For the latter competition, in which users were asked to create a spooky / scary experience in the spirit of Halloween (although not necessarily limited to the theme of Halloween), and the final decision on the overall Grand Prize winner and honourable mention were decided upon by journalist and VR consultant Alice Bonasio.
In issuing the official announcement, the Lab included some feedback from Alice on her decisions, and on Wednesday, November 1st, Alice offered an expansion on her thoughts around the entries and on Sansar in a piece written for VR Scout.
Of the grand prize winner, The Diner by C3erb3rus, Alice comments:
Even by Sansar standards, the lighting and textures in this experiences were amazing, incredibly nuanced. From the giant flying saucer spinning away to the MGM lion roaring from the drive-in movie screen in the distance, every element felt well-executed and real. Which is probably why it produced the best—spoiler alert—“jump out of your skin” moment of any of the experiences I tried.
Having spent time exploring the experience, I can only agree. The Diner is fabulously atmospheric, a wonderful throwback to the horror B-moves of the 1950s, complete with spooky diner, things that jump up in the night, flying saucers and more. There’s even a B-movie feature – the British black-and-white 1958 movie, Fiend Without a Face – playing at the drive-in alongside the titular diner. Careful exploration is recommended indoors and outdoors, as there is much to be discovered in the diner, down at Area 51 and even at the drive-in.
The Honourable Mention for the contest was Paranormal Investigation by Abramelin Wolfe, an experience I visited just after it opened, but have yet to write about. In it visitors take on the role of the paranormal investigator in a haunted house. A more traditional kind of Halloween build, but one that is fun nonetheless. It’s a dim, occasionally hard to explore setting when in Desktop mode, but one that’s worth taking the time to explore, as you might discover that the bumps in the night you might occasionally hear in the attic might not necessarily be caused by things trying to spook you. Commenting on the experience, Alice said:
This felt like something I would have paid for if it was a console game. Carefully crafted visuals, well-timed and well-judged sound effects, this is an experience that has something for everybody, including Ghostbusters fans like myself, who will delight in having the library books floating off the shelves all around them. Definitely not the most original in terms of theme and composition, but absolutely beautiful to look at and a pleasure to explore.
Alice also lists a number of other experiences she enjoyed – one in particular of which still stands as one of my favourite experiences in Sansar, in terms of both presentation and potential. This is Tyler Scarborough’s Stasis Interrupted – Chapter 1, which I’ve reviewed here. This is really a superb setting for the opening of a story, and Alice nails the description:
It’s like Alien, but with Zombies.” If you’re a fan of either genre (or, like me, preferably both) you will probably like this experience quite a lot. The creators got the slick look and foreboding mood of Ridley Scott’s original masterpiece just right, something that can be surprisingly challenging … This is all about building up suspense and atmosphere, and even during my relatively short test-drive it managed to do that.
Alice goes on to mention Miner Difficulties by Through The Waterfall (Jasmine and Galen), which I’ve also reviewed, together with Joyride by Alex, and several more experiences were mentioned in the official blog post about the competition.
The fact that so many were singled out beyond the grand prize winner and honourable mention underlines a point raised about contests like this: a single large cash prize doesn’t really reflect the amount of effort put into entries, and might even dissuade people from entering future competitions. The Lab has indicated that they’re aware of this, and are looking to possibly revise the prize pool in future contests.
In commenting more generally on the contest, Alice doesn’t shy away from pointing out that Sansar does have some problem which need to be ironed-out, particularly around the area of processing power (I’d also raise a question on performance; while my PC may no longer be top-of-the-line specs-wise, it is still an i4 system with 16Gb RAM and a GTx 970 4Mb GPU, and there is still at least one experience in Sansar I cannot load).
True, she raises the issue more around the VR aspect of the platform and the current high cost of entry into VR (something not exactly Linden Lab’s fault), but performance issues are there within the platform, and can limit access in Desktop mode – which is important, given the relatively slow take-up of VR, if Linden Lab wishes to reach a broader audience with Sansar until such time as (or even if) VR gains more of a broad-based market footing.
In drawing attention to performance, Alice appears to look to the new Windows 10 Mixed Reality headsets as a possible solution, securing an answer to a question I recently asked at a Sansar Product Meeting, without gaining a definitive answer: would Sansar be supporting these headsets in the future? Alice has more success than I, quoting Bjørn Laurin, the Lab’s VP of Product as saying, “We’ve been experimenting with some of the Windows Mixed Reality headsets, and do plan to make it possible to use Sansar with them in the future.”
It’ll be interesting to see whether the new headsets increase people’s interest in VR / AR – right now the price differential between the higher-end versions of the headsets and the Oculus Rift isn’t that great, which might limit the appeal of at least some of them. I’m also curious as to how quickly the Lab’s experiments with the new headset might product user-visible support. In the meantime, Alice’s VRScout article makes for interesting reading alongside the Lab’s own competition blog post.