The situation around Sansar is complex. I’m aware of far too much about its possible inner workings than i should, and it makes writing about it hard because i can not concentrate on one topic without being aware how another topic causes or effects it.
Topics such as investments funding and cut backs, the size of the team, third party software, terms around being on Steam, the burden of modern capitalism. There are just so many excuses for why things happen that i find it hard to write a critique. Although it’s not as if many read my blog posts, so maybe i should just go ahead and splurge my mind on a page.
I’m going to talk about immersive VR and im sorry if your only experience of this was of being dizzy, puking and vowing never to try it again. It’s not for everyone yet.
My first experience with immersive VR was all visual, looking around at the virtual environment and this is what Sansar has been all about, those immersive visuals. From the buildings you can create and the avatars you see, this all works sort of well. I’ve built VR environments in both Unity for VRchat as well as with Sansars built in editor and i can safely say Sansar is quicker and easier to use with unparalleled visual results compared to other SocialVR platforms.
But VR has moved on from visual immersion. Now we are into sensory immersion, combining body movement with your virtual self and interactions with environment, seeing yourself, expressing yourself via your physical movements. Tracking has allowed a users body language to be expressed through their avatars while controllers can now show your finger poses.
Experiences like Boneworks are pushing what we experience with physical interactions allowing us to pull ourselves up and climb in virtual space. This not only allows your avatar to come more to life to others in SocialVR, it helps ground you in that space when what you feel yourself doing is replicated in the headset binding you to your avatar. In VRchat they have mirrors, and seeing your avatar mirroring your movements is an extremely profound experience. You are making that sensory connection to your digital self and it’s no surprise that users line up in front of the mirrors in VRchat.
Sansar has no mirrors, has no intentional ability to make that sensory connection with yourself. The only times you can achieve this is if you catch your shadow on a wall and i often find myself dancing with my shadow in full body tracking. Sansar unintentionally goes out of its way to disconnect your sensory immersion by pulling you out of your body in instances where you click to sit on something, or when you start an animated emote. There seems to be a general reluctance to leave the established avatar behaviours that keep your avatar stuck firmly to the ground and experiment.
Another thing to consider is that most SocialVR platforms are currently designed both for use in VR Headsets and desktop mode. This is i guess understandable as VR use is so niche that we cant expect a FREE VR only platform to survive long on it’s own. The rub here is that i believe experiencing a place in VR is very different to experiencing in desktop. Environments that seem quite spacious in VR can seem small and cramped on desktop. Likewise i often find places created for desktop always seem huge and oversized in VR. Situations like grabbing and throwing can be much simpler to do in VR than it is for desktop users.
With Sansar the issue of supporting both VR and Desktop usage has been solved somewhat with a ‘two birds with one stone’ approach and i imagine other VR Platforms try this to. This means VR and Desktop users share the same UI, the same controlling mechanisms and interactions, but what works on Desktop may not work well in VR and vice versa. This sometimes leads to design choices such as allowing Desktop users to easily pick up objects, resulting in VR users gaining Jedi powers where by they accidentally pic up everything from across the room. This may also be contributing to why Sansar struggles to allow you to stay sensory immersed in your avatar. It becomes a balancing act of features where VR ideas might end up limited or dropped because it can not be made to work also in desktop mode.
Sansar was not originally planned to use VR. According to the Disrupt November documentary Sansar was originally conceived as a new Virtual World before the Oculus came along and exploded the neo consumer VR trend. Maybe this is why for me VR in Sansar feels less integrated than or behind other SocialVR platforms, or is it more probable that there are just no interest from VR enthusiastic investors to keep Sansars VR at the forefront of VR discoveries and hardware.
With Sansars ease of use, stunning quality of high graphics, built in Avatar creation, built in environment editor, built in quest creator, and acceptance of importing of custom avatars, scripts, 3D Models to sell on its built in content store, it’s a wonder why it’s not a raging success….. but thats a subject for a different blog post.