The Sansar Summary – July 2015

Sansar promo image, courtesy of Linden Lab
Sansar promo image, courtesy of Linden Lab

A lot has been written about the Lab’s Next Generation virtual experiences platform, currently code-named Project Sansar, of late, including comments from Ebbe Altberg and others from the Lab, and also media articles on the platform. As such, I thought I’d try to pull together a reasonably detailed, but high-level summary of what is known together with references. Depending on how things progress with Sansar, this might be the first of a semi-regular piece in this blog.

If I have missed anything on import, my apologies; running back and forth through numerous articles, transcripts and videos tends to get a little eye and mind-boggling after a while!

Team Size

Around 40 people were working on Sansar at any given time as of March 2015, of whom 30 are programmers / engineers [1] [2]. In June 2014, with a headcount of approximately 180, the Lab announced it would be recruiting 40-50 staff specifically to work on Sansar [3]. As of June 2015, the Lab’s total headcount was around 213 [4].

Approximate Timescales

  • Closed alpha testing, initially involving content creators selected by the Lab with expertise in Maya, to commence in July 2015 [5] [6].
  • These creators will not only (or necessarily) be drawn from Second Life [7].
  • Testing and access will gradually expand to involve a broader audience and more tools [5].
  • A public beta is then planned for 2016, with a “version 1” possibly ready by the end of 2016 [4].

Content Creation – Tools / Capabilities

The content focus for Sansar is mesh, but not exclusively mesh [14].

Sansar will initially utilise Maya for testing [5] [6], however the plan is for the platform to support many external content creation tools such as 3D Max, Sketchup [5]. and Blender [8] and others. The support file formats will include (but not necessarily limited to) OBJ and FBX [6]. The scripting language for Sansar will be C# [6] [9].

Sansar will support a range of third-party content creation tools
Sansar will support a range of third-party content creation tools

Sansar will support advanced materials with spec, smoothness, “metalness” and normal maps [10]. Substances will be supported [11],but no decision has been made on supporting Allegorithmic’s products [12]. Displacement maps will be supported [13].

In-world building tools will be made available in time with people able to share in collaborative building, and in-world building might be voxel-based [14], although the Lab is still experimenting with this[13].

All objects in Sansar will be fully scriptable and animated; it is not clear whether on-the-fly modifications to mesh items in-world will be possible [14]. Sansar will include a full “professional” (in terms of its capabilities not in the need for people to have to be professional animators in order to use it) animation system, overlaid with additional capabilities  / code directly from the Lab [14].

The Lab is aware that Sansar needs to be highly performant, and so is looking at ways to optimise user-generated content [15].

Avatars

Avatars with Sansar will have a far more complex skeletal system than for SL[16]. Overall, the aim is to support very complex avatars with arbitrary numbers of limbs, etc., but this is still at least a year away from being ready [17].

Land

Sansar is not being viewed as a contiguous world space in the manner of Second Life [18].

“Land” within the platform has a very different meaning to that of Second Life (“space” appears to the preferred term with the Lab). It will not be constrained in terms of a physical area; spaces in Sansar can be arbitrarily large, the limitation being what can be placed on / in an experience, not the physical area it can occupy (although there is a theoretical physical limit to how big “land” can be[19].

Users will be provided with some space on joining Sansar [14]. What this will be and the content limitations placed on it are not clear at this time.

There are no plans for a Sansar "mainland" to be provided by LL. However, it should be possible to create experiences within Sansar which might equate to an SL mainland-style experience
There are no plans for a Sansar “mainland” to be provided by LL. However, it should be possible to create experiences within Sansar which might equate to an SL mainland-style experience

It is not currently planned for Sansar to have anything analogous to Second Life’s Mainland, but very large experiences can be built and there will be the potential to interconnect them, potentially allowing public ‘hubs’ around themes, interests, and communities to arise [20]. How avatars will move between experiences is still TBD. A gateway mechanism has been under consideration[18], with the aim of keeping the immersive experience as alive as possible [21].

If someone wanted to create a virtual experience as large-scale and varied as all of SL today, they should be able to accomplish that with Project Sansar (cost, doubtless, allowing!) [6].

Access and Accounts

Sansar will be accessible from 13+ on up [22]. Safeguards will be in place to ensure younger users do not encounter content not suitable to their age [2] [23].

Creators will have greater control in how they bring users directly into their experiences. The aim is to make discovery easier, and not necessarily led by the Lab’s “brand” for the platform (as is the case with Second Life) [24]. This potentially makes it easier for experiences to be directly branded [25]. In support of this, third-party authentication and access control to experiences is being built-in to the foundation of the next generation platform, which should help organisations to manage access to their experiences using tools already at their disposal [18].

Sansar will operate a “master account” system [14] [18], allowing users to operate multiple “personas” (e.g. avatars) under it, sharing inventory and account balances between them [26].

It is unlikely that Sansar will support last name / first name format from SL, but will offer a “display name” style approach [26], However, there will be a period of time when Second Life users will be offered the opportunity to create a master account based on their Second Life avatar name [27].

Sansar featured heavily in the Q&A discussion with Ebbe Altberg at SL12B
Sansar featured heavily in the Q&A discussion with Ebbe Altberg at SL12B

Trust

Users’ abilities in Sansar will be built on the basis of trust. While all users will be able to have as much anonymity as they wish, the more information that is provided to Linden Lab – be it wallet identity, a verified e-mail address or payment information – the greater the degree to which a user can participate in the platform. However, the exact relationship between platform capabilities awarded, and the information users will be asked to provide in order to access them, is still being determined [14].

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