Loki Avatar 3.0 – Part 7: Avastar Unleashed

It’s been over two months since i last posted an update on my Bento Avatar, that’s partly to do with working on T H E  W E L L and New Babbage traditions. The other reason was that Avastar wasn’t doing what i wanted and i was getting more and more frustrated with it and i’m sure the Avastar team were getting fed up with my support tickets.

Avastar was finally released 2.1.0 in October with the same problems that caused me to halt all work. Then in 2.1.1 i discovered the ‘bake to mesh’ option. What this feature seems to do is glue any changes made of the mesh shape to the Avastar bento rig, either moving verts, adding new verts or cutting the mesh into bits. Suddenly Avastar went from being a frustrating mess to SUPER AWESOME AVATAR BUILDING MAGIC PLUGIN.

Not only did ‘Bake to Mesh’ button fix my chopped up avatar issues, it also made making changes super easy and quicker than before. Now i don’t know when the button first appeared, as i don’t ever remember seeing it before 2.0.1. There was never any documentation to say when it should be used and the Avastar team never mentioned it to me when i sent support tickets crying. I also cant tell wether it was a feature planned at the start of Bento Avastar development or just a sudden ‘oh that would fix everything’ moment near final release. In any case it really has made things simple again especially with making clothing and is a welcome addition. Though it does come with some side effects which if not kept an eye on could cause issues.

When i discovered the ‘Bake to Mesh’ button i started using it all the time. I would make a change, then ‘bake’, upload a test, see something wrong,  go back to blender, make another change then ‘bake’ again. It wasn’t until some of my beta testers mentioned the eyes looked odd that i realised some how the face had changed from how it originally looked. Upon investigating i discovered that ‘bake to mesh’ actually warps the mesh shape ever so slightly each time it’s used. You would not notice it.

This revelation has resulted in me having to go back to previous mesh shapes created before ‘bake to mesh’ appeared and start again to remove the warped effect. Knowing now whats happening, i try to only ‘Bake to Mesh’ when i really need to.

It has not stopped me from going forward with my Bento Avatars and i hope to finally have my Bento Avatar ready for users to play with before Christmas. The next Update Post will explain more about the features built into my Bento Mesh kid Avatar.

As of posting this Avastar has a 2.1.2 release, but i’m too scared to try it.

Presenting T H E  W E L L : Ultimum

It has been two years since the 3rd chapter in the Well Series which saw Second Life visitors get lost in a healthcare centre trying to work out what the hell was going on. Some people hated it, other loved it and i thought that was it with regards to The Well. But here we are again with a 4th and this time (i promise) final chapter.

This time the story (if there is one) takes place before all the other episodes in a dark wood full of secrets. In an empty room you find a diary, a last page written by a frightened boy who writes that something is banging on his door. From there you venture out into the woods to learn if you can what has been going on.

If you managed to visit the other chapters you might understand things more than others but it does not really matter with The Well. I’ve always aimed for The Well to be more about atmosphere than the story telling. The original inspiration was to see if i could really scare visitors in Second Life using a variety of cheap jump scares and unnerving atmosphere.

 

For best results i recommend having Advanced Lighting enabled, Windlight set to the regions default settings and turning your speakers up or wearing headphones for the sounds of foxes howling in the night. A torch is supplied as you venture into the woods and will light up your way.

The experience also occasionally uses Media on a Prim to display haunting nostalgia from the 80s and in fact the whole experience aims to give an somewhat hauntological vibe.

The experience is purposely dark making it hard to see whats out there breathing in the shadows.

The very dark woodland was created using my experiments with photogrammetry. I went out into real woods and took photo surveys of muddy pathways. These were then used to create 3D models of the woods which i then used in The Wells woodland scenes in the hope of adding realism to the spooky atmosphere.

 

A lot of work also went into the Experience Tools HUD that pops up to tell you info and parts of the story while hopefully keeping the experience easy and simple to use.

The Well game will be open for as long as there is interest from people to check it out. There is a fee to enter The Well (L$200 – $0.80 – 60p) , but once the pass is purchased you can return to the well when ever you feel the desire :). Especially since there is a whole playlet to collect this year.

 

Hope everyone who visits has an enjoyably frightening time. You can visit T H E  W E L L :Ultimum HERE

My Virtual World avatar is now 12 yrs old!

Loki is now 12 and since last year has had a massive overhaul thanks to the Second Life Project Bento.

From 2006 to 2013 my avatar which is represented by a mischievous and creative kid has steadily improved in fidelity and visual personality. One of the most flourishing aspects of the virtual world of Second Life is the ability to pretty much completely customise what represents you there.

Many eventually settle on a look and over the years fine tune it based on their personal likes, culture and influences. friends learn to recognise each others avatars based on their avatars appearance and even mannerisms.

Between 2014 and 2016 my avatar did not change much at all. I had reached a point where i thought there was nothing much more i could really do to improve my avatars fidelity and other projects got in the way of improving clothes. That was until this year when i decided to explore ‘Project Bento’.

Project Bento has allowed me to completely recreate my avatar with higher detail than before that includes complete control over the 3d Model, animated fingers and facial expressions opening the door for an avatar that expresses even more personality.

It was not easy either, with Avastars 5 month rocky release candidate road i nearly went stark raving mad and it took a lot of patience and Blender3D knowledge. But we got there in the end and while my current Bento Avatar is almost complete there is still a lot of extra stuff to explore with expressions and animations.

This year has gone blindingly fast and It’s been a year of waiting for things to be released from Sansar,  Apple, Avastar, or Animesh. I cant help but feel that some very cool stuff will be possible next year all across the world of VR and AR as well as Second Life.

Thanks to everyone who’s encouraged me through the past year 🙂

Still waiting for MacOS VR Support

It was an exciting keynote at Junes WWDC2017 not just because Apple finally introduced new upgraded mac computers, but also because they seemed to have teamed up with Valve to bring native support for the HTC Vive and finally gain support for VR on MacOS.

On the day of release for MacOS High Sierra there was much Tech Media fanfare announcing that the latest high end Macs ‘finally support VR’, they obviously had not even tried to run VR on the new OS. Even Apples website declares that High Sierra has ‘Optimised support for Valves SteamVR.

 

The reality for me has been one of frustration as while the HTC Vive connects and is recognised by valves SteamVR beta software and displays a white grid room complete with tracked controllers , i’m unable to run any MacVR titles from the store. I am also unable to run the VR Headset alongside the MacVR Preview of the Unity Application.

The interesting thing is that even though i can not preview VR experiences created in Unity on my Mac, i am able to build them. I was able to build a VR Experience in unity on MacOS that could be run in windows, just not on the mac. It’s as if SteamVR on Mac is unfinished and prevents VR Apps from being played on the headset. Yet Valve keep updating SteamVR on the mac and every time its not working. Someone isn’t telling someone something. Either SteamVR is broke and not bridging the apps to the headset, or SteamVR is working but valve has not updated the unity plugin for Unity, or High Sierra changed something and apple didn’t inform Valve. In any case its very frustrating being so close to creating VR Experiences on Mac.

While there are plenty articles online spewing out how MacOS finally has VR support, it’s very hard to find any information about actual VR usage on MacOS after the release of High Sierra. There is no push from Valve towards mac users finally having access to VR Applications, there is nothing on HTC Vive website about Mac support arriving. It’s all surprisingly dead silent with very little information at all.

I’ve posted questions on SteamVR support, and on Unity MacOS VR Preview forums and had no answer at all, only replies from other confused mac users searching for clues on where Mac VR is.

There is only one app on SteamVR i’ve found that works, Blobby tennis. I’ve messaged the developers asking what they are doing thats different to everyone else. So until the fog lifts from the whole sorry scenario i’ll just play some tennis… against a blob.

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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