The state of many virtual things

I may have taken on to much this year as so much is going on in Second Life and VR.

Loki Avatars.

This time last year i was working my ass off to try and get my new avatars out for Christmas 2017. In the end after suffering a horrible cold virus i decided that wasn’t going to be achievable. The avatars didn’t get released until March 2018 and since then i have bee slowly building up clothes and accessories while also rebuilding my store. It’s also been quite difficult to work out how to promote the avatar and it’s clothing along side SMB and Classic avatars. 

BakesOnMesh

Im going to try and do a big promotion of the avatars to my community of kid avatars this christmas but Linden Lab threw a spanner in my work by announcing the ‘Bakes On Mesh’ Project. I created a SKIN BOX system for customising Loki Avatar skins, which is potentially made redundant by the easier to use BOM feature, which is cool, but waiting for such features to be released burns me out.

 

Clothing Business

Im trying hard to stick to my Clothing and Accessory Road Map but I’m finding it hard to keep creating new designs once the base model for things like Shirts and Jeans have been made. It helps that others have bought the Prefabs and are creating and selling their own designs for Loki Avatars.

 

 

I’ve started to look at Marvelous Designer software that creates clothes via sewing patterns rather than building polygons. It also simulates the draping of clothe around an Avatar giving realistic wrinkles. A lot of cloth makers use MD to create clothes and Sansar actually has a feature that allows MD clothes to be tugged and frozen into new customisable positions. 

My hope is MD might allow me to make realistic clothing quicker for Second Life and also for Sansar.

 

Escapades Rebuild.

I was worried when i finally got round to starting the big rebuild. I deleted almost everything and wasn’t quite sure how i was going to go about re-creating it all. The aim was to make the island form a more consistent whole and perhaps achieve what i originally tried to build eight years ago. 

Before and After rebuild of Hawkins Bay

As of writing i’ve finished rebuilding the mountain, the south tropical side as well as adding the rock cliffs and base for Rickety Town. I’m really happy with how the Mesh rock and mountain turned out. I was sceptical that i could convincingly replace the old Second Life terrain almost completely with mesh. In fact the only bits of Second Life terrain is the sandy beaches of Hawkins Bay and Nemo beach.

I replaced the old cabins with slightly bigger new ones and and the whole place is more vibrant with plants and walk ways connecting everything together in ways that i hope is fun to explore. 

While there is still more to add to the Island, the Cabin Rentals are open again for anyone who wants to support and call the new improved Escapades Island home at L$175 per week and 120 Li allowance. 

I will probably be adding more through the start of 2019 such as a hidden cave system and new bashing prize finding game. But right now i need to build places that people will want to sponsor as right now i’m struggling to raise enough for the monthly tier cost of the place. In the end Escapades will only survive the coming years if people want it to by visiting and supporting the island, and i hope the rebuild will encourage that.

 

Animesh.

This new feature has come along almost perfectly timed with the Escapades Rebuild. Perhaps once firestorm gets the feature i’ll be ready to start adding Animesh characters to the island. Originally i wanted Animesh so i could make monsters and i still plan to do that, but also Animesh will allow me to create characters you can interact with for stories or gifts or simply just enhance a scene. 

Environmental Enhancement Project

Another feature that could greatly enhance peoples experience of the Escapades rebuild. EEP massively expands the ability to control the lighting of a place. With scripting i could change your viewers lighting to go from bright midday sun to very dark as you enter a cave. This will give me complete control of how you experience and view Escapades Island.

 

Sansar.

I really like Sansar and enjoy going on the Drax Atlas hopping on Saturdays and sometimes go along to other events. I don’t use it in desktop mode, i go to Sansar purely for the thrill of the VR headset support. At first i found Sansar very worrying, suffering anxiety at using voice to communicate, but after a while and because i know drag i was able to overcome the anxiety. I still get blindsided sometimes when an overly extrovert stranger gets all in my avatars face and i have to back off and remind myself I’m not really there. 

Eventually i hope Linden Lab will allow custom skeleton sizes so i can get off the big robot legs, at which point i plan to invest more time to build spaces that take full advantage of VR. No rush though as i have plenty to do in Second Life right now.

The news that Pfaffenthal is leaving SL to go to Sansar left a few to comment that this was the start of the ‘mass exodus’ of Second Life. This won’t happen with Escapades Island as it only exists with the support of Second Life users and was built for use via a 3rd person desktop mode. Any projects i create in Sansar will be built to take advantage of VR Headsets and as a result use very different approach. I won’t want to remake Escapades, i’ll want to build something new.

But there are some things that can potentially cross platforms such as eventually avatars, but more promisingly clothing and attachments. Sansar plans to join the STEAM store around Christmas which i need to try and cash in on. Hopefully Marvelous Designer will allow me to have a few things on the Sansar Store by Christmas.

So yeh thats it, thats all the things right now, hope i can keep it all together. Trying to do it all at the same time is hard :-p

I nearly died in Sansar VR from laughing to hard

There is something that’s holding me back from using Sansar. To some it seems stupidly unimportant but for some reason the default avatars in Sansar make me not want to use it.

I’m Loki, i’ve been Loki for 13 years now, and when i put on the disguise of these random Sansar default avatars i don’t feel like ‘ME’. In the end i just feel like i’m waiting for the moment when i can look the way i want to. Gawd knows what this means for my psychological state in the real world. :-s

 

Custom Avatars

Two or three weeks ago something changed though. Linden Lab updated Sansar to allow ‘Custom’ Avatars and for the first time i was able to be ‘ME’ in Sansar and it felt great. Now i must point out that Sansar still does not support any avatar size other than the default adults avatars, so to get my Kid size persona into Sansar i had to be creative.

I placed my avatar on top of a mech-robot and rigged it so that the Legs and arms moved in sync with the default Sansar Skeleton and posed Loki so i looked like i was controlling the robot with two joysticks. The Head of my avatar ended up being at the right hight to be rigged with the Sansar Armatures head so when i look around in HMD mode so does the kid avatar.

 

Being at Ease with your avatar.

With this avatar i ended up spending almost 2 hours in VR talking, and thats all i did, i talked, and laughed… on top of a roof…. to a man in a rabbit suit, a crocodile, a blue jelly bear… and Draxtor… and it was the funniest thing i’ve done in ages. 

I’ve complained before about how hard i found it as an introvert to be outgoing in Sansar while everyone else seems so out going. I went to one of Draxtors ‘Atlas Hopping events’  and felt more at ease on top of my robot but Atlas Hopping wasn’t as fun as i was expecting since the loading times of experiences meant i was already left on my own by the time i got to places. 

The next day i decided to go to the Custom Avatar Contest at a grand theatre hall. I turned up an hour late and didn’t understand what was going on but then i heard Draxtor up on the roof. While up there we discussed all sorts of things and i surprised even myself with how outspoken i had become in voice. How much of this is simply because it’s Drax I’m talking to (he actually talks like he’s interviewing you) or has there been a kinda self confidence boost knowing that they now see me as Loki rather than some freaky default avatar?

At one point Silas showed us one of his many avatar experiments which was a big blue jelly bear with eyes that were wide open and looking about in a constant shocked expression that inflicted everyone with fits of laughter. Then to really kill us off Silas had an internal issue of angry cat fighting. I had to leave the party and remove my steamed up Vive headset to wipe the tears of laughter from my eyes. 

 

Limited Experience

I’ve read that the Lab do intend to allow Armature resize eventually, and when they do i’ll be able to get off the robot and will probably build a lot more stuff. Second life still excels at the art of collaborative creation and sharing, with features such as drag’n’drop giving items which you can edit and hand back to friends missing entirely from Sansar.

Sansar is still very limited, but that limited use is still very powerful in HMD mode compared to desktop. The simple experience of being with others from around the world in one place, able to pick up things and laugh about stuff in HMD mode is SO powerful yet SO simple. Second life is a lot more demanding in this respect for it kinda demands more things for us to engage with. It makes me think about what sort of spaces to build in Sansar that can boost the enjoyment of such a simple premise. 

#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.

manus_product_photo

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.

PSansar

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.

What is the Spirit of Second Life?

Sansar-Screenshot-Theater

How much of what we are accustomed to in Second Life will port across to Project Sansar? There seems no shortage of debate about what Second Life features will be possible in Sansar. CEO Ebbe of Linden lab famously said something along the lines of ‘Project Sansar will be in the spirit of Second Life’. But what is the spirit of Second Life?

At the last Lab Chat CEO Ebbe said that there would be no inworld Primatives (prims) building toolset in Project Sansar and other stuff i have read give a picture of Spaces/Experiences where the creators will have ultimate god powers dictating your appearance and what you can do. Does this sound like the open world freedom we have in Second Life?

I spend a lot of time each week returning random prims left behind by Newb users visiting my island. “Why not switch on ‘no Build’  or ‘Auto Return’ i hear you say?  Well i’ve always felt this went against the principles of Second Life, i mean isn’t Second Life supposed to be a platform for freedom to experience and democratised content creation like Draxtor fervently celebrates with his videos?

The things i find being left behind by users are often just plywood boxes or the occasional table. Does anyone really still build with prims, or have they moved to making mesh, or worst, given up all together, discouraged by the growing number of complex low land impact mesh they have no idea how to make. The marketplace is a great resource for buying items, many people use it more than going to an inworld store these days. I bought my new Drax Cap from marketplace, I’m not even aware of wether it’s available to buy inworld.

I love seeing whats left behind by users though, it’s like seeing the footprints of adventurers on the island but It’s sometimes a lot of work maintaining the freedom of the island. Occasionally i have cabin renters complaining that they are fed up with others that can just stroll into their place and sleep in their bed. So i understand why most places in Second Life are locked down preventing people from building freely or rezzing stuff. It’s probably a combination of fear and laziness. Fear of having to deal with things being messed up and laziness to have to clean up others mess?

The junk yard on Escapades is a specific place for people to practice building, but usually ends up a mountain of prims.

The junk yard on Escapades is a specific place for people to practice building, but usually ends up a mountain of prims.

So i’m starting to wonder, when i sit down and look at how Second Life is actually working these days. No one really uses prims to build big content, only skilled or amateur 3D Artists are creating the content, most people buy items on the marketplace and most places on the destination guide are locked down preventing the rezzing of items. Is this the real spirit of Second life, and is this what will be refined and used as the basis for Project Sansar?

I still believe in the old open world of Second Life and still encourage my friends to build (it’s actually really hard to motivate people), But if Project Sansar turns out to be less open due to how we the Second Life community have ended up using SL, I actually don’t have a problem with that, but for those who still see Second Life through old school eyes might find Sansar an eye opening experience.