The Sansar Summary – August 2016

Project Sansar image via Linden Lab
Project Sansar image via Linden Lab

In July 2015, I produced the first in a (possibly) semi-regular series intended to summarise what has actually been stated / revealed about Linden Lab’s next generation virtual experiences platform, Project Sansar.

Since then, more information has been released, both to the press and more particularly via in-world sessions such as the annual VWBPE conference (April 2016), the Lab Chat meetings (November 2015, January 2016, May 2016)  and the recent SL13B celebration Ebbe linden Q&A (June 2016).

This article is an attempt to pull relevant core information from those sessions and assorted press / media reports into a summary of what has been said thus far about Project Sansar, citing references for anyone wishing to follow-up. I don’t claim to have covered everything that has been said, but I have attempted to include the most relevant points of interest.

Citations are given in the format [number (article / publisher, month year)] where “number” indicates it is a unique reference (citations to the same reference use the same number); “article / publisher£ indicates if it is a transcript (e.g. LC1 = Lab chat 1) or a media publication (e.g. “Wareable” = Wareable on-line) and “month year” is self-explanatory. Thus, for example:

  • [1 (LL Apr 16)] = 1st citation, a statement from Linden Lab, April 2016
  • [36 (LC2, Jan 16)] = 36th citation, from Lab Chat 2, January 2016.

Citations to Lab Chat, etc., transcripts provided in this blog reference the relevant part of the transcript; podcast /video citations include a time stamp, if relevant; external media citations are to the article.

Time Frames: Creator Preview and Extending Access

  • The Lab launched the “Creator Preview” application process on April 26th 2016 [1 ( LL  Apr 16)]. The application form is still available at the time of writing
  • Access is limited to content creators willing to work with the Lab, provide feedback, etc., [2 (VWBPE  Apr 16)], and accept the risk that changes to the platform may break their content [3 (LC2 Jan 16)]
  • This followed closed alpha testing which commenced in August 2015 [4 (LL Aug 15)], which included invitations to those in markets which the Lab are targeting for Sansar [5 (Wareable Jan 16)]
  • Further creators are to start gaining access from August 2016 [6 (Podcast  Aug 16 – 37:19)]
  • Those simply wanting to look around Sansar will not be accepted [7 (LC3 May 16)]
  • Around Q3 2016 they hope to start publicly revealing more about the platform, more images, possibly videos, possibly information on specifications, etc [8  (VWBPE Apr 16)]
  • It is hoped that full public access is expected to commence in January 2017 [6 (Podcast, Aug 16 – 38:09)]
  • When first opened to the public, Sansar will not be as feature-rich as Second Life, and will take time to mature [9 (VWBPE Apr 16)].

Content Creation Tools /  Capabilities

  • As the year progresses, the Lab will expand Sansar support to other content creation tools beyond Maya  (e.g. to include Sketch-up, Blender, 3D Max, etc) [10  (VWBPE Apr 16)]
  • Notably, Sansar will offer .FBX file import capabilities to support a broader range of content creation tools [11 (LC2 May 16)]
  • There will be built-in tools for terrain building and layout management, which have been focus for the Lab [12 (LC2 May 16)]. These land tools should allow for creating caves, overhangs, etc., and offer some means of auto-generation of some vegetation and present more in the way of volumetric liquids (so you will eventually be able to eventually fill a beaker with liquid). HOWEVER – these are not all “Day 1” capabilities  [13 (Drax Files, Apr 16 ]
  • Internal tools for original content creation (e,g, using prims or voxels), together with mesh editing capabilities, may come in time, but these are not currently a priority focus [10 (VWBPE Apr 16)], [11 (LC2, May 16]], [13 (Drax Files, Apr 16 05:32)]
  • Scripting will be C# and over time capabilities to better support external tools, IDEs, etc., will be added [14 (LC2 Jan 16)]
  • Sansar is being built more a “design-centric” view, focusing on ease-of use to present a virtual environment for people to access and use [6 (Podcast, Aug 16 (24:24)]
  • The term “creator” in Sansar is not restricted to those who build actual mesh models, accessories, etc., it applies equally to those who design spaces inside the platform using items purchased from others [6 (Podcast, Aug 16 (26:32)]

Separate Editing and Runtime Environments

  • Sansar will have separate editing and run-time environments, which is not the case with Second Life (where you can walk down the street as see someone manipulating prims to build a house, for example). This is necessary to ensure Sansar can support the required frame rates for VR  [15 (VWBPE, Apr 16)]
  • Experiences will be built and content added / positioned within the editing environment and then “published” via optimisation (aka baking)  to the runtime environment where it is accessed by users – hence the comparisons between Sansar and platform like YouTube and WordPress [16 (Fortune, Nov 15)]
Sansar's separate editing mode helps ensure that the runtime system isn't impacted by real-time editing of content, thus helping to optimise performance. However, it does create issues in providing users with the means to customise personal spaces when those spaces are part of a larger scene used by multiple users
Sansar’s separate editing mode helps ensure that the runtime system isn’t impacted by real-time editing of content, thus helping to optimise performance. However, it does create issues in providing users with the means to customise personal spaces when those spaces are part of a larger scene used by multiple users. Images via the Linden Lab Sansar preview video
  • This editing environment is currently single user only, but the Lab hope that by the end of 2016, it will support multiple people editing / creating collaboratively on a single project [13 Drax Files, Apr 16 04:30)].

Avatars, Personas, Avatar Inventory

  • People will be able to create their own avatar identities, with existing user names for Second Life residents already reserved [17 (LC3, May 16]
  • Rather than running multiple accounts, users will be able to have multiple “personas” under a single account. However, it is not clear if a user will be able to have multiple “personas” logged-in to the platform simultaneously [18 (LC1, Nov 15)]
  • User will be able to customise their avatar look and appearance in time. However, experience creators will have more power to dictate the appearance of visitors to their environments if they so wish, in order to preserve any required immersiveness. This may even include forcing visitors into a first-person view during a visit [19 (LC2, Jan 16)]
  • Avatar editing will initially be limited when Sansar first opens (be will improve over time). It may be limited to “skin tone, maybe a couple of hairstyles, a couple of pre-defined outfits”; however, the overall aim as Sansar develops is to present a fair easier means to manage an avatar’s appearance than is the case with SL [20 (SL13B, Jun 16)]
  • Overall, clothing should be easier to manage and fit, but inventory may be dependent upon experience, rather than being central to the avatar (e.g. if you only need gun Y for Experience Y, it will only be available to you whilst in that experience [21, (LC1, Nov 15)]
  • Avatar controls / use will be different in Sansar, due to the added dimension of VR support (controller, need to see hands, etc [22, (SL13B, Jun 16)].

Continue reading “The Sansar Summary – August 2016”

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The Sansar Summary – July 2015

Sansar promo image, courtesy of Linden Lab
Sansar promo image, courtesy of Linden Lab

A lot has been written about the Lab’s Next Generation virtual experiences platform, currently code-named Project Sansar, of late, including comments from Ebbe Altberg and others from the Lab, and also media articles on the platform. As such, I thought I’d try to pull together a reasonably detailed, but high-level summary of what is known together with references. Depending on how things progress with Sansar, this might be the first of a semi-regular piece in this blog.

If I have missed anything on import, my apologies; running back and forth through numerous articles, transcripts and videos tends to get a little eye and mind-boggling after a while!

Team Size

Around 40 people were working on Sansar at any given time as of March 2015, of whom 30 are programmers / engineers [1] [2]. In June 2014, with a headcount of approximately 180, the Lab announced it would be recruiting 40-50 staff specifically to work on Sansar [3]. As of June 2015, the Lab’s total headcount was around 213 [4].

Approximate Timescales

  • Closed alpha testing, initially involving content creators selected by the Lab with expertise in Maya, to commence in July 2015 [5] [6].
  • These creators will not only (or necessarily) be drawn from Second Life [7].
  • Testing and access will gradually expand to involve a broader audience and more tools [5].
  • A public beta is then planned for 2016, with a “version 1” possibly ready by the end of 2016 [4].

Content Creation – Tools / Capabilities

The content focus for Sansar is mesh, but not exclusively mesh [14].

Sansar will initially utilise Maya for testing [5] [6], however the plan is for the platform to support many external content creation tools such as 3D Max, Sketchup [5]. and Blender [8] and others. The support file formats will include (but not necessarily limited to) OBJ and FBX [6]. The scripting language for Sansar will be C# [6] [9].

Sansar will support a range of third-party content creation tools
Sansar will support a range of third-party content creation tools

Sansar will support advanced materials with spec, smoothness, “metalness” and normal maps [10]. Substances will be supported [11],but no decision has been made on supporting Allegorithmic’s products [12]. Displacement maps will be supported [13].

In-world building tools will be made available in time with people able to share in collaborative building, and in-world building might be voxel-based [14], although the Lab is still experimenting with this[13].

All objects in Sansar will be fully scriptable and animated; it is not clear whether on-the-fly modifications to mesh items in-world will be possible [14]. Sansar will include a full “professional” (in terms of its capabilities not in the need for people to have to be professional animators in order to use it) animation system, overlaid with additional capabilities  / code directly from the Lab [14].

The Lab is aware that Sansar needs to be highly performant, and so is looking at ways to optimise user-generated content [15].

Avatars

Avatars with Sansar will have a far more complex skeletal system than for SL[16]. Overall, the aim is to support very complex avatars with arbitrary numbers of limbs, etc., but this is still at least a year away from being ready [17].

Land

Sansar is not being viewed as a contiguous world space in the manner of Second Life [18].

“Land” within the platform has a very different meaning to that of Second Life (“space” appears to the preferred term with the Lab). It will not be constrained in terms of a physical area; spaces in Sansar can be arbitrarily large, the limitation being what can be placed on / in an experience, not the physical area it can occupy (although there is a theoretical physical limit to how big “land” can be[19].

Users will be provided with some space on joining Sansar [14]. What this will be and the content limitations placed on it are not clear at this time.

There are no plans for a Sansar "mainland" to be provided by LL. However, it should be possible to create experiences within Sansar which might equate to an SL mainland-style experience
There are no plans for a Sansar “mainland” to be provided by LL. However, it should be possible to create experiences within Sansar which might equate to an SL mainland-style experience

It is not currently planned for Sansar to have anything analogous to Second Life’s Mainland, but very large experiences can be built and there will be the potential to interconnect them, potentially allowing public ‘hubs’ around themes, interests, and communities to arise [20]. How avatars will move between experiences is still TBD. A gateway mechanism has been under consideration[18], with the aim of keeping the immersive experience as alive as possible [21].

If someone wanted to create a virtual experience as large-scale and varied as all of SL today, they should be able to accomplish that with Project Sansar (cost, doubtless, allowing!) [6].

Access and Accounts

Sansar will be accessible from 13+ on up [22]. Safeguards will be in place to ensure younger users do not encounter content not suitable to their age [2] [23].

Creators will have greater control in how they bring users directly into their experiences. The aim is to make discovery easier, and not necessarily led by the Lab’s “brand” for the platform (as is the case with Second Life) [24]. This potentially makes it easier for experiences to be directly branded [25]. In support of this, third-party authentication and access control to experiences is being built-in to the foundation of the next generation platform, which should help organisations to manage access to their experiences using tools already at their disposal [18].

Sansar will operate a “master account” system [14] [18], allowing users to operate multiple “personas” (e.g. avatars) under it, sharing inventory and account balances between them [26].

It is unlikely that Sansar will support last name / first name format from SL, but will offer a “display name” style approach [26], However, there will be a period of time when Second Life users will be offered the opportunity to create a master account based on their Second Life avatar name [27].

Sansar featured heavily in the Q&A discussion with Ebbe Altberg at SL12B
Sansar featured heavily in the Q&A discussion with Ebbe Altberg at SL12B

Trust

Users’ abilities in Sansar will be built on the basis of trust. While all users will be able to have as much anonymity as they wish, the more information that is provided to Linden Lab – be it wallet identity, a verified e-mail address or payment information – the greater the degree to which a user can participate in the platform. However, the exact relationship between platform capabilities awarded, and the information users will be asked to provide in order to access them, is still being determined [14].

Continue reading “The Sansar Summary – July 2015”