Every single movement of the shark avatar in this one-and-a-half minute machinima (i.e. a video shot in a virtual world), right down to eyes and the mouth, is controlled directly by the user! Even more amazing, he was the sole cameraman!
The eyes are controlled by where the user looks (in a Vive Pro Eye VR headset); the mouth and lower face are controlled by the Vive Facial Tracker attached to the bottom of the headset; the hands and fingers are controlled using Valve Knuckles controllers; and the movements of the lower part of the body are controlled by Vive Pucks attached to the body at the hips and feet!
Did a full performance of “Crazy for Me” in NeosVR! Everything was recorded in real time audio, tracking, camera work, everything! All within the NeosVR game engine. This was done with 3 2.0 Vive Trackers, a Vive Pro Eye, Vive Facial Tracker, and Valve Index Controllers! This took about 17 takes to get it just right! Feel free to post about this anywhere as long as you link the video with any one of my socials!
I swear, if people in Second Life knew that they could control their entire avatar like this, there would be a stampede to buy VR headsets and head to NeosVR! There’s zero need for animation overrides or any prerecorded animations!
I have finally received a bracket I ordered from Japan to properly attach my Vive Facial Tracker to my Valve Index VR headset, so I am quite looking forward to being able to animate my lower face and mouth soon! (No eye animation or lower body animation for me yet, though…maybe someday!)
One very witty person with whom I had shared this video said:
I aspire to one day be the most tracked human in VR (but then again all Quest users are already there).
Overall, the fact that I can have an expressive, fully animated avatar inside a metaverse is blowing my mind.
Not too long ago, I was invited by Carlos Austin and Jason Moore to pay a long-overdue visit to NeosVR, where we met up with XRiEL (a.k.a. Ari Tarr), went over to Jason’s workshop, tried on some cool avatars, and rode some fun vehicles!
Here’s the full one-and-a-quarter hour video which Carlos kindly posted to YouTube:
Enjoy! As you can tell we had a lot of fun. Carlos was the cameraman capturing the shenanigans, and we were later joined by iBrews (a.k.a. Alex Coulombe). This video also makes a great introduction to NeosVR if you have never visited before! Of particular interest is Ari showing just how easy it is to rig an avatar within NeosVR:
Thanks to Jason, Ari, Carlos, and Alex for a wonderful afternoon! I had to bow out a little early (at the 50-minute mark in this video) to avoid becoming VR sick, but the antics continued after I departed!
At the 53-minute mark, XRiEL/Ari demonstrates what he can do with his avatar, wearing a Vive Eye Pro VR headset with eye tracking, the Vive Facial Tracker, plus Valve Index hand and finger trackers, and also three Vive pucks attached to his hip and both his feet. Yes, his eyes and mouth are mirroring his facial motion in real time!
Second Life (which I still consider to be the perfect model of the mature, fully-evolved virtual world that the companies creating the newer social VR platforms would be wise to study) has two levels of membership: Basic (free), and Premium. How Premium membership in Second Life works: for US$99 a year (or $32.97 quarterly, or $11.99 monthly), you get a set of benefits and perks over free, Basic user accounts:
VRChat is another platform that decided to offer a comparably-priced paid premium membership level last December, called VRChat Plus (which I first wrote about here). Now, upon first reading of the perks such a membership would offer me (see below), I was less than impressed (probably because I have been spoiled by all the goodies Second Life Premium memberships offer me in comparison).
Among the (relatively) small number of features for VRChat Plus users is the ability to set a user icon to display in a circle next to your user name:
But in conversation with Voices of VR podcaster Kent Bye last night via Zoom, he raised a point that I had hitherto failed to consider, Given my well-documented, one-man, scorched-earth campaign against Facebook and Oculus for, among other things, forcing Oculus headset users to get Facebook accounts and their toxic advertising-based business model which scrapes and strip-mines users’ personal data, why would I not support an alternative way for VRChat to earn a profit?
I stopped to think of what VRChat would be like with Facebook-like advertising, and I positively shuddered in revulsion. So this evening, I pulled out my credit card and ponied up for a VRChat Plus membership (US$99.99), so I now have the familiar “red Ryan” logo displayed next to my username in world (which has sort of become an icon for my brand, as I use it everywhere else, too). If it helps other users in VRChat recognize who I am, then I think it’s worthwhile.
So, I have decided to do a quick survey of the major social VR and virtual world platforms, and find out whether or not they offer a paid premium service, and if so, what you get for your money.
Second Life Premium membership (currently priced at US$99 a year) offers you the following benefits:
A weekly L$300 stipend (basically enough to buy a nice outfit or pair of shoes for your avatar every week)
A L$1,000 sign-up bonus for first-time Premium users (can only be used once)
Priority entry when regions/sims are full of avatars (in other words, if a Basic user and a Premium user both try to get into a packed sim at the same time, the Premium user gets priority; this comes in handy at crowded shopping events, and I have made use of this perk often!)
A 1024m² virtual land allotment for use towards a nice starter Linden Home or a parcel on the Second Life mainland; this is another benefit I do take advantage of!
Expanded live-chat customer support (which I have used on occasion!)
Premium virtual gifts (frankly, kinda useless to me)
Exclusive access to Premium areas and experiences (such as building sandboxes)
Increased cap on missed IMs (which I never use)
Increased group membership limits (I make use of my groups ALL THE TIME! A freebie fashionista can NEVER have too many free group slots for store groups, freebie groups, etc. Basic accounts have 42 group slots, but Premium has 70;)
Voice morphing (never used it, myself; most SL users never use voice, anyways)
UPDATE 11:36 p.m.: Animesh (animated mesh) creator Medhue tells me that SL Premium members can attach two animesh items (e.g. pets such as Medhue’s delightful animesh cihuahua), while Basic members can only attach one.
Basically, I have three Premium accounts, with two lovely Linden Homes between them (which I think is the major benefit of a Premium membership). More group space and priority access to overcrowded sims are also perks I tend to use a lot.
As I said up top, this list is a bit sparse, especially compared to what Second Life offers (and yes, you can be an anime girl in SL, just as easily as you can in VRChat!), but of course, there’s zero VR support in Second Life.
Rec Room offers something called Rec Room Plus at US$7.99 a month, which includes the following benefits:
You get 6000 tokens (r6000) monthly, delivered in installments of r1500 per week
One four-star gift box per week
A 10% discount in Rec Room stores that accept tokens
Exclusive access to the RR+ section of the item store
100 saved outfit slots
The ability to sell premium inventions/keys for tokens
NeosVR uses Patreon levels to hand out perks to various levels of paying users (more info). For example, at my current “Blade Runner” level ($6 per month), I get:
Access to private channels on the official Discord Server
Patreon supporter badge in Neos
Early access to Linux builds
Early Access to Patreon only content (exclusive experiences, work in progress experiences before they’re public)
A Neos Mini account with 25 GB of storage
Your name in the stars! (your name will appear in the sky in the Neos hub)
The ENGAGE educational/corporate/conference social VR platform offers a free, “lite” version, and a premium, “plus” version for €4.99 a month, which gives you space to save your presentations, among other benefits. (They also offer enterprise and educational rates on request.)
Blockchain-Based Virtual Worlds (Cryptovoxels, Decentraland, and Somnium Space)
Of course, the various blockchain-based virtual worlds sell everything using whatever cryptocurrencies they support (for example, a custom, non-randomly-generated avatar username in Decentraland will set you back 100 MANA, Decentraland’s in-world cryptocurrency (which is about US$36 at current exchange rates). It’s just a completely different model than the “freemium” ones offered above.
Thanks to Kent Bye for giving me the idea for this blogpost!
Taking a much-needed break from blogging has given me an opportunity to reflect a bit on my journey over the past three years, and ponder where I might go from here.
Frankly, I never expected to become a journalist covering the ever-evolving metaverse, with a growing audience; this blog started off as a tiny little niche blog, where I wrote about my (mis)adventures and explorations in Sansar. And everything that happened after that—writing about more and more social VR platforms, hosting the Metaverse Newscast show, focusing on freebies in my beloved Second Life—just kind of happened organically. I didn’t have any sort of plan; I just made choices along the way that led to this point.
But for me, the seeds for this journey were first planted in Second Life 14 years ago, which since its earliest days has been this strange and marvelous phoenix that keeps rising from the ashes, again and again, confounding and bewildering many casual observers who continue to predict (wrongly) its failure. Even a cursory glance at the official Second Life Community News feed (curated by the highly capable Strawberry Linden) reveals the absolute torrent of creativity that the platform has provided to so many people. Second Life is not going anywhere, honey.
SL is a fully-evolved, vibrant, mature virtual world which has become the model which other metaverse companies have spent countless programming hours and (in some cases) millions of dollars to try and recreate, with varying degrees of success.
I think that the ones that have been the most successful (so far) are NeosVR, ENGAGE, AltspaceVR, VRChat, Rec Room and, somewhat to my surprise, three blockchain-based worlds: Cryptovoxels, Decentraland, and Somnium Space. And there are many other platforms slowly but surely building up their business, taking advantage of the unexpected opportunities presented by the coronavirus pandemic (one example is Sinespace, a company which is patiently and cannily playing the long game, and which is extremely well-poised to snatch Second Life’s mantle, if and when it is ever dropped).
And, during my break, I have been also thinking a lot about Facebook/Oculus and their impact on virtual reality in general, and social VR in particular. I have decided that, despite my new, personal boycott of Facebook products and services, I will continue to write about their upcoming social VR platform, Facebook Horizon, as it launches in public beta, probably before the end of this year.
I, like many other people, now absolutely refuse to have a Facebook account as a matter of moral principle. In August of 2019 I wrote (and yes, it bears repeating at length here):
In this evolving metaverse of social VR and virtual worlds, is too much power concentrated in the hands of a single, monolithic, profit-obsessed company? I would argue that Facebook is aiming for complete and utter domination of the VR universe, just as they already have in the social networking space, by creating a walled ecosystem…that will have a negative impact on other companies trying to create and market VR apps and experiences. The field is already tilted too much in Facebook’s favour, and the situation could get worse.
More concerning to me is that, at some point, I may be forced to get an account on the Facebook social network to use apps on my Oculus VR hardware. In fact, this has already happened with the events app Oculus Venues, which I recently discovered requires you to have an account on the Facebook social network to access.
Sorry, but after all the Facebook privacy scandals of the past couple of years, that’s a big, fat “Nope!” from me. I asked Facebook to delete its 13 years of user data on me, and I quit the social network in protest as my New Year’s resolution last December, and I am never coming back. And I am quite sure that many of Facebook’s original users feel exactly the same way, scaling back on their use of the platform or, like me, opting out completely. I regret I ever started using Facebook thirteen years ago, and that experience will inform my use (and avoidance) of other social networks in the future.
Yes, I do know that I have to have an Oculus account to be able to use my Oculus Rift and Oculus Quest VR headsets, and that Facebook is collecting data on that. I also know that the Facebook social network probably has a “shadow account” on me based on things such as images uploaded to the social network and tagged with my name by friends and family, etc., but I am going to assume that Facebook has indeed done what I have asked and removed my data from their social network. Frankly, there is no way for me to actually VERIFY this, as consumers in Canada and the U.S. have zero rights over the data companies like Facebook collects about them, as was vividly brought to life by Dr. David Carroll, whose dogged search for answers to how his personal data was misused in the Cambridge Analytica scandal played a focal role in the Netflix documentary The Great Hack (which I highly recommend you watch).
We’ve already seen how social networks such as Facebook have contributed negatively to society by contributing to the polarization and radicalization of people’s political opinions, and giving a platform to groups such as white supremacists and anti-vaxers. The Great Hack details how Cambridge Analytica used Facebook data without user knowledge or consent to swing the most recent U.S. election in Donald Trump’s favour, and look at the f***ing mess the world is in now just because of that one single, pivotal event.
We can’t trust that Facebook is going to act in any interests other than its own profit. Facebook has way too much power, and governments around the world need to act in the best interests of their citizens in demanding that the company be regulated, even broken up if necessary.
Of course, Facebook is well within its corporate rights to insist that, henceforth, Oculus Go, Quest, and Rift users have to use Facebook accounts. Just as I am well within my rights to avoid providing another smidgen of personal data for Facebook to strip-mine for profit. It will be very interesting to see how more the consumer-privacy-oriented First World countries (such as Canada, and those countries within the European Union) will respond to the Facebook juggernaut.
I also have absolutely zero doubt that Facebook will continue to use every single lawyer, lobbyist, tool and tactic at its disposal to fight to maintain its market dominance, even as the Facebook social network continues to foster divisiveness, bleed users and lose advertisers. Believe me, Facebook would not have taken the unprecedented step of forcing Oculus device users to set up Facebook accounts if they weren’t afraid of losing the younger generations of users who have, thus far, resisted joining the social network their parents and grandparents belong to. (Of course, most of them are already on Instagram, which is owned by Facebook.)
It is relatively easy to bypass the tethered Oculus Rift VR headset and its associated Oculus Store ecosystem with competing PCVR products and services (such as the Vive headsets, the Valve Index and Steam). However, it is difficult—frankly impossible at present—to find a non-Facebook alternative to the standalone Oculus Quest VR headset. I have no doubt that the market will throw up a few capable competitors to the Quest over time, but Facebook has built up a huge lead, and it will be very difficult to unseat from its dominance in that particular market segment.
So, as you can see, I have been doing quite a bit of thinking while I have hit the pause button on this blog. I will continue to spend the rest of my summer on my self-imposed vacation from this blog, and no doubt I will have other thoughts, insights and opinions to share with you when I return, hopefully feeling more refreshed.
I feel that with this blog, after a few stumbles and setbacks, I have finally found my voice, and you will continue to hear it over the next three years, and probably far beyond that! Enjoy the rest of your summer! I will be back in September.