Stray Cats: Have they got cat class, and have they got cat style?

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For a time I was well and truly bitten by the breedable bug in Second Life. You only have to scan the archives of this site for the evidence, along with my Flickr feed. It was a HUGE part of my virtual existence. I started with the OZIMALS Bunnies, then I went into breeding the ever-amazing KITTYCATS and then the AMARETTO Horses too.  I enjoyed it immensely and gained a lot of pleasure from breeding and selling at auction, making some Lindens to feed back into my burgeoning habit.  Unfortunately, I started to find myself seriously out of virtual pocket and after realising I had an addiction to the whole breedable gamut, I stopped.

The thing is, I miss it.  There’s nothing more exciting than mixing a couple of traited bunnies or cats and waiting in anticipation for those baskets to be delivered. I can recall the excitement that very nearly tipped me over the edge as my first ever bunny was born, and don’t even get me started on the Kittycats! For a time I curated a fabulous collection of stunning black cats, and when the market was thriving I even found time to blog bargains and beauties that I’d found during my time wasted wandering auction after auction. I was even an auctioneer for both horses and then cats, and then the moment was lost.  The bottom seemed to fall out of a vastly over-inflated market, and as is the way of Second Life the focus shifted onto the next big thing, and my breedable days were no more.

Out of all the breedables, I held a very special place in my heart (and still do) for the Wildwood Cats

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They launched in 2010 and looked utterly sensational.  I was lucky enough to beta-test them, as I had the Krazy Kitties before, but for me they were the first real quality breedable cat launch in-world and they had fantastic accessories, traits and a really authentic feel to them.  It was so hard not to fall in love with these amazing critters, and I was for a time obsessed. And then I wasn’t, and they melted into the background and the Wildwoods became sadly no more:(

Then a few years ago in 2013  I heard whispers that they were back in a new incarnation as ‘IMAGINALS‘.  The name was a poor reflection of the previous incarnation, and the website and the product were very different too. The basic ear shape had changed into something akin to Mr Spock on a very bad day, the pelt and eye textures weren’t as good (lacking the depth that they had before in my opinion) and in short they weren’t as nice as I recalled the Wildwoods to be.  Despite this, I treated myself to some but lost interest and gave up. They just weren’t the same. I sadly accepted that was that, and my Wildwood and Imaginal’s forays were totally at an end…

Cut to today.  For some reason, I found myself mooching around OZIMALS, looking at bunny things and getting nostalgic and misty-eyed.  Looking at the new bunnies, and the horses for that matter makes me feel that in the beginning we had it so much better. These updated ones just aren’t my bag at all, with different eyes and patterns that just lack a certain warmth and panache that the originals had. As I was pondering the past I noticed a link to a market where I saw a sign for ‘Stray Cats.’  What the chuff are they I thought? I took a closer look with my mouth gaping, and a sweep by the website confirmed it: they’re back again!

In fact it would seem they’ve been around for a while (at least since November 2014) yet  I’ve heard NOTHING about them at all, which to me indicates a somewhat subdued release.  Remember the days when we’d be queuing around the block to beta new breedables? Yeah, I don’t think this had quite the same buzz sadly. That could be because people were wary of what had gone before with these breedables failing in their two previous incarnations.  People lost lindens, and they’d be foolish not to be hesitant to commit again.

I decided to take a trip over to see what the Stray Cats HQ was like. For me, when I think of the name I think of an urban backdrop, festooned in swirling litter and empty beer bottles, cats in dustbins and burned out cars, that kind of thing.  For selling a breedable that would be a really original sim design and a refreshing change from the pastoral scene-setting that seems to be de rigueur. Alas, Stray Cats have opted for a safer location design and to be frank it’s a huge disappointment. The location is functional but lacks the environmental structures and landscaping that works so well for OZIMALS and KITTYCATS.  It doesn’t make me want to explore any more than I have to, and this is surely a no-no when you’re selling a product in SL.  Again I can’t help but think back to the glorious WILDWOOD BREEDABLES early days and wonder who was it in that team that they clearly don’t have anymore, because someone with a real flair for eye-catching texture and design  is missing from the whole enterprise.  I did discover some truly smashing and interesting looking cats in all kinds of pelts and sizes.  There are dragon themed pelts, as well as husky and more traditional looking styles, although they still have those damned pointy ears. Stray Cats_003

The other point to note is that the website, although competent, doesn’t have the design pizzazz that the original Wildwood Website had.  That was a dream to visit because it was seriously well-designed and a colourful treat for the eyes.  This website is adequate but nowhere near as enticing or professional looking. (Like the HQ it has a slightly vintage Second Life feel to it, and not in a good way!)  It’s more Imaginals in presentation, and I don’t think that should be something that is repeated.  Call me a stickler for content but too many different font types do not a positive impression make.  Fortunately,  there’s a Facebook page too which looks better by comparison.

You could forgive me for being overly harsh in my criticism here. I don’t think I am, as a passionate beta tester, early-adopter and someone who genuinely loved WILDWOOD BREEDABLES I want Stray Cats to do well.  Wildwood’s were (initially for me at least) the most pleasingly shaped cats that were available in our metaverse; the animations were great and they just had ‘it’ by the bucket-load.  KITTYCATS are just as wonderful too of course for both an amazing product, design and customer service, but for me it was always the WILDWOODS that just had the edge.  I just loved their look, and for that reason alone I’d love nothing more than for them to flourish again.

But it would seem that this is the company’s third shot at the breedable game, and what will they do differently  to be successful this time? I honestly don’t know.  When I checked out the HQ I noted a marketplace area with a few vendors selling different breeds and prices were mostly reasonable. I DID see a cat priced at L$35000 though, which I balked at and quickly moved past.  There was also an auction area with at least ten patrons in attendance which got me interested, but when I fully rezzed I saw that there was just one podium with any actual auctionable stock upon it. (It seems the dragon pelts are very popular..)Stray Cats Collage

Yet in my heart I want to give these cats another go. 

I won’t be one for over-spending and breeding to excess like I did before, those days are long gone, but I’d love nothing more than a pair of these cats again.  The whole point of the breedable game was enjoyment, and nothing was as fun as logging in-world to find a new nest waiting  to be birthed and discovering what was lurking inside.  On closer inspection it would seem that there have been many improvements in the animations and functionality since the old days, and although they don’t look quite as good as they did back then (in my opinion at least) they do have something about them that makes them appealing.  I think that they look much better than the Imaginals though (thank goodness!) I doubt people will be as prepared to invest again like they were

But my gut feeling tells me that people will need to be seriously impressed if they are to invest again like before, especially as the Wildwoods seemingly left a lot of folks stranded.  I checked the group membership listings  and observed that the in-world group has 561 members. That’s not a bad number until you realise that the current membership of the Kittycats Addicts group is 15291!

How could the STRAY CATS approach that number? Well, what I want to see is a quality breedable product in both body-shape and trait that is aesthetically pleasing and offers plenty to the aspiring  breeder to get excited about. Not too much to ask really is it? I  want the animations to be entertaining and offer some avatar interactivity, but I don’t want the food and add-ons to cost an arm and a leg.  I just want a quality breedable cat that offers an extra dimension to my Second Life. Is that too much to ask, and can these kitties provide that?

I’m late to the party but what I’ve seen of the actual cats themselves makes me think that they could have potential again.  Certainly a quick look at the in-world group and the Facebook page assures me that the interest is there, and noting the latest FAQ and the fact that there are Youtube tutorials suggests to me that this is being taken seriously as well it should; there was never anything wrong with the product after all.  But execution is all, and it is that alone that will move STRAY CATS into the breedable big league if there is even such a thing anymore.

If I was part of the creative time behind this product I would want to work on the main store location as a matter of priority, along with refining the website and getting the branding absolutely right.

 To be given a second chance with a product of this nature is unheard of so a third is an absolute gift, and with the  breedable zeitgeist fading into the past now it is the perfect time to give this product the success that it always deserved. 

Can the STRAYCATS team make it this time? Only time will tell, but you know what? Here’s hoping they can. 

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Click HERE to visit the HQ in-world and let me know what you think in the comments.  

Has the time for breedables completely passed these cats by? Or do you think they could make it this time? 

Cats and lemurs living together? Mass hysteria!

Well, it’s not quite Ghostbusters but I needed a catchy title for this post where I’m going to have a quick natter with you about some new virtual breedable pets that are on the grid. 

Back in the mists of time, when breedable pets originally launched on the grid,  I got really into the Ozimals Bunnies and Wildwood Cats. Then I got heavily into Amaretto Horses and Kitty Cats..and then I realised I was being a little bit too crazy with my addiction and nipped it in the bud. I was spending way too much real life money on this hobby that I couldn’t actually afford to spend.  I’m more sensible now and I tend to give the breedables a wide berth because I’ve realised that for me they are just too dangerously addictive , but I still love them.

Well, I checked out a couple of new virtual breedable pets this week and they couldn’t be more different to each other. 

First up are ‘Imaginimals’ which the perceptive among you will realise at first look are re-branded Wildwoods. If you don’t remember Wildwoods they were pretty awesome, as I hope this picture from 2010 demonstrates.. (Click here for some of my old Flickr cat piccies!)

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The name change is to reflect  that the focus  is not just on cats but about future releases too which will be other animals.  I’m not going to get into the politics of what happened to Wildwoods, but I will say that I loved the product.  I adored the way that they looked and I really enjoyed owning them, so I was keen to see what the re-launch had in store.  I trotted over and had a look around.  There are a few cats out in beta that you can take a closer look at there.

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My first impressions are somewhat mixed.  I love the shape of the body and I really like the majority of the textures that are being used for fur.  But the eyes aren’t a patch on the ones that the Wildwoods had; they seem duller by comparison.  The shape of the eye itself has changed too and it’s far less effective than the previous Wildwood eye shape.  I also dislike the ear shape that I saw, it is a bit pointy whereas the previous ear was more cat-like, in my opinion. The cats I viewed were of course in beta test so they may well change..I almost hope that it does.

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But then again, check out the picture above. Doesn’t this guy look great? When the cats are rolling around on the floor or in a seated pose they look rather grand and very regal, in the way that only cats can, but the walking movement was a bit of a letdown; it is best described as a strange forward-moonwalk trot/shuffle combination. I think the product needs a little more work but that’s the blessing of beta-testing, you can iron out the quirks before launch day.   One final positive that I noted from my visit to the Imaginimals sim were the kittens.  They actually birth kitten shapes, rather than boxes. These would look great in a basket and I envision that’s how many breeders will choose to sell them, they’re not especially detailed although I do I think it’s a nice touch.

I really rate some of the animations in the cats.  The sleeping pose is really incredibly sweet as I hope the shot above demonstrates.  I watched a Siamese slumber and it looked very natural for a stylised virtual cat! (If I was being hyper critical I’d say that it was breathing a little bit too fast..but perhaps it was dreaming?)

Do I think Kittycats should be shaken by this new feline competitor?

Absolutely not. I think Kittycats are well-established and successful for a number of reasons, not just because of their excellent product. They offer the full package, the cats look sensational, and the team behind them is justly proud of their excellent customer service and have a dedicated Kittycat community which would prove hard to break. I certainly think Kittycats have the edge when it comes to animations as well. That said, a bit of competition is very good for the consumer, so I don’t begrudge Imaginimals giving it another shot at all.  This time I just hope that they have a more structured customer service in place and will be able to deal with their clientele more effectively, but I do wish them well and look forward to seeing the finished product at launch.

I sincerely hope however that a fresh start with a re-imagined product means they will be more respectful to their customers and provide a full customer support service which is keen to respond to questions when asked.

This has not always been the case, as this post from the excellent Breedables Inc. blog clearly proves.

When people pay money for a product, service is paramount, something that Kittycats CSR reps prove time and again. I hope Imaginimals can endeavour to follow that example so the past does not repeat itself.

In total contrast are the Zooby Lemurs.

Now, I love lemurs.  There is an amazing wildlife park within driving distance to me that has a  walk-through lemur enclosure, and it is outstanding. (There’s also a very good one at Blackpool Zoo of all places, my father-in-law got licked by a very affectionate Red-Ruffed Lemur while we were there!)   Being surrounded by lemurs chilling and basically enjoying themselves is a very enjoyable and humbling experience. They are truly amazing animals and to see them brought to the grid as a breedable pet is really quite exciting.  Team that with the fact that these are made by Zoobys and you have a dazzling breedable prospect. I mean, let’s face it, Zooby’s creates the best animals on the grid; they are always beautifully built and rendered and the textures that are used to coat the creatures are just bang on.

For me Zooby’s is the epitome of virtual animal creation in-world. 

But I felt a bit disappointed when I visited the sim and just saw a lot of boxes and information and a couple of gorgeous, but static lemurs…

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Don’t get me wrong, the location where the lemurs are located  is great and the builds fabulous ( I love the temple styling and the way the product is boxed and presented) but if I’m  going to spend money on these  I need to see them moving around and doing Lemur stuff..

As gorgeous as they are, and believe me they REALLY are outstanding looking things, seeing them in a static pose does not encourage me to want to buy them.

Fortunately  I bumped into a guy who was carrying his new Lemur and he told me that they were great virtual pets; they move about beautifully and follow you around at home too. He was really satisfied and excited by them.  It was great to see him so enthused, so please Carrie Tatsu and Zooby Vella, let a few of the little fellas loose on the sim so we can get a better feel for these stunning virtual critters! Because I mean, just LOOK at them..

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A tempting prospect aren’t they? Click HERE to visit Imaginimals and see the cats, and HERE to visit Zooby’s and see the Lemurs.

What do you think? Post your comments, how do you feel seeing the Imaginimals beta-cats and what do you think to the Zooby Lemurs? I’d be really interested in your thoughts, please add them below!

(A final note: I found a FANTASTIC BREEDABLE BLOG when I was mooching around the interwebz seeking links for this article. If you’re at all interested in Second Life Breedables, you must check it out.  It’s curated by a lady called Aywren Sojourner and it’s an incredibly useful resource and interesting read to boot.)

Amaretto 2.0 – A Change For Better Or Worse?

Seems Amaretto have decided it’s time for some serious spring-cleaning because they’ve launched an update with some pretty radical changes.

Not only have they announced the retirement of the Appaloosa and Walker breeds from starter packs, but they’ve also considerably changed the sculpts that shape the horses, meaning a huge difference in appearance from the original Amaretto style (more on that later).

Other updates include not being able to send a sick horse to Horse Haven (controversial that one methinks!) but a much cooler change that shows real consideration for the customer base is the fact that horses can now eat themselves out of being sick (starved). That means lots of lindens saved on sick kits if people have the patience to wait, and I commend them for implementing that change.

Because I don’t breed horses anymore, but still love them, I was really intrigued when my friend Vere pinged me to say a massive update had been released and would I like to go over to her land to see the changes. Vere’s a moderately successful breeder and has over sixty horses in her care. However, it was clear after starting the update that these changes were not only pretty substantial, but a potential game changer too….

For a start the horses seem to have lost the overall roundness that they once had. In fact, this is most extreme on the faces, where the once gentle curves have become replaced by a more angular aspect. There is more detail on the mane, this is seen to great effect in the upright mane which granted, looks much better. As does the tail, which has much more depth and detail than it did before. This is shown to great effect on long tails, although I didn’t see much change to the long mane which was disappointing. It would have been nice to see random curls or waves there. The eye textures and colours are slightly altered as well. Personally I think the eyes have lost their character and have become beady, a trait I observed and commented about when I first saw the Amaretto breedable dogs.. The colours and textures are tweaked somewhat as well. In some instances it works, in others I’m not so sure. For instance, teh Red Walkers I’m featuring in this post were a nice shade of red-brown, now they’re almost orange!

I know breedables develop as time goes on, I KNOW. I’ve been a breeder myself for long enough to realise that changes are required to stay ahead in the game. But this is a HUGE change, and I just don’t understand why there was a need to change the appearance of the horses to this extent. On some of the breeds, and this is of course my personal opinion, it’s rendered them almost characterless. I noted clumsy changes, for example the horns on the LE Christmas Reindeer Horse are now a bit of a mess, they weren’t that sparkling before but now they look like branches rather than antlers!

The only horse that I actually thought looked improved was a Black Arabian with violet eyes. I’m not all doom and gloom though: I really rate the changes to the hooves, these are a real improvement and have given them tons more depth and realism.

I think the changes to the manes and tails are overall a big improvement too, although I would have liked to have seen a few more tweaks with regards to the long manes.

But on the whole? I’m not a huge fan of these new changes at all, although it would seem I’m in a minority because the Amaretto group was practically gushing with praise for the new sculpts.

I guess I’m old-skool, belonging to the ‘If it ain’t broke then don’t fix it’ school of thought. A few tweaks were undoubtedly necessary, but such an extensive over-haul is pushing it a tad too far. I really cannot see how this is an improvement on an already great product that looked pretty darn good to begin with anyway; and I really feel for Vere who is now in a real quandary. The changes to her favourite breed, the ones that she has avidly collected and lovingly bred, are now so substantial that it has seriously dented her enthusiasm and I am not just saying this but I’ve never known anyone so enthusiastic about the horses (and the bunnies) as Vere. It’s not only the Red Walkers that have lost their charm either; her other favourites, the Black/White Mustang now have a somewhat paler coat texture by comparison to what went before. For Vere, the appeal was the deep black of the coat, and now that has totally diminished.

Personally I’m glad that Trojan has retired because I couldn’t bear to have updated him and watch his appearance change so much. It’s the faces. They’re too angular and remind me of the Avebury White Horse in their appearance, ( I know I’m mad). But in all honesty I’d rather this appearance update was cut out of rock in the side of a hill than on the grid right now.

Will this impact Amaretto’s sales in a positive or negative way?  Too soon to tell I think, but it cannot hurt to inject new life into it by trying a radical approach. This could lead to an Ozimals-style resurgence of the product and I’d be more than happy to see that, but after this update I know for a fact that I won’t be returning to horse breeding.

What do you think about this update? Do you like the changes or are you unhappy with them? Feel free to leave your comments below!

Talkin’ Horses: Time for some horse sense!

OK- first up is something VERY important; if you’re considering getting into Amaretto horses then you MUST check out what has been released to support Breast Cancer research. For L$1010 you can be the very proud owner of a special edition ‘Save The Tatas!’ horse. Of course you don’t know what sex you’re getting until it’s out of the box, but there are a couple of colour options available: pink or white body with contrasting (pink or white) tail. They sport the breast cancer ribbon emblem on their rump, and each one has a ribbon eye. Not only that, but SOME of them have been coming out of the box sporting long manes and tails…so as you can imagine they’ve proved exceedingly popular, which is great news and means lots of lovely cash going to charity.
Alas, some people are re-selling them already. It looks as though people have bulk bought to try and gain traited horses, and are re-selling the horses they don’t want at a lower price. I’ve seen them going for as low as L$500 already; this doesn’t really sit comfortably with me. Obviously the initial purchase dollars went to charity, but anything further goes to the seller. I think in future special edition horses such as these would be better engineered as no transfer, to avoid re-selling, but if you want one you’d better come quick. Today ( Oct 31) is the last day that you can buy one officially, and I highly recommend that you do. The interesting part is finding out what traits these beauties will be passing on.

I got one, a lovely wee female which I’ve named ‘Deedee’ for obvious reasons. I’m really glad that Amaretto have done this for charity, and I really hope that other breedable companies take note and follow suit. On a more reflective note; I know that Dionne ( Deedee) would have gone absolutely crackers for the Amaretto Breedable Horses had she been here. She loved animals, and owned a horse during her teens. Ever since release day I’ve thought of her in Second Life, with a sim full of horses ( and bunnies, and whatever else she could get her hands on) and I know that, wherever she’s resting now, she’d totally approve.

Moving on to other matters horse related and it was 1.3 update time last week, and for most people, myself included, it seems to have gone without a hitch. It’s an easy process to follow, and takes a matter of minutes to update your horse and reset settings. I couldn’t help thinking of all those people that own hundreds of horses though, updating must be a hellish process for them. But it also got me thinking about why you would want so many horses anyway, and of course the answer to that is ‘To make Money’. We’ve already seen what happens when people breed too much with the Ozimals Bunnies, but it seems we’re already headed for a crash with the horses UNLESS Amaretto can help the community at large prevent it. But what can be done? Already at auction prices are dropping and horses aren’t selling, and this is because the grid is completely saturated, with mares mostly. It’s still not easy to breed a stallion from a small breeding stock; I know this myself since I have only ever managed to breed ONE out of a total of 45 bundles! But what is easy to do, and will help with the problem of over-saturation, is to NOT birth un-traited bundles. I know a few horse breeders in-world are already taking this step, and even deleting bundles too, and I think it’s actually a a very sensible one. There are way too many horses out there for the market to manage folks, we need to (pardon the pun) reign ourselves in.

I myself have been taking bundles into my inventory that aren’t traited, and just leaving them there. It’s no biggie..you don’t need to birth every bundle that’s born. For some people I think birthing has become an addiction, and gives the  phrase ‘Doin’ horse’ a whole different meaning.
Fortunately Amaretto have got wise to this issue sooner rather than later, and included in the update was the option to send your horse to Horse Haven. Like the much promised ‘Bunnybury'( which is about to enter closed Beta at last) Horse Haven isn’t running as yet, but it looks as though it will follow similar guidelines with redeemable tokens issued for bundles or live horses submitted to the scheme. There’s even voting taking place on the official forums as to what these tokens should be called ( ‘Horse Cents’ seems to be the most appropriate name if you ask me!) and I do strongly urge you to log in, vote, and also read what the horse community on teh whole has to say about the idea. It’s great to see a breedable company willing to get stuck in so soon after the product was released and even more inspiring to see that them want to address a pricing crash before it happens. Let’s hope they’ve caught it in time, and that the market will continue to thrive… but in the meantime, here’s what any responsible horse breeder should do:

1# DON’T birth an un-traited bundle. By traited I mean long mane/tail/coat and hair conditions and special eyes. Even if you’re 100% convinced that by birthing the bundle it will turn out to be a colt and you’ll be able to make some lindens don’t be so sure..the market is a tad jiittery at the moment and you may find yourself stuck with a horse you don’t want or need. If that is the case, take it into your inventory; designate a folder for horse that you will perhaps consider sending to Horse Haven when it’s released.

2# When selling horses don’t undercut market value. Fortunately a LOT of breeders are being VERY vocal about people selling bundles at L$100 a shot..even though it may seem like a great way to make a quick buck, in the long term it is damaging to the market, and brings the value of the horses down. There’s a notecard doing the rounds with a suggested pricing structure on it for horses/bundles ( IM me if you’d like a copy) and it makes some sense that someone (Sadly I don’t know who- if you know who produced it please IM me and I’ll give them a credit here on the blog) has taken this brave move to try and evaluate what a horse is worth and how much it should be sold for. You may not agree, but you cannot condone them for giving it a shot!

3# Remember; it’s just a game! You DON’T have to have a huge collection of horses to make some Lindens. A couple of mares and a stallion with exceptional traits will probably do you more good in the long-term than a herd of forty horses that you struggle to feed and manage. Which leads me on to the next point..

4# It’s NOT all about the Lindens. The secondary market is a huge element of the breedable game of course, but actually owning and riding the horses is tons of fun. You can buy some beautiful saddles and accessories for your horses and there are some great horse trails on the grid, and of course you can get some stunning riding outfits too!

Which leads me on to my most important point of all…..

Relax and enjoy your horses, that’s the most important element of the game. Don’t you think it’s sad to think of all the breeders out there that have never saddled up and rode a horse around a beautiful sim? Besides, I look hot when I’m riding horses, and I don’t mean in a sweaty way….(evidence below!)