Spending the Day in Decentraland: A First Look and My First Impressions

Early Friday evening (after some helpful technical troubleshooting from Sam Hamilton, a.k.a. toonpunk) I was among the first wave of visitors to finally—finally—set foot in the blockchain-based virtual world Decentraland! I spent a good couple of hours exploring, and I wanted to share my first impressions, as well as some pictures and videos, since I know so many of you have been eagerly awaiting your own invitations!

Near the Central Spawn Point

Decentraland (DCL for short) is slowly letting in successive waves of beta testers in a closed beta test period that will last for several weeks, until most of the initial bugs are identified and fixed. After that, there will be an open beta (probably around the time of, or shortly after, the Decentraland SDK Hackathon running September 16th to the 30th).

One bug which I encountered right away was that my initial spawn point was in a river, and no matter what I did, I could not climb the riverbanks onto dry land! However, my official welcome email from toonpunk contained a helpful list of suggested starting places for exploration. (In addition to walking from place to place, DCL has thankfully implemented a teleport feature to take you anywhere within Genesis City, which is the name of their grid.) So I just teleported out of where I was stuck.

The first spot I visited, the Archery Casino, is an in-world game where you you are automatically equipped with a bow (which you can see in the lower part of the image below), and you can purchase arrows for MANA (DCL’s in-world cryptocurrency). Ten arrows cost 10 MANA (approx. US$0.40).

Immediately adjacent to the vending machine where you buy your arrows is a fenced-off area with rabbits and boars leaping around, presumably for you to hunt! Here’s a short video to give you an idea:

One of the boars seems to be just sliding along the ground rather than leaping like the other animals, but that’s a pretty minor animation bug.

When you teleport from place to place, there is a 10-to-20 second loading screen while you wait for the scene to load. You move your avatar around using the WASD or arrow keys, and you can move your camera around using the mouse. For now, you are stuck in a first-person viewpoint, so you cannot see your own avatar (although you can see other avatars in the same space as you). Here’s an example of what a group of avatars looks like in-world (this shot was taken by toonpunk):

Another suggested starting point, called Dapperland, appears to be a collection of monolithic articles of clothing. I’m not sure if these are meant to be display models for gear you can purchase, or perhaps some sort of art installation?

As you can see from the following video, there are already animated characters in some parcels, like this creature patrolling a dark castle interior (when you get too close, he stops and raises his sword):

Even with the low-poly restrictions placed upon content, people have already created some engaging scenes, like this shark swimming along the seafloor:

But there’s also some higher-poly mesh items here and there, too:

And there are rudimentary particle effects, like the rain from this cloud and the smoke from this fire:

As is to be expected for a brand-new virtual world, there is still a lot of empty space that needs to be filled in between the parcels with content:

There’s a definite sense of charm and whimsy about many of the parcels. For example, it’s obvious that someone put a lot of design and coding effort into this game, called Chipassic Park (another suggested starting point):

There’s already some wonderfully landscaped and decorated plazas, such as this one, which blew me away with its oriental aesthetic:

Some clever people are choosing to create gigantic works of art, using various pieces from the drag-and-drop Decentraland Builder app:

So, what do I think overall? Well, I will say this: Decentraland does have potential. There’s a certain charming, Minecraftesque visual appeal to the low-poly construction I see happening all over Genesis City. I suspect that DCL will prove somewhat popular with tourists who want to wander around and look at the sights.

But I do wonder if some of the early crypto investors who piled on during the MANA ICO (Initial Coin Offering) and the two LAND auctions are going to feel bitterly disappointed. What we’ve got at launch is not quite what was presented as possible during this two-year-old promotional video, which inflated expectations among investors:

Many people had such high expectations going into this project that it was inevitable that some would now feel that they’re not getting what was originally promised. For example, some investors had expected Decentraland to support users in virtual reality headsets, as depicted at the start of this video. That’s clearly not going to happen anytime soon. Others had expected much higher-resolution and more realistic-looking environments. I could go on and on.

But I would caution that it’s still early days—extremely early days. People need to understand that Decentraland has had to create some sort of foundation, off of which they can build new features in the future. They have to start somewhere, and they chose to start here.

Decentraland might not be not the first blockchain-based virtual world to launch (Cryptovoxels beat them to it), but they are certainly the biggest and the most ambitious blockchain virtual world project so far. Personally, I feel DCL is actually off to a somewhat promising start. They’re doing much better than I, originally the skeptic, predicted they would do back in February of 2018. And I will certainly be paying very close attention to how this virtual world develops from here on in.

I leave you with some more pictures taken in-world:

Google AdSense Follies (Part III): Success!

Photo by bruce mars on Unsplash

As you know, I have been having some problems with Google AdSense (here and here).

Today I got another automated email message from Google, informing me:

Four pages were reviewed at your request and no policy violations were found on those pages at the time of the review. Ad serving will be restored on these pages and your monthly review limit will be credited.

Hooray! Success! I still don’t know whether or not an actual human being was involved in this process at all, or whether it was all done automatically using computer algorithms. But at least it’s done.

Taking a Look at Current Academic Research on Social Virtual Reality (Part II): Treating Substance Abuse Disorders with VR

ENDGAME is a long-running talkshow set on the social VR platform of VRChat:

Don’t panic! The end is always nigh for the old world. Endgame is a talk show / group discussion that takes place in the Metaverse (the social layer of virtual reality). Its focus is on technology and the future. Change is inevitable for all species; will we eventually destroy ourselves, or are we destined to transcend what we currently are? Get involved in the conversation by joining us every other Wednesday at 7pm PST / 10pm EST in VRChat. Or you can watch our livestream and previous recordings here at our Youtube channel. Come share your thoughts about the future of the world we share together.

One of the three regular hosts of ENDGAME is Noah Robinson (a.k.a. Psych; Twitter; LinkedIn), a clinical psychology doctoral student at Vanderbilt University and the founder and CEO of Very Real Help, a compnay devoted to building a new Internet-based clinical research platform “that can both treat and inform our understanding of psychopathology”.

In a recent episode of ENDGAME, Noah gave an hour-long presentation of his academic research on how social VR could be used in the treatment of people with substance abuse disorders. Here’s a two-minute YouTube video overview of his research:

Noah’s research interest focuses on exploring how VR social networks can be used as telehealth interventions to treat mental health disorders. He stresses that VR will not replace, but rather supplement, in-person therapy, and that there are still not nearly enough counselors to provide services to the millions of people suffering from addictions in the United States and around the world. Especially after getting out of rehab, patients experience a lot of distress and anhedonia, which tends to lead to relapse. Noah suggests that VR may be particularly effective to prevent relapse in patients with substance abuse disorders.

Here is Noah Robinson’s presentation in full:

Although there is already plenty of anecdotal evidence that virtual reality has a positive impact on mental health disorders (including my own personal experience), there is still a strong need to collect and analyze data in well-designed academic research projects. Noah’s research is fascinating and exciting to me, and I look forward to any papers that are published as a result of his pioneering work.

Second Life Steals, Deals, and Freebies: Uber 5th Anniversary

The popular monthly Uber shopping event in Second Life is celebrating its fifth anniversary, and the many vendors participating are giving away free gifts, such as the following simple but beautiful pink ballgown by Storybook:

Here I have paired Storybook’s Briar Rose gown in bubblegum pink with the Bella floral headpiece, a free gift by the Bauhaus Movement from the recent Second Life 16th birthday shopping event. They look as if they were meant to go together!

The Uber event is absolutely jam-packed, so I would recommend that you wait at least a week before you try to get in (you have until August 22nd). In the meantime, watch this unpacking video by Naria Panthar, as she methodically goes through all the gifts available, and you can take notes as to which gifts you want and what stores they are at. I did this and it saved me much valuable time. Thank you, Naria!

As always, in addition to the gown and headpiece, Vanity Fair is wearing: