Sansar: The Phantom Menace of Virtual Worlds?

A couple years ago when Palmer Lucky was cool, Linden Lab did an experiment. They attempted to make Second Life accessible through the Oculus Rift DK, and while the addition of every Second Life option as a heads up display was mind numbingly nauseating, there was a glimmer of something amazing.

I kind of wished that they had separated the VR headset side of things as a ‘mode’ in which we could when ever we wanted to briefly immerse ourselves into our Second Life creations without all the options. Because an immersive VR Headset is a different experience to our ‘Desktop’ experiences and finding the balance between the two seems to be very challenging. After 14 years of crafting and socialising through the augmentation of a desktop platform with an avatar thats been refined and brought to life through many techniques (and often hacks), our expectations are understandably very high for ‘Sansar’.

Sansar is the result of realising that Second Life can’t be adapted for the modern immersive VR headset’s of the neoVR crowd. Instead Linden Lab decided it was time to start from scratch and build a new platform from the ground up ready for what the NeoVR industry has in store. I’m interested to see what they have decided to keep from Second Life’s diverse abilities, and what they decide to do differently because of how Immersive VR works with things like controllers and tracking.

I’m a mac user so i’m already one foot down on the ‘Love Sansar’ movement, but i swallowed my pride, installed windows in bootcamp and took Sansar for a spin. From the start Sansar feels modern and welcoming in its simplicity. There seems to be no performance options so if Sansar does not work… it just won’t work, can’t get much simpler than that.

The premise for Sansar is quite simple at this stage. You have three free spaces to build what ever you want in the confines of what is currently possible. Whats currently possible  feels quite limited from the point of view of a Second Life creator. Part of this may be my own limited experience with Sansar and C# but currently most places i’ve visited are very static with no life to them. Even the avatars are lifeless, gormlessly starring into nothing, all standing the same as if everyones AFK.

Creating and Editing can take a while, i find myself spending more time trying to view an object than placing it and if you find something wrong with your objects texture you can’t edit and adjust it. Instead you have to re-upload the whole object again, which if your original object is on a mac partition can really get frustrating.

Thats me in the green shirt… happy

At this stage you probably get the feeling i don’t like Sansar, well.. it’s not that simple. Sansar is still in Beta, some even saying in Alpha. There is also a tonne of high tech stuff under the hood i don’t understand to really appreciate. A lot of people are comparing Sansar to when Second Life first appeared with bare bones features, when it was still just an online social creative experiment before Facebook and twitter came along. Except back then there was no user base eagerly anticipating it.

I find myself comparing Sansar to Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, the great anticipation leading to disappointment. The Original Star Wars movie came out of nowhere spawning a lifelong fanbase, much like Second Life did. So while I’m slightly disappointed with Sansar, i’m also keeping in mind that i harbour a boatload of expectation thanks to how amazing Second Life still is and should give Linden Lab more time to suit Sansar up.

My experience of Sansar has so far only been the Desktop mode as I don’t yet have a Vive headset to experience Sansar from the VR headset side of things, and I’m probably not alone. I have the PSVR and used to use the OculusDK when they supported Mac, so I’m fully aware of how spaces can be a completely different experience in a VR headset. Places that feel static and devoid of life in Desktop mode may be a sublime experience in a VR headset. I’ve been wondering if Sansar’s drowsy desktop experience is to do with keeping a balance between VR headset mode and Desktop mode until they better understand how things should go.

If you have a VR Headset i would imagine Sansar is already a pretty amazing and compelling social experience. But if you are a Desktop user coming over from Second Life, then you might find your expectations are too high.

My first Sansar experience has you walking through woods towards strange lights

So do i like Sansar? I can’t say that i do, nor can i say that i don’t. Over the next year Sansar will evolve and i do not know wether it will become more in some ways like Second Life or less, i’m not even sure if that’s important. In the end it has to be something i want to use and something i find a use for. I’d also probably use it a lot more if it had native support for mac though. 😛

Loki Avatar 3.0 – Part 5: Expressing my happiness

Avastar has progressed to RC12 and I’m in the middle of creating facial expressions to convey the mood of my Bento Avatar.

When upgrading Avastar i somehow ran into an issue that caused my Rig to export animations that flipped the facial bones upside down. I sent a bug report and we spent hours trying to work out why this happen and how to fix it.

I still don’t know how the rig became corrupted but with guidance from the avastar team i was able to create a new rig and re-bind my Mesh Body without having to loose all the weight mapping and settings. This new found ability to rebind mesh to new rigs is great news but does have some important steps needed to prevent screwing things up, such as setting appearance control to ‘no sliders’ before unbinding.

 

Setting the Mood

Reaching the 100th iteration of my mesh body i finally moved onto scripting the menu system built into the avatar. These options will allow the user to Select masking presets or custom masking. There is also an updated wet mode i first introduced in the first loki mesh avatar. But with this being a Bento Avatar i’m also adding some new features.

Moods is a new option with which you can select your avatars mood such as being happy, sad, grumpy or frightened. These aim to animate your avatars face in response to what ever occasion you might find yourself in at a party or during a role-play game.

 

Learning to smile.

It’s a universal world wide view that to draw a smile you simply draw an upward curve, but in reality a smile does not really do that, its a lot more complex and it has taken me a while to learn how best to animate a smile with Bento. Trying to avoid upward curves and ending with a scary grinning face turned out harder than i expected especially when results vary between blender and second life.

I even looked at Medhues examples of using movement/translations to create a more natural smile, but realised that doing such a thing has side effects that would need extensive workarounds to use. Though i did learn how to animate the tongue to stick out.

When it comes to face expressions i’m finding subtlety is best because expressions seem to work best when glanced briefly. The combination of movement between body and face can really bring the avatar to life in a way that has been lacking in Second Life for 14 years.

 

With these Bento Hands

So i think I’m on the final stretch with regards to my personal Bento Avatar. I’m basically scripting the options and testing our various moods to see what works best. I’ve also been experimenting with adding Bento enabled animations to objects that animate you to grip them as well as add little bit of casual flare.

Next week i hope to start on the consumer version which will replace the head with a default avatars head in the hope users can reproduce their classic avatar faces. How well this will work… will have to just wait and see :-p

Farpoint – PSVR Review

Sony have shifted quite a lot of PSVRs during its first year on sale and I’ve so far had a great verity of experiences with it. Last month i decided to try out a first person shooter called Farpoint that came with tacky tracky gun stick thingy.. the Aim Controller….

I’m not a fan of first person shooters. Perhaps I’m just to nice and delicate in the mind to enjoy the escapism of shooting other people, or maybe i just incredibly suck at shooty games. So why did i even consider buying a special PSVR Gun Stick?

Not what i expected

The game Farpoint is surprisingly more than i originally thought. At first i assumed it was a game about shooting bugs and Starship Troopers sprung to mind. I soon discovered there was a rather nice story of survivors that you uncover as you make your way across the planet fending off attacks from the local wildlife.

The route you take through the rocky planetscape is a set path in a direction that you mostly are facing, but you are given enough freedom to move about to give a perception of free exploration.

Watch live video from LokiEliot on www.twitch.tv

For a shooty game with lots of “WOOO YEAH COME GET SOME!” antics, the story moments were surprisingly touching and emotional thanks in part to the developers attention to characters facial expressions and acting. I also found myself enjoying the twists the story takes which led to the game not being just about shooting bugs.

 

Talking of bugs.

The AIM controller is really fun. Holding it in front of you and seeing it as the weapon in game is a gimmick i haven’t got bored of yet. I’d really hope other game devs expand it’s uses beyond just a gun though.

The AIM Controller really pushes the PSVRs limited tracking abilities and it would appear the AIM can sometimes loose track of itself. I often found myself aiming the weapon only to watch it slowly tilt to the left on its own accord. A quick shake of the gun would correct it but during an intense battle it quickly became annoying. I took it as part of the game difficulty but i know others wouldn’t.

 

Coming out of the god dam walls!

I really enjoyed Farpoint mainly for its sci-fi story element that really adds an extra layer to the simple PEW PEW DIE BUGS! The scuttling Spider aliens coming out of the walls made me jump quite a few times and there are plenty of occasions where i quickly found myself overwhelmed.

Watch live video from LokiEliot on www.twitch.tv

Once again the physical effects of VR left me sweating buckets and my Headset steamed up during intense battles leading me to take breaks after about an hour of gameplay. Like with Resident Evil having moments of anxiety as you carefully proceed then a burst of adrenalin as you deal with a  wave of monsters seems to take an extreme toll on me in VR. It’s one of the reasons i love VR so much!

Watch live video from LokiEliot on www.twitch.tv

Farpoint turned out to be better than i expected and was another quite unique experience in PSVR.

Loki Avatar 3.0 – Part 4: Giving Bento the finger

Avastar is still stuck on RC10 but seems to be working well. I decided to start work on making my Bento Avatars hands look better. What i thought would just be a days work ended up being over a week of frustration.

The problems started when i took a close look at the Bento Skeleton Fingers and noticed that the finger bones are horrifically out of proportion. Again my first thought was ‘I’m doing this wrong!?’.

Apparently no, after contacting the awesome Avastar team for support i was told this is in fact how the bento skeleton is.  So i immediately went to work on editing the Avastar bento skeleton bones to try and get a more proportionately accurate hand.

The next problem was when it came to exporting the avatar to import into Second Life. When exported with Avastars ‘Use Bind Pose’ the avatar came in with correct hand proportions but Second Life ignored the edited finger lengths so i got really long slender fingers.

Top: Default Bento salad fingers – Bottom: my adjusted kid fingers

A few people were like ‘dude they make horses and stuff so you must be able to like do shorter fingers? Well to make anything that is not a human you export using ‘joint offsets’. Avatars exported with joint offsets seem to lack the extra tricks of Bind Pose such as fitted and physics mesh or something like that. All i know for sure is that my avatar looked incorrectly deformed when imported with joint offsets. Although the hands came in the correct size and shape…. typical.

 

Medhue is a god.

And so it was that i got more and more frustrated with the prospect of having salad fingers. That was until i happened to watch a Medhue video on rigging a bento tail in which he showed how you can use just an animation to make tails longer using joint offsets. After seeing that i screamed into action and created a simple animation that stored the edited bone lengths and nothing else.

Having the Bento Avatar play this animation every time it is attached sets the hands to the correct proportions and makes me a happy bunny. Now i can get on with final texture adjustments and explore creating animations . The light at the end of the Bento tunnel is in sight and I’m having fun!

#SL14B What’s inside his head?

It’s that time of the year again where we celebrate to the continuation of the original Metaverse thats been long forgotten or shrugged off as silly nonsense by NeoVR kids. 

I must confess this year was hard to set aside time for, so those expecting an immersive HUD driven adventure voiced by Little Drax will probably be disappointed. Instead i present to you something thats small and rather simple….. ‘What’s inside his head’

The arty installation invites you into the mind of a sleeping boy who decided to sleep through tough times and as such has slept for quite a long time. But inside his mind the boy is still having a whale of a time and you can join the party.

As i have been recently exploring Photogrammetry i decided to scan in my own nephew to be the centrepiece. The crazy characters in his head were also scanned as was the interior. I’m very interested in the process of making things in reality and then importing to Virtual Reality and hope to have more interesting examples during the rest of this year.

 

 

In the mean time, please visit my sleeping Nephew, take a look in his head, grab the free gifts and have a great week at SL14B! you can find him in the centre of the Spellbound region of SL14B