Why I Am Excited About Virtual Universe

Yeah, can you tell I am excited about the upcoming beta launch of Virtual Universe?

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(Image courtesy of the Distracted Boyfriend Meme Generator)

And yes, I am part of the Virtual Universe (VU) Initial Coin Offering Partner Program (I’m currently number two on their VU Token Leaderboard). The main reason I am participating in that program is because it’s the only legal way I can earn VU tokens before the social VR space launches later this summer. Here’s a 10-minute video which explains the partner program in a lot more detail:


I think that Linden Lab should consider such a program to pay people in Sansar dollars for promoting Sansar on their various social media.

But people have been asking me, why am I excited about VU as opposed to other blockchain-based virtual world platforms?

Well, if you haven’t seen my recent half-hour guided tour of VU, I suggest you set aside some time to watch the whole video. I have been blistering in my criticism of other blockchain-based virtual world projects which are more hype than substance (Decentraland is a classic example) because they don’t have anything that you can actually visit yet. But in Virtual Universe, they not only have a place you can visit (currently, only by appointment), but they also have a very easy in-world content creation tool that is actually fun to use! And I was impressed by the many little added touches such as AI-controlled animals like lizards, rabbits, and bluebirds, even individual insects!

Now, Virtual Universe still has a lot of work left to do. Any virtual world project is a mammoth undertaking, and they still have to polish the user avatars (the current ones are merely placeholders, from what I understand) and other features. But it’s a very promising, and very impressive, start.

So yes, I am eagerly awaiting the launch of the beta version of Virtual Universe, even though Sansar is still my first love (and the reason I created this blog in the first place).

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Building a Portal Between the Real World and Social VR Spaces: SVVR’s MULTIVERSE Initiative

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A portal between High Fidelity and a real-world event (picture from the Road to VR website)

Kent Bye, in a news report on the Road to VR website, writes about the fifth anniversary of the immensely influential organization known as the Silicon Valley Virtual Reality (SVVR) meetup:

Today is the five-year anniversary for Silicon Valley Virtual Reality meetup, and founder Karl Krantz is announcing a couple of new initiatives as SVVR reorganizes itself as a public-benefit corporation. They’re going to be formally announcing their MULTIVERSE initiative that is going to be bringing Reality Portals to VR events, which will allow people virtually attend VR events put on by SVVR and others through social VR experiences like High Fidelity. They’ve created a screen that can be placed at VR events that provides a low-latency window into a VR world (and vice versa), allowing for serendipitous interactions between co-located events and the virtual attendees.

Among the first participants in this initiative will be High Fidelity, according to this press release:

Celebrating five years connecting the global VR community, SVVR is proud to announce MULTIVERSE — an open design initiative powering real-time, live event communications between real locations and virtual worlds.

Reality Portal is the first project to be launched as part of the MULTIVERSE initiative. It offers ‘natural interaction telepresence’ between people in the real world and people in remote locations, represented as avatars. Serving as a two-way window, Reality Portal enables real-time communications between real world and remote attendees and speakers at live events worldwide.

“Geography, platform fragmentation and exclusivity creates communities in isolation,” says Karl Krantz, SVVR partner and founder. “We’re offering the community an open bridge for overcoming location, closed ecosystems and toxic echo chambers. MULTIVERSE is our vision for fostering an open, sustainable and healthy future for global communications.”

Launching in late 2018, the open-source MULTIVERSE Development Kit will provide creators with everything they need to connect real locations and virtual worlds through pop-up Reality Portals and merged world spaces of their own. High Fidelity, Unity and WebVR/XR SDK support is in active development. MULTIVERSE technologies are currently utilized during live, SVVR-powered events.

“The distance between the real world and virtual reality is getting smaller every day,” said Philip Rosedale, founder and CEO of High Fidelity. “Closing that distance and making it easy for people to interact in-person and with their avatar representations interchangeably, no matter the VR platform, their equipment or location unlocks the true potential of virtual reality. Projects like MULTIVERSE, Reality Portal and the VRBA are all exciting steps along that path.”

In addition, SVVR is joining the Virtual Reality Blockchain Alliance, cofounded by open source VR platform High Fidelity. As a member of the Virtual Reality Blockchain Alliance, SVVR will work closely with the community and VRBA members to connect open metaverse platforms and services to people around the globe. Current VRBA members include High Fidelity, JanusVR and Somnium Space.

I wrote about the Virtual Reality Blockchain Alliance a while ago on this blog.

It would be fun to be able to virtually attend real-world events via this sort of portal.

Universal Translators in Virtual Worlds and Social VR Spaces

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Image by Tumisu on Pixabay

你好! What language has the most irregular verbs?

I’ll answer that at the end of this blogpost, but first I wanted to talk a bit about languages and virtual worlds.

Virtual worlds such as Second Life attract people from all around the world, who might not speak the same language as each other. (The Second Life website itself is available in English, Japanese, German, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Turkish and Russian.) Automatic translator software (such as this popular item on the SL Marketplace, which works with Google Translate) is often used to bridge the language gap between users chatting in Second Life.

But text chat is not used as often as voice chat in the newer social VR spaces such as Sansar and High Fidelity. Waverly Labs has already created an earpiece called the Pilot, which fits inside your ear to translate foreign languages in real-time, much like the babel fish in Douglas Adams’ science fiction novel The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. In my opinion, it’s really only a matter of time until this sort of technology makes it into social VR platforms.

(A related challenge is to provide voice-to-text conversion so that, for instance, a deaf person can participate in social VR discussions. Thankfully, this is already commonly available using software such as the Dragon line of products. It just needs to be integrated with the various client software used to navigate the newer metaverse products.)

Seamless communication between people of all languages may be coming sooner than you think! 再见!


And now the answer to the question I posted at the start of this blogpost: according to this discussion thread on the WordReference forums, the language with the highest number of irregular verbs is Latin—or perhaps Portuguese.

Pluto VR: A Social VR Dashboard App

Pluto VR is a software product by a small Seattle-based company that has a distinctly different take on social VR: it’s a dashboard app that you load while you are running another SteamVR program. Last year they raised almost $14 million in funding. Here’s a picture from that report, showing three avatars from the perspective of one who is in Paris within the Google Earth VR software program.

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Now, there are still some limitations. You can see other people and talk to them while you’re in a SteamVR program, but they can’t see what you’re seeing (in other words, the other two avatars can’t see Paris). You can only see the head and the hands of the other avatars, and you can talk to each other.

Here’s a few questions and answers from their FAQ:

How do I use Pluto once it’s running?

Pluto runs as a dashboard app, which means if you open the SteamVR dashboard you will see our icon along the bottom of the SteamVR dashboard.  Select it and you can interact with Pluto to call your contacts. If you receive a call the dashboard will open automatically, and show you Pluto’s UI.

Can people I’m talking to see what I see?

Not yet. Several organizations including Pluto are actively developing technology to let people see more of what each other is doing. In the meantime, Pluto gives you the ability to see and hear each other no matter what app each of you are currently using.

What can we see about each other?

You are able to see the heads and hands of those you are talking to (if their motion controllers are on). We currently limit what we show based on the tracking information that most people have.

Here’s a YouTube video that probably describes Pluto VR better than I could. Notice that, at the beginning of the video, one avatar is in Google Earth and the other is in Tilt Brush, but each cannot see what the other sees. (One avatar did send the other one a screenshot of their Tilt Brush creation, though.) At the end of the video, there is a sort of weird mashup of Pluto VR and Rec Room, where it wasn’t clear to me whether or not each avatar could actually see what the others were doing. (And, if you’re all playing together in Rec Room, why would you use Pluto VR anyway?)

This is an intriguing concept, but I’m still not sold on how practical or useful this would be. Pluto VR is currently available through the Early Access Software program on Steam, and they are actively looking for alpha testers with VR headsets. So if you’re interested, download the software and give it a try.

Question: What happens when you use Pluto VR as a social VR overlay in a social VR app on SteamVR, like VRChat? Would it be like when John Malkovich enters the portal into his own head in the movie Being John Malkovich? 😉

Sansar Dives Into Esports with a Partnership with the Overwatch League

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Today, Linden Lab announced a partnership with multiple professional teams from the Overwatch League (OWL), including the Houston Outlaws and the San Francisco Shock. According to the press release:

This first-of-its-kind collaboration goes above and beyond what traditional two-dimensional chat and streaming allow, and will give gamers a deeper way to connect and communicate – enabling fans to interact one-on-one with popular players and personalities, stream matches in virtual watchspaces created by their favorite teams, and show their support through exclusive branded merchandise.

Sansar’s latest offering arrives right as the global demand for esports reaches a new peak, and while teams everywhere face increased pressure to deliver memorable fan experiences, VR has remained noticeably absent from the broader conversation – until now.

Sansar offers esports fans an immersive, interactive viewing experience on par with a real-life event – complete with virtual photo opps, meet-and-greets, and exclusive giveaways. Fans can use Sansar on both PC and VR to connect in their team’s branded virtual watch space, tune into live stream matches, and buy custom skins and merch. Other features coming soon include real-time stats integration, in-match player audio sharing, and more.

“We’ve seen a real need in the esports market for a deeper, more engaging fan experience – something that can go beyond normal spectatorship to really draw people in,” said Ebbe Altberg, CEO at Linden Lab. “We feel social VR is perfectly poised to meet this need, and we’re thrilled to find forward-thinking esports partners that feel the same – trailblazing teams that recognize VR’s potential and are willing to evolve and innovate to deliver world-class experiences. Their investments in Sansar are investments in their communities.”

Now, I am not an esports expert, and frankly, I’ve never heard of the Overwatch League before today. (Why, yes, I do happen to live under a rock! Excuse me while I take a swig of Geritol and shake my cane at those darn kids on my lawn!) Here’s an introduction to Overwatch, which is apparently a very popular video game:

How popular? Well, according to reports from a year ago, they have over 30 million players, and they also have a very active Reddit community. So Linden Lab is obviously hoping that there’s a market for Overwatch fans to gather together in VR and watch gamers play against each other.

Here’s more from the Esports Observer blog:

  • Linden Lab’s Sansar announces partnerships with multiple Overwatch League teams.
  • Houston Outlaws and San Francisco Shock will help to create virtual watch spaces where fans can interact with players and personalities.
  • Sansar’s future esports integration will include real-time match stats, and in-match player audio sharing.

Linden Lab, the creator of Second Life, has decided to deliver virtual reality experiences to esports fans. It will partner with multiple teams in the Overwatch League to build virtual watchspaces through their VR social media platform, Sansar.

In the announcement, it was stated that the Houston Outlaws will name its virtual clubhouse “The Hideout,” while the San Francisco Shock will have a VR arena called the “Epicenter.” With both spaces, fans will be able to buy custom team-themed skins and merch for their Sansar avatars. Both OWL teams will open their virtual hangouts with real-life launch parties in their home cities.

My ears did prick up at the mention of “skins”. We’ve been waiting for custom skins for Sansar avatars for a while now. Could that be coming soon?

NOTE: You can install the Sansar software client, if you don’t already have it, at https://www.sansar.com/download

Somnium Space: A Brief Introduction

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Theanine gave me a heads up on Twitter about a new social VR space called Somnium Space, so I went over to their website to download the beta software and try it out. (I think “Somnium Space” is a very strange choice for the name of a virtual world; it sounds like a sleeping pill!)

In the email message I received once I signed up, it stated that Somnium Space was in open beta:

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According to their website, they plan to offer support for all the major platforms: Android App, Daydream, GearVR, Desktop VR (Vive and Oculus), and a PC Client. Right now there’s just a VR client for the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and Windows Mixed Reality headsets.

Setting up your avatar is pretty straightforward. It’s basically the same as the Oculus Home avatar, just a head and shoulders, which you can tint any colour you want:

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I did have a chance to wander around a bit in their first city, called Waypoint. There’s a cinema, a shopping mall (more of a mock-up than a true retail setting), and a working bowling alley. There were helpful signs posted at the spawn point, that explained how to use the Vive and Rift Controller buttons to move around and turn.

I had difficulty getting some good screen shots, because there didn’t seem to be a snapshot feature in the VR client software, and there didn’t seem to be any desktop mode yet. So I had to hold up my VR headset in one hand, and grab a screenshot with SnagIt with the other from what I could see in my VR headset reflected on my monitor! Here’s the Arcade Hall where the bowling alley is located.

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As I have said before, the social VR space is getting very, very crowded! Here’s another product to keep an eye on.

Which Social VR Spaces Will Benefit From the Oculus Go?

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Image from https://www.oculus.com/go/

Mashable reviewer Raymond Wong has given the new Oculus Go headset a rave review:

Oculus Go is the VR headset we’ve all been waiting for: fully self-contained. It’s super clichéd to say a product is the “iPhone of [product category],” but the Oculus Go really is.

It’s the only VR headset that provides a good VR experience without the complexities of configuring a smartphone or PC. It’s not the most cutting-edge VR headset— that’ll always be reserved for PC VR headsets — but it’s the most frictionless way to dive into the virtual world. Oculus Go is the first VR headset you can casually pick up and use without needing to set time aside for setup.

Standalone VR headsets are the future. They’re the “sweet spot” as Zuckerberg also said at Oculus Connect. Oculus Go is an important stepping stone towards more powerful standalone VR headsets, like Facebook’s own Santa Cruz VR headset, that’ll inch us closer towards a Holodeck.

The Oculus Go is the VR headset that’ll help mainstream VR. It may still be another few more years, but this is the one that changes everything.

The Oculus Go features over 1,000 VR games, social apps, and 360° experiences at launch, including the social VR spaces vTime and AltspaceVR. (Surprisingly, Facebook Spaces is not among them.) It makes sense that social VR apps that lock you into one place (like vTime) or which have very basic avatars (like AltspaceVR) would be usable in Oculus Go. If Oculus Go becomes very popular, as it might, these social VR platforms may indeed have an advantage over those which require a full-blown VR headset and a higher-end computer, such as Sansar or High Fidelity.

One social VR platform on the Oculus Go that most impressed Raymond was Oculus Rooms:

My favorite VR experience for the Go is Oculus Rooms 2.0. First launched on Rift and Gear VR, the updated Rooms is like virtual hangout for you and your friends to chill in.

There are three main sections of Rooms: A “Media Area” with a giant screen where you can watch videos and view media content, a “Games Table” where you can play various games like matching cards and Reversi (more games like Boggle, Monopoly and Trivial Pursuit are coming from Hasbro later), and “Your Room” where you can decorate your space by customizing things like your furniture textures, the photos on your walls, and the scene out the virtual window.

 The Rooms experience isn’t photo-realistic by any means, but it’s the best showcase of social VR. Here, inside of this virtual room, you can invite your friends from anywhere in the world to come and watch a video with you. Or watch a video, while playing mini games. Or just hang out and have a conversation.

I thought it would be stupid at first, but it’s one of the most natural things I’ve ever done in VR. And even though it’s nowhere near as full-featured as Facebook Spaces for the Oculus Rift, it’s still pretty damn fun to chill in even if you’re not doing anything but kicking back and watching a video.

Rooms is the first thing I showed people when I handed them Oculus Go, and it never failed to blow them away. Even friends who were extremely skeptical of VR or had written it off as a fad were impressed. Rooms is to Oculus Go the way Wii Sports was to the Wii — it’ll hook you instantly.

Polygon, in its article on Oculus Go, also notes the appeal of Oculus Rooms:

The headset’s Oculus Rooms feature allows me to create my own social space for my family and friends in virtual reality. I can sit and chat with them, via pretty little avatars. We can share home movies and photos by linking our phones to the headset. We can watch movies together. We can play basic parlor games. It feels like a natural and useful implementation of virtual reality, and it’s powered by a $200 stand-alone headset. This is an actual place where I want to spend time.

And the Polygon writer, Colin Campbell, adds this interesting note about why Oculus Rooms is not available for the Oculus Rift headset:

One irritating aspect of Oculus Go’s launch is that core social function Oculus Rooms won’t be available for Rift. We asked a spokesperson why Rift owners are being left out, and received the following statement.

“Rift users can use Facebook Spaces to make their VR experience a more social one. Facebook Spaces is designed to take full advantage of PC VR platforms to power social experiences, while Oculus Rooms is designed to help people connect with friends and family on lower-compute mobile VR devices. It’s great to have different kinds of social experiences on different platforms because it’s still early days for VR, and it helps us learn while giving people a variety of ways to interact.”

As a Rift owner who doesn’t use Facebook, I find this disappointing. But if Go is a commercial success, maybe the company will find a way to allow Rooms and Facebook Spaces to live together across its portfolio of devices.


One of the problems in getting many existing social VR software clients to run on the Oculus Go is that their programs need to be made to run in as little storage as possible. (For example, the Sansar client uses tens of gigabytes of memory storage for caching experiences you visit, so they will load more quickly the next time you come back.)  There’s only 32GB (or 64GB if you buy the upgraded version) of total program storage on the Oculus Go:

Oculus was generous enough to give me pre-release access to the Oculus Store, so I went kind of crazy downloading and installing as many different apps as my 32GB headset could hold.

Most VR apps are around 500-700MB, and 3D games usually clocked in at no more than 5GB. Just something to keep in mind if you’re deciding between the 32GB and 64GB Oculus Go. If you’re planning on playing a lot of 3D games, I recommend going with the higher storage model because there’s no adding more later.

The bigger problem is that high-quality social VR requires a very high rate of data transfer (that cord tethering your Oculus Rift to your PC is there for a reason!). It’s highly doubtful that you would be able to achieve that same high data transfer rate on the Oculus Go. The Oculus Rift and HTC Vive rely on higher-end gaming machines with powerful integrated graphics cards to be able to deliver the necessary 90 frames per second performance so you don’t get sick in VR.

That being said, and ignorant as I am of the other technical challenges that face those who want to port existing social VR platforms to the Oculus Go, I’d love to hear what others have to say. What do you think are the major obstacles in bringing programs like Sansar, High Fidelity, Sinespace or VRChat to the Oculus Go and similar all-in-one VR headsets?