Monday, October 3, 2022

Interview with Fop (KingForri), Giant of Natoma

By Bixyl Shuftan
Being tall in Second Life is quite common. It was probably moreso in the past when people joked about the stereotypical seven foot blonde.  It doesn't take too long to find avatars that are eight or nine feet high. Truly giant avatars are less common. At the Fantasy Faire, you may see a fifty foot woman on occasion. But not long ago at the Ivory Tower in Natoma, I saw an avatar that was *truly* massive, hundreds of feet high. His name was Fop (KingForri). Eventually, I managed to contact him, and a meeting for an interview was arranged.

"It sounded like you wanted to message me before I took off!" He greeted, then mused, "Perhaps a thought on the line of 'get out of the bloody way you're blocking the sun!;" After some chuckles, I asked him where he got the idea for such a large avatar. "That's kind of a long story. When I joined Second Life, I had envisioned what I wanted an avatar to look like, but on a much larger scale. My goal was to make a  game character that I wouldn't ever have played. Prior to Second Life, I preferred small characters. My avatar started off as a bit of a joke, but as time went on he kinda evolved into something I got attached to, and I saw some of the large avatars other people made and it inspired me. I realized pretty quickly how difficult the whole thing was, and I'm the kind of guy who absolutely loves challenges, so I kept trying to push it further and further to see how far I could go. Every step of the way I'd have to make new scripts or think of some workaround to get around the limitations of SL, with the mentality that 'it has to be fully usable, and it has to be fun for everyone else.'

"So I developed some techniques to be able to do common stuff regular avatars can do, such as using RLV to switch between skeletons to reposition myself whether I was sitting or standing, or even sitting at a table. At one point I even figured out a goofy fake way to have a friend ride my nose using animesh and some clever tag positioning. One of the big walls was being able to upload a skeleton beyond 3m in the mesh uploader. Most people would just move the pelvis bone down which would cause their avatars to sway all over if they fidgetted in one place, or sat down or whatever. From what I can tell, I might be one of the first to figure out how to break that limit and upload models at a higher offset than three."

I asked how long it took to make his avatar, and asked about earlier avatars. He responded, "It's been an ongoing thing since I started, like, gosh, eight years ago. Of course I'm not constantly working on it, but every once in a while I'll think 'hmm, I wonder if I could push this even further?' and my mind will start going again. 
"There are some other really big avatars too. Some absolutely enormous, and far bigger than the Fop you saw the other day. However, they tend to have the problems I discussed earlier: they sway around, or an even worse problem: hard coded draw distance for mesh models. I suppose to save on processing time, the client creators have a hard draw distance limit for mesh avatars, so if you ever see any other mesh giants at for example, the Fantasy Faire, you'll notice if you zoom out too far their entire bodies just pop out of existence even if your draw distance is set to 1024m, leaving just their hair and some attachments visible. Being not so artistically and unable to really do 3D meshing work was kind of a blessing in disguise as ironically, it allows Fop to be seen the entire 1024 max distance. It's mostly the draw distance that limits most people.

"The one you saw was, I think around 300 meters (984 feet)? I've larger versions but I try to be considerate of others." After I asked how tall the biggest ones were, "Gosh, do you really wanna know? Let's just say you can't see the entire avatar with the draw distance maxed out. I've figured out how to walk around the outside of sims. It's, really difficult to use at that point. Haha! Over 2km, for sure. I measured with some blocks. A single foot covers around 6 to 8 sims. It's a fun novelty but at that point it's nothing more than a party trick! ... I know you did mention something in your article about how giant avatars aren't really practical, and you'd be absolutely right. However, through the challenges, I discovered something I would have never thought I'd enjoy, and at the end of the day, I'm having fun with my avatar. Second Life is a social game, and it's not like my avatar is any better or worse than any of the other ones. I'm still just some guy behind a screen having fun with friends, even if maybe I take up a bit more screen estate. (grin) 

"And maybe I'd like to just say for anyone else, try something out of your comfort zone. You might surprise yourself!"

I then asked if there were smaller versions of the avatar. "Of course," he answered, "I started off with a much smaller version. Began around the 12 feet mark, worked up to 60 feet. Used that regularly for years, it's still kind of what I default back to. I haven't really worked on any other avatars. If I do it tends to be a joke. Though unlike Fop, none of those jokes jumped out at me in the same way."

And what have been peoples' reactions? Fop responded, "It really depends on the crowd. In the general places, initially I'd get the usual "WHOAH THATS A BIG AVATAR!" But then I'll change the topic and it becomes whatever. In places made for giants, I'll get "YOU'RE TOO BIG FOR THIS SIM" and get shoo'd away. Kinda backwards eh?

"Of course any place that has a size limit will have the boot ready for me unless I change quickly. Sometimes people are hostile, but I find as a whole people tend to be a lot more accepting than I anticipated. ^^. That, or they're just being polite. You can never be sure!

"I think the initial shock factor is kind of predictable though. Everyone once in a while, the more critical will tell me my avatar is jank looking. Sorry, I did my best!

And what does Fop do when not going about "Living large?" He answered, "Well, I don't really stop to be honest, but as far as other things I like to do on here, I enjoy writing scripts for friends. I also really enjoy teaching people how to make stuff. I've left a lot of comments in the stuff I wrote for my pals who knew nothing about scripting, and they later thanked me as it laid the foundation for them to learn how to do it themselves, which was a really good feeling to be honest. I've considered applying to teach at the Builder's Brewery, or start my own classes. I think SL needs more people trying to create things. It's really the perfect platform for expression and sharing ideas.

"Obviously I'm reaching the limits of what I can do with my one gimmick, but I've also always wanted to make games, inside and outside of Second Life. I started on a couple projects years ago, but it's something I've been wanting to revisit. That, and making cool vehicles.

"Oh, and I like to terrorize, er, hang out with my friends at Natoma. I'm planning on taking some mainland-wide tours to meet (and maybe surprise) some people while handing out pizzas. Who wants some? (I don't knock on properties with security orbs tho. You're missin' out on free pizza!)"

Fop went on, "Years ago I got encouraged when I read an interview with Ceri Quixote on their giant avatar, and if I could inspire even one person to just try to do a thing and discover something new, I think that would be pretty nifty! Also shoutouts to Samantha Shadowcry. They're also a pretty big friend, and we bounce off each other with ideas and encouragement. I just wanna say I'm not alone in this journey! It's been a lot more fun with someone to actually share knowledge with and grow. Figuratively and literally (smile). ... Big avatars don't have to be statues. I wanna show that they can be fun too!"
And where did the name "Fop" come from? He answered, "I originally picked Jake. It was a generic name, but then one of my friends commented on my attire by saying I looked foppish. It stuck. That was within' the first year of being on SL.Really the avatar was more-or-less a big accident. It was formed by the time I spent on here and the people I met, ultimately. ... I don't bite and people are more than welcomed to ask me questions!"

"OOOH! I remembered a big point! Unfortunately my progress almost came to a screeching halt a few years ago, when I started to encounter people who just could not see my avatar. Like, at all. It really puzzled me as to why, but in about 2019ish (I forget exactly what year) Firestorm implemented a hardcoded derenderer that used your avatar's Texture Area. Even though Fop is made of the same primitives used to build in world, Firestorm would see the avatar and immediately derender Fop for being over 1000m² in texture area. When you consider that most people around that time used Firestorm, it meant unless people cranked their settings to automatically render avatars regardless of complexity, or Fop was forced to be rendered, I was invisible to most people I'd encounter. I'd then have to manually instruct everyone on how to see me, and of course a lot of people wouldn't bother. It was incredibly discouraging after working on my avatar after five years, finally getting it to a point I was satisfied with only to have all my work completely for nothing. I almost left SL for good right then and there. Even in my own "About Me" section of my profile are instructions on how to make me appear and it's sad I even have to include that. No other main client has implemented that feature by default.

"The problem still exists but with other viewers slowly taking the popularity vote, it's given me a sigh of relief."

And what was the model of Fop's avatar? "It's a modified example skeleton I found off some wiki, with the bones moved around. The head was from a freebie wolf avatar made in the early days of SL (I added eyebrows, hair, new ears, nose, and a fabulous tooth), the hair is just system hair with a front piece from some freebie pony avatar, the arms, legs, main body and tail were all created by myself, and the hands from some cat avatar in the library that comes with every account. The feet were heavily modified from that same wolf avatar I mentioned earlier. I haven't spent a single cent of my own real world money on this game, using only the Lindens I got from scripting for people for skeleton and texture uploads. All the scripts except for my AO I wrote myself, and even the AO I modified to match the walking speed increase of the longer legs.  I don't think you'll find another avatar on SL like mine!

"You really don't need to spend money to make something you can be happy with though. It takes a lot of work but it's a lot more satisfying in the end. It feels more like it's your own."

Fop would do a dance for a few pictures, and send me one of his: "Heroic dog saves cows from thug chicken." But he would later message me again, "Unfortunately, it seems as though the fun might eventually come to an end. Due to recent changes in certain viewers, things have been looking grim for giant avatars in general. In the pursuit of performance, certain viewers have implemented a feature that introduces a hard limit on texture area that an avatar can have before being derendered, even if their parts are flat shaded. Should an avatar's texture area exceed 1000m², the avatar is derendered regardless of what the complexity setting is set in the preferences (unless set to 'No Limit'), or unless you force render the avatar manually.

"Firestorm and LL viewer are the two I know of that have implemented this, which are unfortunately the two most popular viewers. So even if Fop's complexity while super-mega-large is lower than a lot of normal sized avatars due to his simplicity, he just pops out of existance for the majority of SL users who are using default settings. (For reference, a 1km tall Fop only hits 202k complexity. He also doesn't impact the framerate as much as one might expect) I've encountered a handful of people who even experienced the same problem with their giant mesh avatars. I've had to explain to people so many times now on how to render me that I ended up just putting instructions in my profile. It's gotten pretty annoying to be honest and completely sours the experience. My dreams of just surprising people and handing out pizzas while touring the mainlands are kind of dead as a result. The kicker is that Fop, being mostly prim and sculpties, can be rezzed in world and the viewers won't care and will render all the parts anyway. But worn? That's taboo. Doesn't really make sense in my opinion.

"Sadly it discouraged me greatly, and I've even considered leaving SL altogether. The change, as a knee-jerk reaction to griefers, ended up stiffling the creativity of legitimate users. I even created a couple prim avatars for a couple friends, but they can't enjoy them for the same reasons. I hope one day they'll reverse the implementation, or at least add a non-default option in the preferences to set the texture area limit. I'm sure if a griefer really wanted to cause trouble they'll exploit some other oversight, and then another thing will get nerfed, and then another, and then another, and eventually we'll downspiral to a point where nobody will be able to be creative anymore. If anyone in charge is reading this, please reconsider!"

Since this interview though, I would see Fop one more time at Natoma. For now, Fop is still presumably going about as usual, making big impressions with his big avatar.

Bixyl Shuftan