I had the opportunity today to review what was said by Intel CEO Brian Krzanich at the CES 2018 keynote speech. At the point in his presentation when Brian begins to talk about Sansar, I found this statement to be both interesting and actually quite revealing: “We worked with Linden Labs to create a visual and sound experience that completely bridges the real and virtual worlds.”
I often find myself reading words into what was not said. The implication is that real and virtual can be bridged by just visual and sound. What was not included in this was anything related to physics or kinetics. I just think that his use of the word “completely” goes too far. I also think that the point in the keynote presentation when they walked back stage was prerecorded. It is an old magician’s trick. The art of illusion. It simply could not have been done live.
The reality of what was presented by Brian Krzanich is that this is entirely a step forward in entertainment for audiences just like motion pictures has done for more than 129 years. It is unlikely to ever achieve what I am hoping for. And that is the accurate modeling of a simulated physical world that includes the interaction between the avatar and virtual representations of the built environment such as the buildings and public spaces we all inhabit.
To test my suspicions, I visited the Intel experience in Sansar that represented the Intel booth at CES. I met one Intel representative who was in VR and we chatted briefly before he had to leave because his shift was over. I asked him about the space on the upper level that was an enclosed room with a glass door. There was no way to open this door and enter the room. The sum total of the presentation was a brief audio statement in a female voice. Currently, we can do this with a website or an online video. Walking around a convention booth and interactive via voice is one step further down the path, but it is simply entertainment that lacks substance. It is smoke and mirrors.
The hills in life are the high points and the valleys are the low points. This is also true in a virtual world.
Will We Ever Achieve The Reality of Virtual Reality?
There are day when I feel like Sansar is in a valley. I even think it is a very deep valley with little hope of climbing the slope to get to the crest of a nearby hill. Perhaps the hill is further away than I realize.
Sansar defines which hills they will climb. They recently updated their viewer and called it the Fashion Release. That could be a significant hill to climb as it creates a place where creators and Linden Lab will generate revenue through consumer markets.
Sansar is betting on the larger audience of visual consumers to build their user base. They are not showing favor to the technical creators. They have chosen content creators who are digital artists and they have chosen the visual impact of VR to sustain them. The content creators will now have a significant revenue stream from the Sansar Store. And, by extension, Sansar will begin to earn money. When Linden Lab will reach their break-even point is no ones guess. Right now, I am sure that “break-even” and ultimately profitability is the holy grail of VR.
And, where does that leave the technicians? Am I just a technocrat who has been blunted by what could never be done in Second Life? Am I overly concerned that Linden Lab will never truly achieve the technical expectations that I feel are vital to achieving the “Reality” half of Virtual Reality? Am I overly concerned that Linden Lab has a very limited interest in anything other than the visual?
Physics in VR
Here are just a few of the ingredients missing from Sansar:
- Avatar Velocity – It is argued to be too slow, and others say it is too fast. The issue right now is that every avatar walks at the same ground speed.
- Stepping Height – How high a step can an avatar navigate.
- Slope Navigation – It is very different to walk up a slope in real life than it is in VR, and Sansar has not got it right yet.
- Walking Animation – Humans walk with different strides and it is not simply dependent on our leg length. Bio-mechanics and emotional motivation are factors that determine what our walking stride looks like to the observer, and what it feels like to us. If there are no observers watching us, we would not need avatars. We could just have a viewer to look in on the scenes created by artists. But what the observers see is everyone walking at the same gate, and as mentioned about at the same speed.
- Gravity Control – We will never feel the complete experience of walking on the moon or floating in outer space if we are unable to control gravity. We need control over gravity or some might call it buoyancy to properly simulate swimming under water which is currently impossible to simulate with any degree of believability.
- Avatar Collision Boxes – How our avatars collide with other avatars and objects is very inaccurate. We cannot walk through a physical doorway in Sansar that is quite common in real life because our avatar collision mesh is wider than our avatar. I believe this is to prevent us from becoming disoriented while using a VR headset. And we respect each others personal space in our real lives differently that we avoid near collisions with doors, walls, and other obstacles. perhaps Sansar needs to employ two different collision boxes. One for avatar collisions and one for object that the avatar will collide with. The male avatar can however walk through a door opening that has a header low enough to slice through his head. This could be uncomfortable in RL so we would avoid it. So, if the collision box is wider that our avatar, why is it not also taller than the male avatar? In fact, the male and female avatar collision box is exactly the same size. This is an obvious oversight by the developers of Sansar.
The Hard Shell of the Nut
Let’s look at the feature requests on the Sansar Forum. Go ahead. Take a look. You will find about 480 requests or “posts”. A few of these posts are duplicates, or they are so similar that they will result in the same feature when Linden Lab implements them. I have been reading them from the first to the last. A few posts we could call void because the functionality is or was already in Sansar. There are not many of those. And only a couple of posts are marked as Completed. The Sansar Team driving the bus has not been using the forum as much as the creators have.
Have you voted?
When the creators vote either up or down, this give all the readers of the post an idea of the priority that creators place of the subject of the post. If you want to add your own voice to the conversation, you might write a few words in the comments, but that is your choice. At least vote for the ones that are of interest to you. You can ever sort the posts based on the number of votes.
Imagine taking a trip on a tour bus and the driver is being bombarded by a bunch of rowdy people on the bus shouting at him to “turn here, go there, hurry up.” They all got on the bus thinking it would take them for a nice ride to Virtual Reality. And the Feature Requests area of the Sansar Forum is like the Public Address system on the bus. The bus driver should use it constantly to keep the passengers informed of what is coming up on the road ahead.
By my own count, there are about 480 feature requests as of 9/17/17 and they are generally features that are by and for creators. But if you look at the top four vote-getters that have 10 or more votes, three of them are related to the social aspect of Sansar like: How Many Avatars In An Experience, Party Option To Avoid Instantiation, and Search In The People App. And look at the age of those requests. Three of the four are over Seven months old.
A hard case surrounding the kernel of nutritional help inside.
The hard shell of the nut. In spite of the tools available to Linden Lab in the Zendesk Forum, the posts and all the interest in them by the creators have no value when the tools are not being used. I filtered by Planned and Not Planned. Nothing is marked either way. Then I filtered for No Status and nearly all of the posts have not been marked with any status. There might not be so much interest in a road map if the Zendesk application was receiving more attention than it is. What is so hard about clicking a couple times to assign a status? Surely someone at linden lab know where we are going. After all, whenever we have meetings in an experience, the often heard request from the Sansar Team is that we should submit a feature request on the Forum.
Now, Get Out and Vote!
The highest vote-getter of the 480 posts has only 13 votes. This indicates lack of participation from the creators. So, using the Zendesk Forum to its fullest is a shared responsibility. We have to start somewhere to crack through the hard outer shell and get to the nutmeat inside. Voting for the posts that are the most important to us is the fasted way to get a Partial Roadmap using the tools we already have.
Written later… a Postscript
There are 135 Feature Requests that have no votes at all. So, the original author has not voted for his own feature request. We all have to get behind our own ideas and promote them by voting for them. Have you voted for your requests?
We have all become familiar with the fundamental orientation of the X,Y, and Z axis in Sansar. So there should be no need to review this for experienced creators. And when a fellow creator becomes disoriented in relation to the three dimensional axis, many of us are generous with our time and try to help the other creators. I was recently helped by someone on a simple Blender issue who kindly said: “…everyone needs a 2nd pair of eyes sometimes.”
This article is about how official documentation from the Sansar team differs from the help we receive from each other. The community help is best suited for when we cannot see something that others have seen before. We first look for the answer where we intuitively think it should be and keep looking till we think that asking for help is the best solution. Thank you to all those creators who help each other. The need for official documentation is something different.
Library? Or Books on Shelves?
The Knowledge Base for Sansar creators is often referred by that name but there is no sign over the door. It is like a building with books in it that is available to the public with a confusing sign over the door that reads: “Books on Shelves” We thought the place was a Public Library, but they thought it needed a fresh way to describe it.
The Sansar Chimera
Sansar seems to think that their Knowledge Base should be placed on an even footing with the Community Forum. Actually it is reversed. When you read the header of the Official Sansar Help Page it says this: Sansar | Help – Support, Community Forums, and Knowledge Base. So the knowledge Base is listed second of the two. And the part that is relevant to creators is not called the Knowledge Base, but its heading is written: Creating in Sansar. Are you confused yet? There is no Sansar Knowledge Base.
The need for documentation that comes directly from Sansar is vital. They are the arbiter of how we are given the facts. Their documentation should have no grey areas or room for interpretation. The official Sansar documentation should be robust and rock solid. With official documentation, everyone gets equal access to it from the beginning of their entry into Sansar.
I appreciate help from other creators. Thank you! But a well written document from Sansar that is clearly labeled “Knowledge Base” will reduce the need for helping each other and make creating in Sansar more like fun.
In the latest Sansar update that was pushed out on 9-8-17, Linden Lab succeeded in breaking a number of things. Scripts that had worked in the past no longer work. Some creators reported objects in their experiences had moved while other objects stayed in place. And other creators reported that nothing had moved. Several people had issues getting into their experiences. One person had texture upload issues.
And the heart of this post is less about what got broken or the bugs in the new features as it is about what has changed in the Knowledge Base that is used by creators.
Going Going Gone
There should be no reason for creators to search for documentation and find that it at some unknown time has disappeared . One of the most challenging discoveries is to find that links which have lead you to an asset (in this case two scripts) changed and the things they had previously linked to are now Gone. POOF. Unavailable. We rely on going back to previous articles to retrace our steps and look for things that we have seen there in the past.
This was the case with the article about configuring the teleport scrips. There had been links to two teleport scripts and now the links simply point down the page to a part of the post on that subject. The two teleport sample scripts cannot be found anywhere in the Knowledge Base.
Where is the Library?
In the bug report on this issue, OldVamp writes that the scripts are gone. The title of his bug report is “Library scripts are gone“. I think the key issue here is that there is no library. There is a short list of Sample Scripts in Sansar but the two teleport scripts were never there in the first place. We should all lobby for a more robust Script Library that includes well written examples that we can all learn from.
This is where we need your help
Even if you do not plan to do any of your own scripting, you can create requests for features that other creators need. The more feature requests for the same or similar features will hopefully influence Linden Lab to respond to our needs. Write feature requests for a robust Script Library in your own words.
Is Tangent Space really necessary?
Little things are seldom documented in the Sansar Release Notes. And searching old release notes is quite time consuming. Also, some things get into a minor update and they too are not consistently documented.
The Sansar documentation will grow stale when changes are made to the program and the updates are pushed out and the documentation is not done for days or weeks.
One recent change came to light when I asked if the export from Blender still required the Tangent Space be selected in the export panel:
The answer came back to me from David who wrote: “We have also been told that it is no longer needed. If tangents and binormals information is needed and is not present there will be a problem with the model appearance on upload. This will cause a problem with the shader. You can read about tangents and binormals online. For example: https://gamedev.stackexchange.com/questions/51399/what-are-normal-tangent-and-binormal-vectors-and-how-are-they-used If the converter can get vector cross products across the entire mesh then it has all the info it needs.
So, I took that as a “no longer needed.”
Asking for Documentation
When items such as these come to light, the best we can do is request an update to the documentation. Everyone can help out on this topic by writing requests for documentation here. (They just call it “Documentation” when you get to that page.) I would think it would be called something like: Documentation Requests, but Linden Lab must have held that focus group without me. The odd thing is that this link goes to a subsection of “Community”. So do not look for it under the Knowledge Base which is where I instinctively looked for it. And that is if you can find the Knowledge Base.
The Knowledge Base
Do not search for a “Knowledge Base”. The part that is mostly the Knowledge Base is on the left half of this page which also include the right half where you find the “Community Forum“. And note that the Knowledge Base comes in two flavors. To find the creators flavor of knowledge called Creating in Sansar, scroll down below the section dedicated to the flavor that is meant for visitors called Exploring in Sansar.
I recently had a short conversation with a fellow creator and the topic turned to tutorials. I think that all creators have relied on tutorials as a way to learn their craft. Some of our best creators have been working with computer graphics for several years. But there are many creators who are just now joining the ranks of the creative community and need some good tutorials. And that got me to thinking that we should give awards to those who develop high quality tutorial.
And that is when I uttered this: Maybe we should start (and all join) the Academy of Virtual Reality Arts and Science and give out an annual (or quarterly) “Lindie”.
I often let my ideas stew for a while before I test them out on the general population in Second Life or Sansar. But now I am ready to open the dialog and see what you think.
Linden Lab has created contests and offered some really nice prizes for creators in an effort to prime the pump and get the waters of creativity flowing. Even with the limited tools that are currently available in the Creators Open Beta of Sansar, we are seeing some really exceptional creations and experiences.
At some point Linden Lab with stop offering prizes and that is when the creators who toil in this medium should step forward and recognize the best among us.
Would you support and participate in The Academy of Virtual Reality Arts and Science?
Your comments are welcome.
Here is a link to the AVRAS website: https://ethoserlanger.wixsite.com/website