I’m prefacing this article by saying I’m not a fashion blogger, nor am I particularly fashion-oriented SL purchaser. So this piece isn’t an examination of “Liquid Mesh” clothing from a fashion / fit standpoint. Nor is it intended to be an in-depth technical examination of the technique and how it deforms, its pros and cons, creation issues, etc. It is simply intended to offer up general information on what the technique is, what the concerns are, and how people might best determine whether it is an option for them.
A Little Bit o’ History
When the capability to support mesh within SL was first being developed, that it could be used to create clothing etc., didn’t appear to factor into the Lab’s thinking, and so how such items might be made to fit avatar shapes properly wasn’t of major concern to them. However, during the Mesh Closed Beta, a method was proposed whereby wearables could be weighed to the avatar’s collision volumes, a technique which, if used, would allow them to deform somewhat to the avatar’s shape.
AshaSekayi Ra notes that at the time, Prep Linden requested clothing samples weighted using the technique be passed on to him so that the Lab could take a look at the idea. However, she didn’t hear anything further on the subject, despite supplying samples herself. Asha also thinks that Prep may have heard of the technique as a result of a conversation with RedPoly Inventor.
Collision volumes are essentially a simplified version of the avatar form primarily used to between your avatar and other avatars / objects. As Gaia Clary recently explained, they give a rough approximation of an avatar’s shape and they can be adjusted via the Edit Shape sliders. So, clothing items weighted to them can be adjusted somewhat in line with the avatar’s shape.
That said, there are limitations. For one thing, there are only 19 collision volumes; and this limits how and where they can be weighted by default, and how well clothing using them can deform with changes to the avatar’s shape. For example, there is no collision volume for breasts, so clothing using the technique won’t deform to breasts or breast size changes.
In June 2012, RedPoly Inventor again drew attention to the idea during a Content Creator’s meeting, releasing a video of the technique, as well as a demonstrator dress.
By his own admission, the solution was not perfect due to the lack of suitable weighting points in the collision volumes, as noted above. To overcome this, he suggested the development of addition “bones” (weighting points), which he called “cbones”. However, given there is generally little appetite within the Lab to tinker around with the avatar to any great extent, it was unlikely this latter idea was going to be taken-up, and after a while the use of collision volumes for mesh weighting / deformation seemed to quietly slip away.
Since then we’ve had yet more delays with the development and release of the mesh deformer for a wide variety of reasons. That no official deformer has appeared has seen a number of content creators producing mesh wearables which use collision volumes for weightings / deformation in a manner similar to that demonstrated by RedPoly Inventor. Perhaps the first on the scene was Redgrave, back in late 2012, with their Liquid Mesh range (the name which is now synonymous with the technique), with others such as Egoisme and Bax also producing their own items as well. As such, the debate around the approach has been ebbing and flowing for a while, and has recently seen renewed discussion.
The system isn’t perfect, as noted above; the need for alpha layers isn’t necessarily eliminated for example, and because collision volumes are only a rough approximation to the avatar shape, problems can still be encountered when making shape changes even where the two do align. But even with the potential shortfalls, the fact remains that in many cases, this method can result in clothing items which do fit an avatar’s shape more reasonably than by purely relying on a set of “standard sizes”, as Strawberry Singh demonstrated in a recent video which accompanied a blog post on the subject.
So what’s the issue?
The issue is that the technique is regarded as “unsupported” by the Lab, and this potentially opens it to the risk of content breakage at some point in the future, and this has given rise to the most recent round of debates on the technique.
On the one hand, because collision volumes are in many respects a core part of the SL avatar, it seems unlikely that the Lab will do much to change them, unless they opt to overhaul the way avatars are implemented, something they have shied away from in the past. Also, the Lab has, historically, always been loathe to break in-world content (or at least, what they regard as content utilising supported capabilities – and even this may not by an absolute), so again, the risk of breakage might seem remote.
On the other hand, however, we have no idea as to what plans the Lab has for the future of SL and if those plans might at some point alter the manner in which collisions with the avatar are handled, and so result in breakage. Similarly, we don’t know what else might occur in the future which may either directly or indirectly lead to breakage.
Because of all the various what/if situations, there have been recent calls for the Lab to either step forward and declare the technique as supported, or to be pro-active and block the ability to upload content using the technique. It’s unlikely the Lab will do either.
There is another aspect to the debate; one which doesn’t seem to be getting quite the same air-time as focusing on all the “ifs” surround the technique. And that is the position of those content creators who are using this technique in their products.
Content creators are not unreasonable folk; as such there is no reason to suppose that should something happen which breaks this kind of content, they won’t simply step forward themselves and mitigate the problem in the best way they possibly can under the circumstances.
This is pretty much the stance Bax Coen has taken. Responding to comments following my initial report on the calls for the Lab to clarify their position, she said (and full kudos to her for doing so):
I am quite well informed about the matter and I have yet to see a proof of LQM going to be killed anytime soon. I have been waiting for a better solution way too long already. LQM is here and it’s working reasonably well for boots and it’s a great convenience for my customers, thus my decision to use it. If LL is ever deciding to kill it, I’ll provide a free update using whatever best alternative method is out there at that time.
In the meantime, where does this leave the SL consumer?
And this point in time there actually doesn’t appear to be any reason not to purchase items which use this technique – so long as one is aware of both the limitations and the possible risks. The essential thing is to be informed and to weigh-up (no pun intended) the pros and cons first. Remember, even outside of “what/if” situations over the future of the technique, it may not offer any advantages for your particular avatar shape when compared to mesh clothes which don’t use it. So try before you buy; most items appear to have demo versions, so see how well they work with your avatar shape, how they look, etc., beforehand, and factor that into your decision.
Also, if you have doubts / concerns, talk to the relevant content creator. They aren’t ogres, and like Bax Coen, they are also unlikely to be unsympathetic to concerns about anything happening which might break things. Finally, keep yourself informed; there’s a wide range of fashion blogs out there, many of which are liable to report on things like Liquid Mesh, and other bloggers like myself who try to cover the essential news.
The one thing one would hope that comes out of this situation, and the concerns that are being raised, is a greater willingness from within the Lab – particularly Battery Street – to push more effort into getting a supported means of wearable mesh deformation into Second Life. While blame for the various delays in this project cannot be entirely laid at the Lab’s door, the fact is that given the project currently does need resources only they can supply to work on it, the ball is squarely in their court to make sure this happens.
- Liquid Mesh – Gaia Clary
- The Second Life Skeleton – Gaia Clary
- Hucci Akita Boots & Questions regarding “Liquid Mesh” – Strawberry Singh
- Metareality discusses the “RedPoly” approach to mesh deformation – this blog, 2012