A Regency picnic in Sansar

Picnic at Mr. Darcy’s

Step back into Regency England and pay a visit to Mr. Darcy’s splendid manor house and grounds. Here you can picnic as you watch the croquet match (even play), waltz to a sweet melody on the vast marble terrace or just take a long walk to gather your thoughts.

So reads the invitation from Solas (SolasNaGealai in Second Life) for people to visit Picnic At Mr. Darcy’s, one of her Sansar experiences. For those seeking a relaxing, period walk and time with a friend, it could be just the ticket – albeit with a little bit of a twist in places.

As the invite states, visitors are offered the chance to visit the grounds of Fitzwilliam Darcy’s magnificent Pemberley manor house as imagined by Solas, and spend time exploring them. A visit starts on the grand lawn, with Tchaikovsky‘s waltz from Sleeping Beauty playing in the air. Behind the lawn, the façade of the house rises as a stately edifice, while immediately alongside the spawn point is the promised croquet game. Alas, play would appear to be restricted to those in VR mode (although those in Desktop mode could perhaps play a variant of the game based on tossing the balls around!).

Picnic at Mr. Darcy’s

A single oak tree grows from the lawn, shading a picnic blanket with hamper and gramophone beneath its branches. A pergola sits close by offering further edible delights – clearly, Mr. Darcy likes to entertain and keep his guests well fed! A formal garden borders the raised lawn and separates it from the manor house. Reached via stone steps which curl down from the cardinal compass points of the lawn, the gardens offer paved paths ready for visitors to stroll.

The grand house itself rises from a marble topped terrace which sits above the gardens, affording a grand view out over the gardens and lawn, the remains of an earlier building – perhaps left as a folly –   sitting between house and lawn. More pergolas sit on the terrace, and it is easy to imagine an afternoon dance being held here one fine summer’s day, with ladies and their gentlemen gliding over the tiles of the terrace, or sitting in the netted shade of the pergolas.

Picnic at Mr. Darcy’s

Unfortunately, the house is but a façade, and not a place to be itself explored. I would also suggest the sitting itself is to the rear of the house, rather than the frontage; there is no broad drive one might expect, leading up to a grand entrance designed to reinforce the status of the owner. This does not detract from the setting, however; rather the reverse, as it suggests visitors are indeed guests of Mr. Darcy, having already been formally greeted and show through the house to the gardens.

What I particularly like about this design are the little eclectic incongruities. Mr. Darcy is a Regency man, in his prime in the early 1800s – yet the choice of music comes from the opposite end of the 19th century, well outside of the Regency period (1890). Similarly, the gramophone sitting beneath the oak tree on the picnic blanket belongs more to the early 20th century, while the modern game of croquet on the lawn and the gas lamps both lean more towards the period immediately after the Regency.

Picnic at Mr. Darcy’s

But again, rather than detracting from the scene, these touches add an interesting depth. Dances, for example, were very much part of the period, and whilst from a later time, it is nevertheless easy to picture gowned ladies and tailcoated gentlemen gliding over marble of the terrace to the Sleeping Beauty waltz and quietly conversing. Similarly, the presence of gas lamps in the grounds suggest that Mr. Darcy is forward thinking, adopting the technology just as it starts to make a public appearance on the street of England, while the croquet set perhaps indicates he has an interest in the game just ahead of it being more formalised through recognised rules. Even the gramophone gives a certain “feel” to the scene – a reminder that we are perhaps travellers from another time, looking in on Darcy’s world.

I hope that as Sansar’s capabilities develop, Solas will enhance this scene; it would be a joy to return at some point in period garb and genuinely participate in a dance at Pemberley (out on the terrace or perhaps even indoors in a suitable hall!), or enjoy a game of croquet whether in VR mode or Desktop mode, or simply wander the gardens and see more flora and accompanying fauna appear.

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Visiting the House of Woe in Sansar

House of Woe

Halloween is approaching, and in both Second Life and Sansar, suitably themed regions and experiences are appearing; the chance of a US $10,000 prize in the Sansar’s Scariest.

I’ve no idea if House of Woe by Nick the Brain Guy is an entry in the Sansar contest, but as it attracted my attention in the Atlas, I decided to hop in and take a look. It’s a nicely interactive experience – one which can actually take up a fair amount of time, and can be enjoyed in a group. However, it does have one or two issues.

Welcome. I see you made it out of this dreadful storm.  I am the butler, and I greet you in the name of Baron Nicolas Winterborne, lord of this house and grounds. He’s quite the master of obscure knowledge you know; his wife is too, but I would advise steering clear of her.  Now, now! No need for hysterics! I bid you enter – and staayyy…

House of Woe

Thus resonates a sepulchral voice as you arrive in the entrance hall of a great manor house, the doors to the dimly lit hall creaking open before you as lightning flashes and thunder peels against the hiss of rain and howl of wind. Before you enter the main hall, I strongly advise you collect one of the candlesticks to one side of the entrance way  (left-click to select and pick up in Desktop mode); you will need the light! More are scattered around the house should you be forced to drop one to collect something else.

I don’t want to give too much away from those who wish to solve the mystery and “escape” the house. Suffice it to say, there are three items scattered through the house (which extends over several floors) which must be found and carried to the entrance. What they are I’m not saying – you’ll have to discover this for yourself. Just explore the main hall carefully, and listen for the disembodied voices of Lady and Lord Winterborne who will respectively tell you what to do and offer clues as to where to find things.

House of Woe

This is an involved experience, requiring time to complete. It’s also one ideal for tackling in a small group – say 2-4 people – which makes carrying things a lot easier, as well as adding to the fun of exploration and discovery. However, it is an experience not without one or two problems.

The ambient lighting, for example, is far too dark (i.e. a blank screen) in places when in Desktop mode – thus making candle carrying essential. Ryan Schultz, whom I bumped into while exploring, reported these same locations offered sufficient illumination to be navigable sans a candle when in VR mode. However, a bigger frustration lies in carrying things (at least in Desktop mode). In fairness, this isn’t a fault in the experience per se, being an overall Sansar issue, but it does unfortunately intrude into enjoying House of Woe.

House of Woe – my candle has ended up embedded in the wall as a result of the door i’ve just walked through “snatching” it from my “hold” – a Sansar issues, rather than something specific to the experience, which can cause frustration

Simply put, a collision with something (again, I’m talking in Desktop mode, as I don’t use VR headsets, so cannot speak to those) – a door for example – when carrying an object, can “snatch” the object away from you, requiring you to pick it up again. Depending on where the object ends up (it could be embedded in / behind a wall, for example), this can get maddeningly frustrating when it happens a number of times, causing gritted teeth and muttering (and demonstrates why Sansar isn’t as yet ready for the more casual user).

Which is a shame, because House of Woe can be an involved visit as you wander around, up, down and through the mansion – and there are a lot of hauntingly nice touches to look out for, as well as trying to find the special objects.

Experience URL

Virtual Egyptology: a journey in time in Sansar

Voyages Live: Egypt: people arrive at the cenotaph at Gebel el-Silsila. as recreated in Sansar from a model built by INSIGHT Dr. Phillipe Martinez is centre foreground in the blue jacket

On Wednesday, October 4th, I was one of a number of people who joined a special immersive “voyage” through ancient Egypt, visiting three sites of antiquity which are not open to the public in the physical world, but which have been digitally re-produced in a virtual environment for the purposes of study, and have also been optimised for presentation in Sansar.

Joining us for the journey were Kevin Cain, Director of INSIGHT – the Institute for Study and Implementation of Graphical Heritage Techniques (also sometimes called Insight Digital) and Dr. Philippe Martinez, INSIGHT co-founder and Lead Archaeologist, author, and University of Sorbonne professor.

The cenotaph at Gebel el-Silsila, located on the banks of the river Nile, available to visit in Sansar

INSIGHT, in collaboration with the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities, has been at the forefront of digitally capturing sites of antiquity in Egypt, and Dr. Martinez himself was one of the earliest exponents of computers and 3D capabilities in archaeology.

In the 1980s, for example, he encoded the decoration of 12000 blocks dating to the time of Amenhotep IV – Akhenaten, discovered reused in the 9th pylon at Karnak. The database was then used under artificial intelligence techniques with the output of hundreds of virtual reconstructions belonging to the first temple dedicated to the god Aten. Also around that time, he spent two years working on a 3D reconstruction of the ancient Egyptian temples of Karnak and Luxor.

Kevin Cain (l) and Dr. Phillipe Martinez (r) and, inset, their respective Sansar avatars (again, left and right)

INSIGHT’s work now involves state-of-the-art techniques such as LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging), a surveying method that measures distance to a target by illuminating it  with a pulsed laser light and measuring the reflected pulses, and photogrammetry, the science of making measurements from photographs. INSIGHT’s work in recreating sites of anitiquity in 3D was also intriguing revealed during some of the earliest looks inside Sansar prior to the Creator Preview opening, when images of the tomb of Nakhtamon (“TT341”) were used in various promotional talks and demonstrations of the platform (see here for an example).

The tomb of Nakhtamon is one of three locations thus far reproduced in Sansar in a collaboration spanning INSIGHT, the Sansar Studios team, the University of Sorbonne and the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities. Both it and the cenotaph at Gebel el-Silsila, were scheduled stops on the tour, but such was the interest shown in the tour and in INSIGHT’s work, the tour was  extended to include a reconstruction a section of the Ramesseum “Coronation Wall”.

Tomb of Naktamon (“TT341”) in Sansar – part of the collaboration with INSIGHT and visited on the tour

For the purposes of the event, the two primary destinations together with the Voyage Live: Egypt experience, where people initially gathered, were spun-up in their own special instances. This meant that casual visitors to either Voyages Live: Egypt or the locations on the tour would not feel that they were intruding on a private event or have their own visit spoiled by a group of avatars suddenly crowding them out and getting in the way.

This in itself demonstrated a key strength of Sansar: the ability to spin-up instances of experiences to deal with special events and the like, without necessarily having to close them off from public access / other uses occurring at the same time.

The Ramesseum “Coronation Wall” reproduced as a 2 million poly model in Sansar, optimised from an 800 million poly original.

At Voyages Live: Egypt, attendees were introduced to Kevin Cain and Philippe Martinez, and a little time was spent talking about INSIGHT’s work, the backgrounds of our guides (Mr. Cain, a specialist in computer graphics and imaging worked widely in the film industry before a fascination with preserving sites of antiquity drove him to establish INSIGHT as a non-profit entity specialising in the digital recording and mapping of sites of antiquity, as which has now worked in a dozen countries around the globe).

INSIGHT’s work is not only fascinating from a lay perspective – offering the potential for VR and a platform like Sansar to open-up historical sites for education and learning across all ages without putting the actual site at risk – but because it is of very real benefit in helping to preserve ancient sites from accidental damage, whilst providing archaeological teams an opportunity to effectively study locations even when the locations themselves are not open to study, again to help preserve them.

Continue reading “Virtual Egyptology: a journey in time in Sansar”

Sansar Product Meeting 2017 week #40: Discovery and more

Image courtesy of Linden Lab

The following notes are taken from the Sansar Product Meetings held on Friday, October 6th. These meetings are held every Friday at 9:30am PTD and 4:00pm PTD, and are open to all. There is no set agenda (currently), and the meetings are a mix of voice and text. The official meeting notes are published in the week following each pair of meetings, while venues change on a weekly basis, and are announced in the Meet-up Announcements.

The October 6th meetings took place at Spinnervale, a creepy experience for Halloween by Debi Baskerville (and which I’ve reviewed here). Attending the meetings were Bjørn Laurin, the Lab’s VP of Product, and Cara and Boden from the Product team.

Discovery Release Update

The Discovery release was deployed on Wednesday, October 4th – see my overview on the release for core details. However, there were some post-deployment issues which required hot fixes and updates to be deployed as well. These have thus far comprised:

  • Update 1 – October 5, 2017 – mainly addressing a major crashing issue that would trigger when an avatar enters an experience while other avatars are walking around.
  • Update 2 – October 6, 2017 – allowing people to add scripts and other components to objects bought from the Sansar Store following issues in the wake of the initial Discovery deployment. However, as a side-effect of the fix, items that were edited between the initial deployment and the update may revert back to their default settings, with items properties that were edited in the time between the Discovery release deployment and the update were lost. This was originally reported as a “known issue” in the October 5th update.

There may be further updates to follow, addressing some remaining issues.

Supply Chain Release Error

The second of the two issues noted above was the result of the premature deployment of code for Sansar’s supply chain economy and permissions system within the Discovery release.

As Bjørn explained at the meeting, the supply chain economy will allow everyone to get properly recompensed for their creations howsoever they are used. However, the first element of the code to support this – designed to protect original content – was deployed with the Discovery release without some key supporting elements, resulting in the issues fixed by the October 6th update.

Deployment of the supply chain capabilities may be around the end of the first quarter / start of the second quarter of 2018.

People gather for the 9:30am PDT Product Meeting at Spinnervale. Jenn is wearing the bat wings in the foreground

Other Noted Issues

  • Adding a metalness map to an object can cause it to dramatically change colour. This appears to be the unintended consequence of a fix for another issue.
  • Some people are seeing old messages and notifications re-received, generally during logging-in; friend requests me be repeated multiple times; accepting a friend request can request in the system add you as your own friend – and you can message yourself (!).
  • Some are seeing massively inflated audio emitters when working in Edit mode.
  • There are reports that items taken in Desktop mode can be “grabbed” away, either by other avatars – or even other things in a scene.
  • Some in Desktop mode have also reported that pressing and holding the mouse button to throw things doesn’t always result in a stronger throw; conversely, some in VR now have “superhuman” strength when throwing items.
  • Camera:
    • There is a report that going to free camera movement (aka flycam) by pressing F4 when in first-person view can allow the camera to pan when it is moved forwards / backwards. Although like a bug, a request was made for the feature to be retained.
    • llcameraforward camera vector behaviour is still no longer consistently tracking camera movements in third-person view (although it is still working as expected in first-person). This has been reported previously, but has not been addressed, and appears worse following the Discovery release. This is also affecting projectile behaviours as well.
  • The issue with objects appearing correctly positioned and aligned when editing a scene, and then appearing misaligned / out-of-place in the run-time experience (see here)may be related to a scaling issue, still to be fully investigated. One suggestion is that scaling using the Gizmo rather than the properties sliders can cause differences between the collision mesh and object mesh, which can cause the latter to be repositioned.
  • There is an issue with the client Atlas search – it only seems to search based on the first 3 or 4 characters in the search string.

There were some intentional changes with the Discovery release which weren’t as well represented in the release notes as they might have been. Future release notes will drill down more deeply into changes and updates to hopefully avoid this happening again.

Boden Linden (centre right and using a VR headset) talking at the 4:00pm PDT Product Meeting

Rough Time Frame for the Next Releases

  • The Friends release, focusing on social capabilities for Sansar will form the release following the Discovery release, and will likely be at the end of October / start of November.
  • According to Bjørn at the morning Product Meeting, the release after that will be the Store release, and Boden indicated that this will likely be in mid-December, as the Lab tends to close for an end-of-year break over Christmas / the New Year period.  Subject to confirmation, this release might be the first release of the clothing / fashion updates.

Sansar Camera

Third-person camera orientation doesn’t necessarily match that of the avatar, causing confusion for some. For example, I arrived in this experience with my avatar facing to the right relative to my camera. Pressing “forward” to walk didn’t turn my avatar in the direction my camera was facing (as might be expected), but rather had my avatar walking off the the right, the camera slewing around to take up position behind me

Feedback on the Sansar camera (when in third-person view) has identified points of annoyance, particularly for those used to dealing with Second Life. A couple of these can be summarised:

  • Lack of orientation relative to the avatar: when a user arrives at a spawn point in an experience, their avatar may be oriented to face a specific direction – but their camera may not be (it can be off to one side, for example. This can cause confusion with the direction the user should be facing, and disorientation when the user walks “forward”, and their avatar move from (say) left-to-right across their screen (the camera eventually swings around behind the avatar), rather than the avatar turning to walk in the direction the camera is facing as some users might expect.
  • When behind the avatar, the default third-person camera position suffers the Second Life error of being set too high above the avatar, which could potentially lead to issues of scale – again as is the case with Second Life.

Jenn and Bjørn have agreed to get someone who is working on the camera system to come along to a focus group meeting to talk through these kinds of concerns with people and determine what might be done to address them.

Continue reading “Sansar Product Meeting 2017 week #40: Discovery and more”