Sansar’s Creator Academy: Hall of Materials launches

Creator Academy: Hall of Materials

Linden Lab has launched its Creator Academy: Hall of Materials experience. It is intended to help creators explore and better understand the materials capabilities of Sansar, learn about the various shaders and physics materials using interactive kiosks, and how texture values interact and impact one another.

The hall comprises two sections; the first covers media surfaces, stereoscopic media, UV animation materials, emissive materials, standard materials, and metals. Overhead, spheres float as a physics demonstration. The second, rotunda-like section, provides insight into audio materials and materials layering.

Creator Academy: Hall of Materials

Kiosks provide overviews of specifics aspects of using mateirals, and some of these are are interactive. In the rotunda for example, walk across the different surface types (sand, water, ceramic, glass, carpet, etc) – to trigger the corresponding sound. With other, proximity might trigger a level of interaction.

However, it has to be said that some of the interactive elements appear to be more geared towards those in VR mode – as indicated in the introductory video. Some kiosks, for example, use panels of buttons which are currently largely inaccessible to those in Desktop mode. While this may well change as Desktop mode interactivity improves, it nevertheless limits the effectiveness of Hall of Materials as learning experience right now.

Creator Academy: Hall of Materials

Also, while I favour tutorials, it has to be said that Sansar’s very nature perhaps limits the effectiveness of experiences like this. Unless you tweak the client or have multiple accounts, you can’t visit the experience and simultaneously try things out directly for yourself in Sansar’s Edit mode, and fix concepts in your head by doing so. As such, I did wonder if the effort in building the experience might not have been better served in producing a series of short videos on the subject matter, perhaps in the manner of Torley’s famous SL TuTORials.

Given these points, Hall of Materials should perhaps be viewed as an experiment in teaching / learning more than anything else, and it’ll be interesting to see where the concept goes and how it develops. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with the introductory video, which provides a basic overview of the experience, in its own somewhat “novel” approach.

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A judge’s look at Sansar’s Scariest and a Win 10 MR hint

The Diner

As I recently reported, the winners for the two recent Sansar contests – Top Props and the Halloween themed Sansar’s Scariest  – were officially announced on Monday, October 30th.

For the latter competition, in which users were asked to create a spooky / scary experience in the spirit of Halloween (although not necessarily limited to the theme of Halloween), and the final decision on the overall Grand Prize winner and honourable mention were decided upon by journalist and VR consultant Alice Bonasio.

In issuing the official announcement, the Lab included some feedback from Alice on her decisions, and on Wednesday, November 1st, Alice offered an expansion on her thoughts around the entries and on Sansar in a piece written for VR Scout.

The Diner – faces at the window!

Of the grand prize winner, The Diner by C3erb3rus, Alice comments:

Even by Sansar standards, the lighting and textures in this experiences were amazing, incredibly nuanced. From the giant flying saucer spinning away to the MGM lion roaring from the drive-in movie screen in the distance, every element felt well-executed and real. Which is probably why it produced the best—spoiler alert—“jump out of your skin” moment of any of the experiences I tried.

Having spent time exploring the experience, I can only agree. The Diner is fabulously atmospheric, a wonderful throwback to the horror B-moves of the 1950s, complete with spooky diner, things that jump up in the night, flying saucers and more. There’s even a B-movie feature – the British black-and-white 1958 movie, Fiend Without a Face – playing at the drive-in alongside the titular diner. Careful exploration is recommended indoors and outdoors, as there is much to be discovered in the diner, down at Area 51 and even at the drive-in.

Paranormal Investigation

The Honourable Mention for the contest was Paranormal Investigation by Abramelin Wolfe, an experience I visited just after it opened, but have yet to write about. In it visitors take on the role of the paranormal investigator in a haunted house. A more traditional kind of Halloween build, but one that is fun nonetheless. It’s a dim, occasionally hard to explore setting when in Desktop mode, but one that’s worth taking the time to explore, as you might discover that the bumps in the night you might occasionally hear in the attic might not necessarily be caused by things trying to spook you. Commenting on the experience, Alice said:

This felt like something I would have paid for if it was a console game. Carefully crafted visuals, well-timed and well-judged sound effects, this is an experience that has something for everybody, including Ghostbusters fans like myself, who will delight in having the library books floating off the shelves all around them. Definitely not the most original in terms of theme and composition, but absolutely beautiful to look at and a pleasure to explore.

Paranormal Investigation

Alice also lists a number of other experiences she enjoyed – one in particular of which still stands as one of my favourite experiences in Sansar, in terms of both presentation and potential. This is Tyler Scarborough’s Stasis Interrupted – Chapter 1, which I’ve reviewed here. This is really a superb setting for the opening of a story, and Alice nails the description:

It’s like Alien, but with Zombies.” If you’re a fan of either genre (or, like me, preferably both) you will probably like this experience quite a lot. The creators got the slick look and foreboding mood of Ridley Scott’s original masterpiece just right, something that can be surprisingly challenging … This is all about building up suspense and atmosphere, and even during my relatively short test-drive it managed to do that.

Stasis Interrupted – Chapter 1

Alice goes on to mention Miner Difficulties by Through The Waterfall (Jasmine and Galen), which I’ve also reviewed, together with Joyride by Alex, and several more experiences were mentioned in the official blog post about the competition.

Alice Bonasio: Sansar’s Scariest special judge

The fact that so many were singled out beyond the grand prize winner and honourable mention underlines a point raised about contests like this:  a single large cash prize doesn’t really reflect the amount of effort put into entries, and might even dissuade people from entering future competitions. The Lab has indicated that they’re aware of this, and are looking to possibly revise the prize pool in future contests.

In commenting more generally on the contest, Alice doesn’t shy away from pointing out that Sansar does have some problem which need to be ironed-out, particularly around the area of processing power (I’d also raise a question on performance; while my PC may no longer be top-of-the-line specs-wise, it is still an i4 system with 16Gb RAM and a GTx 970 4Mb GPU, and there is still at least one experience in Sansar I cannot load).

True, she raises the issue more around the VR aspect of the platform and the current high cost of entry into VR (something not exactly Linden Lab’s fault), but performance issues are there within the platform, and can limit access in Desktop mode – which is important, given the relatively slow take-up of VR, if Linden Lab wishes to reach a broader audience with Sansar until such time as (or even if) VR gains more of a broad-based market footing.

In drawing attention to performance, Alice appears to look to the new Windows 10 Mixed Reality headsets as a possible solution, securing an answer to a question I recently asked at a Sansar Product Meeting, without gaining a definitive answer: would Sansar be supporting these headsets in the future? Alice has more success than I, quoting Bjørn Laurin, the Lab’s VP of Product as saying, “We’ve been experimenting with some of the Windows Mixed Reality headsets, and do plan to make it possible to use Sansar with them in the future.”

It’ll be interesting to see whether the new headsets increase people’s interest in VR / AR – right now the price differential between the higher-end versions of the headsets and the Oculus Rift isn’t that great, which might limit the appeal of at least some of them. I’m also curious as to how quickly the Lab’s experiments with the new headset might product user-visible support. In the meantime, Alice’s VRScout article makes for interesting reading alongside the Lab’s own competition blog post.

A Darkwood Forest in Sansar

Darkwood Forest

Darkwood Forest, by C3rb3rus offers an atmospheric and interactive environment which offers a touch of elven-like fantasy and a little whimsy.

As the name might suggest, the setting is a forest, perhaps caught in the dimming light of twilight as the light angles down through the branches of huge trees surrounding a body of dark water. Beyond the ring of trees sits a rugged, denuded landscape, almost lunar in its appearance, which offers an otherworldly feeling to the setting.

Darkwood Forest

A wooden board walk runs around the water, winding under the roots of the trees and along the shoreline. Ornate lanterns illuminate this path, with giant mushrooms, the undersides of their cups glowing softly, adding a little more colour to the scene. The lanterns tend to put one in mind of elven lamps, although the boats – one of which gently tracks its way in a never-ending loop around the water – are perhaps more sampan in style and have tyres as fenders, again revealing this is not necessarily a purely fantasy realm.

Similarly, while the huge trees might be mistaken for Mallorn right out of Tolkien, with their platforms and wooden walkways running around and between the great trunks, a closer look reveals the platforms aren’t typical elven structures. Electric-like lights are strung around some, all have corrugated tin roofs, and one is emblazoned with a sign: BAR. So if these are the property of elves, then they are a most unusual bunch.

Darkwood Forest

Follow the board walk and you’ll sooner or later come to a wooden elevator gently rising and falling between the board walk and the platforms above. The ride, when you step into it, is extremely smooth, and once on the platforms, you can walk to where steps wind further up the trunk of a tree to one of the buildings.

“You can’t enter the building yet.” C3rb3rus told me. “Eventually they will be, but I have some other things to do first.” Instead, follow the suspended walkway in the other direction from the elevator and you can catch a ride aboard the airship which gently circles through the trees. A simple dirigible with a boat-like gondola slung beneath it, this also has a fantasy feel to it. Boarding it is simply a matter of stepping onto the deck as it comes to a brief halt alongside the platform.

Darkwood Forest

The ride, like that of the elevator, is very smooth and offers an excellent view of the landscape below. There is a brief stop before the airship returns to the tree platform, but getting off there isn’t recommended. As you do look down from the airship, you might spot a track cutting its way through the landscape just beyond the ring of trees. Starting near the spawn point, the path leads – by way of a water crossing – to another little touch of fantasy.

Darkwood Forest is a beautifully defined setting, restful, a little haunting in style – but not in a bad way – and richly atmospheric. The airship, the boat (which can be boarded via SHIFT-click teleport) and elevator are all very smoothly done, and the vertical nature of the setting, with the tree platforms and buildings, make it something of a unique setting.

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Stasis Interrupted in Sansar

Stasis Interrupted – the cryogenic bay

Attention all personnel: non-human presence located in cryogenic bay. Quarantine procedures have been activated. Please report to security personnel for instructions. Thank you for your co-operation.

This is the warning you’ll hear on entering the main part of Tyler Scarborough’s Stasis Interrupted: Chapter 1, which might be described as a science fiction horror story. The warning – the first of several which cascade down on you – is given within a vast chamber deep within what appears to be a massive colony transport vessel. The chamber as stacked with stasis pods, presumably each one designed to hold individual colonists in a state of suspended animation during the voyage. However, all is not well, as evidenced by the warning.

Walking a little deeper into this huge chamber will trigger the additional alerts, each more dire than the last, culminating in a call for all personnel to get to the escape vehicle launch bay and evacuate the ship. Clearly, a major incident has occurred, and the warnings are your cue to find the escape vehicles.

Stasis InterruptedCrew stasis pods: but where are the crew?

Three massive airlocks separate the cryogenic bay from the rest of the ship – but only one of these is operational, alarms grinding and warning lights flashing. Beyond it lies the first signs of trouble: blood slicks the floor leading the way to the crew stasis pods, all of which are empty. Several identically dressed bodies lies on the floor. Bald and with bare feet, they would appear to belong to former colonists – and all clearly died violently. Just what has happened? Dimly lit corridors beckon you onward…

Finding your way through the ship is not as straightforward as might first appear. Beyond the crew stasis pods is a network of corridors, all under emergency lighting. Visibility is reduced to what can be seen through the sweep of yellow light cast by strobing lights, some of which may reveal more of the crew as you progress, and which can lead to a slight sense of disorientation.

Stasis Interrupted – with mains power apparently down, only emergency lighting is available within the ship, reducing everything to dark corners, shadows, and the metronomic sweep of yellow light

Eventually, the corridors will lead you to the ship’s cargo deck, stacked high with containers of equipment and supplies. Once again, finding your way across this area isn’t entirely straightforward. Just keep your eyes on the deck, and you may find the way. Once you do reach the far side of the cargo bay, things get a little easier, as emergency light sticks help direct you to the last of the escape vehicles.

It is aboard the escape vehicle that you’ll encounter the disembodied voice of another survivor, giving you instructions on what to do next. Unfortunately, whether by accident or design, the audio message was too distorted for me to clearly understand. Also, shortly after hearing it, I found myself back at the spawn point with a teleport script error message. My assumption is that the message marks the end of “chapter 1” of the adventure.

Stasis Interrupted – this is not the escape vehicle you are looking for …

This abruptness of this apparent “ending” (assuming it’s not an error) did spoil things a little for me; Stasis Interrupted is otherwise an exceptionally well crafted experience. The transport vessel feels huge, as one might expect such a space craft – presumably on a one-way trip – to be. Certainly, if this is the first chapter of an unfolding story, then I’m looking forward to seeing what comes next; there is enough to keep one engaged here – and the use of spatial and ambient sounds is so far the best I’ve come across thus far in Sansar. It would also be interesting to see how things might be enhanced once the likes of NPCs in Sansar are properly catered for – being pursued by the unfortunate colonists could add a sense of urgency to the situation!

Stasis Interrupted is accessible via both VR and Desktop modes, and I had no problems in exploring  the environment while in Desktop mode. However, the initial spawn point for the experience does contain a warning for those using VR mode and who might be sensitive to flashing lights. Those comfortable with passing beyond the warning can use the teleport to continue (denoted by “ENTER” on the floor), and enter the experience proper.

Stasis Interrupted: emergency light sticks may help you …

If you are looking for somewhere that little bit different to explore for Halloween, or enjoy environments a little reminiscent of Alien, Stasis Interrupted is the place to be.

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