Two weeks ago, I was given a guided tour of a metaverse platform called RP1 (obviously a reference to the novel and film Ready Player One), conducted by its CEO, Sean Mann.
Heretofore, I have refrained from reporting on RP1 because, well, there’s wasn’t much to report on yet! Much of the work on RP1 has been going on behind the scenes, and the platform I visited this week is still not yet ready to launch. However, what I did see impressed me, and I wanted to share it with you.
(Also a personal note: it is so refreshing to see a project where they are actually putting in the work before launch, as opposed to so many blockchain-based metaverse projects are are simply minting and shilling NFTs, with only vague promises and often misleading concept art! I have written about many such projects in the past on this blog, and it is truly beyond annoying. BUILD SOMETHING WORKING FIRST, people, THEN sell it!)
The first thing that you need to understand about RP1 is that is it a platform built to provide shardless scalability as a service to other metaverse platforms. Picture a concert in a virtual world like Second Life or on a social VR platform like Sansar. In both cases, the size of the audience is constrained by technical limits, In SL, you can only pack about 100 avatars in one sim (which is why event stages are often placed at the intersection of four sims, to allow a larger audience). In Sansar, you can get about 30 avatars into one world; the 31st avatar lands up in a newly-spun-up instance of the world, where they are can watch the same performance as everybody else, but cannot communicate with the avatars on other shards/instances.
What RP1 is planning to offer is a single, shardless world with hundreds and even thousands of avatars in one world. Sean tells me, “We have a phase two demo coming out in a few months with 100,000 avatars in a single 20 square kilometer using just a few computers.” Sean’s goal is to have millions of avatars all sharing one space.
There’s no need to to use portals to move from one instance to another; you can walk around the entire festival grounds, see and hear everybody else, and talk with them! To date, the only metaverse companies that have come close to this ideal are the former High Fidelity social VR platform—which used to regularly host large events with hundreds of avatars in a single world—and Sine Wave Entertainment’s Sinespace platform.
I first met Sean in a lounge high above the cityscape (which was one square kilometre in size), then we teleported down to ground level. The first thing that struck me, walking out into the city, was the sound of countless people talking, the background murmur of indistinct conversations. I was surprised to learn that this sound was not one looping soundtrack, but that it was the collective sound of whichever of the 4,000 avatars nearest to me was saying—a collective sound!
The 4,000 avatars were company-generated bots, of course, something which High Fidelity and Sinespace have also done in the past for their stress testing (since it’s far easier then recruiting 4,000 human volunteers!). The avatars are all gesticulating as if they were in VR headsets, and you can see their arms and mouths move. You can adjust the level of detail of the avatars, with the ones closest to you appearing fully, the ones on the periphery of your vision appearing as blue rectangles in the distance, and the ones beyond your field of view invisible. As an avatar walked by you, the volume of their voice would increase as they approached, and it would fade into the background as they walked away, in spatialized, 3D audio. This is a custom, company-built system of which Sean is quite proud, one which is different from the 3D audio offered by Philip Rosedale’s new, non-social-VR iteration of High Fidelity, which has been implemented in a few metaverse platforms, such as Sine Wave Entertainment’s Breakroom.
With the toggle of a switch, you can mute the background talking so that you can focus on who is speaking to you (in this case, Sean Mann, who was leading the tour). He led me into a clothing store, and as soon as we entered, the sound from the cityscape outside ceased.
Finally, we fly up to a high spot overlooking the city, above an animated sculpture of rotating cubes. I turned my level-of-detail up to level 6, and I could see hundreds of avatars walking around the cityscape! It was pretty impressive. We ended the tour with Sean demonstrating a very simple flay-through-the-hoops game, a demonstration of the the game-building capabilites of the RP1 platform.
I must admit that I came away impressed with the potential for RP1’s platform. Unfortunately, there is as yet no in-world camera, so I could not take pictures to show you here, but I prevailed upon Sean to share an in-world image of his 4,000-avatar testbed, and here it is:
The important thing to remember here is that RP1 is positioning itself as a B2B (business-to-business) service, providing shardless scalability to other companies who wish to build metaverse platforms that can support a large number of simultaneous users. They’re looking for partners, and looking for investors.
I have been waiting a while to write this editorial, but I think the right time has come.
I have been avidly following every twist and turn of the current crypto crash, following various Reddit communities and scouring Google and Apple News for the reports of the latest crypto companies to fail, taking their investors’ money with them. The chain of dominos continues to fall, and nobody can predict where or when this “crypto winter” will end.
In talking about all this, there’s lot of jargon being thrown around which can sometimes be difficult to understand: smart contracts, DeFi, NFTs, DAOs, etc. The following 7-minute YouTube video explains all these and other terms, and I can recommend it highly (and it can serve as a refresher for the rest of you):
From the moment I first began writing about the blockchain-based virtual worlds and social VR platforms (starting with Decentraland, years before they actually opened their doors to the general public), I have been fascinated by the new crop of metaverse projects boasting some blockchain component. These projects seem to split into two kinds:
1. Projects with Non-Fungible Token (NFT)-based virtual real estate (e.g. Decentraland, Cryptovoxels, Somnium Space, The Sandbox). All such projects tend to have their own cryptocurrency (or use Ether, ETH), and offer a marketplace where you can buy and sell other blockchain-based goods, such as avatar wearables.
While examples of the second category are few in number, there has been an explosion of projects announced in the first category over the past couple of years. Many of these projects had hoped to duplicate the success of Decentraland, which had the great good fortune to do an Initial Coin Offering at the absolute perfect time, in 2017 raising US$24 million dollars before ever building a platform.
Decentraland’s successful subsequent virtual land auctions (with their frenzied bidding wars for NFT-based virtual pieces of land called, naturally enough, LAND) also attracted a lot of attention and favourable press. This no doubt encouraged other companies to set up similar schemes in an effort to duplicate that success. Among those that have actually delivered a viable product to date are Cryptovoxels, Somnium Space, and the still-in-alpha/beta-testing-but-soon-to-launch platform The Sandbox. Each of these projects inspired similar bidding frenzies for artificially-scarce NFT-based parcels of virtual real estate, in some cases setting records.
The following charts show just how much the value of the cryptocurrencies associated with just these six projects has tumbled over the past three months (all charts are via the CoinMarketCap website):
And here’s one that really hurts: the surge and plunge in value of Neos Credits (NCR) over the past year. At the moment, project development has come to a near-standstill as the CEO fights against the CTO and the rest of the dev team about the role crypto will play in the NeosVR platform (and the matter will likely land up in court for the lawyers to battle over).
It’s still not clear if NeosVR can recover from this fiasco, which breaks my heart because it has such great technology! I do consider this to be the textbook example of how crypto speculation and greed can cause problems with an otherwise stellar platform; without being hooked to NCR, a cryptocurrency which has as yet has no practical use on the platform, NeosVR would still be doing very well! Instead, it is bleeding investors.
In addition, you can see the clear downward trend in both sales volume and average sale price for the following NFT-based properties over time (all taken from the NFT Stats website). Some seem to be doing a bit better than others, but all are down:
The overall situation is grim, particularly for those who bought cryptocurrencies and NFTs at the height of the market, perhaps expecting to flip them for a quick profit. But, for the countless blockchain-based metaverse projects who hopped on the bandwagon after Decentraland and the other market early movers, the situation is even worse. In many cases, the newer companies expected to raise funds by minting and selling NFTs to investors, often well before anything concrete was built! Examples of such projects include two I have written about earlier this year, Wilder World and VictoriaVR, but there are literally dozens and dozens more such projects, more than I could ever hope to cover in my blog. The prognosis for these newer projects is not looking especially promising, as potential investors head for the hills.
And, sadly, the bullish crypto market also brought out all the scammers who wanted to take advantage of the hothouse atmosphere of crypto investment, accepting money up front for what was essentially vapourware, and then pulling the rug out from under those who had not done their proper due diligence. Greed and FOMO (fear of missing out) drove a lot of ignorant cryptobros to pour money into a lot of projects which, to date, have had little to show for them but a slick website and an active Discord (or Telegram) server where everybody was pumping everybody else up to buy and HODL (hold on for dear life to) their associated crypto and NFT assets.
Some non-financially-savvy people, believing that they were truly on to a sure thing, gambled money they could not afford to lose—their life savings, their retirement funds, even their childrens’ college funds—and have lost everything, or next to everything, in the current bear market, holding near-worthless assets they cannot find anyone to sell to. I keep reading heartbreaking stories in the various subReddits of investors who have lost everything. Many have spoken of suicide, and many Reddit communities have posted resources to support those who are struggling with their mental health as a result of their poor financial decisions.
In the current environment, I believe that any blockchain-based metaverse (or a metaverse platform with an associated cryptocurrency), is going to be in for a very rough ride over the next few months, as governments around the world raise interest rates, and the easy, low-interest credit dries up, and a global recession looms. People are going to retreat to safer investments, fleeing the demonstrably high volatility of crypto and blockchain assets like NFTs. We can expect to see a mass stampede to the exits in some projects, and frankly, not all the blockchain-based metaverse platforms out there will survive.
Belle Epoque is among my favourite womenswear stores in Second Life, featuring modern, fantasy, and historical styles of clothing. And from now until the end of August, the store is once again running a Summer Hunt, offering one-of-a-kind clothing, footwear, and accessories as prizes. Here is the legend of hunt prizes, which cost only L$10 each, a significant discount on the regular price! Some are a new colour or texture on an existing item of womenswear, while others are new designs:
You are looking for a white stuffed cat with blue eyes, as shown below:
The cats can be small or large, and many are stuck within vendor displays, or tucked away in obscure corners of the Belle Epoque store. All the hunt prizes are of the high quality for which the Belle Epoque brand is renowned, and they come in sizes to fit Maitreya Lara or the Meshbody Legacy mesh bodies (please check the legend above for a few items which also come in the Maitreya Petite and Legacy Perky sizes; not everything does). If you have a different brand of mesh body (e.g. Freya, Kupra, etc.), I am afraid you are out of luck! Depending on the garment, you might be able to use the alpha HUD on an Altamura body to get the Maitreya or Legacy items to fit you.
To model these hunt prizes, I have called upon two of my small army of Second Life alts, Moesha Heartsong (Maitreya Lara body) and Lily Pond (Meshbody Legacy body). Yes, I am giving my main avatar, Vanity Fair, the day off! (Also, Vanity already has over 245,000 items in her overstuffed inventory, and I do not need to add to it!)
First up, we have a couple of ballgowns: Moesha is wearing the blue floral patterned Amanda gown (hunt prize #5), while Lily models the pink Allegra gown (#15). Both are quite suitable for your next elegant soirée!
Are ruffles your thing? Then you’ll love these next two dresses. Moesha models the pink Ankara dress (hunt prize #30), and Lily wears the green Juliette dress (#31):
Next up we have two patterned frocks, the more formal but still summery floral Cheryl dress (#8) and the multicoloured polka-dotted Maite summer dress (#20):
These are just six of the 31 hunt prizes, all for only L$10 each—truly a bargain! Remember the Summer Hunt ends on August 31st, 2022. Here’s your taxi to Belle Epoque. Happy hunting!
Overte is open-source software which enables you to create and share virtual worlds as virtual reality (VR) and desktop experiences. You can create and host your own virtual world, explore other worlds, meet and connect with other users, attend or host live VR events, and much more.
The Overte virtual worlds software provides built-in social features, including avatar interactions, spatialized audio, and interactive physics. Additionally, you have the ability to import any 3D object into your virtual environment. No matter where you go in Overte, you will always be able to interact with your environment, engage with your friends, and listen to conversations just like you would in real life.
The key features of Overte are:
Collaborative world creation and editing.
Steam VR support, including full-body tracking.
Excellent scalability, allowing events with as many as 500 users in a single virtual world.
Support for Windows and Linux (downloads here), with MacOS support coming soon.
Overte is operated and maintained by a German non-profit corporation, the Overte e.V Association, whose sole purpose is promoting and distributing FOSS Social VR software in general, and Overte in particular. You can read the articles of association here. Anybody can join the association as a member (currently the yearly membership fee is 60 Euros). Please note that it is NOT required to be an association member to use or help develop Overte! However, members do get to vote on the future direction of the project at regular meetings.
I did a text chat interview with the six board members of the Overte platform and their chair, Dale Glass:
Ryan: Could one or more of you please explain why you felt the need to create a fork from the High FIdelity/Vircadia code? What is the main difference between Vircadia and Overte?
74hc595: One of the most important motivations was the need for having clearer organizational structure. The idea of non-profit is motivated by KDE e.V., which is a German non-profit organization that manages K Desktop Environemnt source code.
catraxx: KDE is merely the inspiration for how we organize. We are not connected to them.
Dale: Some have issues with Vircadia’s direction and interests, and some want a better organizational structure.
Ryan: So the servers running Overte run on Linux, not Windows?
74hc595: They can run on both. On Windows it’s amazingly simple – you can create your own server hosting your virtual world with just a few clicks.
Ryan: And I understand you are also working on a Mac version, too, right?
74hc595: We already have Mac version, but not all features work there yet.
Ryan: I would like to better understand how you are structured, and what is different about being a non-profit compared to say a commercial company creating a metaverse platform.
74hc595: The non-profit itself is registered in Germany, and all board members are democratically elected by members of the non-profit. The most important thing is motivation. Being a non-profit allows us to focus on making amazing virtual world software without worrying about monetizing it in any way. There’s a membership fee to join the non-profit and get voting rights, but of course anyone is welcome to use the software. Overte is released on Apache 2.0 open source license.
Ryan: I assume that this is a volunteer organization and that nobody is getting paid or drawing a salary, right?
catraxx: We are not getting paid, that is correct.
Ryan: Would you say that this drive to monetize is what separates you from Vircadia? I believe they were exploring using blockchain/crypto/NFTs, right? And you’re not, right?
74hc595: The risk of NFTs being introduced there is one difference—we have no intentions of monetizing Overte in any way (but of course commercial worlds created by users are possible).
Ryan: Are you sharing additions to the codebase between Overte and Vircadia, or are they completely separate forks nowm each going in their own direction?
74hc595: Each is going in it’s own direction, but the license is the same, so parts of code can be shared, as long as the copyright notice remains. We aim to remain compatible for as long as that’s practical.
Ryan: Have you been in touch with the Tivoli Cloud VR people since they shut down their platform, and do they have any code you would like to add to Overte?
74hc595: Most definitely, yes. It’s amazing that they decided to relicense their code as Apache 2.0 so it can be used by us. They did amazing work in it. I was really sad they closed, because I wanted to achieve interoperability with their servers too.
Dale: We’re looking into incorporating Tivoli code, but so far things have been a tad busy. They’ve changed their build process considerably, and that put a bit of a damper on things, but we’ll get there…Incorporating Tivoli code will take time and effort. They did great work but we still have to look at what they did, what works for us and what may not, and to review it—we want to avoid code from any contributors that may not be onboard with the relicensing idea, for instance.
74hc595: Overte is also compatibile with Vircadia, and Vircadia worlds can be visited from our client.
Ryan: Oh I did not know that! People can just download the client software from your website, right?
74hc595: Exactly. For now it will be on our website, and probably also Windows Store soon. In the longer term, it would be amazing to provide packages for popular Linux distributions.
Ryan: What do you see as the three most important things that you have to accomplish over the next year? Your top three must-do things.
74hc595: I think that the absolutely most important thing will be upgrading our codebase to use new scripting engine, because the one we currently use is being deprecated. It would also allow us to upgrade to Qt 6, because Qt 5 libraries will get deprecated at some point too.
Dale: My personal list: 1. Finish cleaning up the code. Which is almost done, most of the required changes already made it in. This is mostly boring but important for quality. 2. Dynamic textures. It’s a big project with multiple levels. 3. Inter-domain communication. But I definitely agree with the scripting engine part as well.
Ryan: What do you mean by “inter-domain communication”, Dale?
Dale: I have this rough idea that domains could allow other domains to do things like fetching assets and connect to audio from them. So for instance, picture a large convention, where you have some sort of central hallway, then each talk is its own domain. One thing I want to have is that a domain can export audio streams that then could be played in the hallway. So you can walk past a door that actually leads to another server, but hear if there’s something big going on inside. Not necessarily limited to audio, but that’s also likely to be a big enough project, so we’ll see how that goes!
Ryan: Does Overte support spatialized, 3D audio, and if so, do you use High Fidelity’s spatialized audio product or something else? I know HiFi wanted to take that part out and sell it, and they have, to places like Sine Wave Entertainment (Sinespace/Breakroom).
Dale: High Fidelity had a proprietary audio codec, but that’s just audio compression. We don’t have to use that to have spatial audio. The actual spatial audio is in the Apache 2 licensed code so we can use it without any issues.
74hc595: For me, working on improving collaborative creation tools in Overte has topmost priority. One of the biggest strengths of our software is the ability of creating worlds together with friends, and changes to the world being persistent. I want to develop creation tools so that virtual world creation is possible entirely in game. Right now I’m working on voxel editing tools that will allow creating terrain and buildings in a similar way to Minecraft. It will be very intuitive for new users. Another of my priorities is improving graphics quality, especially by implementing real time raytracing…The collaborative creation is one of the most amazing aspects for me. For example just a week ago I was hanging out with friends at Overte Hub, while a fried was creating his art gallery there. Creating worlds together is a magical experience for me.
Ryan: Are you in touch with any of the former High Fidelity employees? Are any volunteering to help you develop Overte?
Dale: We know a few people that worked on HiFi, yes. Some prefer to be discreet, so we won’t name them publicly.
Ryan: What else do you want people to know about Overte? What do you need? Coders? Donations? More people using Overte?
Dale: I don’t think we’d say no to any of those!
Moto: We can always use contributors of course. Do we need donations? We don’t need them. The membership fees will take care of the running costs. Even without a dedicated bank account we can accept donations or sponsorships though. We actually already have a server sponsored by FOSSHOST (aarch64 build server).
catraxx: Honestly come and talk to us. We are very approachable people in general…It is important to us that our code is open and available to everyone. People should always have the ability to learn from what we do, which really includes all parts of the organization, down to even the website.
Ryan: How much of the original HiFi codebase have to had to scrap and rebuild from scratch?
74hc595: Almost all the codebase remains and we are building on top of it. We will probably remove some unused, but remaining code for things like financial transactions.
Dale: The original HiFi code, in my opinion, is mostly excellent. I mean, some bits are crustier than others, but I think on the whole they did a very good job.
catraxx: It was a big project.
Dale: There’s the audio codec, which is proprietary, but that was already replaced in the Vircadia days with Opus.
catraxx: That in itself is a good campfire story.
Ryan: Noted. For a future blogpost, perhaps. How easy is it to bring an avatar into Overte from say, VRChat?
74hc595: A lot depends on bone naming conventions, but generally it’s less than 2 hours of work, and some work immediately.
Ryan: So speaking of Github, basically anybody can add to the open source code, but there’s a process to what gets added to the official Overte platform, right? Is this where the voting part comes in? (I’m not super knowledgable about Github, by the way.)
74hc595: True. Every change (pull request) is reviewed, and then carefully tested on different platforms.
Ryan: Well, I can’t think of any other questions at the moment. Is there anything you think I should ask? And I definitely need to download the Windows client and visit in my Valve Index! When are your weekly meetings in world??
74hc595: That would be awesome! We meet on every Saturday at 19:00 UTC…I’d like to add that everyone interested is welcome to join our Matrix and Discord servers and out weekly meetup at 19:00 UTC on Saturdays. We typically get about 11-13 people.
Here’s a gallery of images showing you what the Overte platform looks like (please click on any image to see it in full size). As you can see, you can already do a lot!
Since Overte is an open source project, you are very welcome to contribute to the development project! A weekly developer meeting (where all merge request will be discussed), takes place:
Where: the Overte VR – Overte Hub When: Saturdays at 19:00 UTC (noon, Pacific Standard Time)