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.

Sansar Pick of the Day: HoverDerby

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Daisy Gator Standing in Front of the HoverDerby Welcome Sign

A common complaint I hear about Sansar is that it’s pretty, but there isn’t a lot to do yet. Experiences like HoverDerby (put together by Galen, Jasmine, and Drax) are going a long way to counteract the suggestion that there isn’t anything to do in Sansar! It’s the first competitive team sport in Sansar (well, if you don’t count the 5-A-Side Soccer Stadium) and it’s great fun to play, or even to watch!

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Watching a Two-on-Two HoverDerby Match

HoverDerby is still in beta; Galen and Jasmine are still working on it, but it is already playable. The game is pretty simple. Step on one of the red or blue teleporter pads to join a team (red or blue) and get onto the playing field.

You hover around the field, using the triggers on your hand controllers to fire at the other team members (if you’re in desktop mode, press the Spacebar or the F key to fire). If you hit your opponents, they can no longer fire at you or anybody else, and they have to get back to their circle of safety before they can fire again. The navigation takes a little getting used to, but you quickly get the hang of it.

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Matches last five minutes. The team that has captured the most opponents wins (in case of a tie, the next capture decides who is the winner).

Note that you do not need to have a VR headset to play HoverDerby; can also play in desktop mode as well as in VR. Full instructions are on the board next to the blue and red teleporters.

Every weekday morning at 9:00 a.m. Pacific Time/Sansar Time, a group gathers at HoverDerby to practice their game. Drax sometimes livestreams the games too. Hope to see you there soon! As I said, it’s great fun!

UPDATE 1:41 p.m.: Turns out there is already a website for HoverDerby!

AltspaceVR: A Brief Introduction

Nobody was more surprised than I was when Microsoft stepped in at the last minute to save AltspaceVR. Most people assumed the virtual world was doomed when they announced last July that they had run out of money. But obviously, Microsoft felt that the product was worth saving, as their potential foot in the door in the increasingly crowded room of social VR apps. God knows they have enough money to do something interesting with it. God knows AltspaceVR needs someone to pour money into it.

AltspaceVR is a California-based company which was founded in 2013, and which launched its social VR application in May 2015. So they’ve been around for a while now.

My biggest problem with AltspaceVR is the platform’s avatars. They are dreadfully cartoony. I can only assume that they made this deliberate design decision so the avatars are very quick and easy to render on a platform that supports not only the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive headsets, but also Google Daydream, Samsung Gear VR, and the numerous Windows Mixed Reality headsets, plus Windows computer desktop users. But I find them to be butt-ugly, and terribly unappealing. Let’s hope Microsoft has plans to upgrade them.

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I personally found it extremely funny that Microsoft felt they had to tart up the default AltspaceVR avatars in the following promotional video titled “Ushering in the era of Windows Mixed Reality”, issued in October 2017, shortly after they bought AltspaceVR.

If you click on the following YouTube video, it should start around the 15:40 minute mark, which is where the AltspaceVR segment occurs. I can assure you that the avatars used in this Microsoft promotional video were ones with completely redesigned and customized heads, which are NOT available to current AltspaceVR users! User avatar customization options in AltspaceVR are very limited, still. Truth in advertising, hmmm…

There are a few interesting regular events happening in AltspaceVR, notably VR Church, an initiative launched by Pastor D.J. Soto (WIRED article), which I wrote about in an earlier blogpost on religion, spirituality and virtual reality. (SacredVR also holds weekly guided meditation events in AltspaceVR.) Of course, religious events are hardly new to virtual worlds; Second Life has had churches operating almost from the very beginning.

AltspaceVR is worth keeping an eye on, if for no other reason than to see what Microsoft plans to do with their acquisition.

Sinespace: A Brief Introduction

Sinespace is a new virtual world created by a company called Sine Wave Entertainment, whose CEO is Adam Frisby. Adam is a well-known figure in virtual worlds. Before joining Sine Wave Entertainment, he founded the Azure Islands, a community with a peak of 400 regions in Second Life, and DeepThink, a leading virtual world development company. He was also one of the founding developers of OpenSimulator, the popular open source platform used by countless virtual worlds. (I also believe that Sine Wave is the same company which sells avatar animations in Second Life, although I need to confirm this with Adam.)

Sinespace is based on Unity, which is a cross-platform game engine used to develop both three-dimensional and two-dimensional video games and simulations. This is a different approach from Sansar, which is building its own engine from scratch.

Here’s a few things you might not know about Sinespace:

  • Sinespace already has cloth physics! Yes, you can wear a skirt which moves as your avatar does. Here’s a short video demonstrating this feature:
  • Sinespace has an experimental VR viewer! Adam let me try it out. Unfortunately, I can’t get it to work properly yet with my Oculus Rift headset. But virtual reality support for Sinespace is coming soon.
  • Like Sansar, Sinespace regions can be quite large. Adam gifted me a dune buggy and I drove endlessly through their Grand Canyon sim! (They also have great vehicle physics.)
  • Sinespace is home to a speaker series called The Delphi Talks, which consist of live interviews and discussions about art, games and stories. Here’s a YouTube playlist of recent Delphi Talks.
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    The site of the Delphi Talks in Sinespace

    To learn more about Sinespace, here’s their user forums, their Facebook, their Twitter, and their Google+ group. Go explore!

Sansar Pick of the Day: Orphanage of Angels

Orphanage of Angels is a new horror Sansar experience created by Sergio Delacruz.

In his description, Sergio sets the scene:

In 1961, in the St. Croce orphanage (Italy) twelve children and five sisters disappeared. Research continued in the institute and surrounding territories for two years, with no results until 1970, when, in a niche of a basement, were found several children’s bones. For that reason, the institute was renamed “Orphanage of Angels”. What happened there?

You start off in a small urban apartment in the present day. There’s a bulletin board on the wall, with old news clippings and photographs of the orphanage. As you approach the door of the apartment, it automatically opens onto a hallway leading to a glowing entrance portal. As you cross it, you are transported to the Orphanage of Angels.

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There is a truly creepy atmosphere in this experience, as you explore the abandoned orphanage, trying to figure out what happened here. The orphanage is dimly lit, and there is a thunderstorm raging outside. Occasionally a lightning flash illuminates the interior.

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One feature that I saw here, that I haven’t yet seen in any other experience, is the clever use of pop-up messages which appear on your screen (or in your VR headset) at certain locations:

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I won’t spoil the experience by giving too much away. Be sure to explore every part of this orphanage, and don’t forget the basement! This is a very well-done, atmospheric experience and Sergio is to be commended for this work in pulling all this together. The question is: are your nerves up for Orphanage of Angels?

How VRChat is Providing Real Psychological Benefits to Some Users

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Endgame is a long-running talk show set in the social VR application VRChat, where participants discuss the impact of technology on humanity (here’s a list of videos of their show on their YouTube page). The show runs Wednesdays at 7:00 p.m. Pacific Time. It’s a great example of how VRChat, often derided for its overall levels of anarchy and jackassery, actually can provide safe spaces where people can have mature conversations, connect with each other in a meaningful way, and develop real psychological benefits.

This YouTube video is a compilation of stories demonstrating the profound psychological changes that can occur when people immerse themselves in social VR experiences. The compilation was created by Noah (a.k.a. Psych), one of the three regular hosts of Endgame, who is currently getting his Ph.D. in clinical psychology. It is highly recommended viewing!

Why Women Don’t Like Social VR: Interview with Jessica Outlaw

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Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash

Enrico Speranza in my RyanSchultz.com Facebook group alerted me to a very interesting podcast put out by ResearchVR, who describe themselves as follows:

We are three Cognitive Scientists discussing Virtual Reality and Cognitive Research, Industry News, and Design Implications! We actively research different aspects of the field, and are involved in various companies related to the topic of VR. With this podcast, we hope to use our commentary to bridge the gap between news and established science. We break down complex topics, discuss the current trends and their economical impacts, and broadcast our views on VR.

The podcast episode in question was an in-depth, 1 hour 15 minute interview with Jessica Outlaw:

Behavioral Scientist Jessica Outlaw is an outspoken Social Scientist in the field of VR User Experience Design. She recently published an Inductive Qualitative study with Beth Duckles, PhD about the experiences of “Millennial, tech-savvy women” in Social VR applications (Altspace, High Fidelity, Facebook Spaces, etc).

In this episode, we talk embodied cognition, implicit biases, gender differences in social behavior and navigation in an unfamiliar environment, as well as the questions the paper raises up about inclusivity and approachability in design.

This is a long, wide-ranging interview touching on a lot of topics. Of particular note is what Jessica has to say about her research on women’s experiences in social VR applications. She wanted to know what tech-savvy younger women, new to social VR, had to say about their experiences.

Most of them found the social dynamics to be very disconcerting. The women had no idea what the social norms and expectations were in the social VR experiences they visited over a thirty-minute period (Rec Room, AltspaceVR, Facebook Spaces). Many women felt unsafe; some women felt that their personal spaces were invaded by other avatars. Talking to another person in social VR wasn’t seen as an attractive alternative to other forms of communication.

One of the four recommendations Jessica makes in her research report is that privacy must be the default in social VR applications, for women to feel safe. Another recommendation was to make social VR enticing and fun to do, and let the community form around their interests, as this leads to better behaviour overall.

Near the end of the podcast, Jessica and the ResearchVR co-hosts discuss a recent news story where a woman was harassed in a VR application called QuiVR.

I was also interested to hear that Jessica also did some work on a project for High Fidelity last year, around the question of what makes people feel welcome in an online community, and what’s appealing to people.

Here’s a link to the ResearchVR podcast. And here’s a link to a card series on Medium that outlines Jessica’s research findings, with quotes from the women interviewed. You can also request that Jessica’s full research report be emailed to you at her website.

Jessica also talked about her follow-up study, a user survey where she got over 600 responses. I’ll be very interested to read what she learns from her ongoing social VR research.

Atlas Hopping with Drax and Strawberry, Episode 26!

The theme of today’s Atlas Hopping event was experiences created by novice creators, mostly using items available from the Sansar Store.

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At the Wood Between the Worlds Experience

Today we visited five experiences:

  • Wood Between the Worlds, by Justin Esparza
  • Ai, by Betty Tureaud
  • Bi, by Betty Tureaud (which you can only get to by walking into the giant head on Ai)
  • Ci, by Betty Tureaud (which you can only get to by walking into the cartoon cat on Bi)
  • ECHO, by Jade Serenity (an experience picked at random from the Sansar Atlas by Strawberry and Drax).

I took some pictures of each of the experiences we visited:

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Betty Tureaud’s Ai Experience
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Betty’s Bi Experience
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Betty’s Ci Experience
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Jade Serenity’s ECHO Experience

Here is Drax’s livestream of today’s Atlas Hopping event:

And here is Strawberry’s livestream: