Sansar Product Meeting 2017 week #38: upcoming releases

(courtesy of Linden Lab)

The following notes are taken from the Sansar Product Meetings held on Friday, September 22nd. 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, and the official meeting notes are published in the week following each pair of meetings. Venues change on a weekly basis, and are announced in the Meet-up Announcements. The September 22nd meeting took place at the Zen Garden by Sansar Studios.

Bjørn Laurin attended both meetings to talk about the upcoming September / October release, and the next couple of releases beyond that. As such, the discussions were lengthy, so I’ve attempted to bullet-point key aspects of the major topics below, and have included a number of audio extracts of  Bjørn’s comments.

Again, for ease of reference, some of the audio extracts comprise comments made at different points in the conversations, which I’ve attempted to bring together to offer a cohesive flow of information. There is ambient background noise in the audio, as there is currently no way of disabling this in the Sansar client. Similarly, any sounds of background typing is due to others in the meeting leaving their microphone open while not speaking.

Discord Channel

The official Sansar Discord channel launched on Thursday, September 21st. 2017. The channel is designed to act as an extension to the Sansar user community, allowing them chat with one another, make friends, plan meet-ups in real-time, exchange ideas, etc. Discord works on the web, a desktop app, and a mobile app, allowing users to stay connected wherever they are.

The Sansar Discord FAQ provides full details on the channel. Joining is a case of following this link and the instructions provided. Those who do not already have a Discord account will have to create one as a part of the process.

Sansar Store Focus Group Meetings

There will be two sessions focusing on discussions and feedback on the Sansar Store in week #39. Guidelines on intent and scope of the meetings and their location(s), will be published on the Sansar blog ahead of the first meeting. However, the dates / times are:

  • Monday, September 25th, 15:00-16:00 PDT.
  • Wednesday, September 27th, 14:00-15:00 PDT.

Upcoming Releases Overview

The Lab is referring to the next release as the “Discovery release”, of which highlights include:

  • Easier discovery of experiences in the Atlas
  • Branded stores on the Sansar Store
  • The ability for users in Desktop mode to be able to interact with objects in an experience (picking things, up, throwing them, etc.).

Currently, this release is scheduled for deployment on Thursday, September 28th, 2017, depending on final bug fixes / QA.

Bjørn also indicated that fashion and avatar customisation has risen closer to the top of the pile of upcoming features following the Discovery release. He specifically notes work on hair together with skin shaders for the hair and avatar skin; the upcoming fashion / clothing support releases, and coming options for experience owners to be able to monetise their experiences (e.g. ticketed access, etc.).

Desktop Mode Object Interaction

  • In the Discovery release.
  • Will allow those running Sansar on  the desktop to have a similar level of interaction with in-world objects as those using VR. Desktop user will be able to pick up objects, “hold” them, throw them, drop them.
  • Objects around an avatar with interaction will highlight on a mouse-click, allowing the user to select which one they want to pick up.
  • Initially  will not include animations: clicking on an object will cause it to float over the avatar’s hand. However, future releases will support “holding” objects (and eventually “picking up” objects see more on animations below).
  • There is some debate within the Sansar team in giving creators an explicit means of differentiating between users in VR mode and users in Desktop mode, or in allowing the platform to handle it internally.
    • Games designers see the ability to differentiate as “critical” to allow better design of control options, and which can be used by players in either mode, and Bjørn leans more towards this approach.

Atlas Improvements

  • The Discovery release includes a search option in the client version of the Atlas and a new Featured tab for featured experiences.
  • Future improvements for the Atlas will include a Favourites / Bookmarks tab, an Events tab and the ability to sort listed experiences.

Store Branding

  • Will be part of the Discovery release.
  • Comprises the ability to add a masthead logo to creator’s items. Details of masthead sizes available on the Discord channel.
People gather at the Zen Garden for the Friday, September 22nd meet-up

Beyond The Discovery Release

Avatar Identification in Desktop Mode

  • Possibly appearing in the October  / November release.
  • This will most likely offer the same capabilities as VR mode currently has: click on an avatar and see their name, offer friendship, mute them.

Fashion and Clothing

  • For the most part, fashion and clothing will be handled as a single release rather than a series of iterative releases over time adding essential capabilities.
  • The exception to this will be handling clothing layers which will be handled in two parts: separation of the current clothing bakes from the avatar and then the rest of the capabilities.
    • The separation of the bakes will see clothing initially defined as either a single, complete layer (e.g. socks, underwear, pants / skirt, blouse / shirt, jacket all-in-one), or possibly as a “top” layer (e.g. undershirt, shirt, jacket) and a “bottom” layer (e.e.g pants, underwear, socks, skirt).
    • Further division of individual clothing layers will come in the future, but is seen as a more complicated task.
  • Clothing will naturally fold, flow and fall like real clothing and cloth from the initial release.
  • The Sansar Store will also be updated with the “main” fashion update is released to more fully support clothing.
  • Bjørn’s hope for the “main” fashion release is December 2017.
  • Due to what is involved with support for fashion / clothing, there may be a requirement for creators to sign NDAs – Jenn will be reaching out to creators about this in due course.

Clothing Physics
  • Clothing physics will be part of the initial release.
  • It’s currently not clear whether cloth physics will have to be assigned prior to upload, or if it is something done from within Sansar (such as by right-clicking on an item in Edit mode and selecting a “make cloth” option).
  • Bjørn indicated that the process will not be complex but there will be two specific routes to achieve different sets of results for clothing.
  • There is vagueness around how things will work due to contractual obligations, but some may be familiar with the tools the Lab are using to making clothing in Sansar work.

Avatar Updates

  • The back-end avatar rigging will be changing over the next “one or two months”.
    • These changes will not be visible to the casual user, but the changes will facilitate clothing design and will allow designers to create their own clothing.
    • One consequence of this is that all current outfits will break – however Bjørn indicated that all broken outfits will be replaced.
  • Future avatar updates will include the ability to change the avatar shape – more body fat, less body fat, etc. However, these will not be in the Discovery release.
  • As part of the work on hair (noted towards the top of this article), it will be possible to blend hair styles with the face, and things like masks or facial tattoos with hair and facial features, so they all work naturally together, and  masks / tattoos respond to facial movements.
  • Aside I: the individual working on the avatar design spent ten years on developing the characters in the Halo game series.

Custom Animations, Running, Sitting

  • Custom animation  support is being worked on, but will take time.
  • Custom animations for things like collisions should be “very, very soon”. This will, among other things, make for better interactions with vehicles, etc.
  • The overall goal is to support motion-capture (already possible) and the creation of any movement (walks, dances, singing with facial movement, etc).
  • Some kind of priority system will likely govern animation playback (so that, for example, walking up to a chair, turning around and sitting on it are played in the right order). It was suggested the system will also differentiate between avatar genders (so males get a male sitting animation, females a female sitting animation).
  • Running will be enhanced (e.g. when stopping running, the avatar will slow down and stop, rather than just coming to a halt).
  • Speech animations are to be enhanced, and will allow for singing for more immersive concert-style experiences, hopefully by the end of 2017.
    • Aside II: the facial animation software in Sansar is produced by Speech Graphics. It represents that company’s first foray into real-time animation, and represents some two years of development one their part.
  • The ability for avatars to sit on objects is being worked on and will be appearing “very soon”.
    • The mechanics of this are difficult: how is the freedom to walk up to and sit on almost any object (as you can in the physical world) handled? Should there be a means of expressly defining “sitable” objects?  what about sitting in trees, etc?
  • It’s been noted that VR brings its own complications – standing users have naturally attempted to physically sit down with their avatar – but without a chair behind them to sit on.
    • One suggestion for handling this is to have a means for animations to take over avatar actions in VR (as would likely be needed in Desktop mode): when an object is selected, the system takes over and walks the avatar to the object, turns and seats it, so the persons doesn’t need to move / respond.

We can stand in trees in Sansar – will we be able to sit in them soon, as well?

Experience Access Control

  • Experience creators will be gaining grater control over who can access their experiences.
  • Initial control likely to take the form of restricting access (if wanted) to friends. Additional control to be added over time.
  • Control will eventually include:
    • How avatars can dress in an experience (e.g. a Medieval experience could require avatars be in Medieval garb).
    • Access based on some form of group-based membership (and roles?).
    • Ability to charge for access (one-time or subscription-based).

UI Updates

  • Future releases will include options for experience creators to customise the client UI to suit their experiences, including hiding some options (e.g. the Atlas), adding their own HUDs or options, etc.
    • The Lab is aware of the Edit mode font size issue as a part of the overall UI updates.
    • These type of UI changes may start appearing around January / February 2018.
  • Inventory management has been identified as a priority for work, including the ability to search / scroll for items, etc.

VR Text Chat

  • Those in VR mode will “soon” be able to see text chat.
  • This appears to be somewhat similar to SL’s chat console, rather than having some kind of floater or individual speech bubbles appearing over avatar heads.
  • Speech bubbles were tried, but rejected on the grounds that if there is a group of people using text chat, it get difficult to see who owns which bubble.

Official Roadmap

The official roadmap which should place some of the above into a high-level time line of release expectations should be going out to users via e-mail “soon”.

General Items of Discussion

  • Thought is being given on how best to build-out  the Edit mode screen so that options are intuitive, easy to use and avoid the need to over-complicate the UI which multiple options, buttons etc., with the aim of smoothing the workflow, reducing the number of button-clicks etc.
  • The Camera controls will be getting more attention, and are likely to change in the future, but this won’t happen in the next couple of months or so.
  • Avatar attachment size: one of the reasons for limiting the size of avatar attachments is that large attachments caused issues for other avatars – blocking them, etc., – The Lab is considering how best to allow larger attachments, but this will not be in the Discovery release.
  • Whether or not it will be possible to see your own avatar when in VR mode / first-person is TBA. Bjørn would like to give users the option of whether or not they see themselves in VR / first-person.
  • Similarly, the current blue hands and the “laser pointers” seen in VR mode will be changing over time. These were originally used within Sansar as they were recommended by Oculus / HTC, however both companies are now moving away from them, and Linden Lab is also looking at other options for representing hands and pointers when in VR mode.
  • The interactive capabilities seen in the Toppleton Toy Town, apparently produced within Maya, will soon be available to experience creators.
  • Sansar Studios experiences: the Lab is working on some new experiences, including what sounds like a Learning Island (in SL) type of experience. One of these may be used as a venue for a future Product Meeting.
  • Account management:
    • Improvements will be made to allow people to change their e-mail address, etc.
    • The Lab is working to ease the pain of non-US users buying Sansar Dollars. Most of the issues here are regulatory, rather than technical, and take time to resolve.
  • A proposal / use-case has been put forward within the Lab to move away from using ZenDesk to something more user-facing and user-friendly.
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