We're gonna sit on top of the watertower and pretend we're Batman.

A Matter Of Scale

Or… “You’ve all got it wrong, god damn it”
scale-fig01 There has been a debate regarding height and scale in SL (Second Life) for as long as I have been a resident – which is going on four and a half years now. On the scale side there are several issues. Some people simply cannot build and so create items (houses, accessories, furniture, etc.) that are simply not to scale with anything. The follow-cam method of viewing the world requires that buildings be upscaled so that when standing in a relatively small room your camera view is not outside the wall behind your avatar – this makes properly scaled furniture look truly bizarre and toy-sized when placed in such rooms. Worst of all, the matter of ego – avatars are grossly overscaled (as much as eight feet tall) simply to satisfy the desire to be tall and impressive (with the obvious side effect that others upscale their OWN avatar to ‘fit in’ to the seeming average and to seem appropriately sized, even if they’re not trying to be large and impressive).
Scale, however, is a decidedly tricky business, because – in a nutshell – everyone has it WRONG.
Take a close look at the image above – this shows my avatar scaled to my exact real life height, matched to the inworld prim measuring system (as in – create a prim, make it the correct height, and scale the avatar to match) – which is 6’3″ (1.905m). This was no mean feat, and took a great deal of tinkering with the shape editing system.
Now we get to the problems.
First of all, according to the shape editing system itself, I am ridiculously short – on the extreme low side of what is presented as average. Why do I say this? Because of the ‘height’ slider in the shape editing. According to that slider – my height is a 20 on a scale of a possible 100, where the preset average is 50. In real life I am still considered somewhat tall (although the average height in North America is catching up to me, and I’m not as tall-seeming as I was twenty years ago). But still – 20?? Let’s have a look at a comparison, shall we?
scale-fig02 According to the height adjustment slider, the shortest I can be with all other settings intact is 1.87m (6’1.5″), while the average I would be is 2.05m (6’8″ ffs!!). Never mind the maximum. Obviously this is completely ridiculous and creates a completely false sense of scale in newcomers editing their avatars for the first time.
Be that as it may, it’s still not really the worst problem. Far worse is the complete inaccuracy of every available measuring system (save the aforementioned create a prim and go by straight visual comparison method).
Look again at the first image – note the three prims, their corresponding heights, and the key at the bottom.
There are two basic methods of determining your avatar’s height inworld – one is to use a scripted height finder of some sort (the red prim corresponds to this method), the second is to go by what the viewer itself ‘oh so helpfully’ tells you (the blue prim corresponds to this).
As you can plainly see – they’re both completely wrong.
According to the scripted height-finder, I am 5’10” tall – a full 5″ (nearly half a foot, or 7%) too short.
But according to the viewer, I’m 6’6″ – 3″ (4%) too tall.
Hell, even by averaging the two it still comes out wrong – 6’2″ – but at least that’s closer.
In short, unless you have a specific height in mind and are willing to create a prim, scale it properly, and tinker with your avatar until it’s perfect – there’s really no way to accurately know your actual avatar’s height, or easily set it to something comfortable or realistic.
So to quote Lewis Black (and you’ll have to imagine the frenzied outrage here), I say to both Linden Lab and all third-party viewers teams – “FIX IT!!!”
Damn it.

Side note:
Here is a simple but graphic illustration of the further scale problems in SL.
The red prim in the picture below is a standard 10x10m square. For most house builders, this is a modest-sized (if not small) room. Yes, a single room – 10m square – slightly more than 30 feet to a side. Beneath it is a perfectly accurately scaled floorplan of what is considered a small but reasonably-sized two-bedroom apartment in real life. Note that I do not seem out of proportion to this – and yet due to the factors I mentioned above, actually building such a floorplan to correct scale would make the result seem incredibly tiny and cramped. The follow-cam would make even walking around this perfectly reasonably sized dwelling utterly impossible.


7 responses

  1. Of course you can change your camera position to make that last image work. The problem of course is that the *default* camera position won’t work, and most people not only don’t create a custom camera position, they don’t even know you *CAN*.

    October 11, 2011 at 11:09 pm

  2. PS. Who the hell labels floor plans in Comic Sans?


    October 11, 2011 at 11:24 pm

    • daremunro

      Hell if I know – I found that via Google and it happened to be roughly the size I wanted. πŸ™‚

      October 12, 2011 at 5:16 am

  3. Geeza-Laweeza . . one would think you perceive the virtual world platforms as nothing more than mirrors of real life. . . . *PLEASE* Let’s do something we have never done before, go somewhere we have never been before. Let’s jump into the abyss of endless creative potential instead of crawling back into the womb of what we “know” . . . . Funny; I build in virtual worlds ALL the time. I do it for a living . . . and I do not even KNOW what about the “four conflicting values” someone referred to in a Facebook comment linked to this blog. Sighs . . I have missed something or possibly they are not significant? Visit Second Life sims Kennesaw University1 and Kennesaw University CETL and tell me how you “feel” walking and flying around. Then I will tell you how I “scale” my replica transitional virtual worlds:)

    October 12, 2011 at 4:56 am

    • daremunro

      Well, nice adspot there – however, you *completely* missed the point of the post. The post was – the measuring systems available to people attempting to adjust their avatars to anything are completely out of sync with the prim measuring system. One would expect that a prim 2m tall and an avatar measured by a height finder or a viewer to be 2m tall *would be the same height*.
      They’re not.
      And frankly – my avatar before this one was an 8′ tall bone white vampire – so not only did you completely miss the point, but you’re entirely barking up the wrong tree here.
      But thanks for posting. πŸ™‚

      October 12, 2011 at 5:21 am

    • There are 4 separate issues here.

      1. Scale.
      2. Proportion.
      3. The fact that both the viewer and the height detector method give you *incorrect results*. (this one makes me personally the most crazy)
      4. Camera position.

      It is perfectly fine to *deliberately* create something(or someone) scaled in whatever way you want. But a lot of SL isn’t done that way deliberately- it’s done because people are using the base avatars which are not only overscaled(and whose sizes are listed *incorrectly*- the important part) but *out of proportion* and then building the world around them. Proportion is just as important, yet separate from scale.

      That’s a basic, fundamental principle of design- you don’t get out of design school without grasping it.

      When you build larger to compensate, you’re using more land than you might otherwise need to make up for poorly placed camera position. All of these are interconnected.

      The reason why #3 makes me the most crazy is because again, it’s fine to build things however you want. I just want people to know what they’re doing. If a ruler tells you something is 3 feet, but it’s really 2 feet, that’s a problem- because if you really *wanted* to build something 6 feet long it’s only going to wind up being 4 feet. If the world is built by using avatars as your metaphorical yardstick you have a problem because there’s no way to accurately determine this number easily. It works both ways. The appearance editor is just *lousy*. It’s one thing to say “Oh hey I wanna be 7 feet tall!” and another to have to say “um oh well… this sort of looks okay” and wind up being that tall by accident.

      So yes, you have missed something.

      October 12, 2011 at 5:25 am

  4. YT

    to say it in advance: i do not intent to make this an adpost. But i will add an S-URL πŸ™‚
    As i myself took a closer look now to scaling sizes and that whole topic, i found some very good articles written by Penny Patton.
    In fact, one can read almost all of that blog, it is about sizes, camera settings and so on.
    It can be found here: http://pennycow.blogspot.com/

    Following the ideas from there i have rebuild my Roleplay area (Dark Den) and earned as feedback “that looks cool, but, isn’t that way too small?”
    So, i added now another area, simply called “Height”. One can find it in this S-URL:

    Also, there is a group, called “Height”, dedicated t the same topic. Please join, and spread the word. Free (and correct working) height meters are there too.

    January 11, 2012 at 9:20 pm

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