I’ve mentioned Secrets of the World Whale several times in my Sansar posts of late, so it seemed to be a good place to launch into my Exploring Sansar series.
Designed by Teager, of Breeder’s Choice and Teagle fame in Second Life, this is one of the more enchanting early Sansar experiences. It is also one of the winners in the Lab’s Creator Challenge, winning Best Sound Design – although in my opinion, it could have just as easily been awarded Best Narrative and / or Best Visual Design.
A visit begins on a floating island hanging in a clouded sky, the Sun illuminating the scene as it shines from beyond a very near-looking full Moon. Other islands of rock float in the sky and, beyond them, a great blue-coloured humpback whale swims through the sky. Beneath a tree close to where we stand sits an old rat, wrapped in a cloak and holding a walking stick in one paw.
“Look yonder! The World Whale passes!” he whispers hoarsely at our approach. “A creature as ancient as time itself, it wanders the sky, swallowing civilisations whole, leaving chaos in its wake. It is said that buried deep in the beast’s belly is an untold treasure, lost to man some thousand years. Perhaps, if we act quickly, we might discover it before the whale is lost to us again!”
Just beyond him, a tumble of rocks offer a way down to the island’s lower level as the rat tells us of the whale’s passing, and music drifts through the air. We encounter him again as he stands near the edge of the island, as he points outwards. “There! On that island!” he rat whispers once more, “An ancient doorway! But how to reach it?”
How indeed. There is a gulf of empty air between the island on which we stand and the smaller one on which the glowing portal stands. But, there are other islands as well. Perhaps, by using the personal teleport capability (CTRL+mouse + left click) we can jump one to the next with teleport hops. Take care as you do so, as the wind will howl around you, and a misplaced step could see you fall into the abyss – and back to the start of the experience.
Stepping through the glimmering portal will carry you to the whale, where your companion rat is again waiting to guide you onwards to where a garden and ruins awaits. Paths run around and over the gardens, but it is one in particular you need to seek: the one that leads down inside the whale itself. Once you find it, you’ll find yourself in a cavern-like world, where great stalagmites rise and stalactites descend, and a rough road leads you onwards. It many take a second or two to realise the formations are teeth and the road is the whale’s tongue. Two portals await you – one leads back to the garden above, and the other – well, you’ll have to visit the world whale in its mysterious flight and find out for yourself.
Secrets of the World Whale is an engaging experience, combining strong visuals with a rich ambient sound scape and music, with a narrative track to follow. There are a couple of small hiccups, potentially down to Sansar’s state of play – stay too close to the rat for too long while he’s speaking, for example, and his words can end up in an overlapping series of loops – just keep walking to the edge of the audio fall-off to avoid it. However, none of this detracts from the central attraction of the experience.
This month has seen some interesting press pieces popping up concerning VR and Sansar since the opening of the Creator Beta. However, three in particular have so far caught my eye as they appeared, as they offer interesting perspectives and discussion points both on the Lab’s new platform and on VR and AR as a whole.
The first – and most recent, is Barely into Beta, Sansar is making social VR look good, by Alice Bonasio, which appeared in The Next Web on August 18th. The title caused some to question Sansar’s social capabilities, but the article itself was more about Sansar’s overall status and development, rather than zeroing directly into the medium of “social VR” per se. In this respect, it opens by clearly underlining the platform is still in its early days, and there is still much to be done, using a quote from Peter Gray, the Lab’s Director of Global Communications, to do so:
We wanted to make Sansar available to everyone as early as possible, and there are still a lot of features and capabilities that we’re excited to add to the platform soon, as well as many improvements to the current featureset.
From here, Ms Bonasio makes the point that despite the lack of features and capabilities which will be needed to fulfil on its promise of being a social hub, it already looks good and offers a lot to see, much of which points to the platform’s potential.
The piece also delves into some of the technical and economic factors which set Sansar apart: such as Linden Lab’s partnerships with IKinema and Speech Graphics. The former is key to the Sansar avatars utilising Inverse Kinematics in an advanced way, and which are and will play a key role in the Sansar avatar’s development. The latter is key to synchronising facial animations automatically to match speech patterns, a capability key to many of the social interactions Linden Lab hope will be occurring within Sansar.
The article also touches on some of the key differences between Sansar and Second Life, the ability Linden Lab has to take fourteen years of running a virtual world to help shape the philosophy and approach it takes with Sansar. Passing – but important – mention is made of the Lab’s ability to self-finance Sansar; given the topsy-turvy situation with Altspace VR (which may have been saved from having to close), this is an important fact to keep in mind.
As noted above, the piece has received some feedback questioning the “social” element of Sansar at it stands at present, which given the broader thrust of the article might be considered a little out-of-context. However, it is fair to say that right now Sansar does currently lack elements which could be regarded as essential to supporting larger-scale social activities. Similarly, while social interactions are possible – as demonstrated through the daily meet-ups held “in-worlds” – it’s also fair to say these can be confusing and limiting for some. For example, undisciplined voice chat can mean that that multiple conversations in a single locale can overlay one another and become confusing to those not used to voice chat.
Hopefully these issues will be addressed, along with the provision of other social elements, and I’ll doubtless have more to say on them myself in the future 🙂 . In the meantime, this article provides a good summation of Sansar for the curious / those wishing to catch-up on things.
I’ll say up-front that I’m one of the non-believers that VR will become ubiquitous for business-style conference calls for a number of reasons, and its fair to say that Samantha Cole does a balanced job of presenting both sides of the argument – whilst also offering side pointers to those areas where VR is already showing benefits (and which I’d suggest Sansar could leverage).
Much has been made of VR’s abilities to add body language, hand movements, eye movement and contact – all vital elements in adding subliminal feedback / context to our day-to-day, face-to-face interactions to one another – to give more depth and meaning to tele- and video-style conferencing. In doing so, the likes of the telephone and “traditional” means of this type of conferencing have been somewhat “demonised”. Emphasis is laid on things like network latency, or the extra mental effort involved in reading into people’s words when you can only hear their voice or see their head / shoulders, as “limiting” such interactions.
But the truth is, we’ve been using the telephone for decades as a business tool. It’s fast and convenient, and as adults, we’re all pretty adept on picking-up on vocal nuances. We’re also, in a business context, far more prepared to communicate directly with colleagues; if there is something worrying / irksome within a work environment / business project, most of us are pretty willing to make thought known, be they over the ‘phone, face-to-face or via e-mail. So even with the faster, lighter, better VR technology we’re promised will be coming down the pipe, is it really any kind of “killer app” for business conferencing?
Eric Boyd, a professor of marketing at James Madison University points to emerging trends within the workplace as a whole being more a deciding factor here. Many companies have experimented with remote / home working over the past 2 or so decades, and the pendulum tends to swing back and forth. Right now, as the article points out, one of the first to enter the arena of remote working, IBM, is currently backing away from it. Thus, if working practices remain centralised, it’s hard to see VR overturning technologies already in place and supported by existing corporate infrastructure, no matter what the perceptions of their “limitations”. But for those organisations continuing to embrace remote working, VR could become a useful meeting tool.
Certainly there would seem to be far better uses VR could be put towards within a business environment: prototyping, training, simulations, and so on, which seem far more likely to drive its adoption by business and industry far more than the humble conference call. In this, Cole’s pointing to VR’s potential in training and simulation and in architecture is very salient; these are very much markets well suited to VR / AR / MR – perhaps more so that conference calls.
While Sansar is only mentioned in passing (together with the downs and ups of AltspaceVR), the article is interesting as it encompasses the viewpoint of a company investing in VR and AR start-ups with funding in the US $100,000-500,000 range – which is small when compared to the likes of the big players, but has allowed the company to bask some significant start-ups, including STRIVR, who are in the VR training a simulation field mentioned above.
The article opens which a rapid-fire overview of the VR / AR market – including its niche status at present, which could be said to be largely down to the limitations of the current hardware (or lack thereof in AR’s case, although that is beginning to change) rather than anything else. However, the meat of the piece is where Mahajan sees the technologies going over the next several years.
What’s interesting here is that within Presence Capital, they are moving away from consumer-focused VR endeavours and more towards business and business-to-business (B2B) / enterprise VR applications as well as for AR; he points to the likes of AppliedVR and their development of an immersive platform to help comfort patients undergoing painful procedures, and also underlines VR’s application in training.
This year’s swing towards AR is also examined: Google, Apple and Facebook are all looking to develop AR platforms, and the discussion looks at these and at the questions of standards, formats, and enabling technologies. In this, Mahajan points somewhat towards the eventual merger of AR and VR to produce Mixed Reality, indirectly pointing to how AR – augmented reality – could actually become an enabler of VR (something the likes of Qualcomm are working towards with Android and their snapdragon chipset), simply because it will allow both to coexists as tools people can switch between according to needs.
All three article make for interesting reads, presenting a broad range of perspectives not just on Sansar (in the case of Alice Bonasio’s piece) but on VR and AR as whole.
Linden Lab, by way of Sansar, is one of the sponsors of a 3D printing competition organised by Pinshape. Running through until the end of the August, 2017, inviting people to Design Your Avatar. Hosted on Pinstripe, the competition offers three prize packages, the first of which includes a 1 year Creator Level subscription to Sansar, worth US $9.99 a month.
Imagine a future in which Virtual Reality is just as commonplace as cellphones and social media are today. In this future, everyone is represented in virtual space by an avatar of their own creation. What would you look like? What would you be wearing? Would you be human? Animal? Something new altogether?
Let your imagination run free … Design an original character that represents your personality and spirit. Feel free to design an avatar in your own image, or take this as an opportunity to design a character that you aspire to be.
Entrants are required to upload their finished design to Pinshape, where a panel of judges will judge all entries, and award points based on design creativity and uniqueness (40 points); technical excellence and ease of 3D printing (30 points); presentation – image quality, print settings, assembly instructions if required (20 points); and background story and design documentation (10 points).
The prize packages comprise:
Formlab Form2 3D Printer package worth $3,499
ZBrush 4R8 license worth $795
Mold 3D 3D Character Creation for video games with J Hill worth $699
Oculus Rift headset and hand controllers worth $499
1 year Creator Level subscription to Sansar worth $120
Mold 3D 3D Creating Appealing Heads with B. Jefcoat worth $699
ZBrush core license worth $149
1 year subscription to 3D Artist magazine
3D printing for ZBrush artists worth $200
1 year subscription to 3D Artist magazine
There is also a bonus prize opportunity for entrants to win a free SLA print of their design from Formlabs by posting a link to their design on social media with the tags @pinshape @mold3D.
Full entries rules can be found here, and current entries can also be reviewed on the website.
Whilst primarily aimed at 3D printing, the competition is an interesting way for Sansar to potentially extend its reach into the 3D modelling / VR world, particularly with the obvious synergy between the first prize Oculus Rift headset and Sansar (“you have your shiny headset and somewhere to go with it!”), although obviously, the chance to win a 3D printer is liable to have the far greater appeal among designers and entrants. It’ll certainly be interesting to see if any of the avatars that are created for the competition eventually find their way into Sansar by way of .FBX and rigging, once the Sansar avatar skeleton is more opened out to developers. It’ll also be interesting to see how else Linden Lab seek to raise Sansar brand awareness through endeavours like this – or through running competitions of their own, similar to the Creator Challenge I wrote about recently.
Prior to the public Creator Beta opening, Linden Lab issued a challenge to those creators who were a part of the Creator Preview and who helped to move Sansar to a point where the Lab felt they could open the platform to a wider audience.
On offer in the competition, which closed on July 24th, were a series of cash prizes to be awarded to creators who, “create an experience with Sansar that takes the tools currently available and pushes them to their limits”, offered across a range of categories: Best Overall; Best Gaming Experience; Best Media Experience; Best use of Physics; Best use of Scripting; Best Visual Design; Best Sound Design; and Best Narrative Design.
On Wednesday, August 16th, Linden Lab announced the winners of the challenge, together with honourable mentions, and I was pleased to see that some of the places I’ve personally enjoyed the most whilst exploring Sansar from a user’s perspective are among those listed, together with some I’ve been planning to write about.
The Best Overall award has been given to Kayle Matzerath’s Garden of Dreams. This is a recreation of the region with the same name in Second Life, and it also gained the Best Gaming Experience award. As one might expect from Kayle, this is an experience rich in vibrant colour, and offers much to explore and discover.
The primary gaming mechanism can be found in the Dungeon of Dis Pear. Given the current status of Sansar’s development, it is somewhat rudimentary when compared to what can be achieved in Second Life, but can be played with or without a VR headset. Reached via one of the teleport platform at the experience landing point, the game comprises of making your way through three levels of challenges to claim a “prize”. None of them are particularly difficult, although the second level may take a minute or two to work out, as even an initial wrong step or two can see you teleported back to the start point even before you appear to have made progress. However, they do demonstrate some of the basic capabilities available in Sansar to good effect (e.g. automatic teleport back to a level’s starting point on being “killed”, a capability familiar to many SL experience users).
Other games can also be found near the dance gazebo, but these do require the use of a VR headset and controller, limiting their use somewhat. Garden of Dreams is a pleasant experience, full of Kayle’s motifs SL users will find familiar and sits alongside his recreation of the Village of Breeze as two places I like to visit and just wander.
The award for the Best Sound Design went to another of the experiences I love – Teager’s Secrets of the World Whale. This a beautifully put together environment, complete with the plaintive cries of the whale. It’s also one I also mentioned in my Sansar tips and picks article as worthy of a visit as it also introduces various capabilities in Sansar, including the need to use the personal teleporting option. It remains a featured destination in the Atlas, and will be a place I’ll be returning to soon in my upcoming Exploring Sansar travelogue series – as well Maxwell Graf’s LagNMoor (again a name which may be familiar to long-standing explorers of Second Life, having once been a region Max held alongside of his Rustica), which took the prize for Best Media Experience.
Jasmine’s Through the Waterfall: Enter Another World claimed the prize for the Best Narrative Experience. This is something of an adventure narrative, opening with the line Without dreams, we can never become more than that which we already are… and an invitation to jump down from the desk on which we sit and seek the keys which will take us through the story, a scene – or chapter – at a time, starting with the aftermath of a tragic car crash. It’s not an entirely happy tale, but the use of media, music and sounds to craft a story makes this a worthwhile visit.
With seven prize winners and a further 12 honourable mentions, the competition list makes for a set of interesting visits, some of which people may well find easier to get into than others (Ria and Draxtor’s 114 Harvest remains a place – the only place I’ve yet tried, in fact – which persistently outlasts my patience in terms of load time and has me going elsewhere); but all are well worth a visit in some measure, demonstrating both what can be done in Sansar and – in all fairness – how much further along the road the platform needs to travel. In this latter regard, it’ll be interesting to see how they compare to experiences that are being offered in a few months time, as things continue to develop.
To visit any of the experiences mentioned here or in the competition blog post, click on the experience names in the text, or in the image captions.