I got last week the long awaited email. Last year I have signed up for the creator preview of the hotly discussed Project Sansar by Linden Lab. Wait right there, I'm not a creator... but trying is free and at least I do create events sometimes. I call it 'creating experiences' and that's that what Linden Lab's promotion for Sansar actually suggests. As event producer I´m in particular interested to know, how events can take place in Sansar, from the technical but also the marketing perspective. I was so hyper about the invitation email that I posted it right away on my Facebook and despite some unfounded negative comments, someone wrote I'd be disappointed by Sansar. If I'd be short-sighted and narrow minded as some appear to be, I'd immediately agree to it.
The email containing the invitation to Sansar makes it clear, Linden Lab does still not wish that screenshots or videos from inside Sansar get shared yet and so I will follow the request, probably much to your diappointment.
I do tend to try to understand the reason behind Linden Lab's sometimes questionable decisions and rules, since i've had to deal with their support team for nearly 6 years every day as estate director and responsible for way to many regions back then. In this case, asking invited creators - or me - to agree to an NDA, made a lot of sense, when I joined into Sansar then.
Downloading Sansar, a first glimpse and logging in
Downloading the required Sansar viewer is not the big deal, but the installation takes much longer than i.e. the Firestorm or even regular Second Life viewer. And having it downloaded, does not mean, that you can login right away. Just like many of the MMORPG games, it's likely that you will receive an update patch once you load the viewer onto your screen. After signing up ...choosing a name and choosing between rather standard avatars something I'd consider an insult to have to 'game' with, aka a very standard avatar that I cannot make look anywhere close to what I'd consider appealing, after all that... the Sansar viewer received an update... and twenty minutes have passed. The last time I had that much patience for a software or application, was STO and only because a friend literally begged me to try it.
In the meantime I took the chance to explore the lacking vast information the account website provides. There's the much awaited Sansar store, and the first I noticed is that people are already selling their stuff. It has freebies too, indeed. But the fact, that there are people already selling their items did let me expect much more than I found out later. Besides that, the Sansar store has no sorting option. You see what you get served, that`s it, keep scrolling until you find what you´re looking for.
I thought myself that it' s all in the making and that merchants will make sure, that those search and sort options will be installed soon, so I switched to the next tab, which I didn´t expect any at all. Sansar has a currency, S$ and an exchange for it! Finding out about the S$ exhange just raised my expectations, that Sansar may become, what we hope it will be like.
There's not much more about the account page, but the fact, that it is not possible yet to change ones profile picture, and I´ve not even figured if there is a profile any at all. It does however take the gravatar picture, that comes with your email address you're signing up with. Basically... you cannot change anything in your profile but add a description only. That's important to know, because the name you sign up with, will later also be the domain to your experience(s).
The account page has not much more to offer but the Help tab, which bascially refers you to a forum and the Atlas tab. Atlas is, what is going to replace the world map, place search and anything we know from SL about discovering places, all in one. Nicely lay out, but there is again no search, sort or filter option, not yet... The Atlas lists all the experiences that are published and accessible and most, which are listed so far. Roughly estimated I'd think I saw about 100 - 120 experiences listed, but it may have been less or more.
Now, that the Sansar viewer patched the update I was ready to login...
Significantly with the login screen is, one does login with their email address now. I do not have a VR set yet though, in fact I will avoid to have one as long as possible too. When logging into Sansar, unlike we`re used to with Second Life, you´re not logging with your avatar at your 'home' or last location. Instead the already mentioned Atlas is the welcome screen and you get to choose, where to go. A tab suggests that you can choose to go to your own experiences too, but they will be only listed there, if they are published already. If they are not published... it took me a while to find my already created one again, under the option to create a new one.
Dear Second Life Land Lords... if you had plans to invest into Sansar, you can put your plans back far away. There's no way to sublet experiences to anyone yet, and I've doubts that it will ever be an option. An experience is far away of what we called a sim or region. There is no standard terrain or a .raw file that forms a terrain. It's an empty room, that you need to fill with your creations to make it look like land, space, underwater, whatsoever floats your boat. By creating a new experience you get a few choices of premade scenes, like a rooftop ( Hello IMVU... ) Hence it's hard to imagine, that this space will be dividable and even less, that it can be sublet to others. However, eventually it may be thought of getting options to be managed by others, in some years or so. The current options to edit ones preferences are limited to the windlight only and all other need to get added by oneself.
The experiences one creates need to get published to appear in the Atlas, and they get an actual domain then, which starts with your user name after the sansar.com... but so long they are not published, an experience is your personal bubble, or call it sandbox.
To edit the experience it basically loads another screen for you, giving you the matrix of the experience and the options you have. And there's just not the complex menu, that we are used to as Second Life users. The only way to fill your experience is by uploading content that you created beforehand yourself, i.e. in Blender or Maya, or to purchase it in the store. When getting a tree from the store to rezz it on my just created experience, I stumbled on another difference that may be bothersome. You can either be in your experience or, you are in the edit mode, it are two different modes. If you are in your experience, to 'visit' it, you cannot edit it. You cannot just go and drag a tree onto the ground as you come along, you've to change into the mode to edit your experience then. It makes an whole difference if you are used to answer IM`s all along and see, who logs in and out, see group messages popping up and so on. For some builders it may come handy, if they prefer to be undisturbed, for others it may seem disturbing not being able to edit their scene or experience, while being in it and connected with 'the world'.
Rezzing the tree in my experience let me find out, that there's not much I can do with it, but to scale and add lights to it. Generally there seems to be a focus on lights and sounds for in-Sansar editable options... all other needs to be done with external programs, like Blender or Maya.
Feeling a bit lost on my experience, I thought I should find out, who of my friends is online in Sansar and where I would find them. Which is a nice thought, but there is no way to find your friends, any names, anything at all... nothing... nada. The only you can search for within the Sansar viewer, are the other experiences. I figured though, that the chat window has a tab for direct messages (IM's) and there's a people tab also.
I suppose, that a people search or something like it, will be under development, so I started to explore other experiences. As there is no radar in the screen, the chat window is the only, which indicates you, if there are people nearby. I was not able to figure, which distance determines 'nearby' but it appears, that it means the entire experience. An experience can be 16 times as large as a Second Life sim can be... so I visited the Golden Gate replica, that was also to see in the promotions late 2016. I know there have been people there, the nearby chat indicated so. But I didn't see any, nor were they listed in the list of people that are actually in my nearby distance, whatever that is. So there have been people, and I missed them!
As neat and clear the current Sansar viewer's UI is, not having a way to find friends, but by coincidence only, threw me off and made the whole experience half to less enjoyable. Neither there are any groups or a possibilty to create one. At the time of my first login, the only sign of 'life' was the nearby chat by ghosts I didn't see and the forum discussions on the account website.
With no friends and no interest to figure out how to create my own experience I wanted at least see, what other experiences are like. The next place I went to, was the Grand Hall, by a renowned Second Life creator. The Second Life version of the same build was used by MISS SL Organization for several MISS and MR SL events in 2015, generously provided and modified to double size by Mr Ramses Meredith, so it was just clear, that I wanted to see the Sansar version of it. There are actually two versions, one is for VR sets and one for the 'normal' user, with keyboard and mouse.
I can say, without doubts, the graphics is nowhere close from what we see in Second Life, it is by far better in Sansar. The lightening features are, and the object materials are so much more realistic. The price for this high resolution graphic and environment experience is, that my graphic card run as fast as a formula one car. It did not only for the Grand Hall visit, it does so right from begin when loading the Sansar viewer and logging in. Nevertheless I was amazed from all I saw, and despite the high running graphic card, there was no noticeable lag anywhere. What caught my eye was the far away cityscape view, which maybe was caused by a sort of surrounding as we know it from SL... or when I think about, maybe Liz even made it somehow part of the windlight. It definetely looked so real to me, that I immediately pictured a romantic evening scene, high over the roofs of a metropol area... my imaginations went wild.
My imagination was stopped right when I tried to use one of the benches, which were there at the place, to enjoy the scene. It does appear, like I found out later, that the scripting is not as far yet in Sansar and during my whole time in Sansar yesterday and today, I´ve not found a single chair to sit on... or any object to interact with.
The Atlas showed me a conference room, which would suggest, that there are sitting possibilities, so I ordered my Sansar viewer to bring me there... i cannot call it teleport, because it`s just not teleporting. The Atlas is like a restaurant menu to choose from and, it takes a while until your ordered menu gets served, sometimes longer, sometimes not that long, just not quick. The conference room did not load to long, maybe two minutes and I found myself in a conference room, that one would expect to see in a convention center, with fabulous lightning and about 20-30 dummies. Clearly the room was only for demonstration, but the few empty chairs would work to sit on at least? I wished, I still was forced to remain standing.
I went from there to other experiences, to find all the same... it's all very much decoration only, there's no way yet to interact with things, because of the lack of scripts. There seem to be scripts, as some doors would open, and some floating islands at some experiences suggest they are moved by scripts also. Just not for chairs. No sitting. No laying. Ah and well, since we`re there...no running, no flying, no swimming... you stand or walk... that's it.
What can my avatar do?
Quite disappointed by the lack of possible interaction, I went back to my experience. As Second Life user I'd teleport home, so I considered my experience to be that home in Sansar. In Second Life I go home, to either relax, or work on my avatar's look, change outfits etc. Standing in my empty experience, I pressed the Look button to find myself in the wardrobe window... it's just as with the editing your experience... it loads another screen, another bubble outside of the world we are trying to immerse in, in Second Life standards. Between yesterday and today, after several update patches, the avatar choices have increased, which is nice... but avatar customization is not an option. The only one can customize are face features, choose from a few poor hair choices and that's basically it. The clothing is rigged to the avatar, you do stuck with that clothing for the next half year, at least.
That is what I read then when I looked in the forums and office hours. Custom avatars, custom clothing, accessoires like glasses, jewelry, something nice... none of that is possible yet. You get your predesigned rigged avatar and no more and certainly no less either. He (or she) can walk and stand. No more and no less. Reading through the office hours and forums, it is suggested that earliest near the end of the year, there may be options to customize your avatar with clothing, etc.
Whelp... that's all I needed to know, bye...
So long I cannot customize my avatar as I please, there is no sense for me to look into Sansar any at all. From what I saw yesterday and today, Second Life residents can calm down big time, because I do estimate that Sansar will not be anywhere close to what we consider as a functioning virtual community, society, economy for further 2 - 3 years. It may just take one year alone to develop all the technical features that are required to allow a community to communicate, a society to socialize and the very basic functions to attract more content creators, that are specializing on avatar apparel and the entertainment of an avatar... be it a simple AO. Entertainment... the way we do i.e. fashion shows in SL... with managers, runway directors, hosts, DJ`s... and models... not going to happen to soon... give it at least 3 years before it becomes interesting.
I may be wrong with my prediction, maybe the development goes much faster, but I do doubt it. Another interesting point maybe is, that adult content won´t be allowed on Sansar any time soon, not short and not middle term... some time maybe, but right now it's not desired by Linden Lab and not in the planning. I do understand the reason. I suppose they would like to avoid that Sansar is seen mainly for virtual sex like it happened to Second Life in 2007/2008. The prime focus is on content creation now. It's expressed by Linden Lab in the office hours, that they want to give the content creators all liberties to do whatever, which implies that adult content may be allowed sooner or later, but rather later than sooner.
There`s much more to say about but basically it is just that...
I do have to say, that I do not dislike what I saw in Sansar and I may not have seen all and even missed a few key points, but yet, all is at the very beginning and that much limited, that the standard Second Life resident will not find any entertainment in joining it. The possibilities that it may offer, if Linden Lab would want to allow us people to make Sansar the very same vibrant and strong community like Second Life can be or is, then Sansar may become a very interesting place indeed. If there are no community tools at all, it will be just a 3D VR version of Turbosquid. I think in 5 - 10 years Sansar may become a standard for VR and virtual worlds, if it gets developed step by step as it seems intended. I know myself, that the small steps are usually the best ones, which actually leave imprints.
Right now, and for the next months and likely 2 - 3 years, I´m confident that Second Life remains what it is, my virtual home.