Captain’s Log: on the bridge of the USS Enterprise in Sansar

The Bridge of the USS Enterprise; Inara Pey, May 2018, on FlickrThe Bridge of the USS Enterprise, NCC-1701 in Sansar

Tuesday, May 22nd saw the launch of a new  enterprise for Sansar, with the public opening of a model of one of the icons of the original Star Trek TV series: the Bridge of the USS Enterprise, NCC-1701.

The experience has been developed as a joint venture between Roddenberry Entertainment, run by Eugene “Rod” Roddenberry Jr, the son of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, and Linden Lab through Sansar Studios.  It has been designed as a tie-in with the Mission Log Live podcasts / live streams hosted every Tuesday by Ken Ray and or John Champion, which cover all things Star Trek (and often beyond), with news, discussions, Q&A sessions, guests, and  so on.

The core rendering for the experience has been produced by OTOY, the creator of the OctaneRenderer. Some might be familiar with OTOY’s work on the opening title sequence of HBO’s stunning TV series Westworld. Given this pedigree, and having seen some of the publicity shot (as I covered here), I admit  – as a long-term Star Trek fan – to looking forward to seeing the experience first-hand.

The Bridge of the USS Enterprise – a Sansar social space where people can watch weekly broadcasts of the Mission Log Live series, hosted by Ken Ray (seen on the viewscreen) and John Champion

Sadly, the official opening of the experience between 03:00 and 06:00 BST on the morning of Wednesday, May 23rd – FAR too late (or early!) for me. So it wasn’t until well after the event had finished that I was able to jump into the experience and have a look around.

The Bridge of the USS Enterprise is, first and foremost, visually stunning. It is beautifully rendered, with almost everything a Trek fan would expect to see there and (for the most part) in the correct colours. Visitors arrive close to the turbo elevator doors at the back the the bridge; to the left is the Engineering station, Montgomery Scott’s usual station when on the bridge, and to the right, Uhura’s Communications with Spock’s science station just beyond it.

Of course, the Captain’s chair is there, sitting in the central well behind the helm / navigation console and facing the main viewscreen. A point of note here is that the show isn’t actually recorded  in the experience, but is intended as a place where fans of Star Trek and science fiction can drop into and watch the live stream broadcasts – or catch up with them after the fact – and enjoy the ambience of the Bridge. I understand that for the opening, around 25-30 people gathered in the experience – which must have been cosy, and Ken and John, the hosts of the show, dropped in after the fact.

The Bridge of the USS Enterprise; Inara Pey, May 2018, on FlickrThe Bridge of the USS Enterprise – “The engines cannae take it, Cap’n!” – Scotty’s bridge station

All of the detailing ia for the most part exquisite, although it is – aside from the viewscreen – a static rendering (at least in Desktop Mode with Sansar – I cannot speak to VR mode).

For the hardcore Trek fan there are perhaps one or two mission elements: the commissioning plaque is absent from the wall next to the turbo elevator doors; Spock’s station is lacking his “I see all through this box with a glowing slit” dohicky, for example. Also, the helm and navigation console also appears to have been taken from the game Star Trek: Bridge Crew, rather than conforming to the original TV series design and colours. It’s also interesting to see the upper sensor dome that sits above the bridge deck shown as a skylight with stars zipping by – something of a nod of the head towards the original Trek pilot episode The Cage, perhaps?

The Bridge of the USS Enterprise; Inara Pey, May 2018, on FlickrThe Bridge of the USS Enterprise -“Take us out of orbit, Mr. Sulu. Ahead, warp factor one…”

It would be nice to see some interactive elements in the design – being able to touch Sulu’s console and see his weapons target / sensor relay unfold itself, for example, or to be able to “flick” switches on the ring consoles and see the images on the screen above them change – just to give visitors more of a sense of presence (not to mention the hoary old ability to sit on the chairs). However, these little niggles aside, for those who like / love / appreciate the original Star Trek TV series, the experience is a wonderfully nostalgic homage.

It’s a little disappointing that the first Mission Log to be broadcast with the opening of the experience didn’t show more in the way of images of the space to encourage interest among Trek fans watching the show – although it certainly was mentioned several times. However, this was somewhat made up for the broadcast including an interview with one of the incarnations of James T. Kirk himself, Vic Mignogna, the man behind the engaging web series Star Trek Continues, which picks up right where the original series left off at the end of its third season, and includes some unique follow-ups to some of the episodes from that series and well as featuring several special guest stars from the worlds of Star Trek.

The Bridge of the USS Enterprise; Inara Pey, May 2018, on FlickrThe Bridge of the USS Enterprise – “The engines cannae take it, Cap’n!” – Scotty’s bridge station

While Sansar and the Enterprise bridge aren’t visually featured in the show, it is interesting to hear some of the comments Ken and John make in passing about Sansar – particularly where their avatars are concerned. While casual in nature, they do perhaps reflect one of the more noticeable “limitations” with the platform that even casual users are noting: the “sameness” evident in Sansar avatars at the moment, born out of a current lack of broad customisation capabilities.

Overall, Bridge of the USS Enterprise is an interesting experiment on the idea of offering social environments in virtual spaces that are specific to audiences who might not otherwise have an interest in such environments. With the planned tie-in with the Overwatch League now apparently on hold (assuming it still goes ahead), Bridge of the USS Enterprise is Sansar’s sole “partnership” social space of this kind right now, so it’ll be interesting to see how it continues to be used.

The next Mission Long Live event will be on Tuesday, June 5th, as John and Ken will be taking a break on Tuesday, May 29th.

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Aech’s Basement: a new Sansar RPO experience

Aech's Basement, Sansar; Inara Pey, March 2018, on FlickrSansar: Aech’s Basement – click on any image for full size

Thursday, March 29th marked the US opening of Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One, the film based on Ernest Cline’s 2011 novel of the same name. Few can fail to have heard of either film or book – which features a VR “metaverse” made up of thousands of worlds, called OASIS. To mark the opening of the film, but with much less fanfare, Sansar Studios, the 3D / VR modelling and experience design team at Linden Lab, recently opened Aech’s Garage in Sansar.

Described as being “interpreted from the original ILM design for Ready Player One, from Warner Bros. Pictures, Amblin Entertainment and Village Roadshow Pictures.” Aech’s Basement is the second Ready Player One experience to be presented by Sansar Studios, the first being Aech’s Garage (read here for more).

Aech's Basement, Sansar; Inara Pey, March 2018, on FlickrSansar: Aech’s Basement

I can’t speak for the movie as I’ve not seen it yet, but in terms of the book, and with one or two liberties taken to ease avatar movement, the experience hits pretty close to home. And like Aech’s Garage before it, there is a wealth of detail and subtle touches packed into it which are – for those with a keen eye and love of sci-fi and films or the 1980s – a treat to find.

Aech had named his chat room the Basement. He’d programmed it to look like a large suburban rec room, circa the late 1980s. Old movie and comic book poster covered the wood-panelled walls. A vintage RCA television stood in the centre of the room. hooked up to a Betamax VCR, a LaserDisc player and several vintage video game consoles. Bookshelves lined the far wall, filled with role-playing game supplements and back issues of Dragon magazine.

Ernest Cline, Ready Player One, Chapter 3

Aech's Basement, Sansar; Inara Pey, March 2018, on FlickrSansar: Aech’s Basement

Unlike the book, where avatars visiting Aech spawn at the top of the stairs leading down to the Basement, visitors to Aech’s Basement in Sansar spawn in the basement itself.  Walls panelled in wood, as per the book, it is literally chock-a-bloc with 80’s references. The RCA TV is there, although it has been moved against a wall, rather than occupying the centre of the room, its place taken instead by a sofa. However, the consoles are there on the floor in front of it – two Segas and what looks like (from a very quick Internet search, I confess to being no expert), a Mattel Intellivision. The 80’s posters are on the wall celebrating films of the era, and albums by popular 80’s musical artists are scattered around.

A little liberty has been taken with the video tapes, as they are VHS rather than Betamax, while against a wall near the spawn point sit racks of audio cassettes. The rest of the space – in suitably 80’s style lighting – is furnished as one would expect a den to be – large, plump sofas, armchairs past their prime, a games table and – against one wall, a bar.

Aech's Basement, Sansar; Inara Pey, March 2018, on FlickrSansar: Aech’s Basement

The Easter eggs are to be found all over – from the posters , albums and VHS films, through to models from Buck Rogers in the 25th Century and Battlestar Galactica, to space invaders climbing down a ceiling support – and more (I’m just not going to spoil the fun of finding them for yourself). I particularly like the election poster for Wil Wheaton (he of Star Trek the Next Generation fame, as well as a respected blogger, narrator of the Ready Player One audiobook and – in the novel – the vice-president of the OASIS User Council).

Connected to Aech’s Garage by a door at one end of the room, the Basement is a lot smaller than that experience, and can great a little crowded with more than half-a-dozen avatars in it; however, it is as visually rich. Sansar’s quirky interactive capabilities do mean things can get thrown around, but hopefully, this will improve as those interactive capabilities are refined.

Aech's Basement, Sansar; Inara Pey, March 2018, on FlickrSansar: Aech’s Basement

Sponsored by Intel, and licensed by Warner Brothers Entertainment, Aech’s Basement and Aech’s Garage make for an ideal joint visit to the world of Ready Player One, whether or not you’ve seen the film and – in the case of the Basement – especially if you’ve read the book.

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Visiting the Drew Struzan Gallery and Studio in Sansar

The Art of Drew Struzan: The Studio Experience

On Friday, March 23rd, the The Art of Drew Struzan: The Studio Experience opened in Sansar. As the name suggests, it is a celebration of the art of celebrated illustrator, Drew Struzan – and it is perhaps one of the most visually superb and compelling experiences yet to surface on the platform, particularly for anyone (like me) with a love of films and all that goes with them (I love both film art and film soundtracks).

Drew Struzan

The Art of Drew Struzan: The Studio Experience is part of the The Hollywood Art Museum (HWAM) project, established by Greg Aronowitz with the aim of encouraging artists in the digital medium to find fresh inspiration in the traditional arts of Hollywood’s past, through the preservation and education of art used in entertainment.

I provided something of a “preview” of the opening, including a (very) brief look at Drew Struzan’s career here – which I hope you’ll read alongside this article.  For this piece, I’m focusing purely on the presentation of Drew Struzan’s work as it appear sin Sansar. But first, some preliminary notes:

The experience is in two parts: a gallery of Drew’s work, and a reproduction of his physical world private studio.  Access is via the gallery experience, which can be reached in one of two ways – via a direct URL, or via the Hollywood Art Museum experience – just walk to the entrance of Sound Stage 6, which advertises the exhibition, and you’ll be transferred to the gallery experience.

Both experiences can be enjoyed in VR mode or Desktop mode. However, if you’re visiting in Desktop mode, I suggest using first person view (toggled via F3) to get the best view of the art.

Also note that some of the pieces displayed in the “cinema” part of the gallery have associated audio recordings of Drew talking about them, indicated by a set of push buttons beside the art. These buttons work in both VR and Desktop mode. Instructions are provided on a board by the entrance to the “cinema”, but in brief:

  • Walk up to a button to trigger the audio track (only audible to you). Once playing, you can move away from the button so others can also trigger the audio. Slowly moving away from a button will stop the audio playback before the end, if needed. VR, users can additionally use their controller’s trigger button to start / stop the audio.
  • Note that if you step up to another button while audio from one is already playing, the current track will stop and be replaced by the audio for the button you are next to.
Name those films; the 20th Century Fox 50th Anniversary art produced by Drew Struzan in 1984, now part of The Art of Drew Struzan: The Studio Experience

Taking the Tour

The gallery space is divided into a number of distinct areas. The “lobby” area features some of Drew’s fine art, with portraits of Abraham Lincoln and Bob Dylan together with a self-portrait, as well as a more classic piece of art (Autumn) and more. A hallway leads off this, displaying more of his fine art, including a fabulous self-portrait in pencil and a phenomenal study of Albert Einstein, before reaching the “film” element of the exhibition, which starts with some magnificent pieces celebrating George Lucas, 20th Century Fox together with the art used for the cover of Spielberg / Williams collaboration soundtrack album. There’s also a collection of truly amazing portraits of some of Hollywood’s greats, which Drew produced for US postage stamps and for Franklin Mint.

Sinatra (l, for Franklin Mint), and John Wayne, Edward G. Robinson, Jimmy Stewart, Johnny Carson, Lucille Ball and Henry Fonda (all produced for US postage stamps), and Cary Grant (r)

Beyond this is the “cinema” exhibition space, and the collection of Drew’s film-related art, and the point where the audio options are available.

This features individual film posters (including the 1977 Star Wars “Circus” poster Drew produced with Charles White III, complete with the story of the poster’s unique look related by Drew), placed along the main corridors.  In the centre of the gallery is a walk-through of “comprehensives” – drawings showing the initial layout and composition of a proposed artwork for the client to approve before going to the final illustration –  Drew has produced over the years. There is also a section featuring a Hellboy poster and a Star Wars poster showing the creative process in stages from initial drawing through to final poster; and a special display dedicated to the Back to the Future trilogy.

The Art of Drew Struzan: The Studio Experience

This entire environment is visually stunning. The set is that of an old-style movie theatre with Deco lighting, red carpets and ornately-panelled ceilings, completed by excellent lighting. There is a richness to it that really give the environment a sense of place; exploring it in first-person genuinely gave me the sensation of being there – no headset required (although I imagine I’ll be totally blown out of my chair when I do get to see this experience in VR). As to the art – it has to be seen to be appreciated; it is just astounding, and the images here do not do it justice.

Beyond the “cinema” gallery is the entrance to Drew’s private studio – just walk up to the door marked Enter Here to be transferred to it.This is again stunning: a complete and accurate reproduction of Drew’s physical world studio. Just how accurate? Well, it has been produced by the Sansar Studios team working in collaboration with Insight Digital, a company specialising in photogrammetry and laser scanning to recreate sites of antiquity in digital format for detailed examination. some of their work has already been imported to Sansar at the Voyage Live: Egypt experience, and you can read about that work here.

Drew’s studio – reached via The Art of Drew Struzan: The Studio Experience

For Drew’s studio, Insight took over 4,000 photographs of his workspace and laser scanned the objects and items inside it. “They went front, back, side, top, bottom, behind. Everything!” Drew says of the work. The result is – if I might use that word again – stunning.  literally everything from the original studio space is here, beautifully reproduced.

The wealth of detail is extraordinary, and I strongly recommend careful exploration and viewing, simply because there is so much to see (watch out for the drawer with the stash of paints…). While touring, a couple of people did comment that things seemed a little big, but I assume the space was slightly scaled up to reduce issues of avatars colliding with one another when looking around in groups. And when you have (eventually) done, use the door beneath the deer head to return to the gallery.

Drew’s studio – reached via The Art of Drew Struzan: The Studio Experience

A truly marvellous and visually impression pair of experiences, and kudos to Greg Aronowitz, Insight Digital and the Sansar Studios team under Jason Gholston for bringing it all together, and very special thanks to Drew Struzan for sharing both his art and his personal space with us in this way.

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Eternity in Sansar

Sansar: Eternity

Eternity is the name of the fifth experience by C3rb3rus that I’ve visited in Sansar. I’ve previously blogged three of the others – 2077 and Darkwood Forest in-depth and The Diner as a part of my coverage of the Sansar’s Scariest competition – I have yet to write about Floating Temple, as I’m waiting to see if it develops further!).

Eternity is on a much smaller scale than the previous designs by C3rb3rus – but it is intricately and beautifully detailed and animated, making a visit a must. It’s a single scene environment, presenting an enormous structure in two parts, standing atop an island of floating rock, serenely suspended in the air.

Sansar: Eternity

The first part of this structure is open to the sky above, its high walls an intricate lattice of wood (or copper?) supported by beautifully embossed metal ribs. In general design, it appears church-like: a long, narrow nave leading to a short transept / choir / apse. The aisles either side of the nave are represented by two intricately patterned ramps which gently slope up along the line of the structure to follow the outward curve of the walls. Directly in front of the landing area, almost blocking the way forward, is a great mechanical horse running at the gallop without ever-moving.

To call this a work of art would be an understatement; it is quite simply magnificent. held above a platform on which gears turn and roll by a single supporting pole, this horse is a masterpiece of construction. Burnished in bronze, its legs are fully and naturally articulated, moving with the fluid grace of a horse, head and neck moving in unison with its strides. Partially covered by engraved plates and partially open to the world, the beast has a mechanised interior which rocks and moves in response to its gallop, almost as if driving it, even though none of the gear wheels (understandably) are turning.

Sansar: Eternity

Beyond the horse – which can be viewed from the rough floor of the structure or the ramps on either side – visitors can make their way to the “transept” where more mechanical wonders await. The “floor” here resembles the partially exposed inner workings of a clock or pocket watch with gears meshing and turning and flywheels rocking. A raised dais continues this theme, stretching back towards a single opening. Overhead, an orrery turns embossed metal worlds in orbits around a central point. While one of these worlds is ringed like our Saturn, they do not otherwise appear to be representative of our own solar system.

It’s a stunning, magical setting – but again, the orrery and floor workings can easily be overlooked as eyes are drawn to the far wall of their structure. Solid in nature, all of its entire face is a fabulous tribute to the elegance of clockwork mechanisms, complete with a great brass-like device standing in the middle, above that open doorway mentioned above.

Sansar: Eternity

Surrounded by the copper / bronze gears and flywheels, this round face has the look of both a clock – albeit it one telling time in a way foreign to the human mind – and the great circular window of a church or cathedral.  Indeed, the vertical face on which it is mounted – part of the second, fully enclosed structure in the scene – does through its very shape, heighten the feeling of this being a church, a place raised to the glory of Time.

Eternity is a marvellous portrayal of both our relationship with, and insignificance before, Time itself.  The horse running at the gallop is the very embodiment of tempus fugit, the orrery a reminder that some things endure within the passage of time for far longer than we do, while the great engraved heart suspended by chains above it perhaps stands testament to our own fleeting mortality.

A marvellous, richly detailed and evocative installation.

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Sansar: client Atlas update and Anu’s Copper Valley

Sansar: Copper Valley

As per my 2018 week #3 Product Meeting notes, the Sansar Client Atlas has been updates to include the new Popularity sort option and currency indicator.

When selected from the sort drop-down menu (see below), the Popularity option orders the listed experiences in a tab by current real-time use, so those with avatars actually visiting them will be listed first. In addition, those experiences with avatars in them have a concurrency indicator in the top left corner of their thumbnail image. This is a near real-time indicator that the experience is in use at the time it is seen in the Atlas.

Client Atlas: popularity in sort drop-down (circled), and the concurrency indicators (arrowed) available for all experiences with avatars in them on all tabs

The banner images from that Product Meeting report was an advanced look at a new experience by Anu Amun, which is now publicly listed in the Atlas, by the name Copper Valley. A work-in-progress, it offers a mechanoid landscape inspired by steampunk.

The spawn point for the experience drops visitors onto a platform roughly in the middle of this curious landscape. A raised walkway runs behind the spawn point, linking a tall windmill, sails slowly turning, with stairs leading up to another platform. Steps also offer ways down to the lands below – on one side a row of little houses, their walls and roofs seemingly made of copper – walls green and aged-looking, the roofs pristine.

Sansar: Copper Valley

On the other side, through peculiar trees, looking like they’ve been cut from blocks of metal or cut from heavy sheets, and past Mecano-like seats, to where massive blocks rotate as if on long axles hidden just below ground, rising and falling from flat fields of screwed-down metal plates. Overhead, great bulky clouds drift across a dusty sky with “normal” clouds at much higher altitudes.

It’s a strange environment, complete with it own enchantment; a mechanical place where the sandy hills are gradually giving way to more of the metal plate fields with their rotating axles of blocks. So much so, that in one corner, the “fields” are still under construction.  Exploring this realm is a case of following the elevated paths, climbing the stairs, descending the steps and following your nose – but be warned! Some surfaces aren’t as solid as others.

Sansar: Copper Valley

Having enjoyed Anu’s Anu, I admit to being curious as to where Copper Valley might go. In the meantime, it makes for a most unusual visit.

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Sansar: in the year 2077

2077, Sansar; Inara Pey, January 2018, on FlickrSansar: 2077 – click on any image for full size

C3rb3rus is fast becoming one of the top designers of atmospheric experiences in Sansar. I’ve already written about two of his designs – Darkwood Forest (see here) and The Diner (see here – although it is deserving of a dedicated write-up). His most recent design – 2077 – has already garnered a lot of coverage, which is why I held off writing about it immediately it opened. However, it’s not hard to understand why it is has been popular -it is visually stunning.

This experience takes its basic theme from the style we perhaps most readily identify with the likes of Blade Runner – although I personally see it as something of a fusion between that and the short-lived TV series, Total Recall 2070 (itself a fusion of Philip K. Dicks We Can Remember for You Wholesale and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, the inspiration for the original Blade Runner film). On arrival, visitors are placed on a long street – a canyon, if you will, formed by the flat faces of high-rise buildings, themselves surrounded by even taller skyscrapers which glitter with light.

2077, Sansar; Inara Pey, January 2018, on FlickrSansar: 2077

By comparison with the latter, the streets on which visitors stand seem dark, cold, and a little threatening. With graffiti on the walls and litter on the streets, this feels is if it is a much poorer part of the city than the horizon forming towers of light and colour. Perhaps those glittering towers are where status and wealth reside; the higher up residents are within them, the more their status has literally elevated them above the darker, poorer world flowing around the feet of their great glass-sided citadels.

Perhaps this is why, flying cars zip back back and forth high above the streets, their passengers intent only on spanning the gap between lofty perches, and oblivious to what lies below, lost in the night. Nearer to the ground, more of these cars pass through the canyon-like streets, travelling a little more cautiously, while one or two have forsaken the air altogether – or have perhaps been decommissioned, like Deckard’s old Police spinner in Blade Runner, confined to crawling along the dimly lit streets.

2077, Sansar; Inara Pey, January 2018, on FlickrSansar: 2077

Dim though the lighting down here might be – the street lamps little more than thin lines of blue iridescence atop tall metal poles and which case cold pools of light beneath them – the streets are still alive. Digital advertising boards shimmer, turn, dance and project, adding their own illumination which reckons off the otherwise dull surfaces of roads and sidewalks. Walking the latter, it is possible to come across gaming halls and bars, or arrive at the corner of Walk and Don’t Walk as little green and red men flick back and forth on overhead signals, determining when it might be safe to cross a particular junction.

Over all of this, a great hologram of a female face looks down, turning slowly from side to side, as if keeping a watch over the streets in her care. Not far away, a single eye darts side-to-side on a billboard, a pattern of digital lighting over the pupil for some reason putting me in mind of the Rekall chairs from Total Recall 2070. Elsewhere amidst this neon advertising one can find a hospital or clinic signified by both, a red cross and a ghostly skeleton rotating slowly above the entrance, Max Headroom close by, perhaps mocking passers-by.

2077, Sansar; Inara Pey, January 2018, on FlickrSansar: 2077

C3rb2rus likes to include motion in his designs  and 2077 is no exception to this, as demonstrated by the ground and air traffic. But there is more; the spawn point in the experience, for example is under an elevated train track. Behind it (and easily missed), a ramp offers a way down to where a platform awaits. It is periodically visited by a subway train you can step aboard and ride in a loop around the build. I have no idea if this is indicative that more might be added to the build (there’s only the one stop at present), but it does offer a certain promise to the design.

Nor is this all. Find your way to the high rise at one end of the main street, and ceiling lights will direct you to where an elevator regularly descends and rises. Step into it, and it’ll offer a trip up to a modest – bordering on austere – apartment, which in turn offers a grandstand balcony view back through the experience. Watch for a few minutes, and you’ll witness another nice touch,, as an air car rises from the far end of the street, angling gently upwards until it reaches one of the lower skyways and passes overhead.

2077, Sansar; Inara Pey, January 2018, on FlickrSansar: 2077

Given that so many Sansar experiences are, due to the nature of the platform at present – largely static, 2077 feels very much alive, almost vibrant beneath the hues of the backdrop skyscrapers. Atmospheric, rich in detail despite its dark tone, this is an experience offering a certain promise of what Sansar might become as a role-play environment, as capabilities are improved.

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