No Spectators 2: a return to SAAM in Sansar

No Spectators 2: The Temple by David Best

In July, I wrote about the opening of a Sansar experience celebrating No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man, an exhibition of art created for the annual Burning Man experiment in community and art held in the Black Rock Desert of north-west Nevada. The experience is a reproduction of a physical world exhibition of the same name, hosted by the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM) at their Renwick Gallery in Washington DC between (effectively) April 2018 and January 2019 as a part of an overall effort by Intel and SAAM to digitise many of the museum’s 157 million objects and present them through the virtual medium as transformative and engaging educational / cultural experiences.

After the publishing of that review, Jason Gholston, Head of Sansar Studios, indicated to me via Twitter that the experience would be expanded over time, and on Monday, September 24th, the official Sansar Twitter account announced the Second Floor of the No spectators experience has now opened to public visits.

No Spectators 2: The Temple by David Best

The centrepiece of the new exhibition is a reproduction of the interior of the 2018 Temple, as designed from laser cut wood by artists David Best. It is an intricate, beautiful design, the original – as are all Temple builds at Burning Man – put to the torch at the 2018 Burning Man event.

David Best is actually responsible for the designs of around half the Temple built at Burning Man, having created the very first in 2000, working with Jack Haye. At the time, Best had been attending Burning Man for about three years, and wanted to present a piece of art. He was also working with a group of young artists who would be attending that same year. One of these young artists was Michael Hefflin, a 28-year-old motorbike enthusiast who was killed not long before the event, and that first temple became something of a memorial to him and to others.

We built this thing and it became obvious that we were building a tribute to Michael. And as we were making it 100 people came by and added the names of people they’d lost. Then we put some diesel on it and burned it.

– David Best, speaking to The Guardian, February 2015

In 2001, Best was asked by the event’s organisers to build another Temple, and given the Black Rock “city” of the festival had just about everything else except a place of meditation, and he took up the offer, and built upon the what had happened in 2000.

I thought, ‘What would I dedicate a temple to?’ Not having any religion – and not being very fond of religion – I thought how in some faiths you can’t be buried in a cemetery if you’ve committed suicide. So since Burning Man welcomes so many things, the most sacred place, in the centre of the temple, should be in honour of those who’ve lost someone to suicide. By the end of the week 500 people had put names in the centre and 10,000 had put names elsewhere in the temple, the names of people they’d lost.

– David Best, speaking to The Guardian, February 2015

In keeping with this, the interior of the piece in No Spectators faithfully reproduces the names and messages left during the 2018 Burning Man festival. Even when visiting the experience in third person desktop mode, these notes, left on Post It sheet, postcards, scrawled on the wood, give an almost tangible emotional depth to the design. So much so that I had another of those rare (for me) moments when I wished I had a VR headset of my own to experience the full immersiveness of the setting while reading them.

No Spectators 2: Hybycozo by Yelena Filipchuk and Serge Beaulieu

Also in the new exhibit area are reproductions of Hyperspace Bypass Construction Zone (Hybycozo for short) models from Burning Man 2014 and 2015. Designed by Yelena Filipchuk and  Serge Beaulieu. Rather than having something to do with Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy, Vogons or the destruction of the Earth, these large structures are, in the artists’ words:

A series of large-scale polyhedral installations and artworks that investigate geometry through light, shadow, and perception. The project is inspired by the intersection of math, science, technology, geometry, material, and light.

– Yelena Flipchu and Serge Beaulieu on Hybycozo

However, it’s hard not to escape the feeling that Adams and his classic radio series and books / records (and the spin-off TV series and film) didn’t have some influence the project’s title…

Next to the Hybycozo display is a hall featuring four Gamelatron Bidadari. Again seen at the 2018 Burning Man, these were actually a recreation of  2013 set of instruments created by Aron Taylor Kuffner. Each features 10 Trompong kettle gongs, 12 Reyong kettle gongs, Klentong, Kempli, 4 hanging gongs, 2 ceng-ceng and 4 Kopyak from Bali and Java, all fitted with mechanical mallets on 4 powder-coated and hand-gilded steel mounts. They are genuine musical instruments, designed to be played, and the versions in Sansar are animated, producing a range of chimes in keeping with their physical world counterparts.

No Spectators 2: Stymen Lumen by FoldHaus Art Collective

The final hall of the exhibition area features three Strumen Lumen, large-scale Origami mushrooms that morph into different shapes when activated by visitors, designed by the FoldHaus Art Collective. Animating them is achieved by touching or clicking on the circular buttons on the floor by each of the Strumen.

As well as having a dedicated experience URL, the upper floor of No Spectators can be reached from the lower floor by wither touching the teleport sign at the foot of the stairs in the entrance hall, or by just walking up the stairs (which will also activate a transfer between the two experiences. Similarly, a transfer to the lower floor can be activated by touching a sign at the top of the stairs, or by starting to walk down them.

I’d personally like to see a little more thought given to the way this material is presented in order to become fully engaged throughout. Much of the art at Burning Man is both mechanical / interactive and / or carries a story with it – as with the Temple builds. As such, it would add to the sense of engagement being able to hear the story of the Temple build, perhaps in David Best’s own words, or to here a complere loop of music Aron Taylor Kuffner has composed / played on the Gamelatron Bidadari.

That said, there is enough in this extension to make No Spectators worthy of further visits, and I hope the Lab / SAAM will resume tours of the experiences in the future. Certainly, it was enough to encourage me t see how video filming works in Sansar, using both of the main exhibition spaces, and the “outdoors” area.

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More Star Trek in Sansar: the Roddenberry Nexus

Sansar: Roddenberry Nexus; Inara Pey, August 2018, on FlickrSansar: Roddenberry Nexus – click any image for full size

In May 2018, Linden lab via their design team of Sansar Studios launched a collaboration with Roddenberry Entertainment, run by Eugene “Rod” Roddenberry Jr, the son of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry. It saw the opening of a new experience, The Bridge of the USS Enterprise (read here for more) and came with a promise of “more to come”, probably around the time of the Star Trek Las Vegas 2018 convention (Auguest 1st through 5th, 2018). Well, in keeping with that promise, on Wednesday, August 1st, Linden Lab and Roddenberry Entertainment unveiled the next step in their Sansar collaboration.

The Roddenberry Nexus is billed as “the final frontier of fan engagement. Experience the legacy of Roddenberry in a whole new way – never-before-seen props, costumes, and so much more.” And it is a beautiful build; albeit one perhaps a little light (for the time being) on the kind of detail Trek fans like myself might like to see.

Sansar: Roddenberry Nexus; Inara Pey, August 2018, on FlickrSansar: Roddenberry Nexus: The experience is fairly complex, starting at the spawn point, bottom right, proceeding through the lower exhibition space, thence via corridor to a teleporting “turbo elevator” to the upper three galleries, which are linked by a central lift platform

The spawn point for the experience is very mindful of the cabin designs seen in 1979’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture (ST:TMP), complete with corner lighting column. Here one can listen to an introduction to the Nexus from Rod Roddenberry before passing through the waiting door into a ship’s corridor.

This leads to the first display room, which, other than the couch at the far end is a little suggestive of the engineering space found in the Enterprise-D of Next Generation fame. It i dominated by a model of the McQuarrie concept for a radically altered USS Enterprise design, which is seated on what could otherwise be taken to be representative of Geordi La Forge’s engineering table.

Sansar: Roddenberry Nexus; Inara Pey, August 2018, on FlickrSansar: Roddenberry Nexus: personal memorabilia from the lives of Gene and Majel Roddenberry, reproduced in Sansar

This was the design (seen at the top of this article) being considered for one of the potential returns of Star Trek following the 1969 cancellation of what was to become known as a The Original Series (TOS). This design is perhaps most readily associated with the unproduced TV series, Star Trek: Phase II, however, as the text accompanying the model notes, originally, the design was put forward for a Star Trek film, Planet of the Titans, which was pushed to one side in 1977 in favour of the new TV series concept. While both film and series were ultimately never made, as every Trek fan will know, and as the text again confirms, the design did make two on-screen appearances in Star Trek; The Next Generation, and formed the inspiration for the Crossfield class of vessel seen in the latest incarnation of TV-based Trek, Star Trek Discovery.

Also to be found on this level are some wonderful miniatures representing props from the original series and Trek’s first big screen outing. There are also models more personal to the life of the Roddenberrys: a reproduction of the Kaypro wordprocessor model used by Gene Roddenberry after he gave up on the typewriter (a computer perhaps made most famous by science fiction author Sir Arthur C. Clarke), a copy of Majel Barrett-Roddenberry’s personalised car license plate, and a model of the infamous IDIC Medallion.

Sansar: Roddenberry Nexus; Inara Pey, August 2018, on FlickrSansar: Roddenberry Nexus: recalling the 1973 Star Trek animated TV series

Beyond this, on the additional levels, reached by teleport and a working elevator, can be found more in the way of reproductions of various Trek uniforms, together with artwork from (again) ST:TMP in the form of storyboard sequences, and also from one of the more overlooked aspects of the franchise – the 1973 animated series. Additional displays along the corridors complete the initial content, while communications panels spaced throughout the experience provide audio information from a range of hosts, all of whom have ties to, or worked on, the various Trek incarnations.

In terms of the individual series and films, the Nexus is perhaps a little light: The Motion Picture gets fair coverage, but the other films – outside of things like uniforms and insignia – are almost entirely absent. However, Trek is a big subject, and much of the latter history is more than likely fairly familiar to most Trek fans, so this can perhaps be forgiven, particularly as the Nexus will be expanded over time. The infamous Kelvin Universe and Star Trek Discovery are present, albeit in a most subtle manner (check the insignia display along one corridor). It’s also probably not unfair to say that trying to cover everything  – even leaving aside 52 years of history being voluminous – is likely made more difficult by the complex web of rights involved in Trek (CBS holding the television rights, Paramount retaining the big screen rights and so on).

Sansar: Roddenberry Nexus; Inara Pey, August 2018, on FlickrSansar: Roddenberry Nexus: prop from The motion Picture (l), the original TV pilot of The Cage (c) and The Original Series (Klingon disruptor, r)

Those attending  STLV 2018  have the opportunity to visit the Nexus in VR – and possibly wind an Oculus headset and “Roddenberry Goodies” in a raffle. There weren’t too many people availing themselves of the experience during my three visits – but then, I’m across the Atlantic and half a continent away from Las Vegas, so it’s unlikely my visits coincided with times when I was in the experience (05:00 and 07:00 Las Vegas time on my 2nd and 3rd visits).

As a means to attract an audience, approaches like this – offering something unusual and with a guaranteed niche audience – is a subtle way of increasing people’s awareness of Sansar, if not a guarantee of obtaining extended growth in terms of active engagement. Certainly, if it is emphasised the Nexus and The Bridge of the USS Enterprise can both be accessed from PC systems without the need for VR and the Nexus is to be grown in scope, it might encourage some of those visiting by way of STLV to keep an eye on Sansar for the future. That said, I am a little surprised that while the spawn point offers a teleport to the Hollywood Art Museum, there doesn’t appear to be an opportunity for people to hop over to The Bridge of the USS Enterprise.

Sansar: Roddenberry Nexus; Inara Pey, August 2018, on FlickrSansar: Roddenberry Nexus: reproductions of storyboard art from Star Trek: The Motion Picture

Given the niche nature of Trek fandom in the global scheme of things, the fact that Linden Lab have struck up a working relationship with Roddenberry Entertainment led me to wonder how many Trek fans might be at the Lab. It was a question, alongside one concerning future plans for the Nexus, that I was able to put to Jason Gholston, who heads-up the Lab’s Sansar Studios.

Yes… Many Trek fans at Linden. Sansar Studios’ Torley loves Star Trek! This is just the beginning. We should see the Roddenberry Nexus expand in time! So many fantastic stories to tell and artefacts to share.

– Jason Gholston, head of Sansar Studios, on support at the Lab for Star Trek and future Nexus plans

So why not pull out your communicators / tap your combadges and beam over to the Nexus!

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The Smithsonian American Art Museum in Sansar

No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man – Truth is Beauty, by Marco Cochrane

Monday, July 23rd saw the launch of the latest joint venture Sansar experience developed by Linden Lab’s Sansar Studios and Intel, who this time are working with The Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM) to present No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man, an intriguing experience that helps demonstrate the potential of VR in bringing art and culture from the physical world to those not readily in a position to visit them first-hand.

No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man is also the title of a physical world exhibition at SAAM’s Renwick Gallery in Washington DC, that runs through until January 21st, 2019 and which serves as the inspiration for the Sansar experience.

As the name implies, the exhibition is a celebration of art from Burning Man, the annual experiment in community and art, influenced by ten main principles, held in the Black Rock Desert of north-west Nevada (and which will be very familiar to many Second Life users). The Sansar experience offers a faithful reproduction of the exhibition in a space modelled directly on the interior of the Renwick Gallery itself.

No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man – Tin Pan Dragon by Duane Flatmo

The physical world exhibition is a collaboration between SAAM, through its Lloyd Herman Curator of Craft, Nora Atkinson, and the Burning Man Project, the non-profit organisation responsible for producing the annual Burning Man event in Black Rock City, and takes its name from a saying common among those who attend the Playa the area in which Burning Man is held.

“‘No Spectators’ is a long-standing saying on Playa. You are encouraged to fully participate. It’s all about being there, being fully present, and not just observing. Two of the ten principles of Burning Man are radical participation and radical inclusivity, meaning that there are no outsiders. Everyone is part of the experience.”

– Nora Atkinson, Lloyd Herman Curator of Craft, Smithsonian American Art Museum

Nora Atkinson has also been instrumental in bringing the exhibition to Sansar. The Smithsonian has a mission to reach a billion people globally with its art, and VR is one of the means the museum has identified as allowing them to achieve that goal – although the idea to use Sansar as a medium originated with Intel.

No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man – Paper Arch by Michael Garlington and Natalia Bertotti, with the version at the Renwick inset

Over the course of the last year, the technology giant has been building a relationship with Linden Lab and Sansar. In January 2018 for example, Intel’s entire Consumer Electronics Show (CES) booth was reproduced within Sansar, together with a walk-through model of the Intel 8th generation CPU core. Nor was that all, Intel introduced the Sansar Ready Player One experience, Aech’s Garage (and reviewed here) to the world through CES, featuring it and Sansar in a keynote address at CES given by Intel’s CEO, Brian Krzanich.

Nor has that been all, Sansar later went on tour (so to speak) with Intel, turning up at places like the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, where Sansar has again be on demonstration under the hashtag of #FutureofStorytelling, which has been strongly associated with VR.

Intel has also worked in the past the the Smithsonian, producing Beyond the Walls, a room-sized VR experience, developed for the HTC Vive system. It reproduced a garden that American writer Henry Adams, created, featuring a sculpture by Augustus Saint-Gaudens, in memory of his late wife, Marian Hooper “Clover” Adams. That experience was so successful, Intel sought to work with the Smithsonian again, and the Renwick exhibition and Sansar came across as a perfect match.

We had an idea that VR would be a compelling medium to take people to places they haven’t gone to, or will never go to, and produce really meaningful experiences.

– Raj Puran, Intel’s Director of Business Development

No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man – Evotrope by Richard Wilks with Michael Conn and Victor Rodarte. The archway to the left is the teleport to the Playa experience

Within Sansar, No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man is home to reproductions of some of the iconic pieces from the Renwick’s physical world exhibition, including the towering Truth is Beauty, by Marco Cochrane, and the beautifully intricate Paper Arch by Michael Garlington and Natalia Bertotti. The latter has been especially reproduced by the artists for the Smithsonian exhibition, given the original was actually burned at Burning Man.

The startling thing with all of the pieces on display is the level of detail within them. Within VR / first person, it is akin to getting right up close and personal with the “real thing” on a 1:1 scale that is truly unlike many other art environments. Get right in close to Truth is Beauty, for example, and the extraordinary intricacy of the original’s design is revealed.

Currently, the Sansar team, working with the Smithsonian and Intel, have reproduced the ground floor exhibition spaces at the Renwick – the first floor halls are part of a project to be unveiled soon. Intel have also produced a video (below) which intriguingly shows a holographic approach to displaying some of the art: an open space where avatars can select and rez additional works. I’m uncertain if this is meant to be part of the actual Sansar experience, the pieces seen in the video are actually displayed in the “Playa” – an “outdoor” space reached by passing through an arch (and experience teleporter) at the back of the ground-floor exhibition halls – perhaps it’ll appear in the future.

As noted above, No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man is part of an extensive project between Intel and the Smithsonian to digitise more of the museum’s 157 million objects and present them through the virtual medium as transformative and engaging educational / cultural experiences – although it’s not at this time clear how extensive Sansar’s role will be within this broader project.

As a part of the work, Intel has indicated that Beyond the Walls will be re-released in 2018, featuring the art of Saint-Gaudens, together with that of sculptor Hiram Powers, painter Frederic Edwin Church and contemporary media artist Alex Prager.

The Playa is an outdoor exhibit annexed to No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man. This is a little more of a disappointment, coming over as a haphazard display without any real context for the Burning Man Playa. Given the Renwick’s own exhibition spills over into outside spaces, it would perhaps have been nice to see this experience reflect that. But perhaps there is more to come here as well; or perhaps it is simply a holding space for art to be added to the next phase of the No Spectators experience …

As someone who has a passion for real and virtual art, I can honestly say I’m looking forward to seeing how experiences like this ground within Sansar as the capabilities of the platform continue to be built out and allow for more imaginative ways by which visitors to such exhibits can interact with, and learn about, the art they present.

With Sansar, we hope not only to make the museum experience more accessible, but to also empower people to curate experiences of their own and share their unique perspectives with the world. We’re thrilled to be supporting this transformation of art and education, and we’re excited to find forward-thinking partners in Intel and the Smithsonian.

– Jason Gholston, Head of Sansar Studios

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Back into the Labyrinths of Sansar

Horizon Maze – that’s me, bottom centre, for a sense of scale

I recently wrote about my visit to the first prize winner in The Sansar Labyrinth Contest, which actually saw prizes awarded to a total of three among the various entries. Given that I did write about Abramelin Wolfe’s grand prize-winning entry The Secret of Mount Shasta, it seemed only fair I jumped back to Sansar and took a look at the second and third prize winners as well.

Horizon Maze

Horizon Maze is the third place entry, designed by Ecne. It’s an ingenious piece that, while lacking the direct challenges present in The Secret of Mount Shasta, makes up for it in presentation and design.

This is a compact, circular maze which may at first appear to be built along traditional lines. The aim is to get from the outer edge to the central ring, where a golden cup awaits. You can even freecam over the maze to get a feel for it before entering. It all sounds simple, except for two things.

Horizon Maze: the golden cup is your goal – if you can find your way to it and through the wall!

The first is that the maze comprises three concentric rings, revolving around a central axis. Moving between them requires finding one of several gateways in the ring you are in, then waiting for a gateway in the next ring to align with it, so you can step across.

The second is that the maze is on two levels – you must periodically take the stairs to the lower level and find your way around it. This may involve finding stairs back to the upper level, or it may mean finding another gate on the lower level where you can cross between rings. Nor is it all one-way; you may well have to move back out between ring in order to find the way back towards the waiting cup.

Horizon Maze: the lower tunnels

This all makes Horizon Maze a lot more complex a puzzle than first appears, so much so, that it can get a little confusing. To help people out, Ecne provides a number of maps inset into the floors of the rings at various points. These show both levels and mimic their rotation and also show where you are within the maze, allowing you to attempt to chart a course.

When you do get to the centre of the maze, there is one final challenge: getting past the wall separating you from the golden cup. The secret to doing this can b found both in the wall and on the floor of the path around it – but I’ll let you figure that out!

Ebucezam

Read the name of this entry by Tron backwards – maze cube – and you get pretty much was it is summed up in the title: a maze forming a roughly cube-like shape. The second prize winner in the competition is, like Horizon Maze, a compact design, but one which uses more of a vertical approach to its design.

Ebucezam

In parts uniformly monochrome in styling, Ebucezam is a series of box tunnels and shafts laid out within the volume of a cubic shape. The aim is to get from the single entrance on the ground level to the single large room on the far side of the maze. All of which again sounds simple enough, so where’s the catch?

The catch is that to get from front to back across the maze, you also have to go up and down. This requires using the elevators scattered around the various tunnels, as well as jumping back down shafts. The elevators are colour-coded. White elevators are open to use from the start, but any other coloured elevator – denoted by the colour of the activation switch on the wall and the glow surrounding it – requires you first obtain the corresponding colour energy node.

Ebucezam

These nodes are scattered throughout the maze, so in order to get to the far size, you must first locate the power nodes so you can activate the various elevators.  You only need to find a colour node the once, though. As you approach it, a pop-up notification will inform you have obtained it, and it will then unlock any elevator of the same colour at any time. However, it does mean a lot of moving forward, searching, then potentially backtracking to find the right elevator, making this maze harder to complete than might first appear to be the case.

Thoughts

Both Ebucezam and Horizon Maze are interesting designs; however, I admit to fining Horizon Maze the more engaging of the two. While Ebucezam is a clever design, I found the constant back and forth to find energy nodes and then unlocking elevators came a tad repetitive – it would have been nice to have a little more variation in things. That said, Horizon Maze wasn’t without a slight fault of its own; a could of times when first stating into it, I slightly mistimed my moved between rings and ended up caught in the walls and forced to try walking between them until I eventually fell and was respawned at the start point. The lesson here: time you moves carefully and double-tap run to move between rings!

Ebucezam

Nevertheless, for those looking for something a little different to do in Sansar, Horizon Maze and Ebucezam are worth dropping into and trying out. Congratulations to both Ecne and Tron on their designs and prizes.

Experience URLS and Links

 

The Secret of Mount Shasta in Sansar

The Secret Of Mount Shasta; Inara Pey, July 2018, on FlickrThe Secret Of Mount Shasta – click any image for full size

In June, Linden Lab announced another in their series of contests for Sansar experience creators. The Labyrinth Contest challenged entrants to design and build an engaging labyrinth / maze that has at least one challenge those exploring it must solve, whilst making their way from a defined start point to a defined end point.

On offer was a first prize of US $5,000 cash, with a choice of a one year subscription to Maya or Zbrush for second place and third prize of an Oculus Rift headset and hand controllers. Following the close of the competition towards the end of the month, The Secret Of Mount Shasta was judged to be the first prize winner.

The Secret Of Mount Shasta; Inara Pey, July 2018, on FlickrThe Secret Of Mount Shasta – the tunnels await …

This is the second Sansar contest entry by Abramelin Wolfe of SL Abranimations fame to win a prize. In November 2017, he was runner-up in the Halloween themed Sansar’s Scariest competition, producing Paranormal Investigation (which I reviewed here).

Quite a lot has happened in Sansar since then in terms of feature and capabilities, with more scope for content creators to script and present interactive experiences; and while things still might fall short of Second Life, the improvements can still show that Sansar is more than just a place to visit and look at; and The Secret of Mount Shasta proves this in spades.

Set as an adventure mystery, the experience presents a considered use of Sansar capabilities to provide a game-like environment winding its way through the caverns and tunnels of a high mountain and filled with traps. Filled with  challenges and traps, it sets out a single goal for visitors to achieve, as the introduction lays out.

The Secret Of Mount Shasta; Inara Pey, July 2018, on FlickrThe Secret Of Mount Shasta – the way is barred – or is it?

Search for the Lemurian Ascended Masters that live deep inside Mount Shasta. Navigate the caverns, avoid the booby traps and solve the various puzzles. Discover the secret of Mount Shasta!

– From the introduction to The Secret of Mount Shasta.

Visitors commence their adventure at a small tented camp sitting alongside the entrance to the caverns. This is guarded by imposing hooded figures carved from the living rock, oblivious to the wind and snow around them. Between their mysterious figures, light flickers from naked torches within the tunnel entrance, enticing people inside.

The torches are periodically placed along the bare stone walls, providing sufficient illumination to see the way forward – but be sure to keep an eye on either side, as further tunnels do open off the first, and can be easily missed if you’re only focused on what lies ahead. Some of these tunnels are gated, the way forward apparently blocked. Some can be opened – rising like portcullises – by pulling a nearby lever. Others may require other means of opening them (I’m not about to give away all of the secrets here!).

The Secret Of Mount Shasta; Inara Pey, July 2018, on FlickrThe Secret Of Mount Shasta – symbols will help you on your way – but only in the right order

Opened gates initially provides access to further tunnels – just beware of the booby traps, such as the arrows launched across a passageway at certain intervals. Such traps might be individually place, or come in pairs or groups – so keep your eyes peeled and time your moves accordingly. Should you be struck by an arrow, you will be transported via a chamber back to the experience spawn point at the base camp.

The further into the labyrinth you get, the more complex and engaging things get. Tunnels open out into caverns, again either individually placed or in close-knit groups, some even linked, although the way between them may be initially barred. Puzzles are to be found within these caverns, and you’ll need to look for the in-scene clues to correctly solve one of them. There are even skeleton guards to fight – yes, fight; again look for the clues on the walls / ground for how to do this, and remember, you can pick things up in Sansar and throw them.

The Secret Of Mount Shasta; Inara Pey, July 2018, on FlickrThe Secret Of Mount Shasta – you must be prepared to defend yourself. And to move stairs

All of this makes for an engaging – and actually quite addictive – challenge which combines elements of Tomb Raider with platform games and even a touch of Harry Potter as you work your way through things – complete with a ratcheting up of both frustration at each re-spawn and determination to end to the end of the challenge and find what awaits. For those with a sci-fi leaning, there might even be an echo of the Stargate franchise (ascended Lemurians  / ascended Lanteans?); ideal for those who prefer Daniel Jackson over Laura Croft or Indiana Jones!

There is a marvellous sense of an unfolding story within The Secret of Mount Shasta – and the way in which clues are provided in-game to solve one of the puzzles along the way is adds to this sense of story. Visually impressive with a superb and subtle audioscape to add further depth to the adventure, this is a worthy winner of the Labyrinth Contest and a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

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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 missing 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. On the flip side, it’s 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, 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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