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.

Resident Evil 7 is awesome, even though my brain got confused – PSVR Review [UPDATED]

Resident Evil is a huge gaming franchise and i’ve only played perhaps one of them, Code Veronica back in 2000 on the Sega Dreamcast. It was one of the best game i ever played back then but i did not play any of the others due to not having a games console for a while. 

17 years later comes Resident Evil 7 and the only real reason I’m playing it is because the entire game can also be played on the PSVR, and I’m like quite enthusiastic about VR.

It helps that i am also a fan of the classic 80s slasher horrors such as Evil Dead because Resident Evil 7 moves quite a ways away from the zombie apocalypse and into Texas chain saw B-movie territory, which is refreshing and nostalgic at the same time. The lowish resolution of the PSVR also gives off a rather cool effect of being inside an 80s horror nightmare.

While there is not as much detail on screen as in the none VR mode, it’s still a delight to lean over up close to somethings and seeing maggots wiggling about, flies  photos and other items that add to the atmosphere.

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This is a game that might not necessarily have been created with the PSVR in mind, but is a great example of how experiences can be so different when immersed with a headset. For example there are moments where knives are thrust at your face and on a tv screen you just flinch and punch the game pad, but on a headset you find yourself physically ducking, leaning  your head or jumping your whole body to the side out of pure reflex.

The worst experiences are when you know something is there but can’t see it. Those moments are more terrifying so far than any monster thats yet to appear. I watched the Texas Chainsaw Massacre on the big screen also in 2000 and after i noted to my friend how it was like sitting through someones nightmare that you just could not wake up from. Resident Evil in PSVR is like experiencing the same sort of nightmare, luckily i can take off the headset and have a break every time i reach a Cassette save point. Its not long before i want to jump right back into the nightmare though :-p

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My Brain got confused

While the game and story are so far awesome, there is a few niggling things about the experience in VR. For a start i love walking exploring VR games. I enjoy cockpit games too but there is nothing quite like getting the freedom to walk around exploring the environment and It was one of the main reason i fell in love with Robinson: The Journey. For these sorts of games i prefer to stand, i think it makes perfect sense that to play a game where you are a character walking around that your brain would feel more comfortable if you are stood up.

This is where my own personal preference for playing VR took issue with Resident Evil 7. The controls are set so that you can look around but you have to use the ‘Right gamepad stick’ to turn your character in the same manner as in Robinson: The Journey, with sudden jerks which is fine in VR but puke inducing for anyone watching on Twitch. The problem comes during moments of action or cut scenes. Because i am stood up, i often turn my whole body left or right not just my head, then proceed to push forward on the controller to head in the direction i turned.

Resident Evil’s VR mode does not account for this when action happens and displays it as such from the direction of the PS4’s camera. So for instance i can be walking along, see something to my right, turn my body to face that direction and move forward with the game pad. Suddenly an action moment occurs, either birds flying, or a person jumping out and the game switches to present that action from the direction of the camera leaving me looking at a bush wondering what the hell is going on.

I must point out i haven’t felt sick while playing Resident Evil on PSVR, and  once i realised what was causing the direction confusion, i started to take more care in what direction i was facing. It means every now and then i have to reposition myself towards the PS4 Camera if i want action to seamlessly happen from the right direction.  It’s as if The VR Mode assumes you are going to be sat facing the same direction for the entire experience, but my brain along with my body when standing wants to be free to move around.


Not so scary… yet [see update]

I have jumped a few times, and tried to hide in a bucket, but so far I’ve not been to terrified. Instead i’ve been quoting Ash from evil dead and occasionally laughing at the splatter gore, but I’m only one hour into the game though and i’ve read comments that worst is yet to come.

As an extra note, i also got the special 4D Resident Evil VR Candle thats supposed to help you get more immersed by giving off an unpleasant smell of rotting wood and blood. It actually smelled quite pleasant, reminding me of an old scout camp cottage i used to visit in my youth out in the middle of the woods. I hope this isn’t some kinda repressed memory thing going on here….



Yeh it got REALLY terrifying later on in the game with some points where i had to take the headset off and go rest my nerves! Best VR experience i’ve had so far.

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Lessons of social #VR

After the Oculus phenomenon there was a period where Second Life users such as my self were cheering with excitement. For us it seemed the long awaited next step in Virtual World immersion was fast approaching at last.

There was almost a sense that through this new technological advancement our niche of a social virtual world would finally get the recognition we feel it deserved, and even go ‘main stream’.

From my own perspective it felt like a logical next step in what i was already doing, but to my surprise for a lot of tech media this was the start. This lead to some Second Life users kicking up a fuss and pointing out that a lot of things being claimed as ‘first time’ was already done before in Second Life years before. It also created a distinction war between Virtual Reality and Virtual Worlds.

As a Second Life user for over a decade it can be quite annoying, in part because i want Second Life to have more recognition for its incredible achievements, and also because it feels like i’m being branded as irrelevant in this new VR trend.

But the main reason i get annoyed is because for me Immersive VR was supposed to be the next step, the evolutionally step up from what we do in Second Life, but instead everyone seems to be retracing the early years of Second Life’s social evolution. This is why my eyes roll when i read postulations on the future of SocialVR, about ‘Facebook Emojis’, ‘watching movies in VR with friends’, ‘Share snapshots in VR with social media platforms’.

I mean, if i think back to how socially Second Life has changed since the start. How Linden Lab had to evolve how they managed user interaction, how they chose to deal with abuse reports. I remember how back in 2005 Second Life had a reputation system where you could rate people you met. This soon got gamed and abused so eventually it was deprecated, a lesson that was learnt years before it became a plot for an episode of Black Mirror this year.

So much came about due to Linden Lab allowing the free flow of User created social engagement. Even the idea of a marketplace was created by the Second Life users before it became hugely popular and was bought up by Linden Lab to be a major part of the Platform. The community shapes the Second Life Platform and the possibilities of virtual reality platform has in turn shaped the community.

Then you have the many different aspects of a virtual persona. People using a virtual space do so in a variety of ways, some using one avatar to represent themselves, others use many alts to switch and and swap and try out different personas. There have been Stanford studies about this, books written, embedded anthropologists examine how humans are using virtual worlds to explore aspects of humanity that can’t be done in physical reality.

You would think all this wealth of data on how people share virtual spaces would be a treasure trove for any new Social VR Startup. I occasionally hear “2D worlds like Second Life are irrelevant because they are not immersive VR.” It is true Second Life users have to use a lot more imagination to be immersed through the screen, but they do it, they have been doing it for years. it would be foolish to presume Second Life is just a 3D Facebook of shared shitposts, memes and fake news.

I don’t want to be that grouchy Second Life user that claims to have been there and done that with everything SocialVR related. I’m pleading with everyone who’s dabbling in SocialVR, there is a decade of Social VR lessons, achievements and mistakes to be learnt from already, don’t just ignore it because Second Life users could not say “wow i feel like I’m actually here”, because down the road that ‘i’m there’ presence will in the end likely be the thing that is irrelevant to SocialVR.

What i am most excited about with Social VR is what aspects of reality will we bring into our virtual ones and what purely virtual paradigms will we adopt. I’ve been teleporting for years already.

My Robinson: The Journey – PSVR Review

That’s right, i do reviews now, reviews are cool.

Ever since the beginning the SL community has debated the question ‘Is Second Life a Game?’ to me the answer is no, but regardless of this i have always found inspiration in games for how to bring experiences to Second Life. With this in mind i’ll go ahead and review one of the latest PSVR games released called Robinson:The Journey by Crytek and discuss how it approaches navigation in Virtual Environments.


In the game you play the roll of a boy called Robinson who is the soul survivor of a catastrophic Space station crash on a distant planet full of dinosaurs. One day you discover a broken Robot and suddenly the race is on to find more in order to finally learn why the space station crashed and wether there are other survivors. You are aided by a helpful floating AI robot and a loyal pet baby Trex.

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It’s not a game on rails, nor is it ‘sit in a cockpit’ game. It’s full blown free movement to walk around and explore the environment full of numerous creatures and insects. It really does buzz with wildlife.

As you explore you solve a few puzzles and unlock parts of the story with side quests to scan and record new species in a data core. The environments are beautifully crafted allowing for great mouth open gasps of ‘WOW’ and death defying instances that you would never want to find yourself doing in the real world.


Navigation in VR, different for everyone?

I was actually a bit worried the navigation controls would make me sick after reading some reviews, but i found myself wondering what these pro game reviewers were moaning about. I’ve read a few opinions stating that navigating with a thumb stick (Move to point) makes you VRsick, and that it is better to use a ‘Jump To Point’ method. In Robinson i found it perfectly fine to move slowly through the environment with ‘Move to point’ and didn’t feel sick at all.

Turn left or right on the controller and the view jumps suddenly and for a moment i thought ‘oh thats terribly jarring!’ a few moments later and i had forgotten about it. For a friend who was watching the twitch live stream it was driving him mad, but in VR the sudden movement was surprisingly subconscious, almost as if i my brain was processing it as a blink or sudden head twist and compensating for it naturally.

Another set of reviews complained about one of the things i found the most exciting about Robinson which is climbing. When you approach certain walls with orange coloured fungus or orange painted pipes your hands appear ready to grab. Using the controller buttons you can then reach up and climb walls adding an extra sense of freedom to explore the environment. I found myself running out of breath and having to jump on the spot to try and grab ledges just out of reach. It did not make me VR sick, i was having the best experience in VR i’ve ever had yet!.


This has led me to wonder, what if there is no ONE way to experience VR. Maybe there needs to be a set of different ways to experience VR like how flight sims have options for inverted axis, because some will feel sick using ‘Move to point’ while others will dislike ‘Jump to point’. Those VR experiences that figure out how to cater for all, will rule them all :-p

UPDATE: I also need to admit at this point that VRSickness for me can sometimes come down to wether i’m standing or sitting. For games where you walk around i prefer to be standing up, and some games where you sit in a cockpit i prefer to be sitting down.


Wonder, Fear and Empathy.

This is the first truly immersive game i’ve played on the PSVR yet and it is the sort of experience i want from VR. Unlike the other short experiences in PSVR, this is the first one where i felt i was fully placed somewhere free to roam and explore. I got chills as i looked over the edge of a cliff and looking high into the treetops, which i then climbed up into. Looking back down at where i started and getting that sense of achievement in relation to what i had felt i had done rather than ticking off a box (although the game does give you boxes to tick off to).

And there are many moments where i felt fear. Fear of falling, fear of being stomped on, and the worst, fear of being eaten by a raptor. There was one moment where i was almost frozen with fear because just around a corner was a hungry raptor.

There are also moments where i jump out of my skin at which point i almost every time would turn to my pet Trex and talk to it for reassurance and this is where Empathy kicked in as i  found myself constantly looking behind to make sure the little thing was keeping up and was safe.

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A first glimpse of what i want to build in Sansar

Most reviews of Robinson seemed to praise it’s graphics and then call it a flawed game, and yes there are some very annoying missteps in the puzzle solving department. At one point i had completed a task but the Game progress refused to mark it as completed and in another instance my Ai buddy Higgs was constantly telling me to fix something i had already fixed resulting in me bashing it on the head with a piece of metal shouting “SHUT UP!!!!”. But a broken experience in VR is still and experience and it has not detracted from the experience so much, rather it’s simply made it a longer experience.

I wonder though if Gamer reviewers just blitz through it as quick as they can to be the first to publish, because i’m truly amazed by Robinson: The Journey and will be disappointed when i get to the end and find there are no more tree’s to climb and explore at leisure.

In any case, Robinson has inspired me. It has shown me what free movement to explore in VR can be and if platforms such as Sansar could let me build environments like that to explore then holy shit, i could not be more excited. I’m probably over excited though. :-p

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