I started this series with: Second Life: Educational Community Update 2015 March and Second Life: Next Generation Platform Update 2015. This third article in the series is what I gleaned about content creation from the speech about the coming Second Life 2.0 or as the Lab calls it: The Next Generation Platform (NGP).
Ebbe Altberg, Linden CEO. talked to us at VWBRE 2015 about which platforms they’re going to be supporting. In general terms the Linden intention is to support as many as possible. We know the Lab has tried browser based viewers in the past. I don’t recall any attempt to provide a mobile based viewer. But, those are part of the plan now.
From what Ebbe says it’s clear that he considers Virtual Reality (VR) to be a separate platform. I am not quite sure how that works. To me VR seems like an alternate display mode. But knowing that’s how he’s thinking suggests they may be developing for VR in some separate way. Perhaps we will have a leaner set of viewers and use one for standard desktops and screens and another for use with the Oculus type VR Head Mounted Displays (HMD).
Or maybe the render process on the VR viewer will be completely different and highly optimized for VR use. It seems to me that the VR industry is just marginally possible with the tech we have today. It seems the VR people are having to develop more technology than they anticipated. Getting VR to work within the response times current technology can provide is borderline. I’m guessing that simulator sickness may be more of a problem than was anticipated.
Or… Maybe the interface needs to be radically different from the user interface they are planning for the PC version. We will have to wait and see on that one.
Everybody in the VR world is excited. We know the basic new technology hype and excitement curve. We also know that as time passes things in technology happen faster and faster. Are we seeing a hype curve peak and collapse before the product ever makes it to market? I think it doubtful, but it is possible.
We have seen other technologies take much longer than anyone anticipated to arrive in the retail market. Technical problems can slow things down. I suspect that is a much more likely explanation for why things like the Oculus Rift are taking longer than we expected.
The excitement about VR is a new hope for Linden Lab. VR gets the Lab back in the news. Being in the news gets them way more signups than what they’ve been getting presently and that’s no small number. So if they can do it right they may be able to break the glass ceiling Second Life is lived under.
It is understandable they can’t start out supporting every platform. That is too big a task to bite off in one bite. So, Ebbe says two platforms will come first; VR and PC. After those are up and running well, they’ll move on to other platforms. Mobile platforms are definitely on the list to be supported. I doubt we will see mobile support this year, 2015.
We see gaming platforms like Unreal and Unity can build games to run on any platform from one source. The basic tech is each platform essentially has its own viewer. The viewer software has to run in Windows or Mac or Android or any of the mobile operating systems. That requires different machine code for each different operation system. I think optimizing code for all platforms is tricky. While I beleive Unity and Unreal have done a good job, I’m not sure it is good enough for a SL like world to work with VR Headsets.
Is Linden Lab using Unreal or Unity? Some of us think so. Some days I think yes and some days I think no. But I might take odds on the yes-side of the question.
What I think is a really good bet is that NGP will be targeted at Windows 8 and above. Windows 10 is available for developers. I would not be surprised to learn that NGP is being tested in Windows 10 beta machines.
Windows XP is completely out. Windows Vista is pretty much out. By fall Windows 7 is likely to lose Microsoft support and also be depreciated by Linden Lab. But, I do give Windows 7 another year and possibly longer to remain a major player in the Second Life world.
What Ebbe has been clear about is NGP will be available on multiple platforms. But, that is going to take time. I can’t see it happening in 2015, unless they are using Unreal or Unity.
Since I have not used Unity or Unreal in the past year I don’t know how much customization may be needed to optimize a game for mobile platforms. That there may be significant customization required is the reason Ebbe is not talking about supporting all platforms at about the same time. Or it just may be that he’s not using either of those two game platforms. Or… There using one of the platforms as a basis in customizing within.
For now those are things we can only speculate about. But at least we have new material speculate with.