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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…

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…

Examining the Valve/HTC Vive Ecosystem: Basic Lighthouse Operation

Introduction

If you’re reading this article, you’re probably already aware of the Valve/HTC partnership where HTC will manufacture the Vive, a virtual reality head mounted display, powered by Valve’s SteamVR platform.

As part of the reveal, one new piece of technology was introduced to the public: the Lighthouse. This is a brand-new-to-VR technology which will be used as part of a system to track the position and orientation of a user’s head mounted display and controllers throughout an entire room.

With Lighthouse, instead of using VR in a chair or standing in place, its room-scale VR feature allows you to use the space of an entire room as a stage to physically walk around in a virtual environment.

Valve Lighthouse

Image Source: Valve Lighthouse Slide from “Advanced VR Rendering” at GDC 2015

Disclaimer

This article is based on publicly available information. Be aware that we are trying to explain a system that is unreleased, subject to change, and has very little publicly available information. Some elements of this article may prove inaccurate at a later date.

With any complex system, there are many rules, details, and exceptions to explore. This first article is just going to cover the tech basics (but will still be plenty meaty for many). We’ll consider more detailed issues in later articles.

A Basic Operational Review

The purpose of this first article is to clear up some of the common misconceptions concerning the Lighthouse technology. It will also serve as a starting place for additional articles on Lighthouse and on the various aspects of the HTC/Valve partnership.

By understanding how this one component works, we can understand much more about what HTC and Vive are trying to deliver to consumers. They’re not just cranking out randomly incremental or independent technological solutions here; Valve is running a very deep and highly integrated game plan.

Read More…

The Insanity of the Monolithic Metaverse

Lessons from the Past and Building the Future

Image Source: Future Virtual Reality (2011)

Image Source: Future Virtual Reality (2011)

How can we help the next attempt at the Metaverse to be more successful? This article will present the idea that our attempts to directly build the large general-purpose virtual environments (“to build the Metaverse”) are, in itself, what have prevented a successful Metaverse from happening.

The Andromeda Blog warns us that virtual reality is doomed to repeat the failures of the past unless we recognize what those failures are, and start thinking in a new direction. They remind us that a popular definition of insanity is “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” In the context of virtual reality, they’re right. We need to do something different than what has already been tried and failed.

What do people think is different this time around? “We have new technology!” “This time, we’re going to make virtual reality a platform!” “People are starting to take this seriously!” Those things are all important contributors, but are they at the heart of the problem? Only when we are able to recognize what we’re doing wrong are we able to figure out what needs to be different.

Image and quote of Albert Einstein via Andromeda Blog

Image Source: Compilation artist unknown, image via the Andromeda Blog

In previous articles, we’ve identified two easily overlooked but very substantial user needs which were neglected in previous implementations. First, there was a failure to maintain novelty (as the initial novelty decayed, large virtual worlds became boring). Second, there was a lack of utility (there was little real-world value which people obtained in virtual reality). A successful Metaverse has to continue to entertain its users. If and when that fails, it has to provide real-world value if it hopes to retain them.

What if there is another problem, more fundamental, that is baked right into the design? Read More…

The Metaverse and the Virtual Home


If this is your first time visiting Metaversing, please read:

This blog is about going beyond the science fiction descriptions of the Metaverse and actually fleshing out some of the concepts, designs, and details that are useful in bringing it to life. The ideas described here are not to be interpreted as the exclusive way for the Metaverse to be designed. We’re here to put a stake in the ground. We hope to start the conversation (where it doesn’t already exist) and to move the conversation forward.


"The Basement" from Ready Player One, recreated in Second Life, via New World Notes Blog

“The Basement” from Ready Player One, recreated in Second Life. Image Source: New World Notes Blog

I’m convinced that the Virtual Home is at the center of the user experience in the Metaverse. There is so much ground to cover, more than will fit in a single post. How do I convey a universe?

My design sensibility tells me that we’re going to have to iterate this over time in order to figure out what exactly this space needs to be. My gut tells me that we’re going to need quite a bit of competition to make those iterations happen.

The Virtual Home is born out of four concepts: the Launch Pad, the Personal Space, the Utility Space, and the Trusted Space. We’ll talk about each of these, and then we’ll talk about three different ways that this set of concepts play out. Read More…

Griefing and the Metaverse

Know Your Meme: Pool's Closed (Habbo Hotel)

Know Your Meme: Pool’s Closed

If you’ve been following some of the posts here on Metaversing, you may have noticed a slant towards planning and design issues. This isn’t by accident. Many issues seem innocent or almost trivial, but need to be carefully considered before jumping into an implementation. A well thought-out design can save countless hours of trouble down the road in the systems development life cycle.

Today, I have an easy prediction: the Metaverse is going to be the stuff of legends for hackers, griefers, trolls, vigilantes, security researchers, and spy agencies. If you’re already familiar with the scene at the top of this article, then you know what we’re looking at: an in-world denial of service attack. Do you see it? Is it the guy in the pool with the antlers on his head? No? To explain, let’s go back to design. Read More…

Discussing Second Life: It is (and it isn’t)

Second Life Avatar Banner

Source: Second Life, “What is an Avatar?”

Second Life is a topic that is going to come up again and again, because it provides so many excellent concrete examples for a discussion on Metaverse design. Before it comes up for the first time, there is a thorny issue that we need to get out of the way.

In most cases, when I use Second Life as an example, I talk about the vanilla experience for an average user. One problem I’ve found in making observations about Second Life is that Second Life can actually be fairly tough to make general statements about it. For every general observation, there is likely to be one or more specific counter-examples. I don’t deny that these counter-examples exist, but I don’t believe that they fit the profile of the everyday experience. Read More…

The sci-fi Metaverse is bad (and you need to leave it behind)

Shadowrun

Source: Larry Elmore’s Shadowrun artwork via the Monkey in the Cage podcast

Wikipedia defines Metaverse as “a collective virtual shared space, created by the convergence of virtually enhanced physical reality and physically persistent virtual space, including the sum of all virtual worlds, augmented reality, and the internet.” The concept was not defined by computer scientists as much as it was brought to life by science fiction writers. They envisioned a singular persistent and logically consistent world like our own which only exists inside of a computer.

I believe that the Metaverse is coming. But when it comes to actually implementing a Metaverse, why do so many people believe that the science fiction version of the Metaverse should be our blueprint? Let’s take a look at the world of sci-fi for a bit.

From a writer’s perspective, it makes a great deal of sense to have a virtual world that is analogous to our own. It is easy to write compelling stories for an alternate world that is just like ours, but with the one major difference of it being virtual. “If it can happen in the real world, then I can have it happen in virtual reality.” However, there have been no hard design or implementation problems (scaling up to a large number of users, for example) which have been solved by these writers. These authors, to be fair, have mixed in some really great ideas, and they’ve done a good job of illustrating what a Metaverse can be.

Beyond the general idea, there isn’t much consistency between science fiction writers about many of the underlying rules of a Metaverse. How do people pay to use the Metaverse? One writer might say that citizens pay money to subscribe to a virtual reality or communications service. However, another writer might say that the connection is free, but transportation from one in-world zone to another costs money. Read More…