Ebbe Altberg Talks To Geek Dad

Project Sansar Concept Art

Derrick Schneider over at Geek Dad has been talking to Linden Lab CEO Ebbe Altberg about Project Sansar. There’s not really a lot new in this article, but every article seems to reveal a little bit of something that may have been missed or overlooked in other articles. These pieces are slowly starting to fit together.

For example Derrick posts :

What happens when your Second Life city gets too many people inside? Lag. And then you’re sort of stuck. In Sansar, says Altberg, a successful multiplayer experience can automatically spawn a new instance of itself when you hit some limit: Linden’s jobs website asks for experience with Amazon Web Services, so it’s easy to see where they’re going: Scale up behind the scenes so the creator doesn’t have to think about it.

I don’t think it’s any surprise that Project Sansar is looking at cloud based delivery, this has probably been mentioned before. I know instancing has been mentioned before and I know I’ve had someone post that instancing has been mentioned before when I’ve posted about instancing! So a lot of the information about Project Sansar is already out there, but it’s scattered.

However an interesting part of the Geek Dad article comes in terms of experiences. Linden Lab have invited people to alpha test Project Sansar and one point that has been mentioned is that Linden Lab are currently looking for people with Autodesk Maya experience. Now you may have thought this was to get 3D models inworld, but it appears there’s more to it than that :

The initial focus is letting people make experiences, and the authoring tools will reflect that need. “How many things in your home did you make,” asks Altberg. “But it still reflects your identity. We didn’t make the chairs in this room or the table,” he continues, gesturing around to encompass the reinforced brick walls, “but we are making an experience.”

There’s a lot more in the article, including talking of a Project Sansar downloadable client and talk of content ratings, with Ebbe suggesting that Linden Lab do not want to impose strict censorship, but it seems they do want content ratings to be there from the outset, which I think most people would agree is a sensible idea.

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Linden Lab Talk To Tom’s Hardware About Project Sansar

Project Sansar Concept Art

When I was a lad, ok when I was younger, older than a mere lad, tom’s Hardware would be a site I would go to for information about graphics cards and such like. The site had a reputation for being trustworthy when it came to reviews of hardware, plus the community had a reputation for being helpful and knowledgeable.

These days tom’s Hardware is known for more than just, well, hardware and that is exemplified by an article published today by Kevin Carbotte; Project Sansar: The Forthcoming Successor To Second Life Will Focus On VR.

The article is based on discussions between Kevin Carbotte of tom’s Hardware had with Linden Lab’s CEO, Ebbe Altberg and Linden Lab’s Senior Director of Global Communications, Gray of The Lab From San Francisco (AKA Peter Gray).

There’s nothing earth shattering or new in the article, but it does build on other articles in helping to cement some ideas about what the future may hold for Project Sansar. Again we read that land costs will be lower, sales taxes will be higher and that Project Sansar will be comparable to WordPress in terms of ideology. The idea with Project Sansar is to make things bigger, better and easier and here we do come to something that has not been discussed that often, the engine :

Peter Gray likened Project Sansar for VR to what WordPress has done for the Web; the idea is to make it possible for anyone to create a virtual experience, without the need for a software engineering background.

Linden Lab is creating its own proprietary rendering engine to make this happen. I asked why the company took this direction rather than use existing options, and was told that the problems the company has run into over the years with Second Life made it clear that the company needed an engine designed from the ground up for this platform.

The company needed the ability to make the creator tools simple to use, a task for which the current available engines are not suitable. Project Sansar offers a whole package, including the underlying multi-user functionality, hosting, assets and tools. Additionally, Linden Lab is designing Project Sansar to be accessible through several different media.

There has been some speculation as to what engine Linden Lab were using with Project Sansar, the answer is incomplete but it looks like it will be their own engine.

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Linden Lab Announce They Are Inviting Selected People To Test Project Sansar

Project Sansar Concept Art

Linden Lab have published a press release regarding Project Sansar; Linden Lab Invites First Virtual Experience Creators to Project Sansar Testing. I’m not going to publish the press release in full, but I will quote parts of it, starting with :

SAN FRANCISCO – August 18, 2015 – Linden Lab®, the creators of Second Life®, today announced that a small number of creators have been exclusively invited to be the first to help test its new platform for virtual experiences, codenamed Project Sansar.

Slated for general availability in 2016, Project Sansar will democratize virtual reality as a creative medium. It will empower people to easily create, share, and monetize their own multi-user, interactive virtual experiences, without requiring engineering resources. The platform will enable professional-level quality and performance with exceptional visual fidelity, 3D audio, and physics simulation. Experiences created with Project Sansar will be optimized for VR headsets like the Oculus Rift, but also accessible via PCs and (at consumer launch) mobile devices. Users can explore and socialize within Project Sansar experiences through advanced expressive avatars, using text and voice chat.

This isn’t surprising news. Linden Lab have stated for some time that a small number of hand picked creators would be invited to test Project Sansar. The early users are expected to be people who can create architecture and have access to Autodesk Maya, as that’s the software Linden Lab seem to have been using inhouse.

The use of Maya as a tool in Project Sansar was discussed by Ebbe Altberg recently in a video interview with UploadVR :

UploadVR: What does that workflow look like for Sansar?

Ebbe Altberg: For starters, it will be quite technical, you will register, you will log-in, you’ll install this application which includes some add-ons for Maya, and you’ll use Maya to create the content. You’ll create a full scene, very large scenes, and you just publish that and we host that on our servers, and then that experience you can send links out to, and people follow the links and walk into that experience.

UploadVR: Just like that, straight from Maya?

Ebbe Altberg: Straight from Maya, push a button, and then you have a virtual environment that you can share.

People should not get too concerned about this. Project Sansar is in the very early Alpha stage, things can and probably will, change quite dramatically before it’s in beta, or even open Alpha if they have one. At the moment Linden Lab are going with what they know works, which at this stage is Maya.

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Neoliberalism And Cardboard In Virtual Worlds And Games

Over at Los Angeles Review Of Books (LARB) Elliot Murphy, who is completing a PhD in neurolinguistics at University College London has had an epic and fascinating essay published regarding computer games and politics : Always a Lighthouse: Video Games and Radical Politics . This is a long and rather riveting read. Whereas the essay is largely about games and the narrative they portray, Second Life does get a mention :

But while many games traffic in radicalization, and often revive the trope of “evil corporate” antagonists, most are themselves more corporate than ever. Owned as they are by multinational conglomerates, it is of little surprise that video games have merged with other corporate forms of entertainment. The X-Men have their games, Max Payne has his film, and World of Warcraft has its novels. Universities and businesses also regard the virtual world of Second Life (celebrating the economic interactions and institutional structures of corporate capitalism) as a “fun” platform from which students and employers can “socialize” and host meetings, while companies like Apple and Nissan flood its poorly textured streets with electrifying logos and adverts. These and other franchises promote the core tenets of neoliberalism: privatization, deregulation, commodification, and a celebration of personal profit. Other games like Saints Row and Need for Speed buttress a consumerist culture, often exulting in greed and self-indulgence.

At first glance this looks a bit heavy and deep and yet the article points out that the power of video games and by extension virtual worlds, we see this in the introduction to the essay :

VIDEO GAMES, as Robert Cassar recently noted in his Games and Culture essay “Gramsci and Games,” are often “sophisticated texts that can represent not just ideas but entire worlds, which invite players to explore them.” Video games contain a unique combination of expressive dimensions, including audiovisual language and narrative along with their distinctive ludic and interactive elements. Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown, in their essay “The Play of Imagination” also for Games and Culture, make the crucial point that through these elements, games can introduce novel pedagogical practices that differ from other interactive and educational media.

As I said, the essay is a long one and I suspect that people on the left and right will find issues with it. The author definitely seems to lean left and for point of clarity, so do I personally, although I don’t generally engage much with politics in virtual worlds or games. This doesn’t mean that I don’t see the potential for politics playing a large part in video game and virtual world culture, especially as the medium grows. We are seeing this today in many online debates about where the computer gaming industry in particular should be heading.

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The Project Sansar Media Train Is Still Going Full Steam Ahead

Second Life Image - Futuristic Guy

The Project Sansar media train keeps on rolling as two more articles appear in the media and both of them also mention Second Life, although in more of a past tense when compared to Project Sansar. One of the articles is positive and one is rather cynically negative, but hey people are very much entitled to their opinion.

The first article is by Alice Truong over at Quartz; Could the Oculus Rift help give Second Life a second life? The headline is uncannily similar to a recent blog headline of my own, although my post wasn’t really about the Oculus Rift! This is a good article that deserves extra credit for taking advantage of Linden Lab’s Flickr pool, as do I in this post too.

The Quartz article makes comparisons between Project Sansar and Second Life and points out that it sounds like some of the concepts will be similar :

Some of Sansar’s rules will be slightly different, and the immersive VR graphics will be far superior (though it will still work on regular computers and mobile devices too). But like Second Life, Sansar isn’t a game with a clear objective. There are no bosses to defeat or princesses to rescue. Instead, people, playing as virtual representations of themselves, will carry out day-to-day, often fantastical, lives in a made-up world. They’ll explore, socialize, have cybersex, make art, perform, create businesses, build houses, go shopping, pay taxes.

The article does a good job of covering how Second Life works as well as looking ahead to how Project Sansar may work, with once again the concept of lower land taxes and higher sales taxes being pointed out.

This is an important point as it indirectly ties into a quote in the article from Bernhard Drax (AKA Draxtor Despres) who seems to feel that the corporations didn’t quite get Second Life :

“If you looked at it as a 3D billboard, Second Life did not work,” he says. But he notes the world flourished “as an artistic playground.”

I largely agree with Drax but would add that one of the barriers to Second Life being an artistic playground is the fact that the tier is too damn high! That is going to be addressed in Project Sansar. As for the corporations, I still feel they should have immersed themselves more with the community and rented spaces in shopping malls with other Second Life creators.

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