I’m not really sure how I feel about Sansar. I got to try it last December, and I was so underwhelmed, I didn’t log on again for 6 months. It was clunky, and “experiences” downloaded so slowly that I simply couldn’t put up with it. Things have improved, things load a bit faster now, and there are features I’m excited about, but overall, it still feels like I’m fighting against it, rather than working with it.
Sansar has some really rough edges. Avatars walk slowly. Really, really slowly. I remember the first few times I logged into Second Life and how much fun it was, just to fly around. Sansar’s movement isn’t fun at all. The first thing I do now, when I go to a new experience, is hit the F4 key. F4 turns on the free camera mode, so you don’t have to wait five minutes to walk across a room.
But this is the creator beta, so I assume it is aimed at builders. Linden Lab is probably more worried about the creation tools then the viewer itself at this point. That would explain the poor avatar customization options, the lack of social features, and the generally clunky way you get around in both desktop and VR modes.
I am excited about the look of Sansar. Here's why:
It really stacks up well against more modern game engines. When you go to upload a mesh and start messing with the materials, you’ll see slots for roughness and metalness maps. This sounds like PBR to me, which is great!
PBR, or “physically based rendering”, is a joy to work with compared to Second Life’s materials system. In PBR, you are basically describing the physical characteristics of an object, and the shader just works. You define how rough and how metallic an object is, and it responds to all lighting conditions realistically. So I was super excited to create a test object to see just how great the new materials will look. The answer? They look pretty crappy.
It doesn’t appear to look any better than Second Life. The roughness maps I uploaded seem to change the specular highlights, but that’s about it. The metalness doesn’t have any effect as far as I can tell. My best guess is they have yet to implement any sort of reflectivity, which is a big part of PBR. The realism of PBR is largely a result of the reflectivity changing based on the angle between your eyes and the surface of the object. The picture below is of a PBR shader. Notice how the ball is red on the front, but becomes more reflective of the environment on the sides. Sansar isn’t doing this. (NOTE: There is a good chance it all works perfectly and I’m doing something wrong! If I am, please let me know in the comments.)
A red ball using a PBR shader. Notice the reflectivity changes.
But let's set the materials system aside. Sansar was built with virtual reality headsets in mind. In VR, frame rate is hugely important for a comfortable experience. If things start to lag, it’s easy to get sick. So of course, Sansar has robust tools for builders to make sure their content is optimized. Except, no, not at all.
Most of the experiences I’ve visited within the Vive have problem areas. You’ll be walking around comfortably, and then an item comes into view that starts the headset jittering and lagging. At the Apollo experience I can view everything comfortably except the damn rocket! In the Egyptian exhibit, everything is fine except the map of Egypt in the center of the room.
When you’re editing a scene, I think there should be big red arrows pointing to anything that is using an oddly large amount of system resources, but as far as I can tell, there isn’t any feedback at all. I try very hard to optimize things I build for Second Life, but I think I’m in the minority. It becomes a bigger issue when overly complex mesh can cause people to be physically ill, like in Sansar.
I’m going to keep trying Sansar. I’m excited about the idea of social VR experiences, and creating within that context. I think you should be too. I just hope that Sansar becomes a joy to build in, because right now, it really isn’t.