Second Life does not allow for finger or facial animation. This is my biggest pet-peeve with SL. Of all of the policies, practices and programming implemented over the years...Prim Tax, Private Estates, Age Verification, Sculpties, Adult Content, Linden Homes, Child Avatars, Tattoo Layers ...one of the first programs to get cut was avatar puppeteering. Cube Linden (Kyle Machulis), Ventrella Linden (Jeff Ventrella) and Pathfinder Linden ( John Lester) are all huge proponents of expressive avatars, and (had) the chops to bring them to SL. Unfortunately for us, they are no longer with Linden Lab and the project has been shelved. Puppeteering
It's not uber-graphics that will eventually produce the "SL-Killer". Expressive avatars with full skeletal manipulation and facial emotes will draw residents from SL just as SL did from There.com. Unity, Real/ UnReal and Crytek are all over full manipulation skeletal/ facial rigs. They are producing real time drivers that support either interial, optical or sonic motion capture as well as Cyberglove input and Ultra Wide Band tracking. They have to, Game Developers demand it on behalf of their customers. In the very near future, static avatars, level bosses and NPC's in online games and virtual worlds will be replaced with live characters that emerge from the user base, or, are professionals recruited by the developers. Microsoft is banking on this with Kinect and the release of the Kinect Developer's KIt just recently. It is now the #1 selling game interface of all time, far surpassing Wii Fit.
If there is one substantial game-changer in the virtual world industry, it's avatars. They are often the most overlooked as well. When people start thinking of their smartphone as an avatar, then they begin to see the critical necessity to make effective and diverse forms of communication the number one priority. Companies such as Animazoo of the UK and Moven of the Netherlands are producing interactive inertial capture systems that "avatar-ize" humans for remote location training, customer service, entertainment and research. Why send a precious life into deep space exploration, when a pseudo-sentient being (avatar) can do the job more effectively without the risk and expense of using humans. An avatar CSR can reach dozens of customers simultaneously from the comfort of their home. Avatars can consolidate our entire online presence into one encapsulated interface.
One of the reasons your post jumped out at me UTech, was the project you're working on for your university involves sign language. I lived in St. Augustine Florida in my teens and one of my first girlfriends was deaf. The Florida School for the Deaf and Blind is there (FSD&B). She was an avid surfer and fellow beach bum. I learned ASL ( American Sign Language ) from her and still retain quite a bit after many years of non-use. I had high hopes for the puppeteering program within Linden Lab because it would have inevitably led to user access of the SL skeleton. Which in turn would have given the userbase the freedom to create in real time instead of playing back static recorded files. We would have been 5 years ahead of the Kinect Kurve by now and have a full library of international and ASL languages as well as the possibility to sign in real time. This will always be a dream of mine, to sign using an avatar.
I hate to say it UTech, but you may be better served to create a virtual world using Unity or Open Sim. I don't see LL revisting puppeteering anytime soon. Rodvik had better grab the reigns quick, Linden Lab's competitors are tooling up and avatars are their #1 priority. Followed closely by user-generated content. There was a time when the communacative potential for Second Life seemed limitless. I hope we haven't sailed that ship yep.