On Monday, July 31st, Sansar opened its door to the public Creator Beta, allowing anyone to sign-up for an account and give it a go. Unsurprisingly, people from Second Life have been among the first to take a look, so I opted to start my public coverage of Sansar with a getting started guide and then some suggestions on where to go and how to interact with things inside experiences.
One thing the Lab has always made clear about Sansar is that the July 31st opening was not the release of a polished, finished product. Sansar is going to take time to build-out, with features and capabilities being added on a rolling basis. Given this, what might be the Lab’s views and thoughts on Sansar’s development up to now and looking ahead?
Just ahead of the Creator Beta opening, Bjorn Linden (aka Bjorn Laurin, the Lab’s Vice President of Product) and Widely Linden (head of Product for Sansar), together with Pete Linden (aka Peter Gray, the Lab’s Director of Global Communications) and Xiola Linden (SL Community Team Manager), sat down with Sansar and Second Life users to discuss such things. The following is a synthesis of Bjorn’s and Widely’s comments in the two (of three) sessions I was able to attend.
Why is the Public Beta Called “Creator Beta” Is it for Creators Only?
The beta is open to everyone, but because Sansar is still growing, the Lab’s focus remains on creators – those making both original content for upload and use in Sansar, and those creating experiences using that content (regardless of whether they made it themselves or purchased it through the Sansar Marketplace), to ensure they have the tools they need to build and design. At the same time, the Lab will continue to build Sansar out with other capabilities – avatar customisation, community tools and so on – which will be of benefit to all users, be they creatives or visitors.
Why Sansar Doesn’t Use Established Engines
Well, first of all Sansar is built on a whole new code-base. There is not a single line of code that is the same [as Second Life]. We’ve taken a lot of lessons from Second Life, a lot of the initial planners of Second Life were involved in Sansar; but we’ve rebuilt everything. That’s why its taken time. We decided not to use Unity or Unreal; we decided to build our own platform and create our own destiny.
One of the thing for that is about users. User creation in Unity and Unreal is extremely hard; we’ve seen that. For example, if Unity were to do a big upgrade, or Unreal, all the user creations [in Sansar] would break [and] they cannot fix that. That’s why we wanted to create our own destiny. We built out own platform … its taken a few years, but now I see its been worth it. We have our own platform, we control our own destiny; user creations will look the same after an update. That, for us, has been very important.
- Bjorn Linden
Running Sansar in Desktop Mode
Right now, Sansar is very VR headset / controller biased. However, it does also run in a Desktop mode somewhat similar to Second Life (1st and 3rd person movement). The Desktop mode is running a little behind VR mode, capabilities-wise (you cannot really manipulate things in the Sansar runtime environment via the Desktop, for example), so how does the Lab regard the Desktop mode?
When we build things, we have to start at the top and then go down. We start with the VR and all the features, then we’re going to bring those features, as many as we can, into non-VR as well, because we know VR is not going to take over the world tomorrow. But we can’t just make features and then add on VR; we have to make VR first and then bring it down fast. And we’re going to do it fast now, as we have a platform to build on. I want people to be able to pick up things on the Desktop and all that stuff, so it’s coming, we’re working on it very fast.
- Bjorn Linden
So I wanted to speak to that. The HMD does allow a whole other level of immersion, and it’s really great and Sansar does it very, very well. But in the work it took us to be able to do it well, we made Desktop really good. Because VR is very technically demanding to do, and the desktop mode was very much the beneficiary of that effort. So what that means in more practical terms is the renderer is very efficient, is very fast. And then means you don’t have to have a crazy expensive gaming PC to run Sansar.
Is it going to run at 60 fps on a three or four year-old laptop or a five-year-old laptop? No. But it will run at least as fast as Second Life does on that same desktop, and look prettier doing it. So Desktop really benefited through our efforts in VR. And people are in desktop, and we know that; that’s why it’s really important, unlike some apps, you can with a single press of a button or an icon, just instantaneously switch back and forth between the modes … you just smoothly transition between desktop and VR modes. And there are times you want to do one, there’s time you want to do the other. So HMDs, if anything, helped to make Sansar even better for Desktop.
- Widely Linden
Currently, the Sansar avatars appear – to Second Life users – to be very basic: limited customisation, fairly generic looks, etc., no ability to add anything other than basic attachments at present (rings, hats, sunglasses, etc.). What is likely to happen with the avatars?
People are very interested in their avatars, and attachments [as enabled when the public beta launched] is a first step. I chose to let everyone do avatar attachments because I spoke to many of you, and you wanted that in Sansar. You can’t put it in the store yet, you can’t sell attachments, but this is just the first step … but it’s working, it’s solid, it’s not crashing.
I’ve been spending a lot of time working with partners, the big corporations that have given us access to technology that no other platforms are using how we are planning to use them. So, for example, if you sell a dress, I do want to have a one size fits all; when you put it on, it should fold and crease just like in real life. We have that working on our servers so we will roll that out all these things … we will reveal more of these things in the next couple of months, actually, how it will look and feel like. And you will get full access to everything … You will have access to all this stuff [like] you have access [to it] in Second Life. Just give it a bit time to make it right! Me and my team, we’re working very hard on it!
- Bjorn Linden
Second Life has really self-selected for an audience that is very interested in, and really enjoys playing with, avatars: customising avatars, dressing avatars, really focused on that. This is an area in which – and I’ll just be up-front – Sansar is not at parity with the degree of flexibility in regards to crafting an avatar that you currently have in Second Life. You can customise your avatar in Sansar, it looks pretty nice as you do it, but we still have a way to go there.
Now, that being said, we have some stuff coming on-line here over the next good chunk of time that will I think rapidly set the Sansar avatars apart, and allow creators to achieve some effects that were impossible and are just so painfully difficult or costly to achieve in Second Life that it would be generally frowned upon. And so it’s going to be interesting times ahead in regards to avatars in Sansar.
And I think where they’ll start to really take off is as we work to make them more and more active and emotive; improving the face animations, getting those to be more expressive; getting hands to actually interact with objects and look like they’re actually touching the objects; not just in the right general vicinity, but actually have the fingers in the proper grip to hold objects. That stuff is on its way.
- Widely Linden
The Sansar avatars are actually extremely, extremely advanced. I would actually go so far [as to say] they are among the most advanced avatars there is today, on any platform. Just the female avatar in Sansar has over 125 bones in the face, to make it work as we want it, to make it look realistic. That’s more than actually humans have.
I want you to build your own avatars. for now that technology we put in is so new, no-one else is using it, we’ll be able to use it for a long time, to make it look realistic, and that’s part of it. When they talk normally it’s going to look better as well, it’s going to look better, in any language, it doesn’t matter. It may Chinese, could be English, could be Swedish, could be Portuguese, Spanish. It’s going to look good. We’ve spent a lot of time on that, and I’m super excited about these small things that make it immersive, that make us want to spend more time in there.
But this is just the start. I talked about the 125 bones in the face [for comparison, the SL avatar has around 133 bones in total], that’s part of what is so complicated; because if you move one of those bones, it’s going to break everything. So we’re working on a way so we can lock those down, and there’s still going to be a way for you to be able to create like a werewolf, so it look normal when the werewolf talks, or holds, or whatever a werewolf does. And we are working on that, it’s going to happen. Just give us some time. I want you to be able to have talking animals, talking trolls, whatever. It’s going to be there.
The next step for the avatars is you’re going to be able to make them bigger, smaller, fatter, thinner. All that stuff, it’s in the works and it’s very exciting.
- Bjorn Linden