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Lessons of social #VR

After the Oculus phenomenon there was a period where Second Life users such as my self were cheering with excitement. For us it seemed the long awaited next step in Virtual World immersion was fast approaching at last.

There was almost a sense that through this new technological advancement our niche of a social virtual world would finally get the recognition we feel it deserved, and even go ‘main stream’.

From my own perspective it felt like a logical next step in what i was already doing, but to my surprise for a lot of tech media this was the start. This lead to some Second Life users kicking up a fuss and pointing out that a lot of things being claimed as ‘first time’ was already done before in Second Life years before. It also created a distinction war between Virtual Reality and Virtual Worlds.

As a Second Life user for over a decade it can be quite annoying, in part because i want Second Life to have more recognition for its incredible achievements, and also because it feels like i’m being branded as irrelevant in this new VR trend.

But the main reason i get annoyed is because for me Immersive VR was supposed to be the next step, the evolutionally step up from what we do in Second Life, but instead everyone seems to be retracing the early years of Second Life’s social evolution. This is why my eyes roll when i read postulations on the future of SocialVR, about ‘Facebook Emojis’, ‘watching movies in VR with friends’, ‘Share snapshots in VR with social media platforms’.

I mean, if i think back to how socially Second Life has changed since the start. How Linden Lab had to evolve how they managed user interaction, how they chose to deal with abuse reports. I remember how back in 2005 Second Life had a reputation system where you could rate people you met. This soon got gamed and abused so eventually it was deprecated, a lesson that was learnt years before it became a plot for an episode of Black Mirror this year.

So much came about due to Linden Lab allowing the free flow of User created social engagement. Even the idea of a marketplace was created by the Second Life users before it became hugely popular and was bought up by Linden Lab to be a major part of the Platform. The community shapes the Second Life Platform and the possibilities of virtual reality platform has in turn shaped the community.

Then you have the many different aspects of a virtual persona. People using a virtual space do so in a variety of ways, some using one avatar to represent themselves, others use many alts to switch and and swap and try out different personas. There have been Stanford studies about this, books written, embedded anthropologists examine how humans are using virtual worlds to explore aspects of humanity that can’t be done in physical reality.

You would think all this wealth of data on how people share virtual spaces would be a treasure trove for any new Social VR Startup. I occasionally hear “2D worlds like Second Life are irrelevant because they are not immersive VR.” It is true Second Life users have to use a lot more imagination to be immersed through the screen, but they do it, they have been doing it for years. it would be foolish to presume Second Life is just a 3D Facebook of shared shitposts, memes and fake news.

I don’t want to be that grouchy Second Life user that claims to have been there and done that with everything SocialVR related. I’m pleading with everyone who’s dabbling in SocialVR, there is a decade of Social VR lessons, achievements and mistakes to be learnt from already, don’t just ignore it because Second Life users could not say “wow i feel like I’m actually here”, because down the road that ‘i’m there’ presence will in the end likely be the thing that is irrelevant to SocialVR.

What i am most excited about with Social VR is what aspects of reality will we bring into our virtual ones and what purely virtual paradigms will we adopt. I’ve been teleporting for years already.

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My Robinson: The Journey – PSVR Review

That’s right, i do reviews now, reviews are cool.

Ever since the beginning the SL community has debated the question ‘Is Second Life a Game?’ to me the answer is no, but regardless of this i have always found inspiration in games for how to bring experiences to Second Life. With this in mind i’ll go ahead and review one of the latest PSVR games released called Robinson:The Journey by Crytek and discuss how it approaches navigation in Virtual Environments.

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In the game you play the roll of a boy called Robinson who is the soul survivor of a catastrophic Space station crash on a distant planet full of dinosaurs. One day you discover a broken Robot and suddenly the race is on to find more in order to finally learn why the space station crashed and wether there are other survivors. You are aided by a helpful floating AI robot and a loyal pet baby Trex.

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It’s not a game on rails, nor is it ‘sit in a cockpit’ game. It’s full blown free movement to walk around and explore the environment full of numerous creatures and insects. It really does buzz with wildlife.

As you explore you solve a few puzzles and unlock parts of the story with side quests to scan and record new species in a data core. The environments are beautifully crafted allowing for great mouth open gasps of ‘WOW’ and death defying instances that you would never want to find yourself doing in the real world.

 

Navigation in VR, different for everyone?

I was actually a bit worried the navigation controls would make me sick after reading some reviews, but i found myself wondering what these pro game reviewers were moaning about. I’ve read a few opinions stating that navigating with a thumb stick (Move to point) makes you VRsick, and that it is better to use a ‘Jump To Point’ method. In Robinson i found it perfectly fine to move slowly through the environment with ‘Move to point’ and didn’t feel sick at all.

Turn left or right on the controller and the view jumps suddenly and for a moment i thought ‘oh thats terribly jarring!’ a few moments later and i had forgotten about it. For a friend who was watching the twitch live stream it was driving him mad, but in VR the sudden movement was surprisingly subconscious, almost as if i my brain was processing it as a blink or sudden head twist and compensating for it naturally.

Another set of reviews complained about one of the things i found the most exciting about Robinson which is climbing. When you approach certain walls with orange coloured fungus or orange painted pipes your hands appear ready to grab. Using the controller buttons you can then reach up and climb walls adding an extra sense of freedom to explore the environment. I found myself running out of breath and having to jump on the spot to try and grab ledges just out of reach. It did not make me VR sick, i was having the best experience in VR i’ve ever had yet!.

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This has led me to wonder, what if there is no ONE way to experience VR. Maybe there needs to be a set of different ways to experience VR like how flight sims have options for inverted axis, because some will feel sick using ‘Move to point’ while others will dislike ‘Jump to point’. Those VR experiences that figure out how to cater for all, will rule them all :-p

UPDATE: I also need to admit at this point that VRSickness for me can sometimes come down to wether i’m standing or sitting. For games where you walk around i prefer to be standing up, and some games where you sit in a cockpit i prefer to be sitting down.

 

Wonder, Fear and Empathy.

This is the first truly immersive game i’ve played on the PSVR yet and it is the sort of experience i want from VR. Unlike the other short experiences in PSVR, this is the first one where i felt i was fully placed somewhere free to roam and explore. I got chills as i looked over the edge of a cliff and looking high into the treetops, which i then climbed up into. Looking back down at where i started and getting that sense of achievement in relation to what i had felt i had done rather than ticking off a box (although the game does give you boxes to tick off to).

And there are many moments where i felt fear. Fear of falling, fear of being stomped on, and the worst, fear of being eaten by a raptor. There was one moment where i was almost frozen with fear because just around a corner was a hungry raptor.

There are also moments where i jump out of my skin at which point i almost every time would turn to my pet Trex and talk to it for reassurance and this is where Empathy kicked in as i  found myself constantly looking behind to make sure the little thing was keeping up and was safe.

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A first glimpse of what i want to build in Sansar

Most reviews of Robinson seemed to praise it’s graphics and then call it a flawed game, and yes there are some very annoying missteps in the puzzle solving department. At one point i had completed a task but the Game progress refused to mark it as completed and in another instance my Ai buddy Higgs was constantly telling me to fix something i had already fixed resulting in me bashing it on the head with a piece of metal shouting “SHUT UP!!!!”. But a broken experience in VR is still and experience and it has not detracted from the experience so much, rather it’s simply made it a longer experience.

I wonder though if Gamer reviewers just blitz through it as quick as they can to be the first to publish, because i’m truly amazed by Robinson: The Journey and will be disappointed when i get to the end and find there are no more tree’s to climb and explore at leisure.

In any case, Robinson has inspired me. It has shown me what free movement to explore in VR can be and if platforms such as Sansar could let me build environments like that to explore then holy shit, i could not be more excited. I’m probably over excited though. :-p

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My Experiences with PSVR

Yeahy i finally got a consumer VR Headset… and no its not the Oculus or Vive, it’s the lower cost PlaystationVR. This is the first VR Headset I’ve used since the old Oculus DK2 before Oculus pulled the plug on Mac support. So i won’t be able to compare PSVR performance with the higher end VR rigs, instead im just going to write my thoughts as a casual gamer and Second Life creator.

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First off The PSVR looks awesome as a headset. It fulfils my retro geeky expectations rocking cool tron style glowing lights which it uses to track your position. Being that my only previous VR experience was my iPhone in google cardboard and the oculus DK2, i found the PSVR display to be a lot better and decently clear, although I found that this sometimes comes down to what content you are viewing. The head tracking is great and while not room scale, i did find myself walking left and right for some experiences sticking my head over edges and out car windows. The other satisfying thing with PSVR was its ease of use. You just click a button on the PSVR and stick the thing on your head and you are IN.

 

PSVR Gaming

I have not bought any full games yet, and i’m not sure when i will as there isn’t really anything that screams out to be purchased. There are plenty of great demos though and free short experiences to try. Game demos i enjoyed were Battlezone, which sits you in a tank speeding around and shooting things in a tron style landscape. I was quite surprised how i did not get VRsickness in Battlezone. I don’t like driving games much, but the demo of drive club was fun because it was another fun VR experience, sticking my head out a car window at 100mph like a dog was simply fun as was glancing over at the car racing beside you.

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I think my favourite gaming experience was part of Sonys PlayRoom VR. A short platform game called ‘Robot Rescue’ where you are basically standing in the platform world and remote controlling a little robot on the ground infant of you. It never occurred to me that this would be how a platform game could be played in VR and moments where i looked up guiding my robot up the side of a cliff, scurrying in between nooks in the rock for coins just blew my mind. But really everything feels like short demos and arcade experiences so far. I’m waiting for an an epic experience, one where i just wanna get back in and push further into the experience. Maybe we are just testing the water, seeing how PSVR users feel about it, but im demanding right now for more!

 

PSVR Non-Gaming

It was nice to see some non gaming experiences on offer for the PSVR. One such experience was a 360 short film called ‘Invaders’ about 2 rabbits meeting aliens. There was an instant lack of depth to it and i don’t think it was even in 3D. The second VR short film i saw was another ‘blew me away’ experience.

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Allumette is a free VR story experience, i don’t think it can be called a film as its entirely 3D rendered real time (i think) telling the story of a little girl remembering the past in a town in the clouds. As a viewer you stand over the floating town like a Stop/Go Animator watching the story unfold around you. You can lean right in to see the characters faces, look around them as they act. It’s one of those experiences that people say ‘you have to see it to understand how awesome it is’ because it really is that magical. Allumette is also inspiring as it’s exactly the sort of thing i would love to do myself in something like Sansar if it would allow me.

 

PSVR Content Creation

While predominantly focussed on playing PS Games, the headset does also open doors for user generated content in the form of 360 photos and video through its media player. I was able to create 360 images from within Second Life and view them in PSVR and they looked much more stunning than in Flickrs low rez browser viewer.

I also did some tests rendering 360 video from Blender which looked great but lacked the depth of a 3D image. On top of the equirectangular ratio, 360 images also need to be in side by side (SBS) 3D format for there to be depth. Hopefully Sony will update the media player to accept SBS in future and maybe Linden Lab can add SBS or OverUnder to their 360 snapshot feature?

 

Looking ahead as a mac user.

Im also looking at wether its possible to connect my PSVR to my Mac, and what doors that might open for other content and experiences. A guy has created some software called Mac Morpheus that apparently allows your mac screen to appear on PSVR so you can watch 3D 180/360 movies

While i wait for Apple to get their VR arse in gear, Sansar to open and save up me pennies for an HTC Vive, i’m quite pleased with how good PSVR is. It will keep me entertained and busy with simple 360 projects in the meantime.

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I’m Eleven

No not the girl from stranger things, though with a shaved head my avatar does look a lot like her. No, i mean of course that my Second Life Avatar is now eleven years old after celebrating his 11th Rez Day. 

From last year my avatar has not changed much at all. Usually i add one or two improvements but this year i haven’t changed anything. I did test the new Bento avatar features, but decided to wait until the tools are truly finished before staring on a new mesh avatar, plus im locked out of the Beta Grid.

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So what else has been going on?

Well we are not in Sansar yet, which is what i predicted on my last rez day. Instead i put all my efforts into Second Life content starting with my clothes which i made compatible with more kid avatars. I also rebuilt my store before redeveloping the Goodocks Pirate area on Escapades Island. I still have yet to rebuild some other Sculpty builds on Escapades, perhaps in 2017 i’ll get round to it.

In April i started work on Echtra for Fantasy Faire which i really enjoyed doing, that was followed up quickly with SL13B Dungeons and Nightmares experience.

It was in May that i changed permanently from using the official Second Life Viewer to Firestorm due to corrupt old system prefs that lead to me changing the name of my hard drive, which lead to Cache issues. At the same time some bugs were uncovered in the official mac viewer that caused a massive delay in texture picker opening and moving objects on screen. This lead to me needing to log into beta grid to test out a reorganised texture folder, but found i can’t log into the Beta grid… and thats where we currently are in that tale. I’ve got used to Firestorm now though, not the user interface, i’m used to the higher frame rate. When ever i log in using the official mac viewer i instantly realise and go ‘Oops, wrong viewer again’.

As i head into my 12th year in SL i wish i could do more stuff faster, but I’ve hit the technical limits so many times now that i’m kind of starting to sit back and relax. The New Babbage Chronicles will take up most of my time for the next 6 months and the Bento avatar i hope to play with in the new year. If Sansar turns out to be super simple to use maybe ill find time for that too, but i need a new computer first which might get announced this week XD.

So heres to another year in Virtual Worlds! 🙂

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What if reality has replicated what we experienced in Second Life six years ago?

What if the boundaries separating the physical world and cyberspace have became so blurred that griefers, trolls and ‘drama of the individualised self’ has projected back into reality?

What did Second Life residents do when faced with trolling hate and grey goo (self replicating objects)? They put up ban lines and sought more controls to manage people on their land. Some users started Abuse Reporting other people for mildly irritating issues.

What happened relatively recently in reality when extremists and haters randomly started dealing out abuse, death and carnage? People sought to close boarders and get more control on managing people. Ok, i’ve  generalised the worlds extremist issues, and i can’t really compare digital trolling with murder.

Maybe Second Life as it is now is a glimpse of realities future? The users all know Second Life has the ability to be open and free yet most choose to lock down their places or only let those vetted to have the privilege of rezzing stuff, while curiously celebrating how creatively free and open Second Life is.

Perhaps Sansar will represent a future world where the choice to be free is removed completely, instead given only to those privileged?