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. 

In VR 3rd Person becomes companionship

Back in the day there was a popular argument for why Second Life is not VR. The argument all stemmed from this idea that with 3rd person there is a ‘disconnect’, that you cant feel fully immersed in VR unless in first person. 

I do not subscribe to this line of thought and in my experience i see 3rd person in VR as an opportunity to enhance feelings of empathy and companionship like never before.

In Second Life i spend all my time in 3rd person controlling my avatar that i have carefully and lovingly customised over the past 12 years. Through him i interact with my friends from around the planet. My friends can see what I’m currently into at any time due to what I’m wearing or what gadget I’m holding. Animated gestures can further express my mood through my avatar. This over time has led me to feel very connected to my Avatar, i am him and he is me, but is he me or is he his own separate identity? Sometimes i talk to my avatar as if he is a friend, other times i communicate as if i am him. It would seem that my interaction with my avatar is in a sense flexibly 1st and 3rd person.

When Second Life experiment with a VR enabled viewer it was interesting how this changed things. In mouse look (1st Person) i felt i was my avatar looking around like i was there myself which is what most neoVR types were excited about. But you could also have 3rd person VR view of your avatar as if like a spirit peering down on your avatar and suddenly it was like looking upon another person that you have known for a very long time. When my avatar looked back directly at me it was a strange feeling and one thats been nagging me ever since because most VR experiences totally dismiss 3rd person as something you should NOT do in VR.

Yet on the PSVR there have been a few experiments with 3rd person. Robot Rescue part of the Playroom VR mini games had you controlling a little robot in a platformer scenario. It felt like i was remote controlling a robot like a toy and was essentially 3rd person in VR but the added feeling of presence enhances an emotional connection between the user and the 3rd person character.

This was further explored in the up coming game ‘Moss’ which i managed to play a demo of this week. In Moss you play a helpful spirit or god following a tiny warrior mouse. You control the mouse like any other 3rd person game but the genius is that the mouse acknowledges you with waves and squeaks and due to the immersion of VR the mouse appears like a real living character. I found myself becoming very protective of the character and also found myself waving at it and cheering it on even though i was the one controlling it.

What if 3rd Person in VR can actually be more powerful in tapping into empathy than 1st person? In Resident Evil i remember feeling terrible and apologising to a character after i hit her with an axe so it’s not like you don’t feel empathy in 1st person. With 3rd person though i feel we get an extra connection to the character because we are controlling, guiding the character. Playing the Moss demo gave me a feeling of companionship, i wasn’t just playing a game as a mouse, i was going on an adventure with a mouse who i needed to assist and keep safe.

In Social VR 3rd person seems often an after thought for desktop users to join the party. Social VR in 1st person is somewhat an extroverts paradise, 3rd person in VR could help introverts as they let their avatars bridge the anxiety divide for them.

As a user of Virtual Worlds or MMORPGs how do you perceive your avatar/character? Is it you, a separate own identity or  flexibly between both?

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.

Sansar: The Phantom Menace of Virtual Worlds?

A couple years ago when Palmer Lucky was cool, Linden Lab did an experiment. They attempted to make Second Life accessible through the Oculus Rift DK, and while the addition of every Second Life option as a heads up display was mind numbingly nauseating, there was a glimmer of something amazing.

I kind of wished that they had separated the VR headset side of things as a ‘mode’ in which we could when ever we wanted to briefly immerse ourselves into our Second Life creations without all the options. Because an immersive VR Headset is a different experience to our ‘Desktop’ experiences and finding the balance between the two seems to be very challenging. After 14 years of crafting and socialising through the augmentation of a desktop platform with an avatar thats been refined and brought to life through many techniques (and often hacks), our expectations are understandably very high for ‘Sansar’.

Sansar is the result of realising that Second Life can’t be adapted for the modern immersive VR headset’s of the neoVR crowd. Instead Linden Lab decided it was time to start from scratch and build a new platform from the ground up ready for what the NeoVR industry has in store. I’m interested to see what they have decided to keep from Second Life’s diverse abilities, and what they decide to do differently because of how Immersive VR works with things like controllers and tracking.

I’m a mac user so i’m already one foot down on the ‘Love Sansar’ movement, but i swallowed my pride, installed windows in bootcamp and took Sansar for a spin. From the start Sansar feels modern and welcoming in its simplicity. There seems to be no performance options so if Sansar does not work… it just won’t work, can’t get much simpler than that.

The premise for Sansar is quite simple at this stage. You have three free spaces to build what ever you want in the confines of what is currently possible. Whats currently possible  feels quite limited from the point of view of a Second Life creator. Part of this may be my own limited experience with Sansar and C# but currently most places i’ve visited are very static with no life to them. Even the avatars are lifeless, gormlessly starring into nothing, all standing the same as if everyones AFK.

Creating and Editing can take a while, i find myself spending more time trying to view an object than placing it and if you find something wrong with your objects texture you can’t edit and adjust it. Instead you have to re-upload the whole object again, which if your original object is on a mac partition can really get frustrating.

Thats me in the green shirt… happy

At this stage you probably get the feeling i don’t like Sansar, well.. it’s not that simple. Sansar is still in Beta, some even saying in Alpha. There is also a tonne of high tech stuff under the hood i don’t understand to really appreciate. A lot of people are comparing Sansar to when Second Life first appeared with bare bones features, when it was still just an online social creative experiment before Facebook and twitter came along. Except back then there was no user base eagerly anticipating it.

I find myself comparing Sansar to Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, the great anticipation leading to disappointment. The Original Star Wars movie came out of nowhere spawning a lifelong fanbase, much like Second Life did. So while I’m slightly disappointed with Sansar, i’m also keeping in mind that i harbour a boatload of expectation thanks to how amazing Second Life still is and should give Linden Lab more time to suit Sansar up.

My experience of Sansar has so far only been the Desktop mode as I don’t yet have a Vive headset to experience Sansar from the VR headset side of things, and I’m probably not alone. I have the PSVR and used to use the OculusDK when they supported Mac, so I’m fully aware of how spaces can be a completely different experience in a VR headset. Places that feel static and devoid of life in Desktop mode may be a sublime experience in a VR headset. I’ve been wondering if Sansar’s drowsy desktop experience is to do with keeping a balance between VR headset mode and Desktop mode until they better understand how things should go.

If you have a VR Headset i would imagine Sansar is already a pretty amazing and compelling social experience. But if you are a Desktop user coming over from Second Life, then you might find your expectations are too high.

My first Sansar experience has you walking through woods towards strange lights

 

Farpoint – PSVR Review

Sony have shifted quite a lot of PSVRs during its first year on sale and I’ve so far had a great verity of experiences with it. Last month i decided to try out a first person shooter called Farpoint that came with tacky tracky gun stick thingy.. the Aim Controller….

I’m not a fan of first person shooters. Perhaps I’m just to nice and delicate in the mind to enjoy the escapism of shooting other people, or maybe i just incredibly suck at shooty games. So why did i even consider buying a special PSVR Gun Stick?

Not what i expected

The game Farpoint is surprisingly more than i originally thought. At first i assumed it was a game about shooting bugs and Starship Troopers sprung to mind. I soon discovered there was a rather nice story of survivors that you uncover as you make your way across the planet fending off attacks from the local wildlife.

The route you take through the rocky planetscape is a set path in a direction that you mostly are facing, but you are given enough freedom to move about to give a perception of free exploration.

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For a shooty game with lots of “WOOO YEAH COME GET SOME!” antics, the story moments were surprisingly touching and emotional thanks in part to the developers attention to characters facial expressions and acting. I also found myself enjoying the twists the story takes which led to the game not being just about shooting bugs.

 

Talking of bugs.

The AIM controller is really fun. Holding it in front of you and seeing it as the weapon in game is a gimmick i haven’t got bored of yet. I’d really hope other game devs expand it’s uses beyond just a gun though.

The AIM Controller really pushes the PSVRs limited tracking abilities and it would appear the AIM can sometimes loose track of itself. I often found myself aiming the weapon only to watch it slowly tilt to the left on its own accord. A quick shake of the gun would correct it but during an intense battle it quickly became annoying. I took it as part of the game difficulty but i know others wouldn’t.

 

Coming out of the god dam walls!

I really enjoyed Farpoint mainly for its sci-fi story element that really adds an extra layer to the simple PEW PEW DIE BUGS! The scuttling Spider aliens coming out of the walls made me jump quite a few times and there are plenty of occasions where i quickly found myself overwhelmed.

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Once again the physical effects of VR left me sweating buckets and my Headset steamed up during intense battles leading me to take breaks after about an hour of gameplay. Like with Resident Evil having moments of anxiety as you carefully proceed then a burst of adrenalin as you deal with a  wave of monsters seems to take an extreme toll on me in VR. It’s one of the reasons i love VR so much!

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Farpoint turned out to be better than i expected and was another quite unique experience in PSVR.