The wait is over and Linden Lab have finally released Bento into the wild. If you’ve no idea what Bento is and are wondering why on earth the Lindens should want to introduce lunchbox functionality into SL, then I have to wonder if you’ve been living under a virtual stone for the past year. If you have indeed been pursuing a troglodyte lifestyle recently, or are simply hopelessly uninformed about the virtual world in which you spend an inordinate amount of your waking hours, I shall briefly explain…
Project Bento introduces a number of enhancements to the basic avatar, increasing the number of ‘bones’ to which body parts can be rigged. In particular, finger, tail, wings and extra facial bones are now available, making it possible to properly animate hands and facial expressions, and to create fully articulated avatars that are no longer limited to the basic bipedal form. That’s it, in a nutshell.
If that’s news to you, then I wouldn’t be too worried – there are, supposedly well-informed SL bloggers out there who are already bemoaning the fact that if Bento is limited to the official viewer only, it will never gain traction, since – apparently – most content creators use Firestorm. So, in the public interest, I think it’s only fair to set the record straight and share the already widely held knowledge that Firestorm have successfully developed their own Bento viewer, which many content creators have already tried, and which will probably hit the streets fairly soon! (Some people really do need to get their facts straight – but I guess that would constitute proper journalism, and that would be scandalous!)
My own feelings about Bento are somewhat mixed. Whilst I welcome the possibility of fully animated faces and fingers and I can appreciate how a greater range of non-human avatars is going to be a great boost to virtual living, I can’t help feeling that it’s all going to end up something like mesh. Don’t misunderstand me – mesh is great, I love it, but there are some things about it, especially when it comes to mesh avatars that just leave me cold.
To begin with, both mesh and Bento are complicated beasts – designing and creating avatars that take advantage of this functionality is beyond the capability of most SL users, and this in turn is likely to result in a very limited elite who will be generating the majority of Bento creations. This is easily seen with what has happened with mesh – a small number of creators have effectively cornered the market in mesh hands, feet, heads and bodies, (you could probably name most of the brands right off the top of your head). This has a correspondingly negative effect: Reducing competition, limiting diversity and tying consumers to specific brands.
Then there’s the potential complexity that Bento could introduce into the simplest activities. One of the main reasons I don’t possess a mesh avatar is because the simple act of putting together an outfit can become a major exercise in design and planning – tweaking alphas, juggling appliers and navigating HUDs. It can take me an age just to throw together something simple to wear for a night out as it is; I really don’t want all that extra time and hassle just to hide an irritating and unwanted bit of side boob! I’m not convinced that Bento will be immune from this problem – some of the more diverse avatars already utilising the new bones are already ringing alarm bells… What’s the point of having an animated face if you need a HUD to operate it, (and presumably a separate HUD for your tail and wings!) It’s just unnecessary complexity that I don’t want to have to contend with.
So yes, mixed feelings about Bento. I’m cautiously optimistic that it will be a welcome improvement to the overall SL experience, but I have reservations, and those things about which I’m less sure will, I think, mean that Bento and the new avatars simply won’t be the game changer that the Lab hope it will be.
Pick up the bones and set them on fire
Follow the smoke going higher and higher
Pick up the bones and wish them goodnight
Pray ’em a prayer and turn out the light
Alice Cooper – Pick Up The Bones