Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Repeating myself

(I've written about this before, but a recent entry on Cheyenne's blog set me to thinking about it again. It still seems a good idea to me. For those who don't doggedly track through every single entry in this blog (not that I expect anyone to do that!), I bring it up again.)

In Second Life, clothing initially was, and mostly still is,
trompe l’oeil body paint. We mostly walk around in SL like Demi Moore on that Vanity Fair cover—but she had the advantage of being in a still photo. We move, and the illusion is harder to maintain with motion and being visible from nearly every point of view.

With time, couturiers added attachments. A majority of skirts now are essentially lots of strips of cloth sewn together at the waist along with “glitchpants,” pants intended to match the pattern of the strips lest the vagaries of SL physics move the strips so as to reveal too much. Bell-bottomed jeans now use attachments to get their shape.

I hasten to add that I write this to point out SL’s limitations, and the genius of the clothiers of Second Life. Like the makers of furry avatars, tinies, macros, and prim breasts, their products are a tribute to their ingenuity in overcoming those limitations.

We all know the distinction between custom (“bespoke” if you’re English) and prêt à porter (“ready-to-wear”) clothing. Perhaps you think of Second Life clothing as prêt à porter… but it isn’t, not really. In First Life, aside from the rare “one size fits all” items (and do they, really?), ready-to-wear clothing is on the racks and shelves in various sizes. It has to be; matter’s funny that way, and economies of scale are such that automated one-off clothing is still rare.

Second Life clothing, however, is one size fits all, or more accurately, one size fits the shape the clothier used:
  • You can, within limits, adjust the lengths of the prims that comprise prim skirts, but that stretches or shrinks their texture, making them inconsistent with the glitchpants. If your legs are longer than the shape used to design the outfit, the glitchpants become longer than the prim skirt. Shortening glitchpants in the Appearance menu has the same effect as cutting strips off.

  • Adjusting body part size stretches or shrinks the texture applied to it when you put on an outfit. Stretch it too far, it becomes a blur; in any case it may wind up inconsistent with the same texture on another piece of the outfit if the relative body part sizes don’t match their ratio on the shape the clothier used.

What can be done?

The only way I can see is that clothes have to have associated scripts that can access the parameters of your shape, so that they can generate a custom version for you. To minimize overhead, it should only be done when you first put the clothing on, and afterwards only when you have fiddled with relevant body part sliders. The result will be SL clothing as it is now, so that it’s not as if everybody who sees you is slowed down any more than they are now.

Since clothing would be generated by scripts, the original form wouldn’t have to be that used in clothing as it is now. For example, textures could be vector graphics, to avoid the problems of scaling raster graphics...

...or in some cases there wouldn’t be initial textures at all, and it would all be done in code. Alan Turing didn’t spend all his time putting computing on a solid formal ground or breaking ciphers. He also studied how the patterns on animals’ fur and shells form and how to model them mathematically. Look up images with the search string “Turing patterns.” Not only could it be usable for clothing (virtual fur coats, anyone?), it could lead to high-quality skins for furries.

There's been a lot of talk about how freebies are ruining things for SL clothiers. If you had a choice between a gown that looked OK, but it's not floor length for you like it was in the picture, etc., etc., and a gown that, when you put it on, adjusts itself precisely to your shape, which would you choose? What would that be worth to you? Second Life clothing doesn't wear out, so to get people to keep buying, clothiers, like everyone else, have to continue to top themselves, to get enough better to be worth the money. That takes ingenuity, but eventually even great ingenuity runs up against SL’s limitations. Miriel Enfield closed her store for that reason.

I've put up a JIRA request,
VWR-10839, to allow the association of code with clothing. If this seems worthwhile to you, I hope you'll vote for it.

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