This is a blog devoted to social VR, virtual worlds, and the metaverse, so I usually don’t cover non-social VR experiences (i.e. those you visit alone). But I’m going to make an exception for an experience showcased at the SIGGRAPH 2019 conference in Los Angeles.
There’s no shortage of sophisticated mixed reality hardware at Siggraph, but I was most impressed by a piece of software that really demonstrated VR’s educational and experiential potential. Christopher Evans, Paul Huston, Wes Bunn, and Elijah Dixson exhibited Il Divino: Michelangelo’s Sistine Ceiling in VR, an app that recreates the world-famous Sistine Chapel within the Unreal Engine, then lets you experience all of its artwork in ways that are impossible for tourists at the real site.
The demo was created exclusively for the SIGGRAPH 2019 Immersive Pavilion, by the team behind the previous SIGGRAPH 2017 VR piece: Il Gigante: Michelangelo’s David in VR. Debuting at SIGGRAPH on Valve’s INDEX headset, Il Divino delivers an experience of the highest fidelity –you can see individual cracks and brush strokes in the plaster!
Attendees can step onto Michelangelo’s own scaffold to learn about how he painted the ceiling, or enter a Vatican conservator’s mobile aerial platform to see the ceiling up close, and learn about the controversial cleaning. In all, there are over 100 clickable elements connected to an hour of commentary talking about Michelangelo’s monumental work.
Later this year, it will be released to all as a freely downloadable experience, and it will continue to be added to and improved in the future.
This reminds me of a virtual recreation of the Sistine Chapel in Second Life, which I visited sometime in 2007 or 2008 (unfortunately, it is no longer available to visit):
The results are impressive, giving an avatar human-driven, lifelike animations not only of the lower face but also the upper face, which of course if covered by the VR headset:
This is light years ahead of current avatar facial animation technology, such as the avatar facial driver in Sinespace, which operates using your webcam. Imagine being able to conduct a conversation in VR where you can convey the full gamut of facial expressions while you are talking! This is a potential gamechanger for sure. It’s not clear when we can expect to see this technology actually applied to Oculus VR hardware, however. It might still be many years away. But it is exciting!
Kent attended a presentation today by Tim Sweeney, the founder and CEO of Epic Games, the maker of the phenomenally successful battle royale game Fortnite. Launched in 2017, Fortnite now has 250 million registered users worldwide, and made US$2.4 billion dollars in revenue in the last year. (Yes, that’s Billion, with a “B”.)
The future of [a] shared entertainment medium is to have meaningful experiences that people interact with and become a part of the larger world with open world compatibility and open interfaces. The Marshmello concert in Fortnite is one indicator of where it’s going. The metaverse is going to evolve from individual creators creating experiences that interoperate with other experiences.
Need virtual worlds to scale beyond a 200 players on a shard. Need 1 shared world w EVERYONE. Needs a programming environment to scale to unlimited sized. Not single thread C++. Large-scale concurrency w safe transactions that are consistent, durable, isolated.
A viable Metaverse is going to need a successful economy so that creators can make a living, which is absolutely essential. We need a rich set of different economic models. The app store with microtransactions is merely one model. Ad models are dysfunctional.
I’m super impressed with Tim Sweeney’s vision of the open metaverse. It’s a breath of fresh air relative to other major players who are trying to own virtual worlds through walled gardens and app store ecosystems. A viable metaverse needs to be open and interoperable.
Who really needs this? Who actually wants this? I’ve yet to see a succinct, compelling answer to either question beyond the implicit one: Because it’ll be really cool. I’m certainly in that camp, but then again, I’m a gamer/science fiction fan. So yes, I’ve loved the idea of a unified 3D Internet where gaming is significant and meaningful for decades. But I’ve become convinced that metaverse advocates are mistaking their personal preference for a market need — a desire to institutionalize gaming culture as the fundamental, universal culture of the Internet.
The metaverse was first conceived in science fiction before the modern explosion of 3D gaming and immersive and interactive environments. It was an active feedback loop between game dev architects, but the metaverse today is going to be more of a blend of Fortnite and the open web.
So, what do I think about all this? I must confess that, like Wagner, I am rather skeptical that Fortnite, as it is right now, would form a useful model for the future metaverse. Games are designed to be focused more on linear play-through and set objectives, while virtual worlds are meant to be more open-ended and less goal-oriented in nature (although you can certainly have games within virtual worlds). As well, you can have thriving social communities in MMOs like World of Warcraft and Lord of the Rings Online, so there is a somewhat fuzzy boundary between games and virtual worlds.
I do agree with Tim Sweeney that open standards are critical to create a functioning metaverse, and I also agree with Kent Bye that walled gardens and app store ecosystems are going to hinder, rather than help, usher in a metaverse for everybody.