Why Linden Lab Is Building Its Own Engine for Sansar, Instead of Using Unity or Unreal

Inara Pey has done her usual excellent job of expertly summarizing last week’s Sansar Product Meetup, where the topic of discussion was why Linden Lab decided to build their own game engine for Sansar, instead of using an off-the-shelf engine such as Unity or Unreal.

So, rather than reinvent the wheel, I am just going to point to her blogpost, and tell you to go over there and read it all. Among the Linden Lab staff present at the meeting were:

  • Richard Linden, Sansar’s Chief Architect
  • Jeff Petersen (aka Bagman Linden), Linden Lab’s Chief Technology Officer 
  • Landon McDowell, Linden Lab’s Chief Product Officer

So you can get the scoop straight from the people directly involved.

While I think the reasoning for this decision is very sound, the unfortunate fact remains that since Linden Lab is a smaller company with limited resources, feature development will tend to lag behind off-the-shelf engines like Unity and Unreal, which have bigger development teams and lots of users. However, as mentioned in Inara’s notes, backwards compatibility of user-generated content (UGC) is a key issue that needs to be addressed in any successful virtual world. I still think that Sansar is on the right track.

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UPDATED: Notes from Today’s Avatar Customization Product Meetup in Sansar

I decided to come in-world to report on this week’s important Sansar Product Meetup, which was entirely focused on Linden Lab’s plans for future avatar customization. This is an opportunity for Sansar users to hear LL’s plans and provide feedback on what features they would like to see. Nearly 60 avatars were present at the meeting, an over-capacity crowd which lead to people landing up in separate instances of the experience (something that Linden Lab really needs to address going forward).

People who could not attend today’s meeting can follow one of three livestreams. Two attendees are livestreaming today’s Product Meetup: Daisy Gator at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=auVnsfdJ5jw and Ryzo-Rin at https://www.twitch.tv/ryzorin. The official Sansar Twitch stream can be found at https://www.twitch.tv/sansarofficial.

Cara reported that there will be more avatar sliders, first for the face and then the body. The new default human avatars will have maps on the body itself, and you will be able to use your mouse to click and drag to adjust your features. This would be a different way to adjust your face and body than using simple sliders, and it sounds exciting!

Linden Lab is considering adding an avatar height slider, and they are also looking at uniform scaling to make larger and smaller but still proportional avatars (e,g, giants and pixies).

Linden Lab also wants to push for more custom avatars on the marketplace. They are also looking at the ability to dress custom avatars using clothing created in Marvelous Designer within the next couple of releases of the client software, according to Cara. The AABB bounding box on the avatar will be expanded to allow for such things as larger wings, for example.


Cara and Lacie Address Questions from the Audience

They also want to add more avatar attachment points, and they also want to look at improving the accessories so you can adjust the item while wearing it.

High heels: not one of Linden Lab’s priorities at the moment. Many users want to have this ability though, sooner rather than later.

Custom skins: Linden Lab does want to open up the ability to upload and sell custom skins on the market.

The current humanoid skin type will be tintable (as hair and nails are now), but the next-generation avatar will have a skin type which will use subsurface scattering and shaders to look better, and will require a different way to tint it.

Animated attachments: not a current priority.

Hotswapping avatars (between saved looks in the Lookbook) is a feature that Linden Lab would like to set up for us to be able to use (i.e. not having to go into Lookbook to change an outfit but doing it instantly).

It was a very good meeting, short of actual delivery dates, but still giving us a glimpse of where avatar customization is going within Sansar. I think many of the people who attended the meeting were very pleased with the announcements that were made by Cara and Lacie.

UPDATE Feb. 15th: Inara Pey, who does a much better job of summarizing these weekly Product Meetups than I do, corrects a mistake I made:

“Hotswapping avatars (between saved looks in the Lookbook) is a feature that Linden Lab would like to set up for us to be able to use”

As a point of clarification, Cara actually said this is something the Lab is *unable* to support at the moment – and no indication was given that this is being looked at. What she did mention was that the idea of some kind of “personal inventory” of objects “carried” by an avatar is still under discussion at the Lab.

Thanks for the clarification, Inara! You can find her detailed report on the meeting here, including audio excerpts.

Avatar Customization to Be the Theme of a Special Valentine’s Day Sansar Product Meetup This Thursday

This Thursday, which also happens to be Valentine’s Day, there will be a special Product Meetup focusing on avatar customization. Lacie Sansar (who appears to be the acting community manager for Sansar while Linden Lab is searching to fill the position after Eliot left) has posted the following message to the announcements channel on the official Sansar Discord:

I’m *extremely* excited to announce our *Special Edition* of our Product Meetup this upcoming Thursday.

We will focus on discussing the highly requested upcoming features for even **more** Avatar Customization & we want to hear your feedback.

Without further ado…*lets get customizable* this **Thursday, February 14th** at **11AM PST**

See you there, Sansarians. 😉

https://events.sansar.com/events/Lacie-Sansar/product-meetup—special-edition—lets-get-customizable/bf6f3ac0

We’re already got endless customization of such things as hair, clothing, and accessories, but I am still really happy to see this announcement because I and others have been badgering Linden Lab for months now to address several issues related to customization for the default human avatars:

  • more face sliders and the addition of body sliders (height, weight, etc.)
  • customized skins which can be bought and sold on the Sansar Store

So if, like me, you are keenly interested in these sorts of topics, we get an opportunity to tell Linden Lab what we want to see!

UPDATED: Rough Notes from Today’s Sansar Product Meeting, Nov. 1st, 2018

Please note that my notes are rough notes only, and may contain errors.  Inara Pey was present and recording the meeting, so there will be a full report from her at a later date. But for now, here is what was discussed at the well-attended meeting.

UPDATE Nov. 2nd: I have added Inara Pey’s excellent notes from this meeting. They include audio excerpts.


Ebbe, Eliot, Landon, Cara, and Nyx (among several other Linden Lab staff) attended the Product Meeting today, which (at least according to the Sansar Atlas display) seems to have set a record for the number of avatars in a single Sansar experience!

Product Meetup 2 1 Nov 2018.png
Questions I asked Landon and the other Linden Lab staff are bolded.

Why has Linden Lab decided to make Sansar available on Steam?

Landon: We think we’ll be ready to launch on Steam after the next couple of Sansar client updates. Also, people cannot find us (they expect us to be on Steam). Steam is where the highest density of people who meet our hardware requirements are found (VR users and gamers).

Will Sansar still be available outside of Steam, as it currently is for Oculus Rift users?

Landon: Yes, absolutely.

Why is Linden Lab pushing to release Sansar on Steam before the end of this year, rather than wait another six months to a year to further polish the platform and add new features?

We want to get more people in, to help refine the product and make it better. We want to start building a community on Steam.

Re: dealing with any negative feedback on Steam, Eliot will pass that along to the appropriate people to deal with and respond to.

Besides losing the SandeX, what other major changes to Sansar are going to be required before it launches on Steam?

Landon: No other major changes to the platform.

What steps are you going to take to promote Sansar once it launches on Steam?

Eliot: expect some significant ad spend, expect some original assets. Linden Lab wants to build a community on Steam.


Linden Lab is also working towards launching on the Oculus Store, but they are prioritizing Steam first. (Sansar is already available on VIVEPORT.)

Some notes on the economics (Warning: economics is not my strength, so I may have some of the finer details wrong):

The buy rate will be set to 100 Sansar dollars to 1 US dollar. The exchange rate back (the sell rate) will be set to 250 to 1. However, the sell rate will be grandfathered for current Sansar users at the “legacy” rate of 143 to 1 until at least the end of next year (2019). The fees for process credit will stay.

Steam will not be part of the process of Sansar dollars, that will be entirely internal to Sansar. Cashouts will be entirely within Linden Lab, not Steam.

Users will be able to buy Sansar dollars on Steam and Steam will make 30% on that transaction. The division is: roughly 30% Steam, 30% Linden Lab, and the rest goes to creators. Note that there will be no 30% cut to Steam if you buy Sansar dollars on your credit card (as you do now).

The plan is to remove the transaction fees on sold items, but keep the transaction fee in gifting (which is a minor part of the economy). Galen said that he thinks that giving up the 15% transaction fee will lubricate the Sansar economy.

Linden Lab told us that they will be building a hub (or hubs) for a better first-time user experience.

Ebbe: Sansar will be listed on Steam as an Early Access game.

The Steam refund policy will not/does not refer to microtransactions within Sansar.

There are currently no plans to integrate with Steamworks.

Don’t expect Linux or Mac clients at the time of Steam launch.

Eliot: We want to be an alternative to VRChat. VRChat users are telling us that they are looking for something different.

Expect an influx of Steam users into the Sansar Discord channel. We now have over 1,000 users in Discord (including LL staff).

Oh, and Landon wants more male outfits and hair in the Sansar Store! 😉

Product Meetup 1 Nov 2018.png
Product Meeting, Nov. 1st, 2018

And the next client release is anticipated for next Wednesday, November 7th (no promises!).

Also, there was a complaint about a continuing problem with the mouth and teeth of the female avatar. Chic Aeon noted later on Discord:

AND —- I want to put in a pet peeve for the gals again. At the end of the meeting someone asked if the female teeth would be fixed and got brushed off with a “that’s just the smile” comment that seems to be the party line. That did NOT go over well with most of the gals I am thinking. Wondering if that would have been fixed if it was the MALE avatar that is “messed” up. (insert stronger word if you like). I was pretty insulted on many levels. Doubt I was the only one.

Note to Linden Lab: FIX. THE. TEETH. ALREADY. People have been complaining about this for weeks now. Please listen to them.

Eliot livestreamed the meeting to Twitch, if you happened to miss it, or were late.


Inara Pey 2 Nov 2018.png

Inara Pey has also posted her detailed notes from this meeting on her blog, along with audio excerpts. Thank you, Inara!