Inara Pey has an excellent blog post regarding a couple of meetings between Bjorn Linden (Bjorn Laurin, Linden Lab’s Vice President of Product), Widely Linden (head of Product for Sansar), Pete Linden (aka Peter Gray, aka Gray of the Lab from San Fan Francisco, Linden Lab’s Director of Global Communications), Xiola Linden (Second Life Community Team Manager) and users of Second Life and Sansar.
The post is really important in terms of where Sansar is at this point in its development, where it’s going, why it’s called creator beta at the moment, why Linden Lab built their own engine and much more, it’s a really good read.
Meanwhile I’ve been attending meetups in Sansar, taking no notes, but making observations and I’ve found these meetups very beneficial in terms of enjoying Sansar and getting an idea about what I might like to do with Sansar.
The meetups are largely voice based but conversations do take place in text too. This helps people find the text chat module and interact with each other, add friends, look at the features available and share knowledge of the platform.
I’ve recently reported how impressed I was with the mouth movements inside Sansar when avatars talk due to the integration of Speech Graphics technology within Sansar. Inara’s post touches upon this in a couple of important areas, firstly in terms of how detailed the Sansar avatar is :
The Sansar avatars are actually extremely, extremely advanced. I would actually go so far [as to say] they are among the most advanced avatars there is today, on any platform. Just the female avatar in Sansar has over 125 bones in the face, to make it work as we want it, to make it look realistic. That’s more than actually humans have.
I want you to build your own avatars. for now that technology we put in is so new, no-one else is using it, we’ll be able to use it for a long time, to make it look realistic, and that’s part of it. When they talk normally it’s going to look better as well, it’s going to look better, in any language, it doesn’t matter. It may Chinese, could be English, could be Swedish, could be Portuguese, Spanish. It’s going to look good. We’ve spent a lot of time on that, and I’m super excited about these small things that make it immersive, that make us want to spend more time in there.
I certainly agree on the point regarding this being a small point that makes Sansar immersive because I found this small detail to be extremely engaging but there’s an added side of this too when it comes not just to people using avatars, but also in terms of NPC’s, inclusiveness :
So you can imagine scenarios whereby you have an NPC [non-player character] that has a whole dialogue embedded within it that the user’s interacting with, and you’re not only getting a reasonably synthesised voice, but you also have the facial animations that go with it automatically – and they look convincing. So you have facial animation that’s at a quality that a lip reader probably could get information from it. And that’s something that we have right now in Sansar that is not available in other platforms; not just yet, anyhow.
The reason that this came to my attention though was because I was at a meetup in Sansar and noticed this technology at work due to interactions with other avatars.
On top of this though the meetups also allow people to share knowledge and their own experiences of using Sansar. For example at one meetup we went to another location, a link to that location had been left in text chat for us to follow, just clicking on that link loaded the new location. A simple step but one that can be helpful.
Another issue that came to light was that in Sansar at the moment you can walk to an area where another experience can automatically be loaded by some sort of trigger (I’m not sure how this works technically).
So we were in Voyage Live : Egypt but the room was filling up and it was therefore decided that we should go next door to a larger space, by walking towards a door with a green light above it, Cenotaph at Gebel es Silsileh loaded.
Some of the people in the room weren’t aware that this sort of feature existed so it was helpful in terms of hints and tips on what to look for and what you yourself may decide to design.
This made me wonder if instead of having three large experiences it would be better to build one large experience in terms of area but have a couple of side experiences linked to that.
For example I may decide to build a village and within that village have a tavern, the tavern could be another experience, rather than being part of the main experience. This would mean a different approach to texturing and design for the main experience, I wouldn’t have to texture the inside of the tavern in the main experience because it wouldn’t be visible.
This makes you think in terms of efficiency, load on end users, design techniques and much more and this all really comes from engaging in a Sansar meetup where we experience the platform as a group.
Whilst attending these meetups you may encounter people you know from other virtual worlds, be it Second Life, High Fidelity, ventures that no longer exist such as Cloud Party or somewhere else.
Obviously you don’t have to go to a Sansar meetup to visit locations with friends but a group experience brings an added dynamic that exemplifies features, be they present or missing. The missing are the sort of features that you should provide Linden Lab with feedback about in a constructive fashion.
Successful virtual worlds prosper because of people and people are, even in virtual format, social animals, the social experience is crucial to the success of any virtual world venture.
There are other issues that come to light via meetups too, some of a scandalous nature such as learning that people are working on the development of Elven ears before there’s even the sniff of a Dwarven beard in sight. This sort of development should be resisted, we’ll have bloody elves singing in Sansar next.
Sansar is in creator beta and is short of a lot of features that people from a virtual world such as Second Life expect. This is something to very much bear in mind.