We’re in a metaverse déjà vu moment. Companies are spending billions of dollars creating new metaverses, imagining a 3D virtual future. But there’s a metaverse that’s already been around for decades. In this world, people have started businesses, built homes and fallen in love as avatars.
In a new four-part series from The Journal, producer Annie Minoff heads back into that largely forgotten metaverse – Second Life – to tell the story of the metaverse we already have and what it can reveal about the one that’s coming.
Start listening to How to Build a Metaverse on Friday, September 23rd.
UPDATE Sept. 27th, 2022: I listened to the first instalment of this podcast on Sunday, and I can recommend it highly! Annie Minoff interviews many different people—including former Linden Lab senior staff like Philip Rosedale and Cory Ondrejka—and it’s clear that she has immersed herself into Second Life and its culture a lot more than most reporters! I look forward to listening to future episodes of this podcast.
UPDATE Oct. 4th, 2022: The second episode has dropped, and can be found here: Avatars Behaving Badly (LOL!). Note that new episodes of this four-part podcast will be available to listen to on Fridays.
This afternoon, Linden Lab (the makers of virtual world Second Life) made an announcement:
Wouldn’t it be cool if you could animate your avatar in real time? What if you could wave your arm and your avatar could mimic your motions? Or imagine if your avatar could reach out and touch something in-world or perform animations? Linden Lab is exploring these possibilities with an experimental feature called “Puppetry.”
We have been working on this feature for some time and now we are ready to open it up to the Second Life community for further development and to find out what amazing things our creators will do with this new technology.
The code base is alpha level and does contain its share of rough edges that need refinement, however the project is functionally complete, and it is possible for the scripters and creators of Second Life to start to try it out.
The animated GIF I copied from the Linden Lab announcement didn’t work in my blogpost, so I downloaded the video from their tweet below:
Now, Second Life is not the first flatscreen virtual world to announce such a feature (that would be Sinespace; I wrote about their Avatar Facial Driver back in 2018). At that time, Sinespace said that facial coverings such as glasses might interfere with the tracking. However, four years have passed and I have zero doubt that the technology has improved!
Linden Lab goes on to explain how the Puppetry technology works:
Puppetry accepts target transforms for avatar skeleton bones and uses inverse kinematics (IK) to place the connecting bones in order for the specified bones to reach their targets. For example the position and orientation “goal” of the hand could be specified and IK would be used to compute how the forearm, elbow, upper arm, and shoulder should be positioned to achieve it. The IK calculation can be tricky to get right and is a work in progress.
The target data is supplied by a plug-in that runs as a separate process and communicates with the viewer through the LLSD Event API Plug-in (LEAP) system. This is a lesser known functionality of the Viewer which has been around for a while but has, until now, only been used for automated test and update purposes.
The Viewer transmits the Puppetry data to the region server, which broadcasts it to other Puppetry capable Viewers nearby. The receiving Viewers use the same IK calculations to animate avatars in view.
To my knowledge, this marks a major change in how avatars move in Second Life. One of the things which the newer generation of metaverse platform users (much more used to social VR platforms like VRChat) have found odd is that SL avatars rely so much on the playback of pre-recorded animations. (Keep in mind that SL does not support users in VR headsets, as it cannot reach the necessary frame rates to avoid VR sickness! There have been valiant attempts made over the years, however.)
If you are intrigued by this development and want to test it out for yourself, here are the details (it does sound as though you will need to be a bit of a computer geek to participate, at least in this open beta test period!):
The Puppetry feature requires a project viewer and can only be used on supporting Regions. Download the project Viewer at the Alternate Viewers page. Regions with Puppetry support exist on the Second Life Preview Grid and are named: Bunraku, Marionette, and Castelet.
When using the Puppetry Viewer in one of those regions, if someone there is sending Puppetry data you should see their avatar animated accordingly. To control your own avatar with Puppetry it’s a bit more work to set up the system. You need: a working Python3 installation, a plug-in script to run, and any Python modules it requires. If you are interested and adventurous: please give it a try. More detailed instructions can be found on the Puppetry Development page.
We look forward to seeing what our creators do with the new Puppetry technology. Compared to other features we have introduced, it’s quite experimental and rough around the edges, so please be patient! We will keep refining it, but before we go further we wanted to get our residents’ thoughts.
We will be hosting an open discussion inworld on Thursday, Sept 8 1:00PM SLT at the Bunraku, Marionette, and Castelet regions on the Preview Grid. We’re also happy to talk about this at the upcoming Server User Group or Content Creator meetings. Come by, let us know what you think, and hear about our future plans!
I for one will be quite excited to test this new feature out!
I have been waiting a while to write this editorial, but I think the right time has come.
I have been avidly following every twist and turn of the current crypto crash, following various Reddit communities and scouring Google and Apple News for the reports of the latest crypto companies to fail, taking their investors’ money with them. The chain of dominos continues to fall, and nobody can predict where or when this “crypto winter” will end.
In talking about all this, there’s lot of jargon being thrown around which can sometimes be difficult to understand: smart contracts, DeFi, NFTs, DAOs, etc. The following 7-minute YouTube video explains all these and other terms, and I can recommend it highly (and it can serve as a refresher for the rest of you):
From the moment I first began writing about the blockchain-based virtual worlds and social VR platforms (starting with Decentraland, years before they actually opened their doors to the general public), I have been fascinated by the new crop of metaverse projects boasting some blockchain component. These projects seem to split into two kinds:
1. Projects with Non-Fungible Token (NFT)-based virtual real estate (e.g. Decentraland, Cryptovoxels, Somnium Space, The Sandbox). All such projects tend to have their own cryptocurrency (or use Ether, ETH), and offer a marketplace where you can buy and sell other blockchain-based goods, such as avatar wearables.
While examples of the second category are few in number, there has been an explosion of projects announced in the first category over the past couple of years. Many of these projects had hoped to duplicate the success of Decentraland, which had the great good fortune to do an Initial Coin Offering at the absolute perfect time, in 2017 raising US$24 million dollars before ever building a platform.
Decentraland’s successful subsequent virtual land auctions (with their frenzied bidding wars for NFT-based virtual pieces of land called, naturally enough, LAND) also attracted a lot of attention and favourable press. This no doubt encouraged other companies to set up similar schemes in an effort to duplicate that success. Among those that have actually delivered a viable product to date are Cryptovoxels, Somnium Space, and the still-in-alpha/beta-testing-but-soon-to-launch platform The Sandbox. Each of these projects inspired similar bidding frenzies for artificially-scarce NFT-based parcels of virtual real estate, in some cases setting records.
The following charts show just how much the value of the cryptocurrencies associated with just these six projects has tumbled over the past three months (all charts are via the CoinMarketCap website):
And here’s one that really hurts: the surge and plunge in value of Neos Credits (NCR) over the past year. At the moment, project development has come to a near-standstill as the CEO fights against the CTO and the rest of the dev team about the role crypto will play in the NeosVR platform (and the matter will likely land up in court for the lawyers to battle over).
It’s still not clear if NeosVR can recover from this fiasco, which breaks my heart because it has such great technology! I do consider this to be the textbook example of how crypto speculation and greed can cause problems with an otherwise stellar platform; without being hooked to NCR, a cryptocurrency which has as yet has no practical use on the platform, NeosVR would still be doing very well! Instead, it is bleeding investors.
In addition, you can see the clear downward trend in both sales volume and average sale price for the following NFT-based properties over time (all taken from the NFT Stats website). Some seem to be doing a bit better than others, but all are down:
The overall situation is grim, particularly for those who bought cryptocurrencies and NFTs at the height of the market, perhaps expecting to flip them for a quick profit. But, for the countless blockchain-based metaverse projects who hopped on the bandwagon after Decentraland and the other market early movers, the situation is even worse. In many cases, the newer companies expected to raise funds by minting and selling NFTs to investors, often well before anything concrete was built! Examples of such projects include two I have written about earlier this year, Wilder World and VictoriaVR, but there are literally dozens and dozens more such projects, more than I could ever hope to cover in my blog. The prognosis for these newer projects is not looking especially promising, as potential investors head for the hills.
And, sadly, the bullish crypto market also brought out all the scammers who wanted to take advantage of the hothouse atmosphere of crypto investment, accepting money up front for what was essentially vapourware, and then pulling the rug out from under those who had not done their proper due diligence. Greed and FOMO (fear of missing out) drove a lot of ignorant cryptobros to pour money into a lot of projects which, to date, have had little to show for them but a slick website and an active Discord (or Telegram) server where everybody was pumping everybody else up to buy and HODL (hold on for dear life to) their associated crypto and NFT assets.
Some non-financially-savvy people, believing that they were truly on to a sure thing, gambled money they could not afford to lose—their life savings, their retirement funds, even their childrens’ college funds—and have lost everything, or next to everything, in the current bear market, holding near-worthless assets they cannot find anyone to sell to. I keep reading heartbreaking stories in the various subReddits of investors who have lost everything. Many have spoken of suicide, and many Reddit communities have posted resources to support those who are struggling with their mental health as a result of their poor financial decisions.
In the current environment, I believe that any blockchain-based metaverse (or a metaverse platform with an associated cryptocurrency), is going to be in for a very rough ride over the next few months, as governments around the world raise interest rates, and the easy, low-interest credit dries up, and a global recession looms. People are going to retreat to safer investments, fleeing the demonstrably high volatility of crypto and blockchain assets like NFTs. We can expect to see a mass stampede to the exits in some projects, and frankly, not all the blockchain-based metaverse platforms out there will survive.
I’m constantly on the look out for stories for the RyanSchultz.com blog, bookmarking anything and everything that I or my readers might find of interest—news and announcements about social VR, virtual worlds, and the metaverse (including the blockchain-based platforms).
At the moment, I’m so backlogged with my bookmarks, that today I’ve just decided to share many of them with you, in an effort to get caught up! Each would likely be the seed for a proper blogpost all on its own, but here each one will just get a sentence or two, a brief annotation only. Hope you don’t mind!
XR Today: Sensorium, Humanity 2.0 Launch Vatican City Art Metaverse (Ultra high-end social VR platform Sensoirum Galaxy partners with the Humanity 2.0 Foundation to build a virtual gallery for Vatican City). “The company’s Sensorium Galaxy platform is currently in beta testing, with a launch date set for later in the year to expand its availability across devices, including VR headsets, PCs, and mobile devices.”
Now that I’ve shared some of my most interesting finds with you, I hope that this list will tide you over until I can whip up some fresh new content for you! Expect more blogposts soon. (If people find these news roundups useful, I might continue to write them, as well as my regular blogposts.)