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!

Wolf3D’s Ready Player Me Creates a 3D Avatar for Mozilla Hubs from a Selfie

Some examples of avatars created using Ready Player Me

Wolf3D, a company that specializes in making personal 3D avatars for games and virtual worlds, has released a new browser-based program called Ready Player Me. Ready Player Me allows you to create a personalized 3D avatar for use in Mozilla Hubs, using as your starting point a single selfie from your cellphone or webcam!

(You might remember Wolf3D as the creators of a mobile app called Virtual You, which High Fidelity released to create a 3D avatar for use on the now-closed social VR platform. This app was withdrawn from the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store when HiFi essentially ceased operations on Jan. 15th, 2020.)

Using Ready Player Me could not be easier. Simply visit the website, click on the blue Create Avatar button to get started, and take (or upload) a selfie. You are then given an array of options to change your skin, hair, eye and eyebrow colour, and hairstyle, facial hair, shirt and eyeglasses. After only a few minutes, here is what I was able to come up with:

Once you are satisfied, just click the checkmark in the upper right-hand corner of the screen, and it saves the avatar, giving you a URL which you should bookmark somewhere for later use and re-use.

To use your newly-created avatar in Mozilla Hubs, open a world, click on the three-bars menu in the upper left-hand corner, and click on Set Name & Avatar:

On the Name & Avatar screen, click on Browse Avatars:

On the Browse Avatars screen, click on Avatar GLB URL in the upper right-hand corner of your screen:

Enter the URL you received from Ready Player Me, and click Accept:

That’s it! Here’s what my customized avatar looks like in Mozilla Hubs:

I am hoping that we will see Wolf3D-made avatars pop up in other social VR and virtual worlds! It’s such an easy way for somebody to create a personalized avatar.

P.S. Starting with this blogpost, I have created a new category called Mozilla Hubs, since I find myself writing about this platform more often. I will try to go back and add my older blogposts about Mozilla Hubs to this category, but that is going to take a little time, so please bear with me!

Tafi Allows You to Create a Customized VRChat Avatar Without Needing to Learn 3D Design Software, Coding, or Rigging!

VRChat allows you endless avatar customization options—provided you can wrap your head around a workflow which requires some knowledge of Unity and the VRChat SDK. If you’re not using a pre-existing model and you want to create an avatar from scratch, you’ll also have to have skills in using complex 3D design software like Blender (or pay someone to create an avatar for you).

And, unlike social VR platforms such as Sansar and Sinespace that have dressable human avatars, if you decide you want your VRChat avatar to have a yellow shirt instead of a red shirt, then you’ll pretty much need to start over with your avatar creation process.

However, a company named Tafi wants to make the customized avatar creation process much easier, including the ability to easily make changes to what your avatar looks like (physical build, hair colour and style, eye colour, etc.) and what clothing they’re wearing. And Tafi is now open in beta for people who want to create avatars for VRChat, and the best part is, the beta is free!

It’s quite easy to sign up for free access to the Tafi beta avatar creator for VRChat avatars; just click the Join the Beta button on the Tafi website, and provide your email address, and you can then download and install the program. Here’s what the initial screen looks like:

The pop-up screen says:

Thanks for signing up for our beta!

To make sure you have the best experience and can explore all of our assets, we are giving you exclusive access to our entire asset library, including the premium ones!

But, these are only going to be available for free during the beta time period. Once we launch the application for all users, the premium assets will be available with a small cost.

Good news though, whatever your avatar is wearing the day of our full launch will be yours to keep (don’t worry, we will remind you when we get closer).

Thanks again! Have fun exploring and creating!

The interface offers dozens of options for customizing your avatar, and offers over 400 clothing options. Basically, it’s point-and-click. Here’s a sample of what it looks like in action:

In less than half an hour, I had created a custom avatar I was very happy with!

All I had to do then was connect my avatar account by clicking on the button under the head-and-shoulders icon in the upper left hand corner. You are then automatically taken to the VRChat website to grant the Tafi app access to your account:

Once you have connected your account, you simply click on the blue button in the upper left-hand corner of the Tafi app to upload your customized avatar to VRChat:

It took about two minutes to upload my customized avatar. Then, I signed into VRchat and the uploaded Tafi avatar was sitting in my Avatar folder, ready for me to select and use. The whole process was quick and easy, taking less than 30 minutes from start to finish! Here’s my brand new avatar, a selfie I took of myself using the in-world camera tool:

And the best part is, I can change my outfit quickly and easily! If I want to wear a different shirt, all it takes is a few clicks to select the style and colour, a fresh upload, et voilà! A new avatar look.

Tafi is available to try for free during their beta period. Why don’t you give it a shot? I’m quite impressed with this new tool.

Editorial: Social VR Has ARRIVED (And Two Other Things to Keep in Mind)

Just a few scattered thoughts, blogged in quick takes and snatches in between my training and committee duties on a very hectic day in the life of this academic librarian.

First: social VR has officially ARRIVED, people. Sept. 25th, 2019 is the date that everybody begins to take social VR seriously. Facebook’s entry into the social VR market today, with the announcement of Facebook Horizon, is the clearest sign yet that social VR is moving from a niche market into the mass-market mainstream.

It’s not if it will happen, but when, and how quickly it will take off from here. Remember that VR hardware is no longer the bottleneck it once was; Mark Zuckerberg said today that wireless Oculus Quest headsets are selling as fast as Facebook can make them, and soon you will be able to access Oculus Rift content via your Oculus Quest headset (although it’s still not clear how processor-heavy environments like Sansar will fare).

Second: Facebook will dominate the social VR market and crush competitors. If you are not convinced of this, I suggest you Google “snapchat facebook ftc” (or just click that oh-so-handy link) and read some of the articles outlining Facebook’s tactics in their attempt to snatch marketshare away from rival SnapChat. Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal reported:

Facebook Inc. for most of the past decade was Silicon Valley’s 800-pound gorilla, squashing rivals, co-opting their best ideas or buying them outright as it cemented its dominance of social media.

Now the knives are coming out. A number of Facebook’s current and former competitors are talking about the company’s hardball tactics to investigators from the Federal Trade Commission, as part of its broader antitrust investigation into the social-media giant’s business practices, according to people familiar with the matter.

One of them is Snap Inc., where the legal team for years kept a dossier of ways that the company felt Facebook was trying to thwart competition from the buzzy upstart, according to some of those people. The title of the documents: Project Voldemort.

Among other things, Snap accuses Facebook of “discouraging popular account holders, or influencers, from referencing Snap on their accounts on Instagram, which Facebook owns”. Now stop and think about what would happen if Facebook decides not to promote those posts that refer to Sansar, High Fidelity, or VRChat on your Facebook friends feed.

The WSJ article goes on to say:

In recent months, the FTC has made contact with dozens of tech executives and app developers, people familiar with the agency’s outreach said. The agency’s investigators are also talking to executives from startups that became defunct after losing access to Facebook’s platform in addition to founders who sold their companies to Facebook, according to some of those people. The discussions have focused on the aggressive growth tactics that propelled Facebook from a social network for college students 15 years ago to a collection of services now used by more than one in four people in the world every day.

Facebook can and will use whatever tools and tactics available to dominate the market and crush their competitors in the social VR marketplace. And Facebook has tons of money at their disposal to spend on advertising, lawyers, programming talent, etc. Whatever they need, they can buy—and they can buy it several times over, if necessary. Linden Lab, High Fidelity, VRChat, and other social VR platforms need to pay attention and act accordingly. Facebook is playing to win, and they are playing for keeps.

Third: Innovative social VR platforms will still be able to survive, if they can offer something that Facebook Horizon cannot. In other words, it’s not time to panic yet. For example, Linden Lab’s Sansar will still allow for much more realistic-looking, full-body, dressable human(oid) avatars. And we know from 16 years of Second Life that people will invest significant amounts of time and money on their avatar appearance. For example, let’s compare a Facebook Horizons avatar, from a picture used in Facebook’s own promotion:

A Facebook Horizon Avatar (Source)

With a recent picture of a modern, mesh-body Second Life avatar:

A recent Second Life Pic of the Day

Here’s another Second Life avatar, in fact the very picture I use to illustrate the term avatar on my definitions page:

I actually bought my main Second Life avatar’s eyes after
seeing this picture of a truly stunning Second Life avatar and
reading through the detailed styling notes on her blogpost
to find the store that sells those exact eyes in Second Life…
you are NOT going to see anything like this in Horizon yet!

And here’s a couple of examples of Sansar avatars (the first one is courtesy of blogger Chic Aeon):

I think you’ll agree that Sansar (and yes, even 16-year-old Second Life!) can give Facebook Horizon a definite run for its money in the avatar appearance market! But keep in mind: this is just the starting point for Horizon. Facebook can and will keep iterating, working tirelessly on improving the Horizon avatars until they look as good as—or even better than—Second Life’s and Sansar’s. Count on it. It’s the new arms race.

Another key point: there are tens, perhaps even hundreds, of thousands of Second Life and Sansar users who eschew human avatars altogether, choosing instead to be tinies, furries, robots, mermaids, centaurs, mechanical spiders—you name it. For all we know, Horizon may insist on human-looking avatars, at least to start. So other platforms may still be able to carve out a lucrative niche market for themselves.

I’m sure you can think of other examples. For example, I rather doubt that Facebook Horizon will allow adult content like Second Life does.

However, if your social VR product does not offer anything remarkably different from what Horizon offers, Facebook will relentlessly steamroll right over you without a second’s hesitation (see my second point, above).

OK, that’s all my thoughts for now. I might have more to add this evening as I reflect a bit more on all of today’s announcements from OC6.

Oh, and as you might have guessed, I have already put my name down to be on the early list of beta testers when the closed beta test of Facebook Horizon does launch sometime in early 2020. One way or another, I am going to be among the first people who kick the tires on Horizon!

And I’m even willing to compromise my principles and re-establish the account I shut down on the Facebook social network, yes, the very same one where I asked the company to delete all of my personal user data collected over the 13 years I was on Facebook, as my New Year’s resolution at the end of 2018. (I don’t expect to recover anything I lost; I will essentially be starting from scratch. And anyway, I used the same email address to register my Oculus Rift and Oculus Quest, so Facebook has all my VR hardware and software data, anyways.)

I know, I know, I know…I know. I am totally and completely caving in! Don’t judge me! After all, unless there is a very strict non-disclosure agreement that I have to sign and abide by as a beta tester, my blog readers are counting on me to report on all the social VR platforms that I encounter, and that includes those run by the mighty behemoth Facebook.

After all, this blog started off as a tiny blog devoted to Sansar. And it grew over time to encompass all the social VR platforms and virtual worlds, and even a few non-combat, open-world exploration, puzzle, and lifestyle games. I’m even covering the blockchain-based virtual worlds! (And that’s another area Facebook wants to muscle in on, with its recently-announced Libra cryptocurrency.)

Face it: it’s Facebook’s world. We just live in it.

UPDATE 7:03 p.m.: UploadVR has posted a four-minute YouTube clip from today’s keynote, focused on Facebook Horizon:

And TechCrunch has a good overall report on Facebook Horizon, drawing the inevitable comparison with Second Life, and including a few images of the platform that I haven’t seen posted anywhere else:

At first glance, Horizon seems like a modernized Second Life,  a first-person Sims, a fulfillment of the intentions of AltspaceVR and a competitor to PlayStation’s PSVR Dreams and cross-platfrom kids’ favorite Roblox. Back in 2016, Facebook was giving every new Oculus employee a copy of the Ready Player One novel. It seems they’ve been busy building that world since then.

Facebook Horizon will start centralized around a town square. Before people step in, they can choose how they look and what they wear from an expansive and inclusive set of avatar tools. From inside VR, users will be able to use the Horizon World Builder to create gaming arenas, vacation chillspots and activities to fill them without the need to know how to code.

An example of the build tools available in Facebook Horizon

You could design a tropical island, then invite friends to hang out with you on your virtual private beach. An object creator akin to the Oculus Medium sculpting feature lets you make anything, even a custom t-shirt your avatar could wear. Visual scripting tools let more serious developers create interactive and reactive experiences.

Facebook details its Horizon safety features on its “Citizenship” page that explains that “As citizens of Facebook Horizon, it is all of our responsibility to create a culture that’s respectful and comfortable . . . A Horizon citizen is friendly, inclusive, and curious.” Horizon Locals will wander the VR landscapes to answer questions or aid users if they’re having technical or safety issues. They seem poised to be part customer support, part in-world police.

Horizon makes perfect sense for a business obsessed with facilitating social interaction while monetized through ad views based on time-spent. It’s easy to imagine Horizon including virtual billboards for brands, Facebook-run shops for buying toys or home furnishings, third-party malls full of branded Nikes or Supreme shirts that score Zuckerberg a revenue cut or subscriptions to access certain gaming worlds or premium planets to explore.

As Facebook starts to grow stale after 15 years on the market, users are looking for new ways to socialize. Many have already ditched the status updates and smarmy Life Events of Facebook for the pretty pictures of Instagram and silliness of Snapchat. Facebook risked being cast aside if it didn’t build its own VR successor. And by offering a world where users can escape their real lives instead of having to enviously compare them to their friends, Horizon could appeal to those bored or claustrophobic on Facebook.

Facebook Horizon Locals (Horizon’s in-world guides)

TheNextWeb notes, with just a hint of snark:

If nothing else, I picture this digital world dripping with ads after just a short time. I don’t want to picture that, but ads are the backbone of Facebook‘s business, and I can’t believe they’d miss the opportunity to shove even more of them into our faces.