Catching a little Zen in Sansar

Sansar: Zen Garden

The Zen Garden in Sansar is one of the experience produced by the Lab’s Sansar Studios team, and has been one of the more frequented locations, visitor-wise. One of the reasons for this has possibly been because the Zen Garden has opportunities for interaction with things within the scene – particularly for those using VR headsets and controllers.

A visit begins on the upper level of a large artificial structure floating in the sky. The top of this  – split into two levels – comprises a rectangular (non-accessible) building, a swimming pool, a games area and, on the lower level, an observation ring surrounding the sunken zen garden of the scene’s title. Steps connect the two main outdoor levels and provide access up to the building, where a set  of stairs zig-zag their way up the side, almost like a fire escape, providing access to and from the roof.

Sansar: Zen Garden

The games on the greensward in front of the building are playable by those with VR headsets, although those in Desktop mode might try their feet at kicking around one of the large beach balls. However, it may not be these or the immediate surroundings which hold the new arrival’s attention; this structure is far from alone in the sky. It is orbited by a number of rocky islands, some near, some seemingly far. These are home to a variety of building, from blocky buildings similar to the towers and buildings resembling mosques or orthodox churches, topped by minarets and spires. Others are simply the home of trees and little else. Around and between all of them, smaller rocks tumble or rotate along their own orbits.

The sky is also occupied by two vehicles – sky taxis, if you will. One buzzes like an industrious bee from rocky island to rocky island, apparently carrying passengers back and forth. Alas, it doesn’t come to the central structure, so there is no real opportunity to go island hopping. The second vehicle follows a more leisurely path, gently flying around the main structure, carefully descending to hover near the swimming pool once per circuit, giving people an opportunity to climb aboard and take a ride. This is surprisingly smooth – if a little disconcerting as the vehicle turns beneath you and you remain solid as a rock, staring in the same direction unless you opt to move. It’s also a little one-dimensional: a single circuit on the taxi is enough to suffice.

Sansar: Zen Garden

The Zen Garden is designed to be reached in two ways: via one of the two staircases which curve down through the rock into which the garden has been built, or via an open-topped elevator located to one side of the structure surrounding the garden. Those adept at teleporting could attempt a “jump” down to the floor area of the “foyer” cavern just to the front of the garden, if they are so minded – but a walk down the stairs is just as easy.

The garden, sitting in a circular well open to the sky, is a simple, elegant affair. Surrounded by a curtain of bamboo, it is open to the sky above while descending in three tiers from the cavern it faces. The lowest of these is water-filled, the two above it covered in raked sand. Floating above the innermost tier is a series of disks, with lotus leaves floating around them, which seem to form a path leading up to a mysterious red door sitting slightly ajar upon a rock.

Sansar: Zen Garden

The door beckons invitingly. Is it a portal to another place? I’m sure many have attempted to climb or teleport up the floating disks to reach it (or simply teleported directly up onto its rock). But sadly, the promise is an empty one. No gateway to another scene awaits; perhaps in the future, this may change.

Another promise which will hopefully be fulfilled within this scene (as well as elsewhere in Sansar) is the ability to sit down. Zen Garden offers a lot of seating – out in the sun, in rocky corners or in the shade of the building or at the bar – but sadly, the ability to sit isn’t something that has as yet been granted to avatars – although it will be coming.

Bumping into Papp, Tina and Gin (that’s me in the white) at Sansar’s Zen Garden

Zen Garden is perhaps one of the easier places to start with when first joining Sansar. There is enough to see and (potentially) do to keep the novice moderately occupied and  gain familiarity with their preferred mode of using Sansar, by it VR or Desktop.

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A Reverse Perspective on art in Sansar

Sansar: Reverse Perspective Gallery

Art is a popular aspect of Second Life, and as anyone who reads this blog regularly knows, I enjoy following elements of the SL art world. So I’ve been curious to see just what might pop-up in terms of art within Sansar, and wasn’t at all surprised to see many SL 3D artists applying for the Creator Preview – among them Livio Korobase, Cica Ghost, Moya, and Bryn Oh. However, I was recently drawn to one 3D art exhibition in particular, which has  – literally – a most unusual perspective.

The Reverse Perspective Art gallery popped into my consciousness on Friday, September 1st, when I noticed it sitting high up in the Atlas listings. My interest was further piqued when, chatting at one of the Product meet-ups that same day,  Sansar user Gindipple stated how much he had enjoyed a visit, and offered it as a possible venue for a future Sansar social meet-up. So, off I went to have a look.

Sansar / Patrick Hughes: Reverse perspective: the doorway at the “end” of the tunnel is actually nearest to the observer

Designed by JackTheRipper, the gallery features reproductions of eye-crossing 3D art by Patrick Hughes of the UK. Hughes is famous for his “reverspective” art – 3D pieces in which the parts of which seem farthest away are actually physically the nearest to the observer.

He achieves this by using one or more 4-sided pyramids, ranged side-by-side and with their tops cut flat. These protrude outward from their picture frame, and have the points “closest” to the observer painted or placed on the sloping sides of the pyramid(s) and the points the furthest from the observer painted or placed on the flat tops.

This results in the described optical illusion: the parts of the art on the tops of pyramid appear to be furthest away from the observer, while the elements of the pictures on the sloping sides of the pyramids appear to be much closer to the observer – as if the complete image is inset into the frame holding it, rather than protruding outward from it. A further optical effect can be achieved by moving from side-to-side in front of one of Hughes’ works (or by turning one’s head gently from side to side), which results in the picture appearing to “move” and change perspective from the observer’s viewpoint.

All of this is perfectly recaptured within the Reverse Perspective Art gallery, where  some sixteen pieces are arranged in a minimalist, but effective, setting of four corridors arranged into a square, the images displayed on either wall of each hall. Ideally viewed using a VR headset (where only slight head movements are required to witness the optical effects of the images), the gallery can also be enjoyed in Desktop mode in one of two ways.

Sansar: Reverse Perspective Gallery– the stores appear to be close to the camera, the high-rise buildings further away

The first is to follow the instructions provided next to the experience spawn point: switch to first-person mode (F3) and walk to the red triangle before an image, face it, and then walk to the left and right. The camera will move smoothly left/right across the picture as you do so, revealing its optical illusion.

The second, if you are reasonably proficient in free-flying the camera, is to tap F4 and do so, advancing down the corridor, turning to face each picture and then sliding left/right – remember you can fine tune (slow down) your camera motion speed using the numeric pad minus (-) key. When viewing the pictures, it’s best to move left/right in front of them in one fluid movement, rather than via repeatedly tapping either arrow key or A/D. This will reveal the optical effects of each image more perfectly.

Sansar: Reverse Perspective Gallery – showing how the image is produced, the “foreground” shops are painted on the sides of the pyramids. The “far away” high-rise buildings on the pyramid tops

Simple in presentation, this is nevertheless an effective demonstration of Hughes’ art, and demonstrates yet another way in which an artist’s work can potentially reach a much wider audience and be enjoyed as intended, than might otherwise be the case.

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Seven Wonders in Sansar

Sansar: Seven Wonders

I’ve often commented on Sansar’s potential for historical recreation, and there are  number of fledging experiences cultivating this idea: Sansar Studio’s Egyptian Tomb and Ortli Villa, for example or the builds by IDIA Lab’s Mencius Watts. Another example, which approaches things from an  imaginative angle, is Seven Wonders, which I visited just before the Creator Beta was launched.

Designed by Ancient (of SL’s Mole fame), Seven Wonders presents the novel idea of a theme park in which have been gathered together the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. From the spawn point –  a little rocky amphitheatre caught under a bright, sunny sky – a brick paved path points the way through an ivy-lined tunnel. Walking through this brings visitors to a coastal walk raised above  golden sands. A broad wooden pier runs out over the sand – but this is not what catches the eye. Standing off-shore is the gigantic figure of the Colossus of Rhodes.

Sansar: Seven Wonders

As the path reaches the pier, so to does it branch, one arm rising inland, the other forming a gentle incline over a more rocky part of the coast, skirting the unmistakable stepped foot of the Great Pyramid of Giza. At the top of this coastal rise, the path splits again. To one side, the arch of a great bridge spans a small inlet to where the Lighthouse of Alexandria stands on a broad rocky promontory. The bridge itself offers excellent views of the lighthouse, the Colossus and the rising peak of the Great Pyramid.

Beyond the bridge, the path dips through another rocky tunnel before rising and turning inland, passing the lighthouse to lead the way first to the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus then to the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, again by way of the Great Pyramid. The latter sits in a desert-like setting, complete with a small Sphinx and a number of obelisks gathered around it, with palm trees offering shade. It is from this sandy setting that paths may also be found to the remaining two Wonders: the Temple of Artemis and the Statue of Zeus at Olympia.

Sansar: Seven Wonders

Set under a bright summer’s sky, Seven Wonders presents each of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World in its own mini-setting.  The walks around and through the park are pleasant and offer a very fair feeling of being in a theme park, with bench seating, balloons, rubbish bins – and even detritus of human passage where the bins have been ignored. However, this is a static experience – at least for those in Desktop mode. This may lead to a temptation to dismiss it as something that could just as easily be built within Second Life (space permitting). It’s also true the structures aren’t all accessible.

Nevertheless, the experience does stand as a demonstration of what might be achieved as Sansar’s capabilities grow and people become more adept at using it and presenting models and information within their scenes and experiences. It’s not that hard to imagine visiting somewhere like this immersively in the future and gaining a virtual tour of each of these ancient monuments, complete with audio tour and visual aids, and the chance to witness what some of them may have looked like from within.

Sansar: Seven Wonders

In the meantime, Seven Wonders offers an interesting diversion and the chance to spend a pleasant time wandering under the virtual Sun.

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Sansar: a voyage to the Moon and back

LOOT Interactive NASA Apollo Museum

Given my interest in space exploration, it really shouldn’t come as any surprise that my second Exploring Sansar article focuses on the LOOT Interactive NASA Apollo Museum. However, there is another reason for my doing so: as the Sansar Creator Beta opened, it was – and remains as of the time of writing this piece – one of the most comprehensive demonstrations of Sansar’s potential for creating standalone, easily accessible educational / historical interactive virtual spaces.

As the name states, this experience is a celebration of America’s triumph in sending men to the Moon and returning them safely to the Earth at what was the dawn of the space age. As politically motivated as it may have been, Apollo was – despite the tragedies and near-disasters which marked it – a huge triumph of humankind’s determination and technical prowess.

LOOT Interactive NASA Apollo Museum

Unsurprisingly, given this *is* a museum, the setting is that of a mammoth hanger-like structure dominated by the huge form of an Apollo Saturn V rocket lain upon its side. Visitors arrive in a presentation area at the “base” of the rocket where, facing the five F1 engine bells of the  S-IC first stage of the booster, is a huge video screen, used to present a film on the entire Apollo programme, from birth, through development and the horror of Apollo 1, through to the triumph of Apollo 11, and thence onwards through the remaining six missions to the Moon, together with the recovery of the near-loss of Apollo 13.

Flanking the Saturn V are two raised galleries featuring the Apollo missions with photos, mission logos and information boards. These start with the tragic loss of Apollo 1 and astronauts Grissom, White and Chaffee and run down either side of the rocket, progressing through the preparatory missions leading up to the first manned lunar landing, and thence on through Apollo 17.

LOOT Interactive NASA Apollo Museum

Sitting either side of the nose of the Saturn V are the LEM and the CSM. These and the rocket are neatly labelled, and the Service Module is shown with a cutaway in roughly the area where the liquid oxygen tanks exploded on Apollo 13, crippling it and leading to the rescue flight around the Moon. In the well between these display areas, starting with a model of the Earth, are a pair of time lines for the Apollo 11 mission. The first covers the journey from the Earth to the Moon, with principal events indicated along the way by scale models and annotations / information panels. The other similarly documents Apollo 11’s return to Earth.

Also, on the floor of these time lines are a series of interactive circles. Stepping on these will play audio clips of conversations between Mission Control and Apollo 11, and commentary from NASA on the mission status. There are other audio elements to be discovered as you explore the museum: an extract from Kennedy’s famous speech at Rice University in September 1962, when he uttered those immortal word, “We choose to go to the Moon.” There’s also audio at the Saturn V display.

LOOT Interactive NASA Apollo Museum

Beneath a model of the Moon which shows the landing areas of the six Apollo missions to reach its surface, sits a teleport disk. Simply step on it to be carried 384,400 km (240,250 mi) to Mare Tranquillitatis – the Sea of Tranquillity – and to where the Apollo LEM Eagle as it sits on the Moon. Pan / look up from here while you’re exploring, and you’ll get to see one of the most heart-catching sights a human can witness: looking back across the blackness of space to the beautiful, fragile marble of Earth.

Sansar’s current status does tend to limit what can be done interactively on the platform, and this in turn limits some of the effectiveness of experiences like this. For example, it would be nice of have a finer level of control over audio; right now, it is possible to end up with different audio elements confusingly overlapping one another (I have to admit I also found the clump-clump of shoes on solid floor is also a little off-putting when walking on the Moon). It would also be nice to have more interactive elements as well; as it is, the hanging information area above the Sea of Tranquillity setting is informative, but alignment with the appropriate elements can be difficult if you move.

LOOT Interactive NASA Apollo Museum

Nevertheless, the NASA Apollo Museum is an engaging, informative and immersive experience, offering a promise of just where Sansar might lead us as features and capabilities are added.

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