USA Today’s further look at Project Sansar and Social VR

Project Sansar promotional image via Linden Lab
Project Sansar promotional image via Linden Lab

On July 4th, I noted USA Today’s video short on Project Sansar and the Lab. At the time, I indicated that there didn’t appear to be a related article to go with the video. However, that’s now changed, and Ed Baig, USA Today’s tech reporter, has indeed written an article to sit alongside the video, which appeared on July 6th under the title Second Life’s creators try for a third — in virtual reality.

“Third”? You may wonder. “What third?” The answer is something of a play on words – Linden Lab’s “first life” is (like the rest of us) firmly rooted in the physical world, where it sits as a corporate entity employing over 200 staff, 75-ish of whom are focused on Project Sansar (the rest doubtless made up of those managing Second Life, running Blocksworld, taking care of the company’s administration and management and (potentially) working with Tilia Inc.). Their “second life” is, obviously, Second Life itself, thus leaving Project Sansar as the company’s nascent “third life”.

Ed Baig: looking further inside Sansar and Social VR for USA Today
Ed Baig: looking further inside Sansar and Social VR for USA Today

As with the video, the article doesn’t reveal much that is new about Project Sansar itself per se, however, it does delve more into the concept of “social VR” – the term that Linden Lab and the likes of High Fidelity,AltSpace VR (both of whom are also mentioned in the article) and Facebook are increasingly using to define their new platforms.

In the case of Sansar, this “social” element is not just about people together who are already engaged in the virtual domain, but in allowing the creators of the environments hosted by Project Sansar to directly attract their own audiences to the experiences they build.

At this point, it’s probably worth diverting slightly and stating something that by now I would hope would be straight out of the British Guide to Stating the Bleedin’ Obvious, particularly for those who have been following Project Sansar’s development, but is worthwhile repeating just in case.

And it’s this: as with various other aspects of discussing Project Sansar, “creator” actually has a wider context than perhaps it does within Second Life. In the latter, by-and-large, we tend to regard “creators” as the folk who design and make the goods we use to dress our avatars and furnish our land. Outside of lip service, it’s perhaps not a term closely linked with those who obtain land and regions in SL and use these goods to create and environment. However, with Project Sansar, it is pretty clear “creator” is intended to encompass both: it applies to both those who can build and model with the tools supported by the platform, and those with the desire to “build” an environment they can share with others, even if “build” refers more to shaping the land and obtaining content designed, made and supplied by others.

Ed Baig was able to explore Mars within Sansar, using one of the Lab's early experience set pieces
Ed Baig was able to explore Mars within Sansar, using one of the Lab’s early experience set pieces

In his article, Ed Baig illustrates this, together with the concept of “social VR” and the ability for experience creators to be able to attract their own audience by quoting the idea of learning the French language:

If you search Google for “I want to learn French” you might find in the search results a virtual reality experience in Sansar where you can actually “go to virtual places in France, meet French people and have French dialogue at the boulangerie,” Altberg says.

This actually brings up another point – and one I really must remember to ask the Lab about next time I have the opportunity to do so. And that’s the idea of Project Sansar as a “white label” environment. This was first mentioned back in early 2015, and hinted at in interviews since. If it is still a central aim for the platform, then it could be a powerful aspect to Project Sansar, allowing experience creatorsattract audiences through gateways they define and in a manner such that the audience isn’t even aware they are entering an environment hosted by Linden Lab or is something of a relative of Second Life.

But I digress; Sansar as a white label platform is a topic for another article (and one long overdue to appear in these pages!). In terms of the USA Today piece, the social aspect is further touched upon with the idea that in the future, people from geographically disparate locations will be able to meet and work together far more easily in virtual spaces than up to now has been possible (thanks largely to the work in facial and body tracking, which allow avatars to be a lot more nuanced and expression in their reactions to others).

Elsewhere, the idea of the potential “cannibalisation” of Second Life by Project Sansar is touched upon.  This has been a controversial statement when raised in the past. However, while it is true that Second life thus far in its history faced serious competition, the times really are now changing, and just because SL hasn’t yet faced a competitor capable of luring its user base away doesn’t mean that at some point in the medium-term future it won’t.  As such, references to the risk of “cannibalisation” shouldn’t be taken as a sign the Lab is in any way willing to “sacrifice” Second Life on the alter of Sansar, but rather that it is a pragmatic acknowledgement that the risk actually now does exist for Second Life to be supplanted in people’s hearts and minds, and thus, for the sake of the Lab’s own survival, better it came from within than from without.

Like the video before it – which is included at the head of the article,  there’s nothing here that’s particularly revelatory about Project Sansar for anyone who has been keeping abreast with developments on that platform. However, the overview of the “social VR” approach is worth a read in and of itself. While for anyone who has not thus far dipped a toe into the waters of Project Sansar, Ed’s piece offers a pretty good starting point in understanding what it is about.

SL Project updates 16 27/1: Server, viewer, Oculus Rift

Legacy Ridge; Inara Pey, July 2016, on Flickr Legacy Ridgeblog post

Server Deployment

Despite the holiday in the US for July 4th (which has previously pushed server deployments back 24 hours), the Main (SLS) deployment did in fact take place on Tuesday, July 5th. This was the server maintenance package previously deployed to the three RC channels in week #26, comprising the following fixes:

  • BUG-11836  Increase max animation size – animation files up to  250Kb can now be uploaded
  • BUG-6035 (non-public) LSL email registration (for receiving email from outside the region) can break without automatic recovery.

There was no planned RC deployment on Wednesday, July 6th.

SL Viewer

As expected, the Inventory Message viewer, version (dated May 23rd) was promoted to the de facto release viewer on Tuesday, July 5th. This viewer sees the removal of deprecated and unused UDP inventory messaging mechanisms from the viewer. Pending its adoption by third-party viewers, it will also eventually see the removal of server-side support for these messages, most likely towards the end of 2016.

Currently, this leaves the official viewer line-up, RC and project, as follows:

  • Maintenance RC viewer, version, dated June 24th –bug  fixes and updates
  • Project viewers:
    • Visual Outfit Browser project viewer, version, dated July 1st – ability to preview images of outfits in the Appearance floater. Expected to be updated to release candidate status soon
    • Oculus Rift project viewer, version, dated July 1st – Oculus Rift DK2 + CV-1 support. However, this update appears to have significant issues, see below for more
    • Project Bento (avatar skeleton extensions) viewer, version, dated June 30th
    • Project VLC Media Plugin viewer, version, dated June 15th – replaces the QuickTime media plugin for the Windows version of the viewer with one based on LibVLC
  • Obsolete platform viewer, version dated May 8th, 2015 – provided for users on Windows XP and OS X versions below 10.7.

Oculus Rift Project viewer

There appear to be significant issues with this project viewer, which is intended to support both the DK-2 and CV-1 versions of the Oculus Rift headset. For further information, please refer to the following links:


All the fun of the fair in Second Life

The Unknown Theme Park
The Unknown Theme Park

Theresa Tennyson-Trang dropped a landmark into my hands recently, with a suggestion Caitlyn and I might like to pay a visit to the Unknown Theme Park. So – we did!

Established in 2006, by Ade Franklin, the park is now managed by Miyi Nishi, and  is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year. And were I to sum it up and just a handful of words, I’d describe it as one , and it is quite simply one of those gems of Second Life which needs to be experienced rather than just read about.

The Unknown Theme Park
The Unknown Theme Park

Located on Heterocera, the park sits between Route 1 and the sea, offering everything a visitor might expect from a theme park – main rides, side shows, activities like 10-pin bowling or skating, all of which have been gathered from creators across SL and brought together for family friendly fun.  It’s a place in which you can quickly lose track of time – as Caitlyn and I found out when we discovered our visit had stretched over two hours – and we still had more to try!

“[We Have] 37,000 square metres packed with more than 50 activities,” Miyi says of the park. “Come on by and have some fun or do some fishing or skydiving, or relax at our beach or tree house! All rides are free with a money back guarantee if not satisfied!”

The Unknown Theme Park
The Unknown Theme Park

The landing point is located right in the centre of the park, surrounded by several of the larger rides. Some of these, like the tower drop, roller coaster and Ferris Wheel, are precisely the kind of ride you’d expect in any theme park in the physical world. But as this is SL, there are also one or two which blow a raspberry at gravity, opting instead to offer patrons the kind of ride physical world theme park designers can only dream about – such as Free Fall by Obione Klaar and the G-Force Spinner by Mr. Mad (MadLad Clip).

Alongside these, there are “smaller” attractions – bumper cars and boats, the old pirate ship swing, and so on, to be enjoyed. There also the side shows and attractions such as 10-pin bowling and roller skating as well as the skydiving Miyi mentioned. There’s even a miniature railways running around and through the park, offering visitors an easy way to discover all the park has to offer as the little train chugs its way around the track. Movie buffs might want to try the theatre across the water from the main park.

The Unknown Theme Park - roaring around the roller coaster
The Unknown Theme Park – roaring around the roller coaster

Filled with ambient sounds, offering a marvellous mix of old and new spanning a decade, and presenting many, many opportunities for fun and enjoyment, whether on your own or with a friend or two, The Unknown Theme Park is very much worth a visit. Should you do so, please consider making a donation towards the park’s continued presence in Second Life.

Now, if you’ll excuse us, Caitlyn and I are heading back to the Space Roller for another ride!

The Unknown Theme Park - Caitlyn and I on the Space Roller!
The Unknown Theme Park – Caitlyn and I on the Space Roller!

SLurl Details

Second Life Oculus Rift viewer update and JIRA

The Second Life Oculus Rift project viewer has been updated to support the Oculus CV-1 - but not without issues
The Second Life Oculus Rift project viewer has been updated to support the Oculus CV-1 – but not without issues

Update: July 8th: Linden Lab has suspended viewer support for the Oculus Rift. This article has been updated accordingly, notably with strikethroughs on links which are no longer valid.t.

On July 2nd, I posted about the release of the latest Oculus Rift project viewer, version As I’m actually Riftless, I could do little more than take a surface poke at the viewer and leave it to others to have a more detailed look – and they have done so, and found things to be less than favourable.

Ai Austin / Austin Tate is perhaps best placed in terms of overall feedback having gone through using an Oculus Rift HMD with the new viewer in several scenarios, all of which he has documented in his own blog, some of his initial finding having been reported in the comments following my original article. The problems he’s encountered include:

  • In all cases and with all graphics settings tried, the HMD view is over bright and washed out pastel in colour. He also notes the Pixel Luminance Overdrive setting, which had been present in earlier versions of the Rift project viewer is now absent
  • A failure to show any objects, wither in-world or attached to an avatar, with full or partial transparency when in HMD Mode (so, avatar hair, for example will not render). AI found that disabling Atmospheric Shaders in the viewer resolved this – but is not entirely a desirable solution
  • The image resolution in the HMD is low and jagged, and altering the viewer’s graphics settings apparently has no impact
  • Numerous UI-related issues in HMD mode, including: UI elements in fixed positions which cannot be changed via viewer settings; object and avatar labels and interaction icons fail to show; mouse pointer fails to display
  • Additional visual and display issues.
AI Austin illustrates one of the visual issues with the new Oculus Rift projects viewer: one the left, a scene rendered in the viewer when not in HMD mode; on the right, when rendered in HMD - note the washed-out Linden water in particular
Ai Austin illustrates one of the visual issues with the new Oculus Rift projects viewer: one the left, a scene rendered in the viewer when not in HMD mode; on the right, when rendered in HMD – note the missing transparencies in thew avatar’s hair, giving the impression of hair loss and the “missing” hot tub water. Credit: Ai Austin / Austin Tate

His experience mirrors that of other Rift users, including TTech (who also commented on this blog), and a number of users who have tried this 4.1.0 release of the viewer and have commented on the Oculus Rift forum thread ( see feedback commencing with this message onwards).

Commenting on the viewer at the Simulator User Group meeting on Tuesday, July 5th, Oz Linden said:

At this point, I don’t have any real comment.  It’s a Project Viewer, and one explicitly labelled Experimental at that… the point is for people to try it and let us know what they find out.

To help let the Lab know what people find out in using the viewer, I’d like to point to a bug report – BUG-20130 – raised by Rai Fargis.

While I am flattered that staff at the Lab do read this blog, if you are experimenting / trying the new Oculus Rift project viewer and experience specific issues, please add them to bug report rather than documenting them in the comments following this article (general feedback here is welcome, obviously). Doing so, and including with information on your system set-up, relevant log files, etc., guarantees your feedback is seen and recorded by the Lab, encouraging them to investigate issues.

When reporting problems, one thing to keep in mind is that this version has leapt forward several iterations in terms of the Oculus SDK; therefore comparisons with earlier versions of the viewer may not be helpful (outside of possibly pointing to removed options which proved useful in dealing with specific issues in the past). Rather, specifics of issues encountered with this version will offer a better means for the Lab to start / continue investigations.

At the moment, viewers operating in HMD mode have no means to tell the simulator they are doing so. Therefore, the Lab doesn’t have a means of accurately determining the numbers of people using Rift HMDs – and metric which could be useful in the future; as such, it is something which may change with a future update to the viewer.

With thanks to Ai Austin, TTech, Rai Fargis, and Jeanette Doobie