Alter Ego, A New Fox/CTV Singing Competition Television Show Where the Contestants are Avatars: Further Proof that the Era of Avatarism is Upon Us

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I don’t usually watch singing competition TV shows, but a new one has definitely got my attention! It’s called Alter Ego, and the Fox show (which will appear on CTV here in Canada) has a twist: instead of appearing on stage as themselves, they will be represented by their avatar, which they will drive while wearing a full motion-capture suit from backstage during their performances!

Yes, these are the same motion-capture suits which were used by the members of ABBA to create “ABBAtars”, presenting themselves as they were in 1979 in a future series of concerts to be held in London, England. In that blogpost, I argued that the era of avatarism (i.e. the freedom to choose the form in which you are seen by others) had truly arrived. And the Alter Ego TV show is further proof that the age of avatarism is indeed upon us!

The Fox 5 TV station in Altanta interviewed one of the contestants appearing in the first episode of Alter Ego:

Rolling Stone reporter Samantha Hissong wrote:

I was skeptical, a few weeks ago, as I approached the doors to a taping of Alter Ego, Fox’s new singing competition with a high-tech twist, but it felt the same as entering any old sound stage — at least for the first minute or so. On Alter Ego, which premieres this Wednesday night (September 22nd), the contestants don’t perform on stage, but rather behind a curtain whilst donning motion-capturing suits that control their own highly fantastical, augmented-reality avatars.

In typical music-TV fashion, the winner will get a cash prize ($100,000), as well as mentorship opportunities from celebrity judges:, Grimes, Alanis Morissette, and Nick Lachey. But the judges, along with host Rocsi Diaz and in-person audiences, watch the performances on eye-level monitors placed strategically around the room — so as to appear as if they’re looking centerstage. Moreover, the judges won’t learn the true identity of the winner until they’ve already won.

To film, Alter Ego relies on 14 cameras, eight of which use advanced camera-tracking technologies. “It’s not something that’s done in post,” creative producer Michael Zinman — who previously partnered with Fox on The Masked Singer — tells Rolling Stone on the still-empty studio floor. Above our heads, thousands of Infrared Reflective (IR) markers — one-inch-by-one-inch silver squares that, essentially, create a map for these cameras — twinkle like a mini galaxy.

The smart cameras then communicate with Unreal Engine, a video-game design software, to render the avatars in real time. (A company called Silver Spoon, which was responsible for creating virtual crowds for Major League Baseball in 2020, designed the 3D models in advance with creative input from the contestants. An augmented reality company called Lulu helped with the stage-plotting.)

Avatar data — things like eye color, height, and special effects — motion-capture data, lighting data, and camera data all meet in a hub of servers next to the mini stage behind the actual stage. “Then, if it all goes right, it spits it out and you see the composite,” Zinman explains. As the host, Diaz is the only one who really has to act, as she’s tasked with standing “next to” the avatars when they’re critiqued at the end of their performances: “You have to go back to your five-year-old self, play pretend, and talk with your imaginary friend,” she says. “It’s actually a lot of fun.”

Alter Ego contestant Dasharra Bridges and her avatar, Queen Dynamite (source: Rolling Stone)

The first episode of the show dropped yesterday, so you might want to check it out on your streaming service or cable TV! I know I’ll be watching every episode 🙂

Rooom and A Brief Introduction

It’s official: we are starting to run out of sensible product names, people. Companies are rummaging through all the leftover domain names, and it shows.

Rooom (yes, with three O’s, which apparently are meant to signify the 3 dimensions of space 🙄) is a German company which tries really, really hard to make it sound as if they already provide social VR services, but really, they don’t.

Oh, they talk about it, for sure:

Events with unlimited scalability

eventCloud has been successfully used for global events with more than 200,000 simultaneous participants. Accessible through virtually any internet-enabled device, online events in 3D are possible without the need for a VR headset.

But take a good, close look at the YouTube video for this:

I’m seeing a lot of flat-screen technology integration (Zoom-like videoconferencing, etc.), and the use of emojis and whatnot, but I am not seeing social VR! The only avatar I see in this promo video is the user him-or-herself. All of the other “avatars” at the briefly-glimpsed trade show above are the digital equivalent of flat, cardboard cutouts! Here’s another video:

Again, look at all the flat cutout “avatars”!! Rooom may have hosted events boasting over 200,000 participants, but all those participants seem to have experienced the virtual space alone, as far as I can tell. Compared to other social VR platforms already out there, with much more impressive feature sets, this is extremely underwhelming and disappointing. I’m not impressed by this at all.

Frankly, based on my perusal of their website, everything that Rooom offers so far seems to revolve around creating 3D virtual environments for business, without actually offering something that I would call actual social VR—that is, a virtual space which you can visit and interact with other real people using avatars.

However, there is mention of something Rooom is working on, called, which basically consists of nothing but a slick (and slow-loading) website:

So I am somewhat mystified as to how Rooom raised US$7 million for its so-called “multifaceted 3D virtual events platform”. Go ahead, take a good look through the website yourself, and check out the YouTube videos. I’m not seeing a whole hell of a lot of groundbreaking stuff here, to be honest.

I’m not even going to bother adding Room and to my comprehensive list of social VR and virtual worlds at this point. There’s no “there” there, at least not yet.

Playable Worlds: A Brief Introduction

Playable Worlds is a new virtual world, still under construction and as yet unreleased, but I wanted to talk a bit about it, because it sounds as if they are doing some interesting things.

In a Sept. 9th, 2021 blogpost, CEO Raph Koster revealed a bit of the technology underlying the Playable Worlds platform:

We have built a metaverse platform. Oh, it’s not done. We’re probably going to be working on this for years. But I say “built” because, well, we have the basics of this stuff working.

We have a working massively multiplayer server. Further, it’s a true persistent state world, where everything you do is saved. Worlds change, evolve, and develop based on player actions (or AI or simulation, for that matter). It’s running on the cloud right now.

But it’s not just a server. It’s a network of servers. Whole MMO worlds can bubble up and go away on the fly based on player demand. It’s a heck of a lot more efficient than something like a headless Unreal server.

And you’ll be able to hop between worlds without needing to switch clients. It permits a single, shardless, ever-expanding, ever-changing online universe.

We’ve already got it working with full server-side game logic. Meaning – each world can have completely different gameplay, without needing to change code or take the server down for updates. We’ll even be able to map your controls from the cloud, because when we say different gameplay, we mean it.

This unlocks things that AAA games haven’t been able to do before, like A/B testing. It means that someday, we can let users write their own code for those servers, and they could earn money from their creations.

When you visit different worlds, or even different parts of worlds, everything comes down on the fly to a thin client. We don’t need to patch to add new content. Every world can look completely different – one might be ours, one might be a 3rd party creator, or a branded world, or built by users. For that matter, it won’t eat your hard drive: assets go in a cache, and the cache throws away old stuff you don’t need.

Raph goes on to day that the next step is to start building a modern sandbox MMORPG on top of this platform. And he is to be credited for his candour:

Look: saying you are building The Metaverse(™) is silly — that’s a project for many people over many years, and any one company that promises it anytime soon is probably biting off more than they can chew.

If you want to make online worlds, you better build a re-usable platform that scales with modern technology. It’s the sensible thing to do.

If you want others to use your tech someday, you better prove that it can deliver high quality content first.

And if you want people to actually show up, you better provide something fun from day one. That’s one of the lessons I’ve learned from decades of online worlds.

That’s why we decided not to talk about our platform until it was already working. There’s enough hype out there already. Most of you shouldn’t care! Most of you want a fresh experience, not a whitepaper about plumbing.

(Of course, if you happen to be someone who does care about plumbing, well, drop us a line. We do think what we have built is pretty exciting).

It’s all good to talk about metaverse dreams. But we’re practical people here at Playable Worlds. We’re not in this for virtual goods speculation. We’re not in this for acronyms.

Given some of the truly ridiculous promises which some metaverse platforms have made (“live forever”, anyone?), this is truly refreshing. This blogger approves!

For further information about Playable Worlds, please visit their website, read their blog, or follow them on social media: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn. I will be duly adding Playable Worlds to my comprehensive list of social VR and virtual worlds.

Thanks to Dr. Fran for the heads up!

ROND: A Brief Introduction

ROND is a new browser-based virtual world by a Finnish company of the same name. They describe themselves as follows on their website:

ROND Virtual Worlds are live multiplayer 3D spaces for events, fan engagement and shopping. All worlds are accessible from your laptop, mobile or tablet and can be designed to match brands, art styles, stories and impossible quests and games within the world. Give your audience a never-ending source of entertainment and opportunities within your branded virtual world. Welcome to the Metaverse!

You can sign up for an account here, and they will send you an email with login instructions. Then you may explore the worlds which they have available using your web browser. The app asks for permission to use your microphone and webcam, and displays your webcam image as your avatar:

My avatar in ROND

If you’re interested in ROND, visit their website, or follow them on social media: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or LinkedIn. I will duly add ROND to my comprehensive list of social VR and virtual worlds.