AltspaceVR: first impressions

Hello everyone! Friday we spent the whole day doing trials of our new virtual reality game. After a whole day of work, every normal person would have gone home, but since I’m a nerd and not a normal person, I felt the need to try AltspaceVR.

But… what is AltspaceVR? It’s a new virtual reality social platform… some kind of Second life. In AltspaceVR you can meet other people, organize and attend events (like watching a football match all together with other people, or making interviews with people, like the head of Leap Motion) and do other kind of activities. Lots of different inputs are supported (mouse+keyboard, but also Leap Motion, Kinect, etc…), as well as different headsets (Oculus, GearVR, etc…). They got lots of attention from the virtual reality ecosystem and with that, shitload of investment money (eeh, I’m such envious…)

So, I downloaded AltspaceVR from my Oculus app, put on my CV1 and launched it! To try AltspaceVR you don’t need an account and that’s great: you start logged in as guest and you can try everything. After launching it, at the beginning I found myself inside an abstract relaxing world with triangles everywhere: it’s very cool. Then I started the experience and I saw a little tutorial about the social world and the input that I could use (4-5 screens with a picture and some lines of instructions, explaining you how to move and interact). Yeah, yeah, yeah, enough for boring instructions: I wanted to try the social world! Go on!

When I entered the AltspaceVR world, I was in some kind of big room with a garden outside. I could hear people talking. Then I went in front of my Microsoft Kinect and started experiencing my virtual body: it’s very simple, as you can see in this picture, but it’s enough to give you a sense of presence.

An example of AltspaceVR environment and avatars (image from AltspaceVR Inc.)
An example of AltspaceVR environment and avatars (image from AltspaceVR Inc.)

If you have a Kinect, you can see two simple hands: they’re not fixed in the virtual world and are not that useful, but they’re quite nice. I think that ImmotionRoom system could help in making this avatar even more precise and articulate… AltspaceVR guys, think about it!

So, I started looking my hands and my body and just looking at it, I was quite relaxed when I heard a voice saying “Oh, you have Kinect… that’s nice!”. OMG. A guy was talking to me! It was Joe, an american guy with a green avatar, maybe indicating that he’s an AltspaceVR guy. I got a little scared by this unexpected human interaction, so I escaped away from the room and started moving in the garden. Well made, but quite boring… then I tried to suicide myself launching outside the garden borders… I thought that something would have stopped me… but it didn’t happen, and I just fell to death into the void. I didn’t go to paradise, but I returned to the start room, where Joe was there again and started to giving me instructions again. I decided to win my shyness and start talking with Joe, saying that this is my first time and that I tried to virtually suicide myself (not a great beginning for a conversation with a stranger, I know :D). He has been very kind and gave me some other instructions on the interface of the game. So I created an account (you use mouse+keyboard to create it) and had my brand new name “TonyVT” inside the social.
After that, I said goodbye to Joe and tried joining some other rooms. The first one was a maze in the jungle. I was alone there and the game of finding the exit in a super-maze was super-boring, so I decided to try another room. I went there, and it was a room similar to Joe’s one and there was someone drawing something on a wall. I went around and I could hear people speaking with terrible mics. All that I could here were sentences like “Aara. fhdsifla. fdsailfsjdaeir329”. It’s quite hard to have a human conversation with sentences that seemed produced by a cat walking on a keyboard, so I went to another room where there should be “video karaoke”. I found myself in a garden with lots of people. There were two groups of people: one was looking at a videowall where some kind of gnome was singing a song that seemed written by someone under the effect of roypnol. I joined those guys and I could here them commenting the video. At a certain point a guy turned to me and said “Oh, Tony… fjailsdjalsdijdsli”. Couldn’t understand a fuck, so I just waved my hands and said “Yeeeah, hello!” (if you don’t understand anything, just show that you’re happy). The Roypnol video was terrible, so I tried to join the other group, that seemed like a religious one where a person was talking to all others about a serious stuff. Ok, enough for me: I tried all the rooms available. I just gave another look at the menu (you can also open a browser and surf the web) and then I flied away.

My impressions? Well, AltspaceVR reminds me a lot of JanusVR: a collaborative world, that supports lots of inputs and headsets, that tries to define a new standard for virtual reality. It’s a very interesting project, but it’s very rough at the moment. Avatars are very simple, the worlds are very simple too. Rooms and people are not that many and maybe it’s better to verify the events list before joining the virtual world, so you can join only if there is an event that you can actually enjoy. The interface is good and I found it very easy to learn and use. The awkward thing is that it teleports you in another world where you are there with your body and your voice: it’s like if you can teleport in random rooms of the world: you would find yourself in a room, with strangers just minding their business and talking each other and you have to interact with them… awkward! In a standard chat you use keyboard… here you use your voice, so it’s more “personal”, you’re more exposed. And this also introduces another problem: if someone has a bad mic, you can’t interact with him in any way. Maybe some automatic subtitles would be useful.

So, I think that AltspaceVR has great potential, but at the moment is rough. I’ll try to give it another shot… and my advice is that you have to try it, too! But before doing it, just like and share this article, please!!!

Skarredghost

AR/VR developer, startupper, zombie killer. Sometimes I pretend I can blog, but actually I've no idea what I'm doing. I tried to change the world with my startup Immotionar, offering super-awesome full body virtual reality, but now the dream is over. But I've still not waken up...

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