What i want from #VR Software phase

Zuckerberg announced at Connect3 that the next phase of VR is software. 

I am interested in seeing what developers come up with although i found Oculus demos of legless avatars sharing spaces together not all that inspiring. You will have to forgive me for not finding it exciting and new. You are welcome to dismiss my virtual worldisms due to me being a user of a flat screen based Virtual World, but i to am enthusiastic about what immersive VR will do. I’m just aware that some of what is being touted as ‘break throughs’ are actually simply old virtual world paradigms but with goggles on, and i find that rather boring. Just yesterday i read a techcrunch article headline ‘Facebook invents “Virtual Reality Emoji” gestures’ , the function for which seemed no different from the animated gestures i’ve been using in Second Life for 10 years to help convey emotion to others in virtual space.

There were some concepts i was enthusiastic about, for example Oculus Rooms. Your personal VR space from which to receive guests, choose games and other VR media to experience. I mainly liked this demo as it hinted the start of moving away from the 2D menu UI, although menus still did appear to select other experiences.

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A 2D UI of buttons and lists is a good way to navigate currently in Second Life because your experience is viewing a display, but in an immersive VR virtual world i’d like to hope that we’ll move away from lists and overlays. I’d like to imagine a day when going into VR is similar to going into your own thoughts. I’d like spaces , experiences or places to be things i can pick up in my own personal space, stored on a shelf like a collection of old toys or ornaments. My favourite games represented by something specific to that game, such as a statue or a hat, maybe wearing the hat takes me to the game. Or a place created and shared with friends, represented by a simple rock, but that rock brings to mind the memories of experiences I’ve already had there with friends. This is the kind of stuff i want to see being explored, that stuff excites me about VR because that for me its the next step.

#VR is as much about hardware as it is software.

I’ve heard a lot in the past few years how the future is all about the software, it’s the era of the app. But in the worlds of VR it’s still very much about the Hardware.

Within the virtual realms of Second Life i remember a few attempts to expand the experience via hardware. The most successful for me was the 3D space navigator mouse without which i find Second Lifes navigation cumbersome and i panic. Other hardware experiments were the Xbox Kinnect, 3d cameras and more recently leapmotion and even the oculus rift. But these experience never made it into the official viewer.

I do wonder how Project Sansar will tackle the topic of VR hardware though. For VR to immerse you there is a lot of different types of hardware on offer. The most obvious being the goggles, but there is also lots of work being made on gloves to experience touch, mocap suits to transport your real movements into VR. Cameras that transpose your facial expressions and spacial sensory devices to track you in a room. There is bound to be more as this technology space is explored with furious capitalist incentives.

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Manaus VR Gloves, just one of the many trying to add touch to your VR experience

I imagine its easier just to make a game for one of the three main VR platforms, OculusVR, SteamVR and PlayStationVR, rather than make your own VR Platform? and as a creator i’d expect these VR start ups making gloves to supply SDKs that can be used in Unity and Unreal game engines to take advantage of the new ideas. But i doubt you’d be allowed to do that with Project Sansar.

So what will Project Sansar be? is it to be another VR Platform? How will Linden Lab tackle the continuously growing VR peripherals industry with Sansar? Will they be the first to try support everything or wait years for the one VR glove to rule them all to emerge?

Democratising #VR will need democratised 3D Content

I watched two things yesterday that caused me to think about the democratisation of VR. The First Was a video of Ebbe Altbergs DIY VR talk at Collision Conference, the other was Lab Chat 3 in Second Life.

In Lab Chat they discussed an upcoming feature addition codenamed Project Bento. This project will allow Second Life content creators to ‘access more options in the creation of Second Life avatars‘. That’s my misleadingly simplified explanation of the feature, because rigging 3d models for Second Life is actually stupidly complicated.

Lab Chat was interesting because of how a lot of questions seemed to be wishes for features to allow users easier creation of things. The Labs answers were either flat out ‘NO’ or confusion about what the user was talking about.

The equal playing field of content creation that Second Life started with has vanished. Where we once all built with cubes inside the Second Life platform itself, is now a domain of Pro Creators and User creators. The Pro builds the content using years of experience with 3D Modeling software, while the User arranges the content in manner that is also considered creative.

This is what Second Life evolved into and what will be carried across to Project Sansar if the DIY VR video was anything to go by. Ebbe specifically talks about democratising a medium, showing how photos went from being something only professionals knew how to do, to where everyone now can hold up a phone, click a button to take amazing quality images, and then share them in an instant with everyone they know. Project Sansar hopes to democratise VR experience by taking VR experience creation away from Game Developers and giving users the ability to build their own VR spaces with simplistic ease.

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Even if Linden Lab succeed in making the usability of Sansar easier than Second Life with the addition of immersive VR, there is still the issue of content creation. Because that big divide i see in Second Life where users don’t even know where to begin to make 3D Content may also come across to Project Sansar.

It’s an issue that probably needs addressing by the 3D Content industry rather than Linden Lab or High Fidelity. There needs to be easier ways for users to build 3D Content without spending years to gain the knowledge.

This is already being explored in some areas. Adobe bought out Mixamo rebranding it into FUSE. The Software is like an avatar/Game Character customisation tool that you can export models for anything that will accept the formats. I’ve used it to quickly create static characters for Second Life Experiences (FantasyFaire & THE WELL).

The most interesting for me is 3D Scanning. The idea being that you can use your smartphone to 3D scan any real object into a Digital 3d Model and then import it to what ever software supports it. I can see myself sculpting models out of clay or building stuff with my Nephew out of Lego then scanning them into the metaverse.

Box of Dinos- #3DST40
by Bart
on Sketchfab

 

Perhaps it’s only matter of time before the next iPhone or Samsung Brick has a built in 3D Scanner bringing with it democratised 3D Content that can be used in these upcoming VR Worlds. Only then will VR be truly democratised.

Would Casual Cardboard VR be better suited for Second Life Users than Oculus?

‘What you up to today’, my friend asked on WhatsApp, ‘Oh i just ordered a cardboard box’, i replied. ‘Is that something to do with your virtual stuff?’. I first heard about Google Cardboard sometime last year and kinda scoffed at it. How can a Mobile device placed in a cardboard box give any kind of decent VR experience?

During SVVR i watched a panel called ‘Rise of Consumer VR’ and on that panel along with Amir Rubin of Sixsense, Nicholas of Samsung and of course Palmer Lucky was Clay Bavor from Google. Through out the talk Bavor slowly won me over on what Google cardboard was. It’s not the total immersive experience Oculus is aiming for, it’s a more casual instance that can quickly transport you into a VR for brief experience.

So i recently invested £12 into getting a Google Cardboard 2.0 from ‘I AM CARDBOARD’ and i was quite surprised how cool it is. I’d compare it to the Oculus DK1 in terms of that ‘this is awesome’ feeling you get from experiencing immersive VR for the first time, but the iPhones retina display gives a much clearer image all be it a smaller field of view. I assume you could probably also use an iPod Touch?

 

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The Cardboard while made of cardboard came incredibly well packaged and was very easy to set up. Turn phone on, launch VR app, place in cardboard and hold up to face. If only Oculus DK had been that simple to set up.

 

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First app i tried was ‘Dinotrek VR’. Its a simple experience on rails where you float along beside dinosaurs moving your head around to see the adventure unfold.

 

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The Next App i tried was ‘Vrse’ This is a VR video platform where you can choose 360 videos to download and watch. My favourite video was ‘Evolution of Vrse’  which started with floating you over a lake as the sun rises. Then it presents a flurry of ribbons before a steam train hurtles towards you, perhaps a nod to the 1985 Lumiere Train film. Finally you find yourself  beside an unborn baby who smiles and waves at you. That final moment i found incredibly profound and caused a tear to well in my eye.

 

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The third app i tried was also a VR video platform called JauntVR. With this app you ‘stream’ 360 video. I watched an extreme sport video of a guy on rocks, Paul McCartney playing a ditty tune, but it was the short video ‘Other Space VR’ that really peaked my VR interest. While i like VRs ability to place me at live events or on top of a rock it’s the ability to affect a persons sense of self that interests me. In OtherSpace you are placed on a space ship and the crew walk into the room and start talking about you as if you are an alien. They all stare at you, point at you and in some fun moments get all up in your personal space causing you to react by stepping back. It’s a great playful example of how VR crosses the boundaries to effect you psychologically.

I liked the Other Space VR video so much i made my parents watch it and their reaction was one of fun and amazement. Thats how Cardboard works and i can understand how this mobile VR little brother of Oculus and Vive could actually take off bigger. At the moment the mobileVR space seems to be filled with 360 streaming video but as the devices gain more power CGI experiences could take advantage of the ease of Cardboard. For instance Sketchfab who use WebGL to showcase model makers content in a browser have already developed an extension allowing you to view all their models in CardboardVR mode.

 

Casual VR in Second Life?

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Being a Second Life content creator i started to of course wonder wether Google Cardboard could be used with Second Life. We already have Oculus support and i think i said it was great to finally stand in your favourite places and look around as if actually stood there. Due to Second Lifes complex nature, being in Second Life with immersive VR and interacting with the many features plus options becomes a real head ache. Perhaps Google Cardboards casual brief experience is better suited to Second Life than the Oculus extended use.

I started to imagine building stuff in Second Life with my Desktop computer then picking up my cardboard and quickly getting my avatars view of the world before putting down the carboard continuing with building. Or imagine arriving at a Music venue typing hello to all my friends then picking up the Cardboard to experience the live act from my Avatars point of view. Such a thing i can imagine would be better suited to how people use Second Life. Rather than having users decide on wether to be either in immersive VR mode or Desktop mode, allow them to quickly  and simply switch between the two. There are moment in Second Life where VR would add to the experience, but their are many moments where you really don’t need to be that immersed.

VR hardware is a bit icky at the moment. While Cardboard is cross platform with Android and iOS, its not  compatible with Windows or OSX desktops. Oculus stopped development on Mac and Linux systems and i’ve still to learn what HTC Vive will support.

Second Life’s immersive VR problems are probably unique to Second Life with solutions that can’t be borrowed from other more recent platforms. Project Sansar may be built with extended immersive VR use in mind, but i’d hope that for veteran platform Second Life , perhaps a more casual immersive VR feature could be implemented once the VR Hardware giants settle their tech.

My last post about Oculus, my first about Sansar

Well it was fun being part of the re-hype of Virtual Reality but being a Mac user i must accept that at least with regards to Oculus it’s not going anywhere for quite some time.

I first grabbed an Oculus back in 2013 with the hope that soon i would be exploring virtual worlds as if i was actually there and the DK1 made it seem all the more possible. 

The first attempts by Linden Lab to connect Oculus to Second Life were poor but showed promise. Kickstarter Demos such as Technolust made me back them and other Oculus projects with excitement. But then the DK2 came out and while many users were expressing how much of an improvement it was, i was not so impressed. Sure the screen resolution was better but it just didn’t work out the box like the DK1 did and hinted at a decrease in support for OS X and Linux which ultimately lead to Oculus finally stating “Our development for OS X and Linux has been paused in order to focus on delivering a high quality consumer-level VR experience at launch across hardware, software, and content on Windows. We want to get back to development for OS X and Linux but we don’t have a timeline.”

What does this mean for projects hoping to create cross platform VR services like High Fidelity and Sansar? They can ether wait three or four years and hope oculus dos well enough consider it financially viable to support multi platforms, or perhaps they can start looking at other HMDs .

While i continue to read fascinating studies about how Oculus was being used for social experiments, research and projects that help people the main focus has turned to gaming and media consumption. While the Oculus Brand of VR initially retreads old consumer ground for an increasingly niche group of well off PC gamers, i find myself no longer interested in it.  Perhaps it’s time to look towards the augmented reality camp for an experience that will push VR beyond playing games and watching movies.

Yeh I’m annoyed that Oculus dropped support for the Mac, so i’ve written a prediction of how it will pan out for Oculus. Yes this is me cursing Oculus.

1. Oculus is delayed past 1st quarter of 2016.

2. Oculus comes out at a higher price than most expected

3. Oculus sells are poor.

4. Oculus decides after all it’s not financially viable to add support for the mac or Linux as it struggles with a niche of high income gamers.

5. Eveyone forgets Oculus.

Meanwhile i’m still fully entrenched in Virtual Worlds and have a lot still to explore and give in that area. Sure there will be no Oculus in my foreseeable future but there is still a lot happening off the back of it’s hype. 

 

My Hope for Sansar.

I’ve still yet to see anything of the new project from Linden Lab. Maybe it will try and add HMD support or maybe it will simply be a platform as such that future technology can much easily be added to rather than badly retrofitted to. There are small companies out there on kickstarter building fascinating amazing technologies that would fit right in on a virtual worlds. I hope Sansar will be the kind of place that will welcome those companies in and flourish. 

As for how current Second Life Users will adjust? Sometimes i feel this could be the end of Second Life, other times i doubt Sansar will grow quickly enough to establish itself Like Second Life did. What will having Sansar alongside Second life be like? Perhaps logging into the Beta Grid will give an idea? 

What if Sansar does not appeal to us old VR peoples? what if Sansar attracts mainly new people? Linden Labs Patterns managed to make a nice community of users who had never heard of Second Life, that was until Linden Lab killed it, so maybe Sansar will attract a new crowd leaving us to continue with Second Life until we all die out. Happy thought.