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The Secret Avatar: Opinions That No One Wanted


by bouncyhanyou

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     Part I

     Some of the sagest advice for a writer is to choose a subject about which you are passionate. On Neopets, for me that subject is avatars. I have been and will always be an avatar collector. It has been my main interest on Neopets, and it continues to fuel me even as I have fewer and fewer left to obtain. So today I am going to discuss some of the newer avatars, sharing my opinion on what I consider successes as well as those that I feel miss the mark, and what they could’ve done better.

     Trudy’s Surprise (7.5/10) – The Trudy’s avatar is awarded on your 25th consecutive spin of the Trudy’s Surprise wheel, in addition to the usual 100,000 neopoints. The avatar itself is basic but well-done. The artwork is crisp and pleasing and there’s a border around the edge. The animation shows a sack of neopoints filling up and emptying; it is simple and not overly busy. The white background makes it a bit plain, but overall it meets all of my criteria to be a good design. The method for obtaining is a little too easy, in my opinion; I didn’t have to do a single new thing to obtain this avatar, since I already spin Trudy’s every day for the free neopoints.

     Flee! (6/10) – This avatar’s release raised a lot of eyebrows, for a few different reasons. It is an avatar that is awarded when you are placed in the Top 50 high scores of Kiss the Mortog at trophy time. The first issue is that Kiss the Mortog already has an avatar! The Mortog Smooch av is given when you correctly pick four Mortogs in a row and collect your winnings. Many were confused as to why TNT decided that this luck-based game deserved two avatars, instead of picking a game that didn’t have one yet. The second source of confusion with this avatar is the Top 50 aspect. This is a game where you can only get a set number of scores—100 for picking one Mortog correctly, 300 for picking two, and so on. The way scores work, when a certain number of players are on the High Score Table, the first person on the board gets bumped off whenever a new player gets the same score. Some games, such as Dar-Blat! and Splat-a-Sloth, are designed this way. But it seems like an odd choice for a game like Kiss the Mortog. Artistically speaking the avatar is great; bright colors, simple animation, and clean, sharp lines. I think watching the Mortog hop on and off the lily pad is fun, if a little on the busier side of animations. The reason this avatar gets such a low score from me is because I feel that the effort would’ve been better spent on a game that didn’t already have its own avatar, and because the method of obtaining this one is so confusing.

     AAA’s Revenge (4/10) – This avatar was briefly awarded when reaching a max score of 1000 in the game of the same name, AAA’s Revenge. Unfortunately, it was disabled just a month after its release, due to a glitch in the game. The high score requirement made for an extremely challenging avatar, which gave it points in my book. The avatar has rounded corners, which in my opinion makes it a little more interesting than a plain square. Unfortunately there is no border at all, leaving it looking unfinished. The animation is another ‘mini-movie’, with the view zooming back and forth between AAA and Roothless. I personally do not like this effect at all. Furthermore, the art styles of Roothless and AAA appear to be very different, with the shading and color gradients being noticeably different from one character to the other. The AAA image looks like it could be taken from a Daily Dare or Games Master Challenge splash page, while Roothless looks much more basic, with lines that don’t look as polished. I do not feel like this avatar is very well-assembled or cohesive, but I still hope that one day it becomes attainable once more.

     Robot Vandagyre (9.5/10) – Upon its initial release alongside the Royalboy Lutari avatar, the Robot Vandagyre avatar was very pixelated and did not look nice. But the images were soon re-uploaded, giving us this beauty of an avatar. The artwork is sharp and crystal-clear. There is a scrolling animation in the background that is reminiscent of binary code, which I think suits the robot theme quite nicely. The Vandagyre’s eyes flash every few moments as well. The animation is subtle and not overdone. There is also a tiny detail in the border at the corners, where they are angled on the inside to give the avatar a more unique shape than a straight, square border would. The requirements for receiving the avatar are quite easy: view the lookup of a Robot Vandagyre when your active pet has a Robot petpet attached. The Robot Turmac is given out as a prize from the Turmaculus, and thus it is quite inexpensive to get a Robot petpet. I personally think that zapping a Robot Vandagyre at the Lab Ray would’ve been a more fun and challenging requirement, but that is my only complaint about this nifty avatar. Aesthetically speaking, this is probably my favorite avatar released in recent years.

     L&L – Bravo, Aurrick! (2/10) – I feel that this avatar was an example of potential wasted. Aurrick’s avatar is awarded by participating in the Legends and Letters app challenge that links to your Neopets account. Firstly, it’s important to note that this avatar does not count in your collection. I feel that this information should have been stated in the app, because as it stands it felt like a bait-and-switch. For me, this significantly decreases the value of the avatar down to almost nothing. The Challenge of Challenges on the app was in fact quite entertaining to complete—this avatar would’ve scored well in that area otherwise. Art-wise, it’s a huge letdown as well. We were unfortunately introduced to the ‘mini-movie’ avatars in the Wraith Resurgence plot, and I had hoped that we’d seen the last of them. Fuzzy, pixelated, and with far, far too much going on, I feel that this avatar is an eyesore. The one bit of praise I can give is that the border is quite fun—much better than a plain black one. There was a huge missed opportunity, in my opinion, of a much better avatar. The ‘World Map’ icon of Neopia in the L&L app would have been such a treasure as an avatar. It is already close to the dimensions of an avatar, it would have a pleasing, unique shape, and it could have been hovering up and down slightly the way it does in the app. Overall this avatar was a huge disappointment.

     Good Day at the Bank (6/10) – In order to be awarded this avatar, you must take your active pet on its birthday for a trip to the bank and deposit some neopoints. This gets points for uniqueness on the requirement for obtaining the avatar—it’s not as straightforward as most other recent avatars. I like that it makes me think of taking my pet to the bank so he can deposit his birthday money! However, a workaround was quickly discovered for this avatar. A person could create a brand new pet and take it to the bank that same day. This was not in the spirit of the avatar, which required patience and forethought akin to an annual avatar. TNT soon remedied this so that a Neopet could not award this avatar on the day of its creation. Looking at the art, I feel that it looks a bit fuzzy and pixelated. It almost reminds me of an 8-bit design. I think the animation is a bit too busy with the Skeith blinking and shuffling his hands, the scrolling text, and the bank vault door opening and closing. I would have either done the door opening with the scrolling text, or the Skeith blinking and moving his hands with an open vault door and stationary text. The border is almost non-existent, just a square, single pixel’s width in light grey. While I like the idea of the avatar, ultimately it is not very pretty to look at. Finally, I must mention something that bothers me particularly, and that is the method in which you are given this avatar. Rather than the traditional ‘Something Has Happened!’ box appearing at the top of the page, you are notified of your achievement via a Neomail. To me, this is a mistake. While some may not be bothered at all by this, it is one of my favorite things about getting an avatar to have that little box pop up and inform you of your success.

          

          

     Part II

     And so, my critique of our most recent secret avatars continues. At times complimentary, other times scathing, I will guide you, dear reader, through my opinions of artistic design, avatar-awarding solutions, and the absolute necessity of a decent border.

     Royalboy Lutari (7/10) – Released with the Robot Vandagyre avatar and their initial, over-pixelated appearance, the Royalboy Lutari avatar did not benefit as much as its partner from the re-upload. Obtained by viewing the pet lookup of a Royalboy Lutari while carrying 5 Lutari items in your inventory, this avatar was another one that was quite easy and inexpensive to get. As someone who likes her avatars a bit challenging, the simplicity of its solution left something to be desired. To me, the artwork was lackluster. The colors don’t seem very vibrant; this could be due to the grey/blue background washing it out. The pose is clearly just the standard pet pose of the RB Lutari, flipped horizontally. If you didn’t know this, you wouldn’t know that he is holding the staff on the left side, and might wonder what that moving bit is. The artwork just doesn’t feel as crisp as it could be. I do like the simplicity of the animation, but I’d like it more if you could see that the Lutari is holding the staff, and I also would have made him blink less often. The biggest letdown of this avatar, however, is that it was not somehow linked to Lutari Island! Many of us have been itching to see the Island become accessible again, and this avatar—with its misty background, suggesting the Lutari is on the Island—seemed to hint at a reintroduction.

     Faerie Festival, Infirmary, Hidden Identity, The Wraith Resurgence (2/10) – During the run of The Wraith Resurgence plot, we had many avatars released—in my opinion, too many. A number of people found them frustrating due to the inconsistent release of plot steps and glitches that prevented people from completing the achievements that awarded the avatars. I grouped these avatars together because they all share the same aesthetic—fuzzy, pixelated ‘mini-movies’ surrounded by clunky borders. I make it no secret that I am not a fan of this style of avatar. I find them to be extremely inferior; the artwork, which should be crisp and clean, suffers from a large drop in quality. I think the best avatars are often the simplest ones, with little movements and small embellishments, so these avatars that are showing entire sequences are distasteful to me. For example, with The Infirmary avatar, I would’ve loved one in the shape of a potion that cycled through all the different potions used. It would be simple and colorful, without too much going on.

     Fiendish Formations (8/10) – An avatar no longer attainable, this was given to those who successfully completed every stage of the Fiendish Formations mini-game during The Wraith Resurgence plot. This avatar was controversial because of its tiny window of availability during a plot that was updated very sporadically. The game itself was quite fun, and overall I like the avatar. It shares the color of your team’s gamepieces in Fiendish Formations, featuring a cannon that fires a cannonball periodically, complete with a puff of smoke. The cannon shape looks rather pixelated, and the avatar looks a bit dull, color-wise. I personally would’ve loved to see an avatar of the actual gamepiece; it is circular, which I find more visually appealing than a square avatar, it looks like a shiny button, and the lines are clearer and more robust. However, I understand that this might have made animating the cannon more challenging. This avatar was the standout gem from all of those awarded during The Wraith Resurgence plot.

     Not Rubbish (*3/10) – What many people thought was initially a complex puzzle of an avatar akin to Chef Bonju turned out to be a hot mess of confusion, glitches, and broken mechanics. When this avatar was released, players flocked to the Rubbish Dump to try and discover the secret that would grant the avatar. Theories floated around the boards; people came together to try different strategies. Finally, people started to suspect that it wasn’t working as intended. It was briefly awarded to anyone who viewed the Rubbish Dump within a short window of time. There were also two instances where the Dump was generating eligible items such as Paint Brushes and Petpets at an accelerated rate. It was speculated that this was the programmer testing the avatar. TNT finally addressed the issue and admitted that the avatar was not being awarded properly, but that there was no timeline in place for when it might be fixed. The art of Charlie at his Dump appears to have been taken from the header image of the Rubbish Dump page, with the only movement apart from text being a little wisp of stinkiness wafting off the pile of rubbish. The border looks chunky and uneven on the bottom, and the text is the same blurry, pixelated style from the Bank avatar. I personally am not a fan of the new scrolling text on avatars; I prefer the older style of a stationary word or two. *My score is based on the assumption that, at the time of writing, this avatar is indeed being awarded but is so rare that only a scant handful of users have received it the way it was intended. If the drop rate were ever increased, my score for this avatar would increase to 6/10.

     Comic Con 2018 (1/10) – The first Comic Con avatar was awarded to those who redeemed a Rare Item Code that was handed out by TNT at their booth in 2018. Many players who were not able to attend the event were able to obtain the avatar through other means, including the NeoCreation event hosted by TNT offsite, which awarded the code as a prize. Due to the backlash over the exclusivity of this avatar, it was made not to contribute to one’s overall avatar count. As an avatar collector, I’m as a rule not a fan of avatars that don’t count in collection. Alternately, they could have made it available to all players for a day when viewing the news featuring Comic Con updates, and still had it included in collections. The avatar itself is unimpressive to me. A straight square with a plain, thin black border, it has a very lackluster shape. I personally find the font they chose very boring and unappealing, although I do love the homage to the original Comic Con logo. The characters in the bottom right corner have a very 8-bit sprite look to them, which is not my favorite. Overall I felt this was a failure, and I hope that TNT does not continue this trend of releasing avatars that don’t add to our avatar count.

     Stamp Collector – Other II (7.5/10) – The release of the Other II avatar, which is awarded for completing the Other II stamp album, was as exciting as it was bewildering. On the one hand, it was the first non-event avatar to be released in several years. On the other, no one quite understood which stamp album it was tied to. While clearly a stamp avatar, there isn’t any stamp featuring Brucey B. It is still unclear why TNT chose Brucey B. to represent the Other II album. At first I was bothered by this random choice, but I admit that Brucey has grown on me. For continuity’s sake, however, I still wish they had chosen an image from the album to feature on the stamp. I would’ve loved to see the Fruit Bomb Stamp or the Geraptiku Stamp as the avatar for this album. My other complaint about this avatar is the fact that the background isn’t transparent. This is an easy fix that makes the avatar look much nicer, in my opinion.

          

          Part III

     We have finally arrived at the final installment of my definitely-not-asked-for avatar critiques. Maybe I’ve made you nod your head in agreement a time or two; hopefully I haven’t made any enemies for life. Without further ado, here are my final comments, good and bad, on this thing we love so dearly, the secret avatar.

     Stamp Collector – Maraquan, Shenkuu, Sea Shells, Neopia Central, Meridell vs. Darigan, Coins, Battle for Meridell, Neoquest II, Other, Space Station Coins, Scarabs, Altador, Evil Coconuts, Neoquest (7/10) – A good portion of these stamp avatars were all released together. Some people were unhappy about this mass release, as they felt that it affected the economy negatively. I personally would’ve enjoyed seeing one released every month or two; we get so few new avatars, and this would’ve stretched out the novelty of new stamp avatars for over a year. It would have kept people guessing as to which album would be released next. There were also many people who did not like some of the stamps chosen to represent the albums. A petpage was even made with fan-made alternate designs and a poll as to which was the most popular. TNT even agreed to look at the poll, though ultimately the only design changed was for the Altador stamp album. The avatar image was changed from the Psellia Stamp to the King Altador Stamp. This unfortunately received backlash, too; it was a classic example of ‘you can’t please everyone’. TNT has eventually edited almost all of the stamp avatars to have a transparent background, much to their benefit. The images are overall very crisp and clean, with the exception being King Kelpbeard’s image on the Maraquan stamp avatar. It appears that this image was not taken from a stamp like the rest and is unfortunately fuzzy and pixelated due to the loss in image quality. Another thing I feel would have benefitted these avatars is to have all of the text shuffling synced with each other, so that when they are all viewed at once the movement is all together.

     Caption Contest – Hilarious (2/10) – Here we have another avatar that made many a player scratch their head. The requirements for this avatar have changed around several times since its release, at first being given to the Top 25 winners in the Caption Contest, then later only to the Top 5. Every tenth round, it is awarded to people who already have the Caption Contest – Funny avatar. Speaking of which, folks were again confused as to why TNT decided to release a second avatar for a contest that already had a rare and highly-sought avatar as a prize. This avatar is an issue of contention with many players still, mainly due to its extreme difficulty to obtain as well as the current rules of the Caption Contest. The art looks very low-effort, with the Aisha appearing to be a copy of the generic customizable Aisha art with a bigger mouth drawn in. The art is at least crisp and clear. The background is a generic mix of purple and green, and the border is a boring black square. The animation has the Aisha bobbing its head in laughter, which I think is a nice effect. But the words ‘HA HA HA’ are blurry and appear to jump around sporadically. The reason I scored this avatar so low is partly due to the low-effort appearance, but is largely because of the stressful and unenjoyable way one must compete to achieve it. The fact that this is the second hard-to-get avatar from the Caption Contest is the last nail in this avatar’s coffin.

     Brain Tree Quest (9.5/10) – You are awarded the Brain Tree avatar by being in the Top 50 on the High Score Table when trophies are given out. This avatar puts a spin on the original Top 50 triumvirate: Escape From Meridell Castle, Korbat’s Lab and Maths Nightmare. These are all flash games, and therefore you have to compete for a high score with other users, typically with a lot of practice of the games. The Brain Tree avatar shakes up the dynamic because your score is entirely random. Nothing you do as a user effects how high or low your score from the Tree is; it’s entirely luck-based to get in the Top 50. Originally I didn’t like this mechanism, but with time it has grown on me. It is very much like getting a trophy from one of the kings or from Test Your Strength. It is essentially a random avatar, and there’s something fun about trying every day, wondering if today is your lucky day! The art is great, the colors are bright and the background contrasts nicely with the orange of the Brain Tree, and the glowing red eyes and silent scream of the Tree is spooky. There’s a simple black border and rounded edges, which makes it look clean and tidy. The animation is perfect; it isn’t overly fussy, just a zoom in and out and the eyes and mouth of the Tree. This is one of the most high-quality avatars released in recent years.

     Charity Corner 2019, 2018, Winter, Fall (3/10) – The Charity Corner has been a controversial event, with an avatar released for each year’s incarnation. Each avatar is square, with either a thick black border or no border at all. The images of Granny Hopbobbin look as though they’ve lost definition when they were shrunk down; blurry and pixelated. The movement on some of them is ‘mini-movie’-esque. Compare any one of these avatars to the original Charity Corner avatar: it has a unique, dynamic shape of a gift tag with a ribbon with three graceful shifts in the image displayed. It’s simple and elegant, interesting to look at, but not so busy that it distracts you. Most importantly, all of the lines are crisp and the images clear and solid.

     Altador Cup Team avatars (4.5/10) – At the suggestion of a player, TNT released the old AIM Buddy Icons of all the Altador Cup teams as avatars. When you reach Rank 1 in the Altador Cup, you are awarded your team’s corresponding avatar. Initially, they did not count in your collection, but at the request of players they allowed them to count, with a caveat. You cannot collect them all, but rather may only have the avatar of your most recent team. This made me deduct some points, as I cannot see a good reason not to allow collectors to obtain them all, switching to a new team every year, as many people do anyways. The avatars themselves are meh. They are borderless, which is a big problem aesthetically for me. The team’s captain flashes across the screen on repeat, which is neat. I understand that TNT released these as a quick and fun way to have a new avatar and let people support their AC teams without much work on their part. If it were me, I would have had each team’s icon on a transparent background, possibly with the team captain fading in and out over the logo. This would give each avatar a unique, interesting shape. I also of course would have made it possible for players to collect all of the avatars, rather than just one.

     Godori (8.5/10) – Now here is a fun avatar. Given to folks who can play and win 250 hands of Godori within the same calendar month, the Godori avatar provides more of a challenge than many recent avatars. It was released during a time when the site was experiencing heavy lag, but many of us crazy avatar collectors persevered (actually we’re just impatient). This avatar introduced many of us to a game we’d never even tried. The rules are a bit confusing at first, and it takes a little while to get the hang of it. Unfortunately the game isn’t perfect, and occasionally there are glitches in the favor of the opponent. But I found myself enjoying the game once I got the hang of it. Because of the high win requirement, this is an avatar that takes commitment to get. This was actually an unreleased avatar that was created years ago; at a user’s suggestion TNT decided to release it. I don’t totally love the colors, especially the cream background, but other than that it’s a visually pleasing avatar. Godori cards fly around in an Extreme Potato Counter-esque manner, making for a chaotic but fun avatar. The rounded edges and white highlight in the top left corner make the avatar look like a 3D button, which is a cool twist. This avatar is enjoyable to get, and the fact that it takes time and dedication to get makes it a winner in my book.

     20 Year Celebration Avatar (10/10) – Now this is a spiffing good avatar! It was another prize given out at Comic Con, but to many a player’s joy it was also awarded at the end of the 20th Anniversary event. It’s got a lot going on—it cycles through a rainbow of colors, has different Neopets flashing across the image, tons of sparkles glittering, moving text, whooshy stripes—and yet, it doesn’t seem too busy at all. Let’s dig into all the things this avatar is doing right! Firstly, the shape. I am a sucker for an unconventionally shaped avatar that isn’t a plain, boring square. It is the number 20, to represent Neopets’ 20th birthday! There are several species of Neopets within the avatar sliding across the image, but because the pets are the same color as the background, they are a very subtle, excellently done aspect. I’m also a sucker for sparkles on my avatars, and this avatar delivers here as well. It’s so tastefully done—not excessive—that it has a perfect, festive feel. The lines are sharp, as is the text. This is a perfect avatar, in my opinion—as long as it gets released for the 20th Birthday Celebration!

     Well, there you have it! One player’s honest opinion on all of the avatars released in recent years. Some of you may agree with me—and others may disagree completely! But ultimately, many of us are brought together by our mutual love of these shiny pixels and the pursuit thereof. I wish you all luck on your avvie-collecting journeys!

     

 
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