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Defined and Explained: Creating the Metaverse in the Real World

Virtual world image. Copyright 2015 by kran77 / 123RF Stock Photo

Two years ago, I restarted my effort to make sense of the Metaverse. Today I can confidently tell you that I understand what the Metaverse is in the real world, and how it actually works. You’re about to understand it, too.

  • What is the Metaverse?
  • What purpose does it serve?
  • Where do we begin our efforts to build it?
  • What new applications can we make to take advantage of it?

Have we cracked the code? See for yourself if this article delivers those answers in a meaningful way.

What is the Metaverse? The real Metaverse?

No, not the one we’ve seen portrayed in science fiction. Also not the large software project which creates connected spaces for people to design their own worlds in. Not the intellectual notion which claims the sum of all media, yet offers no direction on how to get there.

So many of us say that we want the Metaverse, yet this decades long journey has been so frustrating. For the most part, we’re able to agree on something that is so clearly illustrated, yet we’re unable to say what it really is and how to implement it. Why? Read More…

Systemic Issues in Metaverse Implementations

PREFACE

This article is much longer than I would have liked, yet I wasn’t able to dive into each of the subtopics in as much detail as I would have hoped for. Still, it provides some foundational material for a later examination and proposal for a metaverse implementation. If you are a serious virtual world or metaverse enthusiast, this article is probably for you. The more casual reader may want to skip this article.

If you are involved in a metaverse project, you may find it referenced below. Nothing you read here should be considered a harsh criticism of any one particular approach. In most cases, these implementations are named to illustrate an example or a counter-example. This article doesn’t attempt to perform a complete review of platforms or to call winners.

INTRODUCTION

Previously, we identified seven issues which hold back our current metaverse implementations. Can a metaverse actually break through all of these issues to become a major platform?

What if we build on a distributed services architecture? Should we position the desktop client as a 2D/3D content browser? What if we use open standards, or build upon a proven engine? These and other suggestions may turn out to be very good ideas, but we don’t know. We’re still trying to understand the underlying issues which are holding us back.

Image Source: Intland Software, Using Root Cause Analysis to Drive Process Improvement

Image Source: Intland Software, Using Root Cause Analysis to Drive Process Improvement

SPECIFIC PROBLEMS ILLUSTRATE SYSTEMIC ISSUES

Clearly, there are more problems than the original seven which were provided in the first article, but those seven create a pool from which we can look for more systemic issues. Read More…

Book Review: Designing Virtual Worlds

It has been over a year since my last review of a vintage virtual reality book. I’ve recently come across a good one that I’d like to share.

In 1978, Richard Bartle co-authored MUD, the very first virtual world. In 2003, he shared his twenty-five years of virtual world and MMORPG experience in the book Designing Virtual Worlds. Here are some excerpts from the preface:

Too much virtual world design is derivative. Designers take one or more existing systems as foundations on which to build, sparing little thought as to why these earlier worlds were constructed the way they were.

Are designers even aware that there are decisions they can unmake? Although a good deal of design is evolutionary, that does not mean designers can’t be revolutionary, too.

The key is in recognizing the face that what seems eminently logical to you from your usual perspective might turn out to be disastrous when viewed from another angle — and then realizing that the worlds you’re drawing inspiration from almost certainly contain elements designed by people who didn’t recognize that fact until it was too late.

Obviously, the preface resonated with me on the topic of metaverse design.

The book is an incredible seven hundred and fourty-one pages, filled with decades of experiences and observations in virtual worlds. According to Wikipedia, it has been called “the bible of MMORPG design”. Read More…

Quantity versus Quality: Fifty Pounds of Innovative Yet Broken Clay Pots

There is a story retold in the virtual reality community which emphasizes reaching perfection through a quantity approach over a quality approach. The text originally came from the book Art and Fear, which is about the process of making art. I like Derek Sivers’ shortened version, so I’ll repeat it here.

The ceramics teacher announced he was dividing his class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right graded solely on its quality.

His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would weigh the work of the “quantity” group: 50 pounds of pots rated an A, 40 pounds a B, and so on. Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot – albeit a perfect one – to get an A.

Well, come grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity!

It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work – and learning from their mistakes – the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.

Sure, you have to question the authenticity of the story, but for most people, the lesson rings true. This is the lesson that we should walk away with, right? Quantity trumps a quality approach when trying to reach perfection?

No. Not at all. It is critical to understand the story in its original context. Read More…

Fundamental Problems with Metaverse Implementations

INTRODUCTION

We can define a metaverse in a number of different ways. At a minimum, a metaverse must allow users to experience and perform actions with others in shared virtual spaces.

Years ago, we should have recognized and learned from the painful problems associated with a social metaverse platform which focused on user generated content. Today, a new crop of companies are gearing up to repeat those same mistakes.

As we look back, it was never really the user generated content that was the problem. It was the metaverse platform itself. It couldn’t live up to the hype. The platform was not capable of capturing a large audience, much less living up its roots in science fiction.

The Metaverse (image copyright 2015 by <a href="http://www.123rf.com/profile_michelangelus">michelangelus</a>)

The Metaverse (image copyright 2015 by michelangelus)

The concept of a metaverse (or even “The Metaverse”) is something that might yet deliver a compelling experience, but not in its current form. The design in use today needs to be shelved and replaced with something better. Read More…

A Review of Portals in Virtual Worlds

BACKGROUND

A year ago, we started to look at how we might travel from one virtual world (anything from a simple program launcher to a more complex program like JanusVR) into a completely unrelated virtual environment.

As I searched for some consensus on how portal should look and operate, I wasn’t able to find any good guides which cover the topic. (The extensive use of the word portal by web-based companies has made it a particularly difficult topic to search.) This article is a (non-exhaustive) review of portals as a popular method used in virtual worlds today to transport the user to entirely different regions.

What are portals? Portals are typically objects or areas in the environment which advertise the ability for a user to approach and engage them in order to be teleported to a new location. Traditionally, they are placed vertically along a wall (and walked into), but they can be placed horizontally along the floor (and stepped onto). An additional action may be required, before or after moving an avatar into the aperture, to actually engage the portal.

Portals won’t be the exclusive means of long-distance travel within and between virtual worlds. What portals have going for them is that they’re already commonplace in virtual worlds, they can be visually integrated into many themes, and they’re easily understood by players.

In JanusVR, portals take center stage as the method used to connect otherwise unrelated virtual worlds.

In JanusVR, portals take center stage as the method used to connect otherwise unrelated virtual worlds.

Read More…

The Valve/Oculus Layered Compositors (Magic Glue for VR)


UPDATE: The speculation didn’t last long. Valve has just released their OpenVR SDK which includes documentation for the Compositor. The actual implementation differs in some interesting ways, but the Use and Features section, below, is still a good summary of what Valve and Oculus are trying to achieve here. More details are at the end of this article.


INTRODUCTION

In March, Valve released a new concept into SteamVR called the VR Compositor. Like everything else at this point, the specification is not yet public. (So insert the standard speculative disclaimers here. If I flubbed something, please be forgiving, but let me know.) It shouldn’t be too hard for us to tease together what its function and purpose might be.

VR Compositor:

  • This is a new component of SteamVR that simplifies the process of adding VR support to an application.
  • Continues to draw an environment even if the application hangs.
  • Simplifies handing off from one application to another without full screen context changes by owning the window on the headset.

-Programmer Joe (Valve)

Let’s break that down a bit. The compositor grabs the VR display, owns it, and continues running. When a compositor-aware application wants to use the HMD, it goes to the compositor to request access to the HMD. The compositor hands a buffer to the application and tells the application to render into that buffer. Read More…

Metaverse Observations and Beliefs

This article contains a listing of some metaverse observations and beliefs.

There do not appear to be any similar lists to compare this to, so your feedback on this list (and what is missing) is appreciated. I know that many of you can be tough critics, but constructive criticism is welcome. On the other hand, if this list strikes you as boring and unchallenging, that’s welcome news for me.

Observations

VR hardware and software is evolving rapidly.

  • Hardware and software solutions are not stable
  • Large investments can quickly become irrelevant
  • Poor solutions are quickly replaced by better ones
  • Continued investment is needed to stay current

There are limited rules for deciding what a metaverse is or how it should behave.

  • Many definitions exist
  • Fundamental definition is the ability to experience and perform actions with others in shared virtual spaces
  • Guided by previous attempts at metaverse implementation
  • Guided by current metaverse implementations
  • Guided by existing virtual worlds
  • Guided by science fiction

It is difficult to create a metaverse.

  • Barrier to entry is high
  • Expectations are high
  • Investment period is long
  • Significant investment required in money, people, and resources
  • VR ecosystem is rapidly evolving, adding to risk
  • Return on investment is unproven and uncertain

Competition already exists. There will more than one metaverse.

  • Stranded content
  • Fragmented userbase
  • Increased innovation
  • Increases risk for metaverse providers, developers, investors
  • Increased choice for users, developers, advertisers, investors

There will be many different possible sources of revenue for a metaverse provider to choose from.

  • Transactional advertising (“click here for our store”)
  • Brand advertising (long-term exposure to brand “Nike!” “Nike!” “Nike!”)
  • Connection or usage fees by users
  • Connection or usage fees by commercial developers
  • Premium content (models, features, events)
  • Premium services
  • Special placement of content/locations/events
  • Rent, building or land ownership, and development
  • In-world currency and in-world transactions
  • Cloud storage services
  • Cloud hosting services
  • Consulting services

Beliefs

  • For most companies, the metaverse will be used as an opportunity to extend their existing business models.
  • In the short term, major metaverse platforms which intend to use surveillance or data mining of their clients are less likely to fully disclose that information for fear of backlash and reduced adoption rates.
  • In the long term, major companies which are currently engaging surveillance and data mining of their clients are expected to continue that practice on a metaverse platform.
  • A metaverse does not need to limit itself to real-world constraints just for the sake of closely simulating reality.
  • The more complex and integrated a platform is, the slower that innovation becomes.
  • Users and developers are dependent on platform providers for technological innovation.
  • While competition can result in waste, it still remains a net positive for metaverse development. A competitive market is good.
  • The choices made in the initial design of a metaverse are critical to its character and its success.
  • A general-purpose metaverse cannot succeed inside of a self-contained bubble. It must interface with the real world to be successful. (Novelty will bring the users in, but utility will keep them.)
  • A metaverse could be embodied in different forms which have yet to be demonstrated.
  • A metaverse is most likely to be created and maintained by a small team effort, web-based company, or gaming company (rather than the telco or an organzied non-profit model as given in science fiction).

How do you Solve the Metaverse Problem?

When you meet someone who has a metaverse or virtual world project, ask them what they’re creating. If their answer is something like, “I’m creating a engine in C++ that uses a distributed computing to present an interactive world that is defined by point clouds”, they’ve only described their solution. Do you fully understand the problem that they’re solving? More important: do they?

An artist's interpretation of the Systems Engineering process. Source: Penn State Lunar Lion Team

An artist’s interpretation of the Systems Engineering process. Source: Penn State Lunar Lion Team

I came across a great quote about systems engineering at Wikipedia. “The systems engineering process must begin by discovering the real problem that needs to be solved; the biggest failure that can be made in systems engineering is finding an elegant solution to the wrong problem.” When we’re making a Metaverse, what is it that we’re trying to solve?

When I read the quote above, it resonated with me. Why don’t we make a fresh attempt to start with needs and then work towards a technical solution? Who’s problems are we trying to solve, what are they, and how important at they?

We are going to try to understand the needs behind something that is very thorny: a metaverse project.


It is worth pointing out that even though we’ll start our focus with needs and we’ll end up at solutions, we’re still following the same path that has been made many times before us. We’re going into this by saying that our solution is a metaverse. The only uncertainty is what form that metaverse will take.

The mistake? We’re defining the problem in terms of a solution. At least this time we recognizing that fact up-front. Perhaps this illustrates yet another reason why the very attempt to intentionally create a metaverse can result in its failure.

Now, back to determining needs…


The Users

To understand the needs that drive a metaverse, we could start by asking people what they want or need in their everyday life. (Finding an expert summary would make more sense.) It might be hard to turn their answers into something useful, but I think there is a lot of insight into basic human needs and desires that shouldn’t be easily dismissed. Read More…

A Review of Earlier Articles… and a Return to Metaverse Issues

Nine months ago, I wrote my last article on the Metaverse.

It was a short piece, mostly referencing an email from Fabian Giesen, a demoscene coder (and more) who was doing some VR work at Valve as a contractor. I’ll be honest, his message was a real downer for me, and I had my own Notch moment. Why was I working towards something that, if successful, would ultimately be used just to provide value to Facebook?

Over the past nine months, a surprising number of you have told me how those early Metaverse articles had actually been very helpful to you. A few of you said that you had a Metaverse effort going, but most of you were creating multiplayer virtual environments. Thank you all for your feedback and support!

I think the moment that it all crystallized and brought me back to Metaversing was seeing the return of Valve with the HTC Vive. Suddenly, it seemed like there were possibilities once again. Thanks, Gabe. I’m looking forward to learning more about your shared entertainment universe… perhaps a non-traditional Metaverse? Read More…