Have you read? Editorial: Why Second Life Is the Perfect Model of a Mature, Fully Evolved Virtual World for Newer Social VR Platforms to Emulate (in case you were wondering why I still write about Second Life when there are so many other, newer metaverse platforms out there I could cover).
I plan to return to regular blogging, on a wide variety of topics, soon, so please stay tuned! Thanks. ❤️
One of the biggest problems Second Life has had to face in its now 20-year history is a high level of user turnover. Literally millions of people have signed up for an SL account over the years, and then most of them bailed soon afterwards because of the relatively steep learning curve (or for other reasons, like the fact that the platform is open-ended, as opposed to a game with a pre-set play structure).
As avatar technology has evolved over time, most veteran Second Life users opted to upgrade their default classic, system avatars with mesh heads and bodies, sold by any number of vendors seeking to capitalize on the universal desire to look as good as possible in the virtual world!
However, making the move from one of the default, classic starter avatars to a mesh head and body can often be a daunting undertaking. Two years ago, I helped a friend, who had much experience in many social VR platforms, get set up from scratch in Second Life, writing:
I thought for sure that it would take no time at all to upgrade his avatar from the classic, system options to a fully-mesh version. How wrong I was. And the experience was a real eye-opener to me, and illustrates what is still one of the biggest problems in Second Life: setting up a mesh avatar is an exercise fraught with confusion and frustration, and it’s just too steep a learning curve for people (even metaverse experts!).
In fact, Wagner James Au of the New World Notes blog compares this process to “leveling up” in an MMO game, which I think is a rather apt analogy. You can take a look at another user’s Second Life avatar in-world, and tell at a glance if they had “leveled up” or not (the hands and feet were a big giveaway), even leading in some cases to a sort of snobby “meshist” attitude towards those still rocking more dated-looking bodies.
So, in an ongoing effort to make things easier for new users, Linden Lab has provided what we call starter avatars: you can make a quick selection from a menu (either while creating your account on the Second Life website, or later on when in-world), which gave newcomers a choice of a variety of curated looks and outfits, to help them get started in their first few days of wandering and teleporting around the grid and meeting new people.
And yesterday, on August 1st, 2023, Linden Lab announced a new line of fully-customizable mesh starter avatars, called Senra. (Note that this is not he first time Linden Lab has released mesh avatars; there was a failed attempt back in 2014.* It would appear that the company has learned a few lessons from that failure in this new launch, such as including a decent-sized capsule wardrobe for these new mesh avatars, and expressing a desire to work with fashion designers to create apparel.)
First, before you do anything, please watch this well-crafted, ten-minute YouTube video by Boston Blaisdale, part of the Second Life University series, explaining how the new Senra line of starter avatars works, and how to easily get started. Please note that the instructions are different for people setting up a brand new account from scratch, as opposed to those who have already set up an account!
The Senra line consists of two completely mesh bodies: the masculine Blake, and the feminine Jamie. Both bodies, from head to toe, use Bakes on Mesh (BoM), which gets rid of the need to use Omega or another kind of applier system. Both Blake and Jamie come with six different skin tones (with matching short fingernails and toenails), 11 different colours of eyebrows (including a tintable version; these are found in the hair folder), plus your choice of 10 different eye colours.
Each body comes with a complete capsule wardrobe, consisting of a variety of tops, bottoms, dresses, footwear, and hairstyles to choose from. All apparel comes in multiple colours and/or textures, and each item comes with an alpha for your avatar to wear, to hide any part of your mesh body which might poke through the clothing.
I started with the Senra Jamie female mesh body, and I picked a somewhat curvier shape from the six included female shapes as my starting point, picking out some canvas shoes, skinny jeans, and a Senra-branded white T-shirt:
Here’s a closeup of the face. This is a definitely an improvement over the old classic, system avatar head! (I would probably fiddle a bit with the eyebrows, but for something straight out of the box, it’s beautiful.)
Here’s a dressier look with a different hairstyle (there are nine of them in total, with hairbases and/or mesh hair in nine styles, 10 colours each):
There’s a (tintable) bikini/underwear top and bottom in the skins folder, as shown below (I gave up on the included female animation override, which had too many poses with arms raised, replacing it with a less model-like AO from my inventory):
The hands, feet, and head are particularly lovely, and the six starter shapes give you a number of starting points in customizing the body to your liking; I find this body adjusts well to the body sliders, although I must confess I wish I could get a bit more arm fat/muscle on Jamie! I could take this starter avatar to any beach in Second Life, and she would fit in very well amongst all the other store-brand mesh bodies catching some virtual rays and waves!
Now on to the Blake body. Here’s what he looks like:
The male skins are serviceable. but still a little too unblemished and “pretty” for my tastes (there are no facial hair options, a surprising omission). I was also unhappy with the rather soft look to the default male head and face shape, so I spent a lot of time fiddling with the sliders to make it look less rounded and more angular, with some success:
Again, this starter avatar would fit in well in a crowd of brand-name mesh bodies at any SL event.
Now for the fun part: all of these outfits, plus many more options not shown here, plus all the footwear and all the hairstyles, are unisex! Yes, even the dresses. So, for fun, I had my test avatars switch outfits:
These starter mesh bodies let you express your gender in any way you want—especially since you can play around with the body sliders on both the male and female bodies to get just about any look you can imagine! Here’s the same two Jamie and Blake bodies as pictured above, but with completely different shapes and animation overrides (it is possible to set the sliders on Jamie’s breasts down to zero):
Now, keep in mind that the target audience for the Senra line of mesh starter avatars is Second Life newbies who are just getting started, not those of us who are more experienced users. Jamie and Blake are bodies intended to make new user set-up as painless as possible, while still giving them a modern, fully customizable mesh body with a capsule wardrobe. It is expected that most new users will eventually want to move on from Senra mesh bodies to other brands of mesh bodies on the marketplace, with much better feature sets and even more options. As an example, there are no HUDs that come with these bodies, like most name-brand ones have.
Also, all the footwear options for both Jamie and Blake are for flat feet. NO HIGH HEELS! If you want that right out of the gate, then Senra is not for you. Likewise, there are no facial hair options or tattoo options in the starter package. The starter AOs, particularly the feminine one for Jamie, are just okay, but nothing special. Again, please remember, these are intended for new users.
According to the official announcement from Linden Lab:
We’re excited to announce the launch of our new Starter Avatars! These avatars, called Senra, are a fresh mesh take on the classic Second Life avatar, with a customizable modern and stylish look. These avatars will give new residents the opportunity to get started with a mesh body and personalize their own unique look the very first time they log in to Second Life and get a taste for the endless possibilities of avatar customization available to SL Residents.
The Senra avatars come with a variety of body shapes, skins, and hair styles. We’ve also created a whole new wardrobe of clothes that are specifically designed for these avatars. There are more than a billion possible combinations, so you’re sure to find the perfect look. The Senra avatars and clothing have been designed so that any avatar looks great with any clothing. Mix and match to your heart’s content!
We’re also pleased to announce that we’ll be providing dev kits for creators to make their own clothes for the Senra avatars. That way new and established residents alike will have plenty of ways to express themselves and create amazing new looks for the Senra avatars.
If you’re new to Second Life, or if you’re just ready for a new look, we encourage you to check out the new Senra Avatars. We think you’ll love them!
As I said up top, I think that Linden Lab has learned from their previous mistakes in releasing a set of failed mesh starter avatars several years ago, and it looks as though they have put a lot more thought and effort into launching these new starter avatars, and creating an ecosystem so that content creators can make skins, clothing, shoes, etc. for them.
Best of all, they’re free! So try them out, and let me know what you think about them.
P.S. I forgot to mention that I have not yet had an opportunity to test out mixing and matching Senra heads and bodies with other brands of mesh heads, mesh bodies, skins, makeup, etc. My friend Dreamer Pixelmaid did report that she was able to pair a Lelutka head successfully with the Senra Jamie body, however, so it sounds promising! Here’s a picture she shared with me (see image, right):
*A little bit of SL history: the 2014 mesh starter avatars which Linden Lab launched were so bad, that many new resident welcome areas warned newbies not to use them! One glaring flaw was that you were pretty much stuck with the clothing they came with, as nobody else made anything that would fit these bodies! They died a slow, lingering death, and were eventually quietly dropped completely by Second Life, to live on in horror stories told by oldbies to newbies while roasting prim marshmallows around the pixel campfire … 😉
UPDATE 3:15 p.m.: In their official announcement, Linden Lab refers to the Senra mesh bodies as “beta,” which I assume means that there will probably still be some tweaks and adjustments made in response to user feedback. There has been much discussion about Senra on the Second Life community forums already, including a growing thread of images.
Speaking of images, Dreamer Pixelmaid has started a brand-new Flickr gallery for people to post pictures of avatars wearing the Senra Blake and Jamie bodies. You can visit it here.
UPDATE Aug. 4th, 2023: I have spent the evening playing around with some of the older skins in the inventory of my oldest male alt, and I gotta tellya, some of those old male Belleza skins look really good on the Senra Blake body! Here’ s one avatar look I was quite happy with, using the Belleza Ewan 0 tan skin with a black hairbase and some free hair I picked up years ago (click to see these images in full size):
There are only two problems: one, the fingertips will be a different colour (see image one below), so you will definitely need to use something like Sweet’s free tintable Quick Nail Cover Fix on the SL Marketplace (see image two below).
And the second problem? When he blinks, the eyebrows get slightly deeper, LOL! Something you can’t tell from my still photos… 😉 but overall, I am very happy with this final result!