Through immersive world-building, 'Sansar' wants to make VR social.
After a few months of an invite-only preview phase, Linden Lab is opening up their virtual reality successor to Second Life, Sansar, to the world. Users are now able to sign up for Sansar to begin creating and sharing their social VR experiences on PC, Oculus Rift, and Vive. Initially, new users will be limited to VR experiences that feature 35 avatars, though that number will be expanded in the coming months.
Bjorn Laurin, Linden Lab's VP of Product, tells Creators Sansar is pushing VR toward its limits to create a more human experience. By that he means, a virtual experience that feels closer to a person's notion of everyday three-dimensional reality, with the social experiences that come with it.
"These [avatars] look like you and I, they act like you and I, and we can look each other in the eyes," says Laurin. "We developed a whole new technology so that when you speak into the microphone the lips react just like in real life. And when you move the hand controllers it's like real hand movements."
What Laurin and the Linden Lab team didn't want, was for users to have to buy cameras or other peripheral equipment for motion tracking. They wanted users to be able to basically plug and play. So, when a user dons a headset and entersSansar, the platform automatically tracks their head movement and replicates it in virtual reality.
Peter Gray, Linden Lab's Senior Director of Communications, says that this means nuances in head and body gestures are now picked up in virtual social interactions. These movements, or social cues, along with spacial audio make it easy to identify which person is speaking, even if 30 users are present.
As far as world building, users have already created both experiences that are completely new and based on real places. There is currently a scale version of San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge, which people can drive, walk, or teleport across. Another user build a theme park that simulates the Seven Wonders of the World, including the Great Pyramid of Giza and the Colossus of Rhodes.
"We spent a lot of time so that sunlight, moonlight, and their shadows look the same as in real life," says Laurin. "We actually did something a few weeks ago that had never been done before: the colors from a movie projection were replicated and projected onto an avatar as they walked through a theater. That's the level of detail we're working on."
Gray explains that users can use a variety of programs to create VR experiences and import them into Sansar. Some creators are using 3D animation software, while others are using 3D photogrammetry to create photorealistic environments. Creators have also been using 360-degree video to create Sansarexperiences.
"There isn't really a singular style in Sansar," says Gray. "The experiences are quite diverse and unique to the creator's vision and what they're aiming to accomplish. One group recreated an Egyptian tomb and used photogrammetry to create a photorealistic experience for when users walk into it. Others have created experiences that are more like a game like Zelda."
Linden Lab is working to add all of the major 3D animation tools into the Sansarplatform. So, a 3D animation artist could create an experience in software like Cinema 4D or Maya, such as a super detailed and abstracted high-resolution flower, and then import that into Sansar. Users would then be able to get super close to really inspect the artistic creation.
The experiences that users are creating include entertainment, education, tourism, commerce, and about anything else you can imagine. Linden Lab hopes that new creators build whatever they like, and are hoping for plenty of surprises.
"If you want to create a flower that is an artistic experience, that's fine," says Laurin. "If you want to create an experience that is an adventure storyline or something educational, you can do that, too. You decide as the user what you want to create and if you want to publish it for the world. It's all up to you."