Connect 2021: Some Thoughts After Viewing the John Carmack Keynote

See also my thoughts on the Mark Zuckerberg keynote.

Now obviously the metaverse is the dominant topic of the day, and I was quoted all the way back in the 90s as saying that building the metaverse is a moral imperative, and even back then most people missed that I was actually making a movie reference, but I was at least partially serious about that. I really do care about it and I buy into the vision, but that leaves many people surprised to find out that I have been pretty actively arguing against every single metaverse effort that we have tried to spin up internally in the company from even pre-acquisition times.

You know, I want it to exist, but I have pretty good reasons to believe that..setting out to build the metaverse is not actually the best way to wind up with the metaverse…

The metaverse is a honeypot trap for architecture astronauts.

—John Carmack, Connect 2021 keynote

John Carmack is the former Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of Oculus VR, and I had a friend recommend I watch his keynote address from yesterday’s Connect virtual event, so I sat down with a big cup of black coffee to hear what he had to say.

John Carmack is a heavy hitter at Facebook (sorry, Meta) and he usually gives a keynote at Connect. John stepped down as CTO in 2019, taking on the role of Consulting CTO in order to focus more on his artificial intelligence projects.

John was very happy with the launch of the Oculus Quest 2, calling it “better, faster, cheaper—one of those just rare combinations that you you almost never get to have in a product.”

He said he was gently pushing back on the push towards cloud VR rendering, stating that there are still a lot of challenges associated with it. He also said that there were a lot of internal battles over the App Lab, too. He speaks about the internal dissent within Meta over releasing the 120Hz framerate option for the Oculus Quest 2 as well.

John is not afraid to call a spade a spade, and disclose where there has been behind-the-scenes tension and disagreement within the company, which is why so many people look forward to his candid keynotes! In particular (as the quote I highlighted up top indicates), it’s clear John has some reservations about Mark Zuckerberg’s push to repivot Meta as a metaverse company.

All in all, this video is a valuable and refreshing counterpoint to Mark Zuckerberg’s keynote and I would encourage you to watch it in full!

Thanks to Freelight for the heads up!

Sinespace Celebrates Its 3rd Anniversary: Highlights from Chief Product Officer Adam Frisby’s Keynote Speech

The virtual world Sinespace has been celebrating its third anniversary with a week of in-world events, culminating in a keynote address given today by the company’s Chief Product Officer, Adam Frisby.

I had a long online chat with Adam before his presentation today, talking about various new features coming soon to Sinespace, and the following are some notes I took during Adam’s talk (Adam was also kind enough to share his presentation slides ahead of time with me, for which I thank him profusely for making my reporting job so much easier!).

Adam Frisby’s Keynote in Sinespace

Adam started off with a report on what had happened with Sinespace in 2019. Sinespace’s development team has doubled in size. Among the features worked on were:

The company has also been very hard at work on improvements to the default human avatars in Sinespace (which is actually already in the live release now). This major update to the avatars offers more accurate (less stylized) human proportions, with a new, powerful system of custom slider shapes or “morphs”. (Adam says that no pre-existing clothing will be broken.)

A new set of universal skin detail maps will be added to the existing skin maps on the human avatars. Adam shared a slide of what the new skins will look like, and I must admit they’re rather impressive:

There will also be several improvements to avatar clothing: a new auto-rigging algorithm, and blend shape support (for example, adding features such as dress length sliders to clothing). Sinespace already has support for in-world cloth physics, as you can see in the video below, and this functionality is expected to be improved even further in future software releases.

It’s now very clear that, despite experiencing some significant problems with upgrading Sinespace to Unity to 2018.3 in the past year (“the hardest we’ve ever done in ten years with Unity”, Adam says), the platform has benefited greatly overall from choosing to use Unity as an underlying game engine. In fact, Sinespace is now working in association with Unity, which offers the company even better support and more access to Unity engineers.

After some problems in marketing in 2019 (they fired the external company that was doing their marketing after one particular fiasco), Sinespace has just hired a new Vice President of Marketing, Al King.

So, in summary, 2019 was a big year for the Sinespace team in terms of building the product (mostly behind the scenes) and getting ready for a scale-up. Adam admits that the team has learned some expensive lessons, but ones he prefers that they have made before the platform scales up. Sinespace has also been watching competing platforms make some mistakes too, and hopefully learning from them. (For example, Sinespace has wisely decided to postpone a launch on Steam.)

And among future projects is a big push to provide mobile support (Sinespace has a full-time team devoted to this now, and there is an Android beta app already up on Google Play). They also want to improve the built-in screenshot capability, integrating it with social media. Another focus is improving what they call “the first five minutes” experience of new users, to encourage user retention.

Oh, and I saved the best for last: a brand-new contiguous mainland with in-client parceling, streamed regions and content, and a very cool new feature—voxel terrain editing, including the ability to dig caves and tunnels and create islands in the sky! (And Adam stated in my earlier chat with him today that they have implemented voxels “properly”; these are not the simple cubes used by Cryptovoxels!)

Here’s a couple of brief video previews Adam was kind enough to share with me of the voxel terrain editor in action (the second shows the digging of a cave):

And you can build mind-bogglingly large terrains using this tool: Adam’s test parcel for the voxel terrain editor is 96,100 cubic kilometres. (Approx. 23,000 cubic miles): 131,072 metres by 131,072 metres by 5,600 metres in size!

Oh, and did I mention? There’s voxel water, too!

An example of voxel water in Sinespace

So, as you can see, Sinespace is starting to look better and better all the time! And they are busy implementing features that many other social VR/virtual worlds cannot yet match. I must commend Adam and his team at Sinespace for doing a lot of hard work behind the scenes on the platform, and patiently biding their time before a full-scale product launch (perhaps sometime in 2020?). I’m quite looking forward to seeing how the platform evolves over the next year!