Lab announces Sansar’s closed alpha officially under-way

Th obligatory Sansar promo image :) (please can we have some new ones?) - Linden Lab
Th obligatory Sansar promo image 🙂 (please can we have some new ones?) – Linden Lab

On Tuesday, August 18th, and running a couple of weeks behind schedule – such is the way with new projects – the Lab has officially announced they’ve invited a small number of content creators to try-out their Next Generation Platform for virtual experiences, currently code-named Project Sansar.

The announcement, which appears a press release on the Lab’s corporate pages, reads in part:

Slated for general availability in 2016, Project Sansar will democratize virtual reality as a creative medium. It will empower people to easily create, share, and monetize their own multi-user, interactive virtual experiences, without requiring engineering resources. The platform will enable professional-level quality and performance with exceptional visual fidelity, 3D audio, and physics simulation. Experiences created with Project Sansar will be optimized for VR headsets like the Oculus Rift, but also accessible via PCs and (at consumer launch) mobile devices. Users can explore and socialize within Project Sansar experiences through advanced expressive avatars, using text and voice chat.

Drawing on more than 12 years of unique experience running Second Life, the largest-ever user-created virtual world, Linden Lab will make it fun and easy for Project Sansar users to create social VR experiences, eliminating the complicated challenges that today limit the medium to professional developers with significant resources. Project Sansar will allow creators at all levels to focus on realizing their creative visions, without having to worry about issues such as hosting and distribution, multi-user access and communication systems, virtual currency and regulatory compliance, and other challenges associated with creating, sharing, and monetizing virtual experiences today.

As has been widely reported, the initial testing will be focused on Autodesk’s Maya® software for content creation and upload to Sansar, although the Lab have also announced that they intend the platform to operate with a wide range of content creation tools such as such as 3D Max, Sketchup, and Blender, with file format support for OBJ and FBX, and others.

Sansar alpha testing is focused exclusively on Maya - however, the Lab intend the platform to support a wide range of 3D content creation tools as work progresses
Sansar alpha testing is focused exclusively on Maya – however, the Lab intend the platform to support a wide range of 3D content creation tools as work progresses

During the alpha, the invited creators will be encouraged to “use each other’s games and other invented environments, trade feedback, and tweak their own work.” They’ll also have to be patient, with Ebbe Altberg having previously warned they may face having content deleted, removed or otherwise altered as the Lab continued to adjust, change, tweak (and bash?) what is still a very new platform that has a good way to go before it reaches something ready to have a lot of people pile on to it and play with it.

That said, if all goes according to plan, the alpha will slowly be opened out over time to include more creators, the Lab’s own announce noting:

In the coming months, Linden Lab will welcome additional creators and content partners to Project Sansar as new features are added to the platform and testing expands.

The emphasis on “content partners” is mine, as I do wonder precisely what it means for the direction Sansar will be taking, particularly given the differentiation given the term from “creators”.  More thoughts on that to come.

In the meantime, The Verge has been quick off the press in following-up on the Lab’s announcement, with a short piece entitled The VR successor to Second Life is inviting its first testers, which is in some ways an unfortunate title, as it does carry a certain implication that Second Life is perhaps no more. This view is perhaps further enhanced by the use of the past tense when referring to the platform, even though there is a nod to the fact that Sansar will run “alongside” SL.

VentureBeat, to name one other following-up on the Lab’s press release, has a similarly brief article in its GamesBeat section, Second Life creator Linden Lab starts testing its virtual-reality world: Project Sansar, which focuses on the core points of the press release.

For those wishing to catch-up on what I believe to be the core statements and information around Sansar, as gathered from cited sources, please refer to my July Sansar Summary.

Also, be sure to take a look at uploadVR’s very excellent conversation between Nick Ochoa and Ebbe Altberg on Sansar, which I reviewed at the start of August, and am embedding here again for reference.

 

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A Bright Canopy set to open over Second Life and OpenSim

BC logoBright Canopy, the new streaming service, which allows users on low-end computers to access both Second Life and OpenSim has announced it will officially launch on Saturday, August 29th at a single monthly subscription price, which for the first 90 days (at least) will be $17.00 a month.

The service, which was established by SL users Bill Glover and his wife, Jeri (known in-world as Chaos Priestman and Beth Robbani respectively in-world),  arose directly as a result of the May 2015 closure of the SL Go streaming service provided by former on-line streaming games supplier, OnLive. What’s more, and on a personal note, I’m pleased to be able to say that this blog had a hand in bringing things about – although my involvement as a beta user hasn’t been as extensive as I’d hoped.

As a result of the cessation of SL Go as a result of OnLive’s decision to sell, I ruminated on the potential of the Lab running a streamed SL service through Amazon AppSstream. This caught Bill’s eye and imagination, prompting him to comment:

Let’s just do it ourselves! You really got me thinking. I’d can launch a service right now if I get enough folks for Beta.

Bill and Jeri Glover: heading the Bright Canopy team, and long-term Second Life users
Bill and Jeri Glover: heading the Bright Canopy team, and long-term Second Life users

Things further progressed when I wrote about Nebadon Izumi’s work in getting the viewer and OpenSim delivered over AppStream.  My article prompted Nikola Bozinovic, founder and CEO of Frame, a cloud-based service focused on delivering Windows applications to users,  to suggest his service could be used to deliver Second Life through the cloud.

Bill and Nikola quickly got their heads together, and within 24 hours, they had their own proof-of-concept running, delivering the official SL viewer over Frame via Amazon.

Bright Canopy streams SL and OpenSim directly to your web browser, offering those on low-specification computers to enjoy the full graphic richness of both platforms with (allowing for network vagaries) low latency
Bright Canopy streams SL and OpenSim directly to your web browser, offering those on low-specification computers to enjoy the full graphic richness of both platforms with (allowing for network vagaries) low latency – note the data, bottom left (via Bright Canopy)

Not long after that, and with the support of SL and OpenSim users, a small alpha test commenced, which expanded to an invite-only pre-launch beta, which again in turn gradually opened its doors wider and wider as time as progressed and issues dealt with.

Nikola Bozinovic, founder of Frame, who extended an invitation to try the service as a possible means of accessing Second Life (and other grids) from the cloud
Nikola Bozinovic, founder of Frame, who extended an invitation to try his service as a means of accessing Second Life (and other grids) from the cloud – and thus paved the way for Bright Canopy to deliver

While operating as independent companies, the synergy between Frame and Bright Canopy has been impressive, with the former working hard to ensure the latter can provide a scalable, robust service, as Bill has worked to ensure the viewer behaves itself when streamed and can support the services users expect – notably voice.

“Frame is excited to provide infrastructure support to make projects like Bright Canopy scale globally,” Nikola stated during the official launch announcement. “Bill has captured the imagination and the energy of the Second Life community. We’ve been impressed by the cooperative and open approach of the Bright Canopy team.”

One of the core benefits of running with Frame, is the company has an established track record in delivering Windows applications over cloud services (indeed, in June 2015, Frame closed a further US $10 million round of funding, such is the scope of interest in their approach). This means they have the technical expertise to be able to help Bright Canopy scale over time, and to offer the kind of delivery speeds users expect (local network vagaries allowing). The company already has a global presence itself, notably utilising Amazon’s backbone, with points of presence across the United States, Europe, Asia and South America.

Initially, Bright Canopy ran using only Frame’s presence in California. Even so, and for many in the USA and Europe, results were impressive. Later, Dublin was added to the mix, offering greatly reduced latency to beta users in Europe.  With the launch on August 29th, Bright Canopy will additionally leverage Frame’s presence on the US East Coast to again enhance the service.

One of the key aspects of Bright Canopy being partnered with Frame is that the latter already has multiple points-of-presence with Amazon around the world - so Bright Canopy can leverage these as global demands requires. At launch, Bright Canopy runs out of California, serving the USA, and Dublin, serving Europe
One of the key aspects of Bright Canopy being partnered with Frame is that the latter already has multiple points-of-presence with Amazon around the world – so Bright Canopy can leverage these as global demands requires. At launch, Bright Canopy runs out of California, serving the USA, and Dublin, serving Europe

The new monthly pricing plan, which will completely replace the hourly plan used during the beta period, has initially been set at US $17.00 a month for the first 90 days. However, Bright Canopy warn that this may be subject to increase – although they hope very much to avoid this.

The problem here is that Bright Canopy is currently being provisioned via Amazon’s Spot Instances. Normally, these are the most cost-effective way to deliver a service, but they have lately been subject to an insane bidding war, resulting in massive price spikes.

Spot Instance pricing with Amazon is making it difficult for Bright Canopy to firmly pin-down their monthly subscription price – click for full size

This means that Bright Canopy need to watch the situation very carefully, as Bill explained in the launch announcement:

Our early bird price is going to be an experiment for 90 days. If you’ve been following the blog, you know we’ve seen price fluctuations on the back-end, and we still need to watch actual usage of the service. $17 is a sustainable price if the instance costs return to their typical, historical values. It is not a sustainable price with the current spike in instance price. We may need to get creative with how we split instances, or we may need to raise prices. We intend to remain transparent as always and will keep you posted. Our goal is to continue to maintain a sustainable, affordable service.

If a price increase is required, it will be announced when Bright Canopy have had an opportunity to assess the best way forward, and with sufficient time for users to determine how they’d like to proceed.

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