How Victoria 7 Is Killing A Hobby

victoria7

As someone who does a lot of work in Poser for my games and other projects, that means I am involved in the 3D Rendering community, which I have written about before. About 3 years ago the community started getting bigger thanks to Daz3D releasing Daz Studio for free.

Until then, the community primarily consisted of users of Poser software, which is a fairly expensive program to get started on.  Daz Studio can do a lot of what Poser can do, though it has always lagged behind in certain areas, but it was sophisticated enough to give Poser a challenge, and it offered an inexpensive entry point.

The biggest difference between Daz Studio and Poser is the user interfaces. Both programs have a bit of a learning curve, and once you learn one, you are probably not going to want to learn the other.

For the last 3 years the community has kind of fractured in a friendly rivalry between Poser people, and Daz Studio people. Friendly, because a lot of content could be shared between the programs, and both programs produced some really great images.

One of the stumbling blocks you run into in this hobby is incompatible models. I have been playing with Poser since the “Posette” days which is one of the first female models.  A company called Zygote (now part of Daz3D) came up with the first really great anatomically correct models for Poser called Victoria and Michael. Clothing and accessories made for Posette would not work on Victoria and Michael.

This pattern followed with each model. Victoria and Michael were replaced by Victoria 2 and Michael 2 then Victoria 3 and Michael 3, then Victoria 4 and Michael 4.  Poses, skins, hair, and clothing designed for one model are incompatible with other models.  Not by design, it is just the nature of the constantly improving technology.

I created the first Date Ariane version using Victoria 3, and created and acquired quite a library of Victoria 3 and Michael 3 hair, clothing, and skin textures.  When I started “Something’s In The Air” Victoria 4 had been out for 4 years, and all the latest clothing and accessories were being made for the Victoria 4 and Michael 4 models. I made the leap to the superior model, and never looked back.

Victoria 4 has proven to be a great female model. Extremely versatile, and still the most popular today. It was also the last “Victoria” natively designed to work with Poser.

Daz3D moved on to a “Genesis” modeling system that was much more flexible than the Poser system, and incorporated it natively in Daz Studio. Poser users needed a converter to use Genesis models.  The DSON converter has never worked right, as neither Daz3D or Smith Micro (the makers of Poser) do not have much incentive to get it to work right. Because Genesis was not a huge improvement over Victoria 4, most Poser people did not bother upgrading.

Soon after giving away Daz Studio, Daz3D released Genesis 2.  Genesis 2 is an improvement over Victoria 4 as the joints look more natural in motion.  That has made Genesis 2 popular with all the new Daz3D users and even converted some Poser users to the model despite the broken DSON converter.

Many of us Poser users still stick to Victoria 4 as we can use the powerful “Morphing Tool” to fix minor joint oddities, or find other fixes available.

Third party vendors have found it most profitable to support both Victoria 4 and Genesis 2 models and as a result there are now plenty of skin, hair, clothing and accessories for both models.

Genesis 2 V6 on left, Genesis 3 V7 on right.  Not a huge difference.

And then Victoria 7 / Genesis 3 happened.

This week Daz3D released a new model and dubbed it Victoria 7 to get the name recognition. They are touting the higher polygon count allowing more details like the wrinkles in knuckle joints for example, to make the most realistic human 3D model ever. (Are we at the uncanny valley yet?)

This new model is making rather negative waves in both the Poser and Daz Studio communities.

Daz Studio fans are finding that, as in model generations past, their Genesis 2 clothing and accessories will not work on Genesis 3. That means shelling out lots more money to get all new clothing and accessories for Genesis 3, or just sticking with “obsolete” Genesis 2.

The sad part is Genesis 2 was just finally becoming supported enough by third party vendors that it could compete with Victoria 4 in versatility, but now third party vendors may start having second thoughts if Genesis 3 becomes a thing.

Poser fans are finding fine print on the Victoria 7 page:  Compatible Software: DAZ Studio 4.8
In other words, barring some miracle addition to the upcoming Poser Pro 2016, Genesis 3 models are not compatible with Poser.  That will be a further disincentive for third party vendors to support Genesis 3 as most of the community simply cannot use it at all.

As a Poser user, I have never felt a need to upgrade to figures higher than Victoria 4 and Michael 4, they are still widely supported and clothing, skins, and accessories for them still sell better than any other figure. While each of the Genesis models got more detailed, for my purposes (low res internet images), the details aren’t going to make much difference.

Poser is still better software than Daz Studio, with numerous tools not available in Daz Studio like the above mentioned Morphing Tool, numerous rendering engines to make your images look like drawings, paintings or comic books, including a native photo realistic renderer comparable to the best available for Daz Studio, also tools to fit clothing between models and dynamic clothing for animated cloth motion.

That’s not to say Daz Studio is bad, it handles the tasks most important to hobbyists, photo realistic still rendering and basic animation, as well as Poser does, and its memory management is superior enough to handle higher polygon counts, which is why it handles Genesis 3 and Poser does not.

If Daz3D no longer wants to support Poser, that’s their loss. I foresee a fracturing of the community that is already having negative effects.  The 3D rendering community is already a very small niche group, we do not need to make it smaller.

Here is my hope: There is ONE way this could go right for everybody. There should be a new version of Poser out later this year if they stick to their “every two year” upgrade pattern.

If Poser Pro 2016 were to include support for a complex 173 bone figure, and if Daz3D were to release a “Victoria 7 For Poser” product (no DSON conversion needed) then that would generate lots of interest for both upgrades.

It is such a good idea part of me wonders if this is the plan all along.  I wouldn’t bet on it though.

Virtual World Philosophy: The Uncanny Valley

Most popular online worlds

So lately I have been having fun with Windlight, and focusing on how real Second Life is looking lately, but have not bothered to ask, “Is this a good thing?”

Above is a montage of screenshots from some of the most popular online communities on the web. World of Warcraft = 10 million subscribers, IMVU = 20 million accounts, HabboHotel = 90 Million accounts, 8 million monthly active users, WeeWorld = 21 million accounts, Runescape = 5 million monthly active users, Club Penguin = 17 Million Accounts, 4 million monthly active users (sources GigaOM, KZero).

What do they all have in common? None are designed to look “real”. They all purposely have a cartoon look to them. According to a recent NWN blog, this is a significant fact:

There’s little evidence of mass demand for an intensely immersive 3D virtual world; instead, indications suggest the market shrinks in inverse proportion to increasing immersiveness.

There’s several worthwhile observations you can make. First, none of them feature next gen, top-of-the-line 3D graphics. (WoW is 3D, but developed with graphics that run fairly well on older computers; also, the visuals are not realistic.) Besides Warcraft, however, none of these top MMOs are 3D at all; rather, they’re 2.5D. And while one hopes that 2.5D-based MMOs will whet the market’s interest in a more immersive, graphically rich virtual world, the exact opposite seems to be the case. (The still-popular Habbo Hotel was launched in 2000, and the cartoonish graphics are basically the same.)

Only after you drop down several million users do you start to see MMOs and virtual worlds incorporating next gen graphics that require high-end 3D cards for optimal viewing– Lord of the Rings Online at about one million subscribers, Age of Conan at about 750,000 subscribers… and Second Life at some 550,000 monthly active users.

Why is this happening? Here we enter the realm of speculation, but it seems that most people experience sensory overload with too much immersion; instead of being drawn into the intensity of the simulation, they’re repelled by it.

Before going into some of my objections to this idea, let me point out some other evidence to support it. Take for example the world of 3D animated films which I have written about. The most realistic looking 3D animated films have been Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, The Polar Express, Advent Children, and Beowulf. Not one of these have managed any real success at the box office, at least compared to the more cartoonish fare such as The Incredibles, the Shrek films, or Ratatouille. The more realistic films have an unfortunate creepiness to them that makes them seem weird and turns people off.

There is a theory in robotics about this effect called “The Uncanny Valley“. From Wikipedia:

The uncanny valley is a hypothesis that when robots and other facsimiles of humans look and act almost, but not entirely, like actual humans, it causes a response of revulsion among human observers. The “valley” in question is a dip in a proposed graph of the positivity of human reaction as a function of a robot’s lifelikeness.

Mori’s hypothesis states that as a robot is made more humanlike in its appearance and motion, the emotional response from a human being to the robot will become increasingly positive and empathic, until a point is reached beyond which the response quickly becomes that of strong repulsion. However, as the appearance and motion continue to become less distinguishable from a human being, the emotional response becomes positive once more and approaches human-to-human empathy levels.

This area of repulsive response aroused by a robot with appearance and motion between a “barely-human” and “fully human” entity is called the uncanny valley. The name captures the idea that a robot which is “almost human” will seem overly “strange” to a human being and thus will fail to evoke the empathetic response required for productive human-robot interaction.

One then has to wonder if it is possible for there to be a natural detraction to video games whose graphics are too real looking, and is this why Second Life may never reach Habbo Hotel like numbers?

I believe it is possible for games to become too real, but I am definitely not convinced Second Life comes close to that mark. I am also not convinced it is the reason it is less popular than the above named games.

Maybe some Playstation 3 games are getting too real looking. Maybe that is why the Wii is more popular? No, lets face it the real reason Wii is more popular is the innovative controllers.

World of Warcraft is cartoonish compared to more realistic Guild Wars, but it is more popular due to better marketing, the Blizzard name, and WoW has more immersive gameplay. There is more cartoonish compared to Second Life, and yet Second Life is the bigger of the two, for similar reasons.

The most popular online games are not popular because they are less realistic, they are popular because they have been around longer, or are marketed to kids (a huge market for the 2D worlds), or they are free or very inexpensive to play.

Take a look at the best selling stuff in There, IMVU, and SL: the more realistic stuff consistently sells better, because it looks better. QED

The ultimate point is this: Realism is not an important goal in a sucessful virtual world, or any computer game for that matter. Players appreciate realism up to a point, but if the realism comes at the expense of some players with older or less powerful computers, its not worth it.