Review: BRCvr in AltspaceVR Is an Impressive Feat

Yesterday evening, my friend Andrew (the former producer of my show, the Metaverse Newscast, which is currently on indefinite hiatus) invited me to join him as we explored the many different virtual worlds forming a part of the BRCvr experience, a virtual recreation of the Burning Man festival in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada. BRCvr is one of ten official Burning Man virtual spaces in their Multiverse, replacing the real-world event which was candelled due to the pandemic.

Unlike some of the Burning Man Multiverse platforms which have struggled to launch on time and cost money to attend (up to US$150!), BRCvr opened on schedule and is free! Andrew and I were very impressed by what we saw last night, so this morning I decided to pay a return visit.

On my first visit last night to the sprawling virtual Black Rock City, it was daytime. You really do get a sense of the size of BRC! I was informed that this is a 1:1 recreation of Black Rock City (which I assume means that everything is sized accurately according to your avatar size).

But when I returned today, it was near sunset, with the artwork casting long shadows across the flat desert:

The landscape is dotted with teleporters, both to take you from one place to another within Black Rock City, and also to take you to other virtual worlds (there are apparently up to 120 of them linked to their main hub world).

Much of the art on display has a separate portal to allow you to see the artwork in higher detail than it appears in the main world, such as this statue (you can easily get back to Black Rock City from the menu of places in AltspaceVR)

Take the portal into the Burning Man itself, in the centre of Black Rock City, and you can then take teleporters to visit the Burning Man statues of previous years! (Try doing that in real life!)

The tireless Kent Bye just published a Voices of VR podcast interview with Greg Edwards, the lead developer of BRCvr, which you can listen to here.

Kent Bye’s map of BRCvr (source)

Daniel Terdiman, in an article he wrote for Fast Company, reported on his experience in BRCvr:

BRCvr’s main entry point is a spot out in the open, just a few dozen virtual meters away from what any Burning Man veteran instantly recognizes as the Center Camp Café, the beating-heart hub of Black Rock City. A good start: Things looked right. They sounded right, too. I heard the sound of a blast from a fire cannon. I heard laughter. And I heard people nearby having random conversations.

I turned to my left, and there, just a few meters away, was the Duck, a converted golf cart some friends of mine converted to look like a big rubber duck. I have spent an uncountable number of hours riding around on it over the years. It was pure serendipity that it was just about the first thing I saw—but as any Burner knows, that’s the type of serendipity that happens all the time in BRC. This was a very good sign. And it was just the beginning.

He was impressed by the experience, and I was too. Andrew tells me that they are planning to keep BRCvr up for the rest of this year, but I would encourage you to visit before the official closing! Set aside an hour or two; you’ll need it to explore all the linked worlds!

This Saturday evening at 7:00 p.m. Pacific time, there will be a live performance by Diplo in the PlayAlchemist Pyramid. You can RSVP here.

P.S. I forgot to mention that AltspaceVR has relaunched a MacOS client this week, just in time for Mac desktop users who want to attend the festival. More information is available in this tweet by the BRCvr organizers.


With a shout out and a thank you to Andrew William.

UPDATED! The 2020 Burning Man Festival Takes Place August 31st to September 6th on Ten Different Social VR Platforms and Virtual Worlds

The real-life Burning Man festival has been cancelled, but you can participate in a virtual version of the event on ten different platforms in 2020.

For the first time since its start in 1986, the Burning Man festival in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada has been cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. However, this year the festival is moving into a Multiverse of ten different platforms and services:

Here is a very brief guide to what’s going on where, with information taken from their website.

BURN2 (in Second Life)

Burning Man played a pivotal role in the development of Second Life, as explained in the history of BURN2:

In 1999, a dreamy guy from San Francisco decided to go explore this Burning Man thing he’d been hearing about. Into his car he tossed a tent, water and everything else he needed to survive, then he drove 300 miles out to the Nevada high desert.

He arrived at a featureless, 40-square-mile expanse of cracked mud, ringed by distant mountains. Hot. It was terribly hot. Except when the sun went down. Then it was just plain cold. The Black Rock Desert is an ancient dry lake bed. “The Playa”, geologists called it; harsh, foreign, unforgiving and so shockingly barren that it *begs* to be your empty canvas. A strange encampment had been erected there, ringed around a 40-foot tall anthropomorphic wooden statue destined to be burned the last night.

What the Dreamer found there— a huge group of people, self-organized into a city, collaboratively creating a different reality— tweaked the direction of the project he was working on back in San Francisco, and filled his head with ideas about the nature of reality, creativity, identity and community. He worked some of these ideas into the very fabric of his project, “Linden World”, which you and I now know as Second Life. That Dreamer was Linden Lab founder Philip Rosedale.

So it is not surprising that a virtual version of Burning Man has been a part of Second Life since its very beginning, in 2003. This event usually happens in October (so as not to detract from the actual, real-world event), but this year there will be a version of BURN2 running from August 29th to September 6th (here is the calendar of events). You can join the festivities in-world (SLURL) or watch it streaming live on Mixcloud.

The Infinite Playa (in what looks like Sansar?)

ENTRY UPDATED Aug. 30th, 2020: It turns out that I was wrong. I could have sworn that from the pictures on their website (and the video below) that this was taking place in Sansar, but apparently, this is something different. And they are way behind in getting it all set up, too!

We are soooooo close to gates open on The Infinite Playa! Our entire team, in collaboration with 100’s of artist performers, DJs, speakers, teachers and camp leaders have been working tirelessly to get us to launch. Turns out creating an interactive, photo-real virtual playa from scratch in just a few short months is…no small feat – who knew?To give you the best (admittedly beta) experience we can, we have decided to delay the launch a few days.

Not to fear – the free “Watch the Infinite” portal will launch on this site Monday August 31st at noon, where you will be able to access live stream performances, talks and art from within The Infinite Playa.

Tickets will go on sale…really, really soon, no seriouslyplease hold while we write some code…

Here’s their website, and a promotional video. Whatever it is, it sure looks a lot like Sansar!

The ticket portal is not up yet, but once it is, I will put in a link to it here. Also, it’s not clear if you need to register on The Infinite Playa website (the form is at the bottom of the page) in order to attend. I did, but I haven’t gotten an email confirmation back yet. It looks as though a lot of this is being set up frantically at the last minute!

And tickets are NOT cheap, either. This is easily the most expensive of the ten virtual Burning Man platforms that make up the Multiverse:

■ Visitor – Two Hour Pass – $20
Weekend Warrior – Five Hour Pass – $40
Dusty Explorer – Ten Hour Pass – $75
Founder’s Package – 24 Hour Pass – $150 (includes executable file)
Downloadable executable file available for purchase for $100 with unlimited access to the interactive experience all week. A gaming PC with a GTX1080 or higher graphics card required (sorry no MacOS version just yet).

Wait…a 24-hour Founder’s pass is $150, but an unlimited access pass is $100? What?

BRCvr (in AltspaceVR)

BRCvr (website) is taking place on the popular social VR platform AltspaceVR:

Here’s all the information you need to visit BRCvr. The initial meet-and-greet event takes place on Sunday, August 30th (here’s a link to event on the event calendar), and you can check the AltspaceVR Events Calendar to see what is taking place where.

SparkleVerse (in Sparkle)

SparkleVerse will be held in Sparkle, which is an open source fork of an experimental social contextual project which runs on mobile devices and on flatscreen computer desktop, from August 30th to Septemver 7th, 2020. Tickets are by donation via EventBrite.

MysticVerse

MysticVerse bills itself as “a fully immersive, interactive 3D experience: a visionary expression of a virtual Black Rock City”. There’s not a whole lot of information on their website, but according to their FAQ:

The MysticVerse can be accessed from any device (mobile, desktop, VR headset) and on any operating system. RSVP here and be the first to know when the gates open to our universe.

MultiVerse

MultiVerse (website; to be confused with the Burning Man Multiverse) will be taking place on a mobile/VR app called IIR:

IIR stands for “Interactive Immersive Reality.” This immersive visual technology runs on mobile phones and VR headsets. Think of IIR as a stack of technologies that take an immersive experience to the next level. IIR provides the ability to 3rd parties to access the virtual environment from a web-based portal for certain things. For example, here camps can broadcast live events and music remotely into the environment from a simple-to-use web portal. In addition, IIR shows the 3D objects photo-realistically, meaning that their look and feel as they are in real life, is preserved. In addition, with IIR we can simulate large environments such as the entire Black Rock City with all the camps, art, music stages, etc. and have people appear as 3D avatars that can communicate via live voice.

There’s not a lot of information on their website, but you can RSVP here.

UPDATE Aug. 31st, 2020: I just received an email update from the creators:

We wanted to send out this quick update to let you all know that we just submitted to the Android and iOS app stores. We hope the apps will be live by tonight, but sometimes it can take a bit longer. Like anything on the playa (IRL or digital!), schedules are more like guidelines than anything else!

Please make sure to add this email to your contacts to ensure you get all our messages, and also please follow the Dusty Multiverse social media accounts found at @dustymultiverse both on Instagram and Twitter – we will be putting out critical updates there first – but via email as well.

Please note that the Oculus Quest application is delayed, and will likely be published late Monday.  In the meantime the iOS and Android will be the only way to access the universe.

UPDATE Sept. 1st, 2020: The Multiverse app is now available, and I downloaded it to my iPhone to check it out. The app costs at least US$10.99 for seven days; there is also an option for you to sponsor other attendees at US$3.00 each. The default recommendation was $10.99 plus sponsoring ten others for a total cost of US$52.00! I think I’m going to wait until the Oculus Quest version is ready before I pay for it.

Build-a-Burn (on Topia)

Topia is a webcam app, which will be hosting something called Build-a-Burn. It is described as follows:

Build-A-Burn is an interactive digital space that has already hosted events, including fantastical remote Burns, all by empowering the community to celebrate their creativity. Using just a browser and webcam on any device, participants will be able to wander an art-filled playa with friends old and new. Prepare to bend the reality of time and space, authentically connect with others in facilitated workshops, stand too close to some of your favorite DJs, and more.

MetaBurn: The Bridge Experience

MetaBurn: The Bridge Experience is described as:

Created by the team behind the Love Burn, The Bridge Experience is an interactive, fully immersive, 3D web-based virtual reality (XR) Burn accessible via any device. It is a passion project built by new and old Burners who are committed to simplifying the barriers to entry by adjoining Extended Reality (XR) technology with the 10 Principles.

There’s not a lot of information available; it appears to be some sort of mobile/desktop/VR app which requires registration. Check their website for more details on how to get set up.

The Ethereal Empyrean Experience

The Ethereal Empyrean Experience is described as follows:

In late 2019, Burning Man Project selected “Empyrean” by Laurence “Renzo” Verbeck and Sylvia Adrienne Lisse to be the official Black Rock City Temple for 2020. As announced in the Burning Man Journal, “Empyrean was chosen for its lovely geometry and inclusive design, as well as for its strong leads and crew who have demonstrated the experience, integrity and feasibility necessary to create this unique space.”

Fast forward to Spring 2020, when it became clear the community would not be building Black Rock City this year. The Empyrean creators embraced the challenge, dedicating themselves to creating an inclusive, healing virtual Temple space where visitors can share, express, process, grieve, and heal during this transformative time. The result: the Ethereal Empyrean Experience, our 2020 virtual Temple.

Again, there’s frustratingly little actual information about how to access this. Here’s a five-minute preview of the virtual temple:

Burn Night: Live from Home

According to the webpage for this event:

After spending Burn Week exploring the marvels of the Multiverse, join us on September 5, 2020 for Burn Night: Live From Home

Wherever you live and however you choose to burn, you’re invited to connect with the global Burning Man community for a worldwide, around-the-clock Burn Night extravaganza! 

Create your burnable Mini Man effigy using our blueprint, or something from your own imagination. Then host a small Burn wherever you are, within your local COVID-safe limits, ignited time zone by time zone worldwide on Burning Man’s traditional Burn Night — September 5, 2020. You may choose to upload your Man Burn to our 24-hour live stream. These will all be streamed and shared in a portal with chat, so the entire Burning Man community can connect around our favorite fire for a full day and night of burns.


So, no matter whether you use a mobile device, your flatscreen notebook or desktop computer, or a VR headset, you can participate in Burning Man this year!

Black Rock City Animal Control members and Black Rock Scouts climb on a larger-than-life sculpture during Burning Man 2016. (Source: National Geographic)

You Can Take Part in an Academic Research Study on Social VR Relationships in AltspaceVR

Dr. Kristin Drogos and Michael Zhang are conducting academic research on interpersonal relationships on the social VR platform AltspaceVR. Michael asks:

Have you used AltspaceVR for over six months and are 18 years or older? We’re conducting a study on social VR relationships at the University of Michigan and would love for you to participate. All you need to do is complete a 10 to 15-minute survey on a laptop or desktop computer. Optional 30-minute interview at the end. Thanks!

If you are interested, here is a link to the survey. If you have used AltspaceVR for more than six months, and are over 18, please consider taking part, thanks!

UPDATED: AltspaceVR (Finally) Has New Avatars!

Please note that I am taking the entire month of July off as a self-imposed vacation from the blog so I can focus on my other work, except for sponsored blogposts, plus occasional breaking news such as this. See you in August!


The ever-reliable members of the RyanSchultz.com Discord (my eyes and ears to the multiverse and its happenings!) informed me that, as of 9:00 a.m. Eastern time, AltspaceVR finally released their new, updated avatars, and they are definite improvement over the first-generation avatars. Michael Zhang shared a picture with us of his AltspaceVR avatar’s transformation from one year to the next:

Michael Zhang (upper left) and three pictures showing how his AltspaceVR avatar has changed from year to year (source: Michael Zhang)

So, I went into AltspaceVR today to check out the new avatars. But, before I talk about the avatar update, I wanted to share with you a few user interface problems I encountered.

One of the things that I do find rather irritating about AltspaceVR is that there seems to be no easy way to switch from VR mode to flatscreen mode. I have uninstalled and reinstalled the client software, and if you already have a VR headset set up (like my Oculus Rift), then the VR client is automatically loaded, and I cannot seem to find any switch that will allow me to switch back and forth between flatscreen and VR modes (the best example of this ability is Sansar, which seamlessly switches back and forth between VR and flatscreen mode when I put on and take off my Rift, including changing the audio and microphone locations).

Why is this so important? Well, it’s important to me because I find it far easier to take screenshots from a flatscreen display.

Even more irritating, you cannot use the built-in camera tool to take any pictures of the new avatar customization tools; the camera disappears completely when you load up the main menu where the customization features are found.

In the end, I was forced to take off my Rift, hold it aloft, very precisely, with one hand so that the internal sensor is blocked (so it thinks it’s still on my head), pivot it so that whatever image I want to take a screenshot of is centred on my desktop monitor (which mirrors what I see looking forward in the headset), and then hit the PrintScreen key with my other hand, to capture the screenshot using SnagIt.

It is a futzy workaround and it is a MAJOR. PAIN. IN. THE. ASS. whenever I want to demonstrate something in the AltspaceVR interface. Why you making this blogger’s job harder, Altspace?!??


UPDATE July 16th, 2020: I have been informed by Michael Zhang that the easiest option to switch from VR to 2D is simply to unplug the VR headset’s USB-C or the HDMI cable from your computer, and it will by default switch to flatscreen mode. Thank you for this tip, Michael!


Also, despite my best efforts, the in-world camera automatically takes selfies, and I could not figure out how to turn the camera around to take pictures of what I was seeing! (I’m sure there exists a way, but I couldn’t figure it out, and a quick Google search didn’t help me, either. In this instance, I assume the problem is with me, and not with the client. But if the AltspaceVR in-world camera only takes selfie shots, then that’s yet another criticism I have about the platform.)


UPDATE July 16th, 2020: It would appear that AltspaceVR is aware of the new bugs in the in-world camera tool:

Hey everyone!

Thanks very much for all of the feedback about the changes to the camera. We understand that this is a useful tool and our team is currently investigating options and working on a fix. To shed some additional light on the change: the PC-only camera code stopped working when we introduced some changes to the way we draw your first-person avatar. The same bug is affecting the JimmyCam, as well, causing you to look headless when you look at yourself!

We’ll continue to investigate options, and are currently working on a hotfix that will enable you to take front-facing photos.

In the meantime, the selfie camera and the screenshot tool are still available for use. (Remember, in 2D mode on your PC you can hide the menu UI by typing Ctrl+Alt+P; and on Windows 10 you can take screenshots easily with the windows key+print screen.) To view, download, and share your photos log into your account at altvr.com and go to the “Photos” tab.

Thanks again for sharing your thoughts with our team!


Anyway, back to the main topic of this blogpost: the new AltspaceVR avatars.

Here is what my new, default avatar looked like before I started working on him, taken with the previously-mentioned selfie camera (I assume that this was a randomly-generated starter avatar look):

And here is what I came up with, after spending about ten minutes of fiddling with all the options. He looks a lot more like the real-life me (but he’s still too thin):

Yes, the new avatars are much more customizable than the old ones. No, they still do not have arms or legs, probably to avoid dealing with IK (inverse kinematics) issues.

I went through all the various avatar customization options and I must confess that I am a bit disappointed. The good news is that there are so many different kinds of eyes and hair styles and skin colours and hair colours/dyes to choose from! But only six types of noses, all of which are on the small side? Only three jaw shapes to choose from? Only two styles of mouths, one obviously male and one obviously female? While what’s there allows you to get pretty creative, and it’s a definite improvement over the old system, I still think that there are too many restrictions on what you can do. (If you want to be a furry, you are definitely out of luck, although a green space alien is possible, as long as she or he is humanoid.)

I know that one of the goals the AltspaceVR avatar redesign team was aiming for was for all the avatars to have a somewhat consistent look to them, while allowing for personal variations in looks, skin tones, hairstyles, and clothing (no need to worry about shoes, since there are no feet). Also, they obviously did not want to have higher-poly user avatars that would make the rendering of AltspaceVR more difficult on lower-powered devices such as the wireless Oculus Go and Oculus Quest. And in both of these goals, I feel that the Altspace team succeeded; this was a definite (and very welcome) upgrade.

A look at the new AltspaceVR avatars (source: Twitter)
A gathering of the new avatars in the #GetSocial world (source: Twitter)

In summary, I think most AltspaceVR users will be happy with this upgrade. And it addresses one of my pet peeves about the platform to date: the old, low-poly, dreadfully cartoony avatars are now banished. Hallelujah!