The Sansar Newsblog Has Changed Its Name to RyanSchultz.com

The SansarNewsblogis now

I have decided that I’m not going to wait for Linden Lab to issue brand guidelines for Sansar. I am rebranding the Sansar Newsblog under my own name. (I’ve held the domain name for well over a decade, and this is the perfect place to finally use it!)

All of the old blogposts are still searchable and accessible, and almost all the Sansar-related blogposts have been tagged with the tag “Sansar” to make them easier to find. All the old URLs should still work as before.

Along with the new name comes a new focus. I will no longer be focusing near-exclusively on Sansar in this blog. Instead, I will be expanding my coverage to provide “News and Views on Social VR, Virtual Worlds, and the Metaverse”, as my new blog tagline now states. Platforms covered will include, but not be limited to:

Note that I do not plan to write much about Second Life and its many Opensim-based spin-offs; there are already over a thousand avid bloggers who do an excellent job of that! I plan to focus on the newer platforms, especially those that support virtual reality.

I will be closing the Facebook and Google+ groups I created for the Sansar Newsblog, and creating new groups for this rebranded blog.

Philip Rosedale Schools a Decentraland Promoter

The level of hype over blockchain-based virtual worlds in general, and Decentraland in particular, never fails to amaze and amuse me. Sansar user Theanine alerted me to this gem of a tweet by Barry Silbert, who appears to be a cryptocurrency cheerleader, and the absolutely perfect response from High Fidelity’s Philip Rosedale:

Decentraland Hype vs Reality 23 Feb 2018

Damn! Barry got told. And Philip is right; High Fidelity is well ahead of Decentraland.

It would appear that Barry is quoting directly from this rather strange article from WT VOX, titled Fashion For Digital Self – VR Environments For Self Identity Congruence. Here’s the quote in full:

Decentraland comes closest to the ‘Ready Player One’ virtual reality. Its advanced VR platform is powered by Ethereum’s blockchain and lets users create raw materials, construct buildings, objects, enjoy experiences, exchange goods and communicate. Even more, in Decentraland’s virtual reality world users can monetize content, such as goods, experiences, services and more complex applications.

What? WHAT?!?? Right now investors in Decentraland can’t do ANY of those things! You can’t even set foot in Decentraland right now!

Social VR: What’s Wrong with Facebook Spaces and vTime

So, what do I consider to be true social VR?

If you do a Google search for the phrase “social VR”, you get websites for the following four products within the very first page of search results:

I have blogged about AltspaceVR and VRChat before on this blog (click on the links to see my blogposts), but I haven’t really talked about Facebook Spaces and vTime before. It’s time to address that, and I’ll explain what I consider to be “true” social VR.

Facebook Spaces 23 Feb 2018

Frankly, I am still rather mystified as to why Facebook released Facebook Spaces. I can only assume that they felt some pressure to release something to market.

What the product currently offers is not terribly impressive. Your avatar is basically locked in place at a round table in a parklike setting, where you can invite other Facebook Spaces users to join you at the table to chat, share photos and videos, draw in midair, go ice-fishing, etc. But there’s not really a lot to do. Now, you could argue that there’s not a lot to do in Sansar, High Fidelity, and Sinespace either, but at least you can move around in a three-dimensional space! You can easily break off into side conversations, for instance. You can explore.

I also have a problem with the cartoony avatars in Facebook Spaces. This was actually a deliberate design decision:

Facebook’s head of social VR, Rachel Franklin, told Business Insider that the decision was down to a phenomenon called the “uncanny valley”.

This is where a robot or avatar looks very like a real human, but not quite. And the effect is so unsettling that it makes you feel ill, or even scared.

“If we go too realistic at this stage, there’s the risk of uncanny valley,” she said. “When it’s almost realistic and just off enough that, instead of paying attention to you and having an experience where I’m talking to you, I’m thinking how [your avatar] doesn’t look like you, and how it’s not quite your mouth.”

Uhh, sorry, Rachel, but I think it’s more distracting that your avatar looks like a bad cartoon. And I’ve never yet met anyone who has felt ill or scared just by how an avatar looks. I’m not buying it. You just decided to go with something quick and dirty to rush a product out the door. Facebook Spaces avatars remind me of the ones in AltspaceVR.

Facebook/Oculus has the potential to become the 900-lb. gorilla or social VR/virtual worlds, leveraging off their already-two-billion-plus installed user base in products like Facebook and Instagram. But with all the money that Facebook has, and with Oculus VR hardware a key part of their company, Facebook Spaces is the best that they could do? Really?!?? Facebook must have something else up their sleeve. I refuse to believe that Facebook Spaces is the only social VR product they have planned.

But the biggest problem I have with Facebook Spaces is that most people using it don’t have anyone else to connect with! For example, I am (with one exception) the only person in my entire social circle who owns a VR headset. So what’s the point of using it at all? You do have the option to video call friends without VR headsets via Facebook Messenger from within Facebook Spaces. But really, who is actually going to do that over using Messenger on your phone? I’m going to go put on my VR headset to call someone on Messenger? I don’t think so.

Like Facebook Spaces, vTime is a social VR app which also locks your avatar in place. You can’t move around at all, you are glued to your seat. However, it does have an advantage over Facebook Spaces in that you can at least select an environment in which you and up to three other avatars can chat, everything from a romantic tropical beach to a rainy Chinatown rooftop.

vTime 23 Feb 2018.png

If you are using vTime, both you and the people you want to chat with have to have the vTime software installed, and you need to have a VR headset (they just announced support for the Windows Mixed Reality headsets). And there’s still not very many people who have the hardware to do this, yet. So they have the same problem as Facebook Spaces. Who do you talk with? Usually, it’s strangers who happen to be logged into vTime at the same time you are.

Now, you might say that all social VR spaces have this problem. But what Sansar, High Fidelity, and VRChat offer is an opportunity to let both VR and desktop (non-VR) users connect, in three-dimensional virtual worlds that you can actually move around in. And that’s what I consider true social VR. What’s the point of using a VR headset and being in an immersive, three-dimensional environment at all, if you’re just going to be locked into one place? 

Sansar Pick of the Day: Stereopixel Arcade

My self-imposed hiatus from Sansar meant that a number of new experiences popped up while I wasn’t paying much attention. One of them was a wonderfully nostalgic experience by Theanine, called Stereopixel Arcade. It makes extensive use of stereographic 3D media surfaces, which allows you to embed three-dimensional pictures and video in objects. (You can see an excellent example of a stereographic media surface at the Sansar Studios Creator Academy: The Hall of Materials experience.)

Note that the 3D effect is only visible if you are in a VR headset; if you are using Sansar on the desktop (non-VR), you won’t get the same stereographic effect.

If you loved and played 1980s video games, you’ll enjoy a retro trip to the Stereopixel Arcade! All the classics are represented in a recreation of an Eighties video game arcade: the Legend of Zelda, Pokémon, Dragon Quest, Metroid, Final Fantasy, and of course, Super Mario!

Stereopixel Arcade 1 23 Feb 2018.png

There’s also a disco dancefloor in day-glo colours, right next to a supersized, old-time Nintendo entertainment system:

Stereopixel Arcade 2 23 Feb 2018.png

If you’re pining for a return to the Eighties, be sure to pay Stereopixel Arcade a visit!

My Cross-Posting Policy for RyanSchultz.com

thomas-lefebvre-3950-unsplash.jpg
Photo by Thomas Lefebvre on Unsplash

Since I launched the Sansar Newsblog (now RyanSchultz.com) on July 31st, 2017, I’ve received a certain amount of negative feedback from certain quarters for cross-posting blogposts to other places, notably SLUniverse and the official Second Life user forums. Some people have accused me of grandstanding and shameless self-promotion!

This is a new blog with a small readership, and I may have been somewhat overzealous in cross-posting blogposts in an effort to promote the blog. If anyone has been offended by this, I do apologize. I think it’s time to set some policy on what I will (and won’t) do going forward with respect to cross-posting blogposts from RyanSchultz.com.

I will no longer cross-post RyanSchultz.com blogposts to any forum or group which is primarily about Second Life. Lesson learned! Put your torches, your tar and feathers, and your pitchforks away!

I will cross-post all RyanSchultz.com blogposts to the Facebook and Google+ groups specifically created for that purpose. (I do get a lot of traffic to the blog from Facebook.) People can choose whether or not to join those groups as they wish. I will also cross-post all Sansar-related items and selected non-Sansar items to the Sansar and 114 Harvest Facebook groups (Drax moderates the latter group and he decides what actually gets posted there).

I will cross-post selected RyanSchultz.com blogposts to the following eight Facebook groups:

I will cross-post selected RyanSchultz.com blogposts to the following four Google+ communities:

I will cross-post selected pictures from RyanSchultz.com to my Flickr feed, with a link back to the blogpost it was used in, and add Sansar-related pictures to the following four Flickr groups:

I will also cross-post all Sansar-related items to the #Sansar channel on the official Sansar Discord server, at least for the next twelve months, in order to promote the blog. I will also cross-post some blogposts about other virtual worlds and social VR apps to the #OffTopic channel, for at least the next twelve months. After a year I will reassess this policy and decide whether or not to continue. I do know that some people don’t like that I post about non-Sansar stuff on the Sansar Discord channels at all, but Linden Lab CEO Ebbe Altberg has said he doesn’t mind, and I think that it fits in the #OffTopic channel. (It’s not unusual to talk about and compare features in the various virtual worlds in most user forums.) And the only person who has ever complained about me cross-posting Sansar-related blogposts on the official Sansar Discord channel is Gindipple, so I assume everybody else doesn’t really mind.

I will cross-post VRChat-related blogposts to various VRChat Discord channels, at least for the next twelve months. I am now on the VRChat Events Discord server, which is a great way to find out when regularly scheduled events take place on the platform! Much less traffic than the regular VRChat Discord server, which is like trying to drink from a firehose! (They have over 12,000 people signed on at any given time!)

I will also cross-post Sinespace-related blogposts to the Sinespace user forums and to the Sinespace Discord server, at least for the next twelve months. (I can’t seem to generate a link to join the Sinespace Discord server; ask on their user forums for the link to join.)

I will cross-post High Fidelity-related blogposts to the High Fidelity user forums, at least for the next twelve months.

I will cross-post Decentraland-related blogposts to the Decentraland chat server.

I will cross-post selected RyanSchultz.com blogposts to the following eight subReddits (I actually do get a surprising amount of traffic from Reddit, it’s usually second in referrals  after Facebook):

Those are all the places I usually cross-post. Hopefully, you’ll find some new places to explore using all these links!

Easy Sansar Content Creation Using Microsoft Windows Paint 3D and Blender

Several months ago I wrote about using Microsoft Windows 10’s Paint 3D program to create content for Sansar. Using Paint 3D is so easy that a child could use it to create great-looking three-dimensional content! But unfortunately, there were some problems with importing linked objects from Paint 3D into Sansar, as well as with the huge size of the imported objects.

Draxtor Despres and Vassay have worked together to create this YouTube tutorial video which explains how to use the free Blender software to fix the problems in mesh content created using Paint 3D. Drax and Vassay used this workflow to create the fun and funky content you can see in Drax’s experience, called Meet the Draxies. It’s got a wonderful cartoon-like feeling to it, which is actually very easy to recreate!

Basically, there are six steps to using Blender to fix your Paint 3D-created mesh object:

  1. Import the FBX-format file you got from Paint 3D;
  2. Rescale the object (to fix any potential size problems in the object);
  3. Decimate each part of the object (to cut down on the number of polygons in your object);
  4. Set the normals of each part of the object using the Set From Faces feature;
  5. Create UVs for each part of the object using the automatic Smart UV Project feature;
  6. Select all the parts of your object and export as an FBX-format file.

This is an excellent tutorial video, which takes you through the workflow step-by-step. My only quibble with it is that Drax doesn’t give enough information about the all-important roughness and metalness maps, which you need to include so your Paint 3D-created mesh objects look the way you want them to in your experience. (Linden Lab recently released an update to the Sansar client software, so a lot of mesh objects created before the change now have an unnatural shininess to them.)

So here is a bit more information on the metalness and roughness maps. These are just PNG-format image files, which can be as small as 2×2 pixels in size. You can create them in PhotoShop or GIMP or any graphics program. They are essentially one of the 256 shades of grey between pure black and pure white. Here’s a diagram from OldVamp that shows what an object looks like when you change the metalness and the roughness maps:

Sansar Metalness and Roughness Maps Better

Most of the time, you are going to want to use a white roughness map, and a black metalness map (the ball in the bottom right corner of this diagram). If you want something really shiny, you are going to use a black roughness map and a white metalness map (the ball in the upper left corner of the diagram). You should only use a white metalness when you want a metal object. Here’s another example of roughness and metalness maps, using a brass object:

Sansar roughness metalness brass.png

And there you go!

Medhue’s Animated Animals in Sansar

Medhue, who is well-known in Second Life as a talented creator of animals for Zooby, has brought his animated elephant from SL to Sansar! He’s also brought over an animesh horse he is currently working on in SL. You can visit them at his testing experience in Sansar:

Medhue has told us that he is not going to put products up for sale in the Sansar Store, as his personal protest against what he considers to be the too-high commision fees charged by Linden Lab. However, he has said that he is willing to create tutorial videos for Sansar. He’s already posted ten videos for Sansar creators on his YouTube channel. You can also access Sansar kits, resources, and tutorials on his website.

A Weird Promotional Video for Mark Space

Mark Space is lauded in a very strange video by a YouTube user channel called BuzzStyle, promoting the company’s apartment decoration contest. Jaguar and Land Rover are among the many companies name-dropped in this video as having “cooperation agreements” with Mark Space (whatever that means).

In this promotional video, read from what appears to be a press release by a creepy computerized British male voice, Mark Space is referred to as “VR startup”. As I already noted in a previous blogpost, arranging flat images of furniture within 360-degree photographs is NOT virtual reality! Visit my apartment in Mark Space and see for yourself. That’s all there is to see right now, just 360-degree photographs. No actual 3D spaces.

Why people are investing in this virtual world start-up is a mystery to me. Again, as with Decentraland, it seems to come down to people jumping aboard when they hear the magic word “blockchain”. They’ve already raised a fair bit of cryptocurrency, according to this screen capture from their website:

Mark Space 20 Feb 2018.png

According to this page from their website, Mark Space has already raised over 8 million dollars (US):

Total Raised Mark Space 20 Feb 2018.png

And, unlike Decentraland, Mark Space actually has places you can visit now. But what they are currently offering is not terribly appealing. I don’t get it. I really don’t see what the attraction is here, why people are investing millions of dollars. Compared to what virtual worlds like Sansar, High Fidelity and even 14-year-old Second Life has to offer, this is a product of questionable utility. How are the trendy boutiques in the Mark Space demo any better than a fully-featured website using Shopify?

Mark Space is another blockchain-based virtual world to watch, from the sidelines, as it evolves over time. I wish them well, but like Decentraland, I predict a bumpy road ahead.