but with such a beautiful head, you might not mind so much! To my knowledge, Clodet is the first of the free mesh bodies from Altamura to have a blonde hairbase (which you can remove).

Clodet 1 28 Dec 2018.jpg

Clodet 2 28 Dec 2018

Here’s an overall look at the avatar:

Clodet 6 28 Dec 2018.jpg

Clodet 5 28 Dec 2018.jpg

This avatar is wearing:

Mesh Head and Body: Altamura Clodet full-body mesh avatar (free)

Hair: Green Tea by Navy and Copper (free group gift; group is free to join)

Dress: Guapa holiday minidress by Altamura (free 12 Days of Christmas gift #3 under the Christmas tree at Altamura; the Altamura group costs L$25 to join during the holidays, 50% off the regular price of L$50)

Shoes: Jai pumps by Rowne (free gift at the Shop & Hop Christmas Mall; also a free group gift at the Rowne mainstore, along with many others; the Rowne group is free to join)

Body AO: Chubby Girl AO by [ImpEle] (free from the SL Marketplace)

Hands AO: included with the Altamura Clodet body

TOTAL COST FOR THIS AVATAR: L$25 (the group join fee for Altamura)

A 15-Minute Second Life Avatar Makeover: Mary Poppins!

Have you joined the RyanSchultz.com Discord yet? More details here. If you love to talk about Second Life and avatar fashion, please come over and join us! We’d love to have you. My Discord is a cross-worlds server, where we can talk about any and all aspects of social VR and virtual worlds, or just chat about virtual reality and augmented reality experiences in general.


Time for another of my 15-minute avatar makeovers! This time I am starting with an alt which I created to be Mary Poppins. Here’s the “Before” shot, a classic system avatar with flexiprim clothing, and a neat umbrella I got years ago from an AM Radio experience, that opens up when your avatar flies:

Mary Poppins

Well, as it turns out, Belle Epoque is having a 50% off sale on everything in her store, including items from her gacha machines! And one of those gacha machines was selling pieces of this Mary-Poppins-themed outfit:

Belle Epoque Mary Poppins 23 NOv 2018

So… after spending L$725 to get almost all of the pieces in this gacha, here is what my Mary Poppins avatar looks like now:

Mary Poppins 1 23 Nov 2018Mary Poppins 2 23 Nov 2018Mary Poppins 5 23 Nov 2018Mary Poppins 4 23 Nov 2018

This avatar is wearing:

Mesh Head and Body: Jenny Altamura body from the Freebie Warehouse at London City (free; more information is available here)

Hair: free Pulled Back Bun (brown) from the Library / Accessories / Hair Design Options / Pulled Back Bun folder in your SL inventory. Free, adjustable, tintable, uncomplicated.

Complete Mary Poppins Outfit (Everything Except Umbrella): Belle Poppins gacha at Belle Epoque (only L$25 per try during their 50%-off Black Friday sale, Nov. 23rd to 26th)

Black Umbrella: a free gift from an old AM Radio art experience, which sadly is no longer available in Second Life

TOTAL COST FOR THIS AVATAR: L$725 (but you might be lucky and get it for much cheaper!)

Note: I do not normally play gacha machines in Second Life, but because I already had a Mary Poppins avatar that I wanted to upgrade to mesh, I decided to break my rule. I consider gacha machines in SL to be a form of gambling, and I know that some people have problems with gambling and setting limits. Only you can decide whether or not to play gacha machines in Second Life, and play them responsibly. Take care.