First the good news:
The new mesh avatars for the most part look okay. As far as looks are concerned the new avatars are a moderate improvement over the old sculpty and system-clothing based starter set. Most are okay, some look pretty darn good, while a few are sort of… eh.
Linden Lab also gets significant points for improving the diversity of the starting choices. On the default “People” page, we have one male (Barry) and one female (Alicia) starter avatar are intended to be either Black or mixed race. Unfortunately they are so light skinned that its very hard to tell that from the small view given on avatar selection screen. There are also two East Asian starter avatars (Zoe and Johnny), and a male avatar (Julian) who could be either Hispanic or South Asian, as well as a female avatar (Marissa) who could reasonably be Hispanic.
Representing my fellow people of pale color, we have Archer and Delilah, two tattooed twenty-something hipsters (who could only possibly be in Second Life in an ironic way), as well as Brandon, Lucy, Sara, and Alejandro. (Based on his name, it is possible that Alejandro may have been intended as Hispanic, too.)
(You can see larger views of the new starter mesh avatars at the end of this post.)
Then there is page two—Vampires (and associated creatures). These new mesh avatars consist of three male and three female vampires, a male and female zombie, a male and female vampire hunter, and a vampire and a werewolf in beast form. The “Vampire” page is also where we find the only two avatars who are unambiguously African-American males. So kudos to Linden Lab for doing their bit to fight the pernicious “Vampires are all white guys” stereotype, I guess.
Now for the downsides:
Avatar clothing and shoes don’t appear to be interchangeable among each sex of avatar. (I experimented with several of the avatars to check this.) Thus a new resident is stuck with the single outfit their avatar came in as far as the library is concerned.
The mesh avatars bodies don’t appear to have been created with the idea of being compatible with the mesh standard sizing adopted by most Second Life mesh creators. So buying or finding freebies of mesh clothing will be hit and miss. Perhaps the new fitted mesh will work better with these avatars; I don’t know. But the overwhelming majority of existing mesh clothing is based on Standard Sizing model.
Normally that wouldn’t be a problem—you just tweak your shape. But you can’t edit the shape of these mesh avatars. “Edit Shape” is disabled. And of course if the new user tries to wear the traditional system clothing, it will be invisible to them, having been applied to the underlying male or female base shape beneath the mesh body
If the clothing and mesh avatars were really first rate, this might not be such a critical failure. Unfortunately the clothing and mesh bodies on the new avatars don’t compare to the average—much less the best—of the work from Second Life resident creators. The skin quality is mediocre. (And as is typical, the “skins” on the mesh avatars Barbie and Ken doll G-rated.) The mesh avatar shapes are beset with the problems I outlined above and, on top of all that, the avatar feet remain an undifferentiated blob (no toes). The included clothing is okay to pretty good, but with some lapses in quality where bits of the underlying mesh body can be seen in some movements.
Linden Lab obviously went outside the Second Life community to have these new avatars created, and it shows. The final results only represent a moderate improvement over the four year old system clothing, flexi-prim, and sculpty avatars on the “Classic” page. Even worse, once a new user gets tired of their initial look, he or she will have to create a new avatar from scratch. Second Life’s various resident run help organizations (such as Oxbridge, White Tiger Mentors, NCI, Shelter, etc.) to be quite busy over the next few months dealing with an extra layer of complexity in trying to answer to the eternal new user question: “How can I make my avatar look better?”
All in all, except in the area of diversity, the new starter mesh avatars represent an unfortunate missed opportunity for Linden Lab.
Closer Views of the Second Life’s New Mesh Starter Avatars