Thursday, 7 January 2016

Second Life 2 – Still don’t believe the rumours

Back in July 2014 (18 months ago), the grid went in to uproar when Ebbe Linden stuck his foot in his mouth and let slip that they were developing Second Life 2.
I say stuck his foot in his mouth because not only at this point was SL2 nothing more than words on a scope document with more questions than actions, but also because of the fevered pace of the Second Life userbase’s rumour mill.
At the time, there was hysteria, panic and chicken little style, people running around screaming the Linden Sky is falling.
Ebbe then tried his hardest, with the few items on his wish list, to calm the mass panic down answering questions, and trying to stop the hysteria.
It kind of worked but there has been very little since that time from him officially and quietly in the background, those rumour have persisted and grown stronger.

The results of these hysterial rumours are having a real impact in world. Sales are declining, users are declining and the people who care about SL are now trying to fight back. Recently Firestorm (one of the architects of blurting out that there was an SL2 coming and partly responsible for starting the rumour mill off in the first place) have now started a push to try and either get people back in to SL or get new users to join the grid.

My take on this is more simple. I am going to go back to my historical blog post, and see where we are today – facts... not fiction.

Quoting my original 2014 post “SL2 – Dont Panic”...
“..... SL may have as little as 18 months left” (Referring to the panic bringers comments)

Its 18 months later. Looking around, SL is still here. In fact very little has changed on the grid outside of the persistence of rumours and hysteria.
And where is SL2? Good question. Still in Alpha testing as far as I am aware.
In fact rereading my original blog post over time scales, I screwed up. I based an estimate of a beta at 9-12 months.. Its now 18 months and they still haven’t hit a beta.
Considering this dilated time scale, I would almost be hesitant to say SL2 will be released this year.

Anyhow... I think its time I looked at a few things and gave you a realistic look at why running around with your hair on fire is not a great idea.

SL2 however isn’t the official name of this new grid.
Sansar is the new Grids name.

The Second Life 2 mission statement that Ebbe Linden put out there 18 months ago follows roughly along these lines

“Sansar was to feature a whole new rendering engine – built from scratch. It was going to offer superior graphics and realism. LSL (the programming language of SL) would be replaced by a main stream language like C++ for a more professional approach.  Finally the limited way of creating rigging on SL would be a thing of the past with independent mesh and skeleton uploading being available (which means no more limitations and superior control for creators).”

This mission statements of sorts was written in 2014 and highlights the “Leap forward” Sansar would offer users.
However its 18 months on now and I have to question quite a few things here.

Firstly since that first “foot in mouth” moment, we have learnt the official brand name for SL2 – Sansar. I find that interesting as Second Life is an extremely well known brand name with good recognition out there. For Linden Lab to choose a whole new brand name should hint at the fact this new product is nothing to do with Second Life. In fact the name distances itself from SL.

When it comes to the new rendering engine, Second Life has since 2013 had the ability to run materials  - specular and normals mapping. When it was launched it went down a bit like a damp fart. It was heavy on your graphics card – it made things hard to work with, and caused multiple problems. But, since then, the viewer has been finessed, cleaned, and improved. Add to that the catch up of peoples graphics cards and the arrival of fitted mesh and since launch, more and more people have moved over to using Advanced Lighting Model by default. This is why during 2015, I have put so much effort in to materials support on my products. They make the world more realistic and offer superior graphics.
You only have to look at the new Tartarus Horns to work out how amazing SL is now with the use of materials.
But... you need to ask yourself this.
Sansar probably has an amazing rendering engine. I have seen screen shots and its pretty cool. But with Second Life evolving at such a rapid pace, as creators start putting materials on their products, you have to ask is SL’s lasting legacy of content catching up to Sansar’s standards and with that, is the superior graphics of Sansar ever going to be enough to deal with the sheer volume of slightly lower quality content SL has to offer?

Then there is independent Skeleton and mesh uploading. Until last month, this was a big plus for Sansar. I have looked at wings, or tail, or even heads on SL and wished I had more advanced control options. Other have too, and they have been employing all sorts of hacks and tweeks to get them to work without having to upload huge mesh models and stop frame animation.
However, once again, Second Life is catching up to Sansar. Linden Lab released their official Project Bento last month, and most likely it will be on the grid by Feb 2016.
Bento gives a new series of bones to work with. Fully articulate hands, Wings, Extra arms, Tail and a very well developed face expressions system, with a new animation uploading feature.
Once content creators like myself catch up to this new tech, it will transform the grid all over again.
So another question.
Project Bento is not independent skeleton uploading (although for statement of fact, I believe this was previously looked at as an option and was even developed by Linden Lab for SL as part of the mesh project back in 2012). However the Second Life approach is very smart here with a set of standard rules to work with. Admittedly they have been slow to adopt, usually reacting to naughty creator hacks of the SL skeleton and attachment points more than an effort to improve but... Bento really gives you a massive advantage now, and although not perfect, is extremely good (pending me testing it of course).
Sansar’s independent skeleton uploading gives you the ultimate flexibility to create amazing items. But you have to say that SL’s Project Bento actually gives you more than enough to work with as a creator and will offer probably 90% of what you need from the perspective of independent skeleton uploading.  Is Sansars extra 10% of flexibility really worth it?

The only other thing I pointed out here was C++ as a default programming language. Sure, that would be brilliant on SL, and lets be honest, they could do it if they wanted to. But while LSL is a utter pig to work with and has an infinite list of flaws, the fact is, you can get it to do most of the things you want it to do.

So what conclusions can we draw from this relook at SL2 or as its now known, Sansar.

As another bloggers on this subject pointed out, Linden Lab is a company, not a product. They created Second Life, but they also created many other products over the years, including things like Blocksworld. Linden Lab seem to have made it clear, Sansar is a separate product from Second Life, much like their many other products over the years and indirectly they are distancing Second Life and Sansar. The only thing that can be said is that Sansar is in the same area as Second Life. It could be said its the successor to SL, but only time will tell there.

18 months on from the initial slip up, Sansar is still an embryo. Its a closed world, mostly likely buggy as hell, and still pending the development and design of many of its support systems like groups etc. Thats why its an Alpha test – they haven’t got to the closed beta test stage yet of a working product.
Even when Sansar arrives, it will be a pretender to the throne that is Second Life.
I am not going to mince my words here. Sansar follows in the foot steps of many other virtual world clones of Second Life, some of which were light years ahead of Second Life in the technical department. And they effectively failed to dethrone the ruler of virtual worlds which is Second Life.

Second Life is Linden Labs bread and butter. Its their most profitable product outright. When the “doom bringers” and “Chicken Littles” out there scream that that Second Life has months to live, they are talking rubbish. Anyone in business knows if you have something, you don’t kill it in favour of something new. Linden Lab has shareholders to answer to and I doubt they would be so insane as to kill their most profitable business in favour of the idea of opening something cooler (if devoid of users, sims, creators and content).

There has been talk in some areas that Sansar will cannibalise the remains of SL when it arrives. This is yet another misinformed, misguided and idiotic statement. However the idea may not be far fetched if utterly wrong.
I have been thinking about Sansar a great deal since my original post on the subject and I have been watching the technical developments on SL. The past is a great teller of the future, and putting the idea of previous pretenders trying to takes SL’s crown in the past, and failing totally I have come to a prediction.

Sansar will launch, there will be limited interest in it. However Second Life thanks to the content and user base will continue to be the dominant product. Eventually Sansar will be deemed a commercial failure – how long it will take Linden Lab to realise this is another matter. However focus will return to Second Life again, and in the end, Second Life will cannibalise Sansar, picking the best features and technology from Sansar and integrating it in to Second Life.

Sorry Linden Lab, but it has to be said, you still don’t understand Second Life or why its successful.
As Linden Lab, you provide the sims, the viewers and the tools to create a virtual world. However it is the communities, the people who use Second Life, and the creators who invest their time and effort in to creating products that make what Second Life is. Without them, Second Life would be... well, Sansar. Empty, devoid of anything.
And irony here, the reasons people would possibly consider moving to Sansar grow smaller every day as Second Life catches up to the technical aspirations of Sansar.

There is one final thing to bring up though to hopefully quash the rumour mill.
The statement is Linden Lab will kill SL and replace it with Sansar. Everything people have in the SL inventory will be lost, all their investment will be lost.
In the last 18 months, Second Life has evolved, changed and improved. Linden Lab are releasing new features and improvement every week or two, and large projects on the grid, like Project Bento are still happening.
In addition, Linden Lab are investing in Advertising SL to new users, they are creating new user “portal” points, and trying to get new users in to this world.
If you have given up on a product, you don’t do these things.

Maybe in another year or 18 months I will post up another blog post about this subject.
As far as I can see though, my predictions were right about NOT PANICING!
SL is still here, growing more technically advanced and is still the undisputed king of virtual worlds.

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