Not a Bubble but a Tsunami – the coming surge of virtual reality

Being a career hysteric and dramaturge I am prone to exaggerating, hyperbole or ‘as some say’ a brickbat, I can’t help but wave loudly anytime I read something that gives me hope. So again with this article, written by Dusan Writer which I will reprint in full here. No I didn’t ask Dusan for permission (yet), but I want people to read this and time is off the essence.

(background links)
* Article
* Presentation


The terror of mesh?

Concerns over a wave of content creators arriving in virtual worlds with a bag of mesh objects created in programs like the (free) Blender or the (incredibly expensive) Maya seems to cause jitters amongst the current content creators who have created businesses within Second Life.

Guess what, I have a copy of Maya, from school. It is so complex it is very hard to learn and takes years to master. If photoshop is a flight of stairs in an old building, Maya is a sheer vertical cliff on the Mont Blank. In the same ballpark sketchup is a playground swing – very easy to learn. Sketchup pro can export .dae files (which are collada) and by exporting these to Google Earth, and consequenty saving as .zip, you can easily retrieve any zip files. So I am dying to see if this becomes normative – entry level designers creating large volumes of 3D content into SL, they made in an hour in sketchup. My first question would be – can you attach these to prims and sculpts, what would their linkage point be, and what would be their respective collision (physicality) maps. These first considerations aside, collada models of anything under 500 polygons would in effect wipe out over 50% of equivalent prim/sculptie use in less than a year. My second conclusion is that this save a LOT of data traffic (and $&^@ lag) – remember those 750 prim hairsets? That would be hundreds of times 34 byte, plus textures. And in any somewhat crowded sim new avatars popping in all the time. What would be the consequence? A single fashionable avatar like mine might wear data points well in excess of half a megabyte. At that rate at some point decent meshes become a lot more economic to pump around.

This would mean that making sims structures would look way better (especially with baked shadows) in less than a year. But since most users don’t have a clue to make 3D of this level of sophistication, the potential to create markets, for users to feel envious (and hence – desire), for old content to be replaced means that 3D professionals (3DS, Maya) would have a field day.

The cement of SL is the passion of people in ownership and respect of others. If people go through the effort of having a house designed in SL, and one that looks better than that damn Gorean couple next door, then if these same people dish out a sack of RW money to have this structure realized they will be a lot less eager to abandon the same. Better – all that eyecandy will trickle in to Youtube. If I were LL I’d implement a feature in SL to record vids and dump them straight into Youtube from the client. ADD A SUBTITLE & COMMENT feature. (and NO silly format postediting!). Why? Because it’s a one click advertising button for Second Life.

We discussed this a bit on today’s Metanomics (video and transcript will be up tomorrow) and I concluded by saying that while the ability to IMPORT objects (including content that exists elsewhere) might seem like the main shift in dynamic, I actually think it’s what Second Life will EXPORT that has the potentially deeper value for the economy.

With the launch of “mesh import” into Second Life seemingly imminent (so imminent that they jumped the gun on lifting the NDA for those testing the technology, before capping it – although what a difference 5 minutes can make to our knowledge of what’s going on) there are valid concerns for what this might do to the virtual goods economy.

A few of the likely implications:

Shifting Markets

– Not unlike the introduction of sculptys, (a variation of mesh objects created using external tools to form ’sculpt-like’ prims), mesh will widen rather than replace the content creation tool kit. As this happens, new best practices and standards will emerge. With the advent of sculptys, to use a simple example, we saw the addition of collars, cuffs and ‘rolls’ to avatar clothing.

I lean more towards displace than widen. I know stores that will disappear overnight, simply because the owners (sorry to say) are one trick ponies that will be unable to adapt.

– This will lead to entire segments of the virtual goods economy change. I think of it like a store needing to changes its stock: the hot outfit of yesteryear doesn’t sell this year. For a while, it seemed like everyone in Second Life was wearing baggy pants with incredible sags and rolls in the legs. Or think of Nekos – they’re still everywhere, but with any new tool we’ll see new trends – and I expect all sorts of aliens, dragons, and other attachments and protrusions on tomorrow’s fashionable avatar.

– Speaking of attachments, I’ll leave speculation about the adult-oriented industry to others. But I’d expect a new line of, um, richly rendered experiences.

Oh. My. God. I think I just came.

– In particular, I’d expect to see the building/prefab market overturned. While things like guns or chairs need to be combined with complex scripts to do anything more than look good, buildings don’t need that much additional effort to add an out-of-the-box security system, doors and a few others bells and whistles. The external content market (on sites like Renderosity, for example) includes a lot of castles, um, moats, and other environments. Especially during the initial wave following the introduction of mesh, I’d expect to see these kinds of things popping up all over the Grid. Worn or collapsing walls, facades with more extrusions and edging (and fewer prims) and other ‘built environments’ will probably be some of the first things people gravitate towards.

New Innovations

– But there are some things that aren’t so easily ‘importable’. One of the “leaks” about mesh is that it will also allow the creation of avatars in external programs that can then be imported. Right now, custom avatars are handled with non-flexible attachments and by making the ‘base’ avatar invisible. While it’s a lot of speculation, it sounds as if you’ll be able to model and animate avatars using external tools which opens up an even richer range of avatar types and expression.

Sexy and dynamic and alive and passionate and 3D

– There is also an implication for clothing. Instead of clothing being primarily ‘painted’ on an avatar and then supplemented with prims and attachments, it sounds as thought we’ll see things like flowing cloaks, capes, dresses and other forms of dress. What’s interesting about this is that although it will require that Second Life fashion designers get used to a new set of tools, it seems to me that only those with a familiarity with Second Life itself will really be able to get it to “work”. I can’t help wondering whether some dress that you can buy that was made in 3DAZ will be easily adapted to an avatar in SL, which has a different ’skeleton’ and joints, but I’m not entirely sure. Therefore fashion, always competitive, will still be the domain of people who understand how avatars move, are animated, and dress in the virtual world.

– Terraforming and landscaping will also undergo an overhaul. Based on guesses and anecdotal comments, there will be no particular limit to mesh objects. There will be limits, but it sounds like those limits might be based on the number of polygons in your object which will apply to your prim usage (land limits). Based on this, you’d theoretically be able to create a full island replete with tunnels, mountain ranges, fields and furrows – and to then finely texture it. Currently, you are limited to four textures for your region’s “ground” which are then tiled and blended according to a sort of automated formula. Creating the “ground” for regions will become a big new business on its own assuming mesh is supported the way we’re told and assuming the collision system works well and we don’t have avatars sinking into the sand (like they did with sculptys for a long time).

– If this is true, the other major innovation is that mesh is actually opening the door to megaprims. Currently, there is a size limit to an individual prim in Second Life. Mesh will remove this limit (and smartly, I might add – by having to rez 4 cubes to make a 40 x 40 meter platform, you’re also adding 100s of unneeded polygons to a build and thus increasing lag and “rez time”).

Oh. My. God.

Mirroring the World
At a much broader level than the ‘object economy’, however, are the types of uses that this opens up which were previously difficult or impossible. Architecture or prototyping are the most obvious examples. You’d no longer need to build something once as a “sketch” in Second Life and then twice when you go to build it in a professional program like Revit. This opens the possibility that architects, engineers, product designers and others can now take the work they’re doing in 3D and easily import it into a collaborative environment for walk-throughs, team reviews, and refinement before exporting it again.
This further opens the door to procedural modeling, simulation, or extrapolation of geographical data into 3D builds.

Consider this video:

Or this

The possibilities for creating 3D objects based on LIDAR data and then importing those objects into Second Life could mean the start of mirror environments based on highly accurate real-world data.
The ability to then script these objects opens the door to virtual world environments that feed to real-world ones and back again.
Or consider the possibility of scanning real-world objects. In this case, a 3D object being scanned and converted to a mesh object:

New Competition?

The range of tools that will be available to build content for Second Life will widen. For someone developing at home, on their own, they rarely have a chance to walk through their creations with someone else. Poser and Blender are used pretty much as they sound – to pose. To create post cards. People are creating scenes and, sometimes, movies – but they’re not usually much more than static images.

Now, they’ll have somewhere to actually PUT the things they make, walk around them, and show them to their friends.

In fact, if someone was smart, they’d create a little business around a “view in 3D now” function. Click a button in Blender, it automatically imports it (through a bot) into Second Life on a parcel of land, and either charge a few bucks to view it for an hour or two or treat is as a temporary sandbox, but pick up new tenants who want nothing more (to start) than a place to view their creations.

If you want to get your land rentals business up and running, prep yourself for running banner ads on the major 3D design Web sites. Make it dead easy. “Click here to view your 3D creations in an immersive collaborative space with your friends”. Someone who can develop a 3D model can surely figure out how to navigate their SL avatar.

But what I think is MORE interesting isn’t the people who might come IN to Second Life, but the talents and community they’ll meet, and the cross-over of skills and ideas that happens as a result. The content creators in SL have talents that you just don’t NEED if you’re working in Sketch-Up: how to advertise, use the SL Marketplace, run a community, promote, hold events, create machimima, how to work with scripters and texture artists and multi-disciplinary teams, how to handle the unique challenges of groups or parcel media, and all sorts of other skills.

Someone in SL who will need to learn a new tool is working with one hand tied behind their back until they pick it up. Someone from outside of SL trying to make a go at the in-world economy will be working with, well, dozens of hands tied behind their backs.

My suspicion is that the TRUE skill sets of Second Life would become MORE valuable: community building, marketing, and understanding the many little tricks that are unique to the platform.

Exporting Value

But what happens when the architectural model in Second Life starts to send data OUT? What happens when the robust tools WITHIN Second Life become the source of even BETTER machinima, of entire movies built because we now have access to more tools for avatar creation, more realistic environments, and more richly detailed worlds?

As realities merge and send back both data and media – whether a “build” in Second Life influencing a physical world artefact (think Brooklyn is Watching on steroids), or a machinima, I suspect that the multi-disciplinary talents that are ONLY facilitated in a rich, collaborative world will start to have a larger voice in the larger digital landscape that includes augmented reality, 3D Web sites and other macro trends.

The “walls” that Philip speaks of aren’t just about walls to usage, they’re about building a bridge across that moat so that the deep lessons and talents, the new possibilities offered in richly immersive worlds help to shape the wider digital landscape as well. Content being created in Second Life won’t just inspire those inside it, but will contribute to a wider grammar of experiences that is the new language of our lives online.

I will add to this with comments as soon as I let the full impact sink in.

Also read this post by my lovely portuguese Gwynnels.

2 thoughts on “Not a Bubble but a Tsunami – the coming surge of virtual reality

  1. I hope they are serious. I *love* the idea of mesh.
    As for people being displaced. Tough luck. Creative destruction is the way of the world.
    For my part I have copies of AC3D, Shade 10, Daz 3D and Blender and am beavering away at creating what I can. I figure that by the time LL really make good on their promise I will be able to make more than just a wineglass.

    On the sexual deviation note: I concur with you. Imagine when you are able to import and wear mesh avatars? Think of the possibilities!
    ZOMG bodzette little breasts quiver and she *CUMs*

    1. Have a look at this tiddle called 3DKink. I installed it, looks remarkably interesting. Graphics and anims are all a bit dated, but the interactivity works. It’s typical jerk off of fare for guys (“ooohh I love it in my ass”) but I found it literally enticing – because it is interactive and because it lines up. With programmable (or procedural!) Meshes, all you see in 3Dkink you can do in SL.

      This makes me conclude there is a big market for something i call “competetive sex games” in SL – say something like 3D kink. Players enter on one end, and start with simple kink – heavy petting, a BJ, etc. The they can proceed to increasingly nastier kink in some sort of story mode, and by ‘scoring points’. Then allow not just a steep ascension into sexual depravity, but also some kind of diversification in kink (or kink skill trees). This would be LUDICROUSLY addictive to people in to it (I sure am) and it would be a potentially profitable opportunity.

      Whatever the case, I think poseballs in SL need to die and we need a system somewhat like 3DKINK. People should be able to buy sexual animations. (and yah, Sim owners should be able to disable these animations in their domain) – If enabled, these animation sets should then allow me to render a ‘self-positioning’ sexual animation and invite (or enforce in case of RLV) any partner into a sexual act – say, I see a guy, I like what I see and I make a pass (chat). Then I click the invite button, to give him a BJ. I just throw these ‘BJ packages’ in a BJ section in my client AO. The animation lines itself up to ground level, and if the guy clicks yes, POOF I slide on my knees and slurpy slurpy. No eyesore balls anywhere in sight and If I would be so inclined I would be able to sneak away from metanomics for a quicky against a wall there. (and would be able to shift around into other poses as long as I dropped these into the appropriate AO folders in my inventory).

      YUM! Spread this idea around!!! (I will blog about this)

      I think i would be able to put all these ideas and speculations and requirements together in a PDF design document – if any would be interested in this brainstorm doc – it would take me a day to make at 10 euro an hour.

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