#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.

Waiting for my #VR upgrade

Looking forward to the impending explosion of immersive VR i feel a little bit like an eccentric old timer with a condescending knowing smile. I’ve been using virtual Reality for ten years, i look down at all these upstart VR newbs as they delight in sharing a space with another person as if its the first time thats ever happened ever. 

Truth is I’m jealous. I want in on the new stuff. I want to be able to waltz into AltSpace like some VR veteran and sit around a campfire telling stories to the youngsters of how it was all different in my day. “We had to use ‘ALT’ + Left mouse click to look around”.

Of course every article i read that mentions Ebbe Altberg and Project Sansar gets me more excited about this future of virtual reality and creativity. But the rampant speculation from all the Second Life Bloggers (myself included) just makes me want to forget about Sansar and continue throwing parties at the Virtual music venue Vortex.

During the past decade i’ve got a lot out of my virtual world on a flat 2D screen. I know what Immersive VR could do if they combined Virtual Worlds with Immersive presence and from what i’ve read it’s what everyone wants, not just the Second Life crowd. We all want the Matrix/ Oasis/ Metaverse.

Project Sansar might be the next step towards that, or at least we stuck in Second Life hope so. I’m a casual gamer and i appreciate how awesome some games are with HMDs. My experience of HalfLife2 was geektastic. But i’m itching to use immersive VR in my own virtual space with my friends in Virtual Reality. I don’t wanna play games, i want to get on with expanding that ‘one to one’ interaction across the globe in an awesome shared environment! DAMMIT! Will Sansar allow this? maybe, but even if it does, will anyone be able to afford to use it? (yes I’m going to moan about the price now).

CES2016

The oculus is around $600, more if like me need to change hardware, OS and get controllers. It’s not looking like HTC Vive or even PSVR will be cheaper. It’s disappointing. I’m left wondering if many developers who are not making ‘AAA games’ will find an audience for their work in the hardcore gamers that fork out for these expensive peripherals.

I’m grumpy because i wanted this tech to be more accessible and it currently isn’t looking that way.  It seems like that for a lot of stuff these days. Gone are the moments where tech appeared and was  instantly WOO YEH CHANGED MY LIFE!!!!. Now it’s always, “nice i can see the potential of where this potato will lead us”.

The fun in predicting what Sansar won’t be.

I’ve been reading quite a few blog posts about what Project Sansar will be, and so far none of them align with my own thoughts.

When listening to the tiny bits of info shared by the Lab i try to have an open view that Project Sansar might not be anything like Second Life. Perhaps being nothing like Second Life is a good thing for the Lab, after all Project Sansar is supposed to be a bold step into the current VR buzz zone so a lot of what Second Life does might not be of interest in Project Sansar.

I think a lot of people are possibly so fixed in the SL way of doing things that they can’t envision an alternative. Second Life works for second life because thats how it’s evolved and thats how its users grew to enjoy it. Maybe because of this we assume Project Sansar will port many of the same ideas over to Sansar but be ‘better’ .

The problem with this idea for me is that i have not seen any evidence yet technically that Project Sansar will be anything like Second Life, so what works in Second Life maybe not suitable for Project Sansar.

I also think we assume the only people who will use Project Sansar is the aging SL user base. Linden Lab have actually sort of successfully proven they can create a new product with it’s own user base. When Patterns was closed down i think there was quite a large community that cried out and fell silent. Linden Lab also made DIO which had no point to it what so ever. My point being is that Project Sansar may end up building it’s own user base regardless of wether Second Life Users love or hate it.

The way i have been monitoring the evolving picture of Sansar is by comparing with other platforms and services, and my views change with every tid-bit i hear. For me what to expect from Project Sansar depends on what Project Sansar will offer to do and this still isn’t entirely clear yet. Things like communities, avatars, experiences and content creation are all things Second Life does, yes, but so do countless other platforms out there. STEAM does all those things, Youtube does to if you think about it?

There are also a lot of services that do all those features outside of Second Life. Why build in a feature when someone is already offering something better that can be used in conjunction with your platform? Consider how many use Facebook and twitter to chat to friends outside second Life  even though Second Life has it’s own SLfeed. High Fidelity Alpha had a small chat feature but they removed it suggesting users create their own or use an outside client. Also consider that there are now services that will build you characters to be used in game engines, it’s not a big step to allowing these same characters to be used as avatars if the platform allows it.

Nailing down exactly what Sansar will do will give us some clue to then speculate how features might work by comparing with other similar platforms, don’t be surprised if the similar platform isn’t Second Life, but don’t be scared either because it’s highly unlikely in my personal view that Second Life will change in any significant way with it’s current users.