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. 

It’s lonely being a MacOS VR User

This time last year i was waiting for apple to release a new Mac any Mac as a sign of there being continued progress from apple in the desktop market. I’m fed up with Apples obsession with shiny health trinkets and Music. Apple did finally release a new iMac but to my surprise they also demoed support for VR, specifically the Vive Headset. Big shiny tech media articles shouted with enthusiasm that VR had finally come to MacOS. 

A year later and you’d be forgiving for thinking it was all just a dream. The XLab demo showcased at the Apple event is no where to be seen and the supposed HTC Valve support for MacOS is not mentioned at all on their website. But Mac DOES support it, i know because i made my own experiences for it.

 

SteamVR Supports Mac

SteamVR does have a MacOS Version of its client. It’s over a year old now and still does not include many of the features the Windows version has enjoyed for years now. There is no SteamVR Home feature and the built in menu (when it works) has no point because there is only one mac native VR game (as i know) called Blobby Tennis.

 

UNITY Supports MacOS

Unity3D supports the creation of VR applications native to MacOS. Once you figure out which version of unity to use (2017.2) and make sure its using Metal2 api, it’s actually quite simple to set up a template using the easy to configure SteamVR plugins and templates pack. I made a few kool tests creating spaces with a temple, animated objects, tracking a vive tracker. I let my Nephew explore a massive minecraft cathedral i downloaded from Sketchfab.

 

But no ones developing VR for MacOS

All the major Virtual World VR experiences such as VRchat, HighFidelity, Sansar are windows only, which i guess is understandable if i am the only Mac VR user in the village. (Technically HiFi allows mac support in desktop mode) 

It’s frustrating, especially when im using a Mac to make content that can be used in these spaces. I created a VRchat Avatar easy and uploaded it to VRchat then had to reboot into windows in order to try it out. 

My VRchat Avatar, the space suit ended up in Second Life too.

Bootcamping Windows on my mac is what alot of people have told me to do, and thats fine for a while but ive learned that bootcamped VR on a mac takes a resolution hit and is no way as clear an image as when run natively in MacOS. 

In October last year many tech news sites reported that the latest version of Parallels Desktop which runs windows in a window on Mac OS had gained VR support. This turned out to be fake news, as not only does it not work, the Parallels website has no documentation mentioning VR support.

 

WebVR saving the day?

The one place where a Mac user might find VR Support is WebVR that allows VR Users to access VR experiences via a web browser cross platform. At the moment the only MacOS supporting WebVR Web Browser is Firestorm Nightly. A the time of writing this MacOS WebVR support has been broke in the latest version 62, in order to run WebVR with SteamVR you have to download version 59.0a1. One step forward 3 steps back.

 

It’s lonely being a Mac VR user

I would like to put aside more time to explore VR on MacOS. I want to make my own Aech’s Garage, a specific demoing and building space where i can work on new ideas. Maybe I could build little MacOS VR Experiences and make a killing on Steam, but maybe there is no point if i’m the only Mac VR enthusiast. Eventually one of these VR worlds will open up to Mac users and allow me to then export across my experiments. Until then i’ll be tinkering in my VR Garage and perhaps posting WebVR.

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