Sansar: of images and reactions

 Project Sansar (image: Linden Lab)
Project Sansar (image: Linden Lab)

There’s been a lot of reaction to recent images release via Twitter of scenes from Project Sansar. The images, one of the surface of Mars, and another an almost alien-looking beach scene, were Tweeted by Ebbe Altberg.

The first came on February 4th, and prompted several Tweets in reply, the second on February 10th. Both were picked-up by various media outlets such as Tom’s Hardware and VR Focus. Each of the images reveal very little, and this has led to a certain amount of negative feedback and potentially incorrect comparisons to Second Life, with some of the criticism reading as attempts to write-off Project Sansar before people have been given the opportunity to look inside it.

The February 4th Tweet by Ebbe Altberg
The February 4th Tweet by Ebbe Altberg

Some of those critiquing the images point to similar work being possible in Second Life. On the surface, this is a fair comment – such environments are possible in SL; however, they also seem to miss the point.

While Project Sansar isn’t exclusively VR HMD oriented, when discussing its initial use, Ebbe Altberg has made it clear that the Lab is firstly looking to those market verticals which are already demonstrating interest in getting involved with immersive environments through to use of (relatively, when compared to the “traditional” costs of such systems) low-cost era of HMDs and their peripherals. Verticals such as education, training, simulation, healthcare, design, architecture and business have all been mentioned time and again. Hence why,  for example and as I’ve previously pointed out, it was no accident that the first public demonstration for Project Sansar came during month-long Architecture and the City Festival in San Francisco, held in September 2015.

The February 10th Tweet by Ebbe Altberg
The February 10th Tweet by Ebbe Altberg

The hard reality here is that for the most part, these are sectors which have little or no interest in delving into Second Life to achieve their aims; it is simply too costly and / or too complex to do so (even were it capable of supporting HMDs at things like the recommended frame rates, etc). Thus, comparisons with what is shown in the images and what can be created in Second Life is really irrelevant.

Of course, by the same standard, aiming for specific verticals and opportunities and actually gathering a sufficient audience from those vertical to help grow the platform more broadly isn’t an automatic given. That in itself is a worthwhile debate, but it is one far beyond determining Sansar’s worth based on a couple of in-world snapshots.

Others have critiqued the images on the basis that they are leveraging pre-built models and thus the comment that Sansar environments can be built in “a few hours” is misleading. But is this really the case?

Ebbe Altberg on Sansar's marketplace, January 21st, 2016
Ebbe Altberg on Sansar’s marketplace, January 21st, 2016

The reality is that in this regard, Project Sansar isn’t that different to Second Life, where we leverage existing assets and content, purchased in-world or through the Marketplace, every day to create our environments.

What Project Sansar aims to do is take things further by offering those who wish to simply acquire and use assets up to and including dedicated experiences, the means to do so. This can then be coupled to a much easier means of direct access to those environments, possibly hooked directly into their own  user authentication systems (see the 3rd bullet point here), to provide a direct means of immediate access to that environment for their staff / students / users / clients, thus entirely bypassing the stress of user access which is so much a part of Second Life.

As such, the use of pre-existing content in the Tweeted images isn’t misleading or “cheating” when placed alongside the “few hours” statement of build time. Rather, it’s a reflection of one of the ways the Lab envisages Project Sansar being used.

There is a lot about Project Sansar that has yet to be revealed and / or understood. There’s also much about it that would seem to be a gamble on the part of the Lab. As such, there is a lot worthy of debate about it and platforms like it – High Fidelity,, AltspaceVR, et al, their potential for success, how they fit with the VR ecosystem, how that ecosystem will fair over time when faced with things like emerging AR capabilities and potential, and so on and so forth. But to dismiss Project Sansar purely on the basis of a handful of screen shot seems, at least to me, a tad bit premature.

Visiting The Village in Second Life

The Village & BarDeco; Inara Pey, February 2016, on Flickr The Village & BarDeco

Pearl Grey drew me towards The Village & BarDeco after she blogged about it in January.  A quarter region in size, it is described as, “a small village on the water where you can stroll beside the sea in a Zen atmosphere and relaxed – a drink and listen to the music of the best DJs in SL at BarDeco.”

The club sits at the far end of the The Village relative to the SLurl I’ve given above; those available through Search may well drop visitors a lot closer, but I’ve opted for this approach so that you can wander the length of The Village and take in the full atmosphere, which right now is one of a mist-shrouded evening or morning, mindful of late autumn / early winter.

The Village & BarDeco; Inara Pey, February 2016, on Flickr The Village & BarDeco

The road leading into The Village is a foretaste of things to come. Unpaved, it is rutted and perhaps not in the bast of condition. It also splits at the SLurl I’ve given above, to provide two parallel routes into the hamlet, which run wither side of a large rocky outcrop.

Follow one arm of the road and you’ll travel past an old farm, while taking the other will take you alongside an old railway spur line which presumably once served The Village. Those days are now long gone; the tracks are overgrown, and nature is slowly laying claim to the carcases of two old boxcars which appear to have been derailed in some past accident. A mist is drifting in from the sea the other side of the old railway tracks, making this second route into The Village somewhat more atmospheric (and, if you’re on a lower-end system, perhaps a little challenging as well).

The Village & BarDeco; Inara Pey, February 2016, on Flickr The Village & BarDeco

Like the roads leading to it, The Village looks to be past its prime; all of the building look tired, paint fading in the salty air, tin roofs rusting, wood panels in need of repair. Even the vehicles here have seen better days, although the single trawler moored and the little docks looks to be in better condition than the nearby road vehicles, suggesting it is cared for and still plying the seas.

BarDeco sits within what might have once been a warehouse, a place as careworn and suffering from the passing of the years as the rest of The Village. Sans roof, canvas awnings strung from the rafters provide a measure of protection for those on the dance floor when inclement weather comes visiting. Nevertheless, going on the numbers there when Caitlyn and I visited, BarDeco clearly offers a worm welcome together with good music.

The Village & BarDeco; Inara Pey, February 2016, on Flickr The Village & BarDeco

Nor is the music restricted to the club; there is a live performance stage facing the church, and one of the largest stores is a record shop. Other artists have settled here as well, as peek through the brightly lit windows of an old factory outbuilding will reveal.

All told, this is an atmospheric place (make sure you have local sounds on to catch the ambient sound scape as well), one which again demonstrates you don’t have to have an entire region just to build something special to share with others. For the SL traveller, it offers an interesting destination to explore, with plenty of photographic opportunities. Add to that BarDeco and the music, and The Village makes for an interesting visit. It even has what could be thought of as an indirect hat-tip to a certain other Village of television history sitting in the town square!

SLurl Details