Sansar product meetings 2017: week #36 – Aug/Sept release

People gather at Astro Port for the first Friday September 8th 2017 Product meeting

The following notes are taken from the Sansar Product Meetings held on Friday, September 8th. These meetings are held every Friday at 09:30 PTD and 16:00 PTD, and are open to all.

There is no set agenda (currently), and the meetings are a mix of voice and text. Venues change on a weekly basis, and are announced in the Meet-up Announcements. The September 9th meeting took place at Mold3D’s Astro Port. The official meeting notes are generally published the week following each pair of meetings.

The meetings are chaired by Jenn (aka Xiola Linden) from the Community Team, and feature various members of the Sansar teams. Cara, Carolyn and Jeremy joined the Friday, September 8th meeting.

August / September Release

The long-awaited August / September release arrived on Friday, September 8th, 2017. Highlights of the release are noted  below (please refer to the release notes for full details of this release, including known issues). Note that many of these features are still work in progress, rather than being final / polished versions.

Terrain Editor / Sculpting

Experience creators can now edit terrain objects in Sansar: create mountains and hills, create dips, craters and valleys or uneven terrain (“noise”). This is the first iteration of these tools, and features will be added over time.

Simply drag and drop a terrain plain (in one of four texture defaults) from the system objects panel, then use the sculpt tool and options to shape it. Individual plains can be placed together to create as big an area of terrain as required (within Sansar’s own limitations).

See Working with terrain in the Sansar Knowledge Base for more information.

The Terrain toolbar with the sculpt and paint master controls highlighted, and option buttons to their right
  • Terrain plains can be sculpted on in defined areas, from around 32 metres on a side up to 256 metres on a side.
  • The paint tool can be used to apply textures (from pre-set families of four) to the sculpted terrain, with automatic attempts made to blend textures with height / depth (e.g. so grass gradually gives way to rock). The brush size for painting can also be varied in size from (approximately) one metre in size upwards.
  • The textures / materials associated with the editor are currently limited to only working with one family of four textures / materials at a time, although creators can hot swap between them.
  • This is not voxel editing, and is currently restricted to height maps, so no tunnelling into terrain at present. The sculpting tool is somewhat similar in approach somewhat similar to the Second Life terraforming tool, presenting a view of the terrain and the selected tool overlaid on it at the appropriate size, although unlike SL a choice of tool shapes is offered (round or square).
A terrain plain show a raw sculpt of a hill (left), and with smoothing being applied (right). Credit: Jeremy Linden
Future Terrain Editing Capabilities

The ability to add use custom terrain textures and height maps is coming soon, together with support for mega textures. The latter will allow more textures to be blended together at a time, which are then  composited together when an experience is published.

Jason (aka Widely Linden) indicated that the roadmap for terrain editing in Sansar currently includes (exact implementation still TBD):

  • A hybrid form of terraforming, using height maps for efficiency when sculpting the terrain, then switching to a voxel element when creating tunnels / caves, etc., which is then “stitched” into the mesh height map.
  • The ability to “geo-paint” environments – use a painting technique to add boulder, rocks, vegetation, etc., onto a terrain map. This will likely start with pre-defined geo elements, before moving to allow users to define their own elements.

A suggestion from Maxwell Graf to assist in making custom height maps (once they can be imported), is to consider installing Unreal or Unity (both free) and then purchasing a terrain editing tool for the relevant engine, and using that to create terrains, then export the height maps for import into Sansar (once possible) It was also noted that Visual Studio 2017 comes with Unity support, and it is easy to add Unreal support.

.OBJ File Format, Animated & Multi-part Object Import

The Animated objects capability isn’t, at this point, fully animated mesh – there is no ability to import or use a skeleton for an object (a-la SL’s animated objects project), although this is coming.

Future Capabilities / Ideas

Also coming in a future release for animated / multi-part objects, are collision meshes. These will allow can be bound to rendered meshes for collision purposes. So a multi-part cable car could have collisions enabled on specific parts to allow avatars to ride it. This has already been done as a test with the gondolas in Colossus Rising.

The cable car gondolas in Colossus Rising demonstrate how collision volumes can be bound to a rendered mesh object to allow interaction (in this case riding a gondola) with an avatar. This ability will be part of a future update to the animated / multi-part objects capability forming part of the August / September Sansar release

Jason indicated that – further into the future, and via a scripted / API meachanism which the Sansar product team is considering – animated objects should allow for very dynamic things like trees which not only sway in a breeze, but which move in accordance with the (changing) wind direction / force (rather than just randomly moving) or stop swaying if there is no wind. The same scripts will also be able to trigger associated sounds of the wind in the branches when affected by a breeze.

New Stereoscopic Media & UV Animation Shaders

A series of new shaders in the materials editor:

  • Standard + Emissive + Stereographic
  • Media Surface + Stereographic
  • Standard + Emissive + UV Animation
  • Standard + Alpha Mask + UV Animation.

UV animation supports both scrolling UVs and flipbook UV, and brings the ability to animate things like water, animated lighting, etc, in Sansar. Currently, these have to be configured and applied prior to upload, but future updates will allow editing and refinement of the maps post-upload.

Trigger Volumes

Trigger volumes allow scripted events (e.g. teleporting) without the need for dynamic objects, allowing for more flexible interactions inside events.

Scripting

A wide range of scripting updates and additions, including the Script Console, which allows script log messages to be viewed in the Sansar client without a helper logging script or commands; API updates; coroutine improvements; performance improvements and more – see the release notes for the full list.

Audio and Media Updates and Streaming Capabilities

A range of audio improvements, including auto-switching between VR and desktop mode audio devices (input & output); a new loudness slider for adjusting the volume of audio emitters (dB values can still be used, if preferred); improvements to audio occlusion transitions and overall audio output (including emitter output); voice quality improvements.

Media surface updates: Sansar now supports 3D movie integration in media surface streams via Side by Side (SBS) videos. Use Media Surface + Stereographic on the Shaders list.

Audio streaming support for custom music and live streaming via Shoutcast, Icecast and similar MP3-based services. OGG should be supported via web links, although AAC will not be supported with this release.

The audio output changes have been done to “bring Sansar into line” with other Windows applications. However, in making ambient sounds and audio (music) louder, it tends to interfere with voice audio, making hearing individual speakers sometimes difficult. This was demonstrated by the afternoon Product Meeting having to move from Astro Port to the Sansar Sudios VR Conference Stage in order to make it easier for people to hear Jason provide feedback on the release.

Avatar Running and Personal Teleport

Avatars can once again run in Sansar, with the speed suitably adjusted for those using headsets (so people don’t appear to be running at 30+ miles per hour!). Double-tap WASD or the arrow keys in Desktop mode to start running in the required direction (release the key to stop and resume walking) or use a HMD controller button to start / stop running.

The Personal Teleport capability in Desktop mode has been moved from the CTRL key to the SHIFT key. This have been done to free up the CTRL key for use with standard keyboard key combinations (e.g. CTRL-C: CTRL-V, etc.). You can also use the middle mouse button  / scroll wheel (if configured): press and hold the mouse button and then position your teleport cylinder (you can still roll the scroll wheel back and forth to set the direction you’ll be facing on arrival) and then release the button / scroll wheel to teleport.

Sansar Store Updates

Avatar accessories can can now be uploaded and sold through the Sansar Store, and listed with thumbnail images. However, there are new import requirements applicable to accessories.

The Store can now be browsed by categories (click on the Explore option for a drop-down list, and supports sort order while browsing by category (shown on the right below).

The Sansar Store can now display items by category (left) and allow categories searches to be ordered (right). Note this is a composite image, and the search options are only available when displaying a store category

Content Breakage

The August / September update did result in content breakage – notably scripts – within some experiences.

Creator Product Updates

Currently, as noted in previous Sansar Updates, there is no easy way for creators to offer product updates to their customers. This is acknowledged as something the Lab needs to support and which is “in the mix” of things the Sansar product team is looking at. However, and in Jason’s words, they see it as “complicated”, with concerns about updates becoming a griefing vector if accounts are hacked and used to push out false updates, or whether or not update options have to be made opt-in or carry a fee and licensing issues, etc.

Some of this, frankly, sounds like over-complicating what will be, for those creating and selling objects on the Sansar Store as the Sansar user base grows, a very necessary aspect of their commerce on the platform. Other aspects – licensing, for example – are perhaps more understandable.

Providing Experience Creators with Greater Access Control

While it won’t be available in the August / September release, the Sansar team are working on giving Experience creators greater control on who is able to access their experiences, including the ability to ban troublemakers.

A suggested update – from  Jenn – would be for Experience creators to access a specific instance of their experience (rather than facing the same pot luck choice faced by visitors when more than one instance of the experience is running) to allow them to deal with specific issues, and without having to hack their way into a specific instance using its UUID.

Detailed Avatar Customisation and Fashion Design

Avatar customisation and enhancements for fashion designers in Sansar forms a “large part” of the roadmap, but much of it may be longer-term, rather than short-term. This will hopefully include dynamic capabilities (e.g. “one size fits all” and natural clothing movement). Currently, there are no plans to make the current avatar elements available to creators to allow them to make accessories and attachments specific avatar elements (e.g. a hat specifically to suit one of the current pre-set hairstyles).

Avatar customisation will be built-up over time, although Jason was unable to provide time frames.  This may see something of a SL-like approach, starting with avatar designs based around the supplied avatar topology, growing to include blend shapes and morphs (and the ability to trade these and avatar animations), to provide a fairly comprehensive avatar ecosystem and customisation within Sansar.

There are challenges in providing such flexibility. For example, there is further work coming down the pipe on facial animations (possibly in a release or two) which will make facial animations more articulate, with support for movements associated with singing and better lip-syncing. There is a risk that custom blend shapes / morphs could diminish this facial articulation, and wish to minimise the risk of it doing so, without massively restricting avatar customisation options / abilities.

Other Items

Identifying Other Avatars in Desktop Mode

There is still no ability for users running Sansar in Desktop mode to easily identify other avatars in an experience (VR users can use their controllers to bring up hover text with an avatar’s name and ID).

There will also be some additional speech animations added to the system in an upcoming release which should make it easier to see who is speaking in a group. In addition, a means for Desktop mode users to identify other avatars in a manner similar to the VR capability is being prototyped, but there is no time frame on when this will be available.

Environment / Reflection Maps

The August / September release sees Screen Space Ambient Occlusion (SSAO) enabled in Sansar’s Desktop Mode (VR mode to follow). This will eventually allow Sansar to move into providing  environment / reflection maps.

User Ability to Mute / Block Troublesome Avatars

Currently, other avatars can only be audio muted in Sansar. However, as capabilities grow so will the abilities for avatars to harass / grief others. The Lab is aware of this, and are looking at suitable tools for individual users to more effectively deal with those they find bothersome, rather than having to rely purely on the experience creator or and abuse report to have matters dealt with.

Sansar Roadmap

Still in progress internally at the Lab and is “almost there”.

Windows 7 Issue

Some Windows 7 users are experiencing issues when installing the most recent Sansar client version on a PC. The problem has been reported on the Sansar forums, and also help has been sought on the unofficial Second Life Project Sansar group.

The problem manifests as a very generic error message on starting the Sansar client: “Your version of Windows appears to be out of date”. This appears to be tied to a possibly out-of-date Windows driver – but the question is, if so, which driver. Solutions to the problem are still being sought.

Atlas Issue

There appears to be an issue with the Atlas with tiles for some experiences failing to show on the in-client and web versions. However, they can be displayed in the web version when using search.

Refreshing Your Connections to an Experience Instance

Sometimes when in an experience, glitches in audio or voice, etc., can occur. for example, you may find you can hear some people talking but not others. One way of clearing this is the leave the experience and return to the Atlas and then re-enter it. However, if the experience happens to be busy and you are already sharing it with friends, there is a chance that in exiting it to fix problems, you might re-join a different instance of the experience.

To avoid this, rather than exiting / re-entering the experience, simply go to My Looks (uppermost icon in the top right corner of the client), wait until you have swapped to the appearance mode of the UI, then exit that. You’ll be dropped straight back into the same instance of the experience you were in, and audio / voice issues will most likely be cleared up.

Focus Groups

The first of the focus groups examining specific aspects of / requirements for Sansar will likely kick-off with two or three at the end of September, which will look at the Sansar Store, requirements from creators, etc. Details of these meetings will be announced in due course.

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7 thoughts on “Sansar product meetings 2017: week #36 – Aug/Sept release

  1. Friendly greetings Inara! Thanks a lot for your continued thorough and thoughtful coverage from Second Life to Sansar!

    One thing I want to clarify re: “The audio output changes have been done to “bring Sansar into line” with other Windows applications.”

    It increases _all_ Sansar audio output, meaning voice is _also_ boosted, and all relative relationships between sounds are essentially the same as before. We also added a limiter to prevent “harsh ugly clipping distortion” with loud microphones.

    It’s possible this particular scene was already mixed too loud relative to voice. We’re planning better tools to measure the loudness of your scene, and I’ve come across various scenes where the creator didn’t test it with voice chat. We recommend this in our documentation and will keep encouraging it.

    UPDATE: I just visited Astro Port and the ambient music is fairly subtle and not loud… maybe an adjustment was made after? But I do note, the music placed to play across the whole navigable area and it’s quite sustained/constant in presence… so it doesn’t feel spatialized (like it’s coming from an in-scene speaker), and you can’t really “get away” from it. That may be the intention of the creator, Mold3D, but worth considering due to the aforementioned.

    – Torley you-know-who, from the Sansar Audio Team 🙂

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    1. Thanks Torley

      I can only talk to the Friday meetings, and the comments passed at the time. In the morning meeting (pre-update deployment) the audio was subtle, but other than being a tad repetitive (as one would expect from a loop 🙂 ), it didn’t noticeably intrude into the meeting. In the afternoon meeting (post deployment) the music was noticeably louder – to the extent that Jason initially suggested we move to the Astro Port lounge, and then we moved to the conference stage to ensure people could hear what was being said.

      I’ve not been back to Astro Port since, so no idea if any adjustments were made between the end of the afternoon meeting and now.

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  2. Hey Inara, just wanted to followup — thanks for the additional details.

    I did some more digging. Generally, since the output boost affected _all_ Sansar audio, lowering overall system volume is similar to the audio levels before this release.

    But I do note that there were related improvements to voice chat (including improved normalization) that may affect voice levels in some circumstances. Basically, some voice chat may sound softer to take better advantage of dynamic range, and won’t distort as badly or have as noticeable background hiss like before (if someone leaves their mic open). The difference isn’t a huge one, but it’s still a change I oughta note. We want to make it more natural and less obviously “amplified”, so this may have accounted for the difference you and others were hearing. So yeah, depending on the situation, it may be necessary for the scene creator to soften (or more distinctly spatialize) their sound sources.

    We’re also going to have volume slider preferences eventually, so that should help adjust stuff as well.

    Feel free as always to let me know of other observations, and I’ll be continuing to read your blog posts! 😀

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    1. Thanks, Torley!

      Volume sliders will undoubtedly be a good thing :). Providing experience creators with the majority of control over how their scenes are … experienced … is a goo d thing, but there are aspects where some control needs to reside on the consumers’ side of the fence (so to speak), and I’d suggest that audio (and the ability to adjust the output balance from different sources) is one of the latter.

      Looking forward to seeing what else comes down the pipe in the next series of releases – and have to say, the multi-part / keyframe upload / animations work and the first pass of terrain editing caused a lot of excitement among those at the meetings! 🙂 .

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