The build of my first virtual reality experience took about 3 weeks, but it took almost a year before I got started. I got an invitation to the Sansar Creators Preview as early as August 2016. I played around a bit and uploaded some meshes, but I felt intimidated by the size and emptiness of it all.
I struggled with 4 problems:
I thought about recreating my Dutch polder landscape from Second Life, but that project would have taken months I did not have. A lot of my models could be transferred, but it would take a lot of adjustments and I would have to retexture them all. I thought of working together with other Second Life artists, but collaborative building was not possible yet. I had to think of something smaller.
- What to do
A large part of my work in Second Life is creating experiences, but I do this with animations. My furniture functions as a stage, it has long sequences of animations that help players create storylines for their roleplay. I had no animations or scripts here. I could make a 3D showcase, but that seemed boring to me. I wanted my visitors to have something to do.
- Motion sickness
Apart from all that, the one thing that attracted me to these new virtual experiences was a great disappointment. My brand new and seriously expensive virtual reality headset made me just as motion sick as the first one I had bought in 2012. I could not even get out of the first room in High Fidelity, without having to take several breaks. I wanted to do better then to build something that made people sick. I had to learn how to overcome motion sickness before I could invite anyone to something I made.
- No people
For months, the only people I ever met in any platform for virtual reality gear where techy men in a time zone 9 hours away from mine. There was never anyone there when I was online. Anything is fun with other people around, but if most people would visit my experience alone, it should also be fun to visit alone. At least until there are more people with headsets.
Vision, hearing and presence
There was one thing that swept away all my problems with virtual reality though: I loved Sansar Office Hours. I logged in for about an hour every Friday evening for a small gathering in a relatively small and simple experience. Lindens and content creators came together there to talk about the work, some in VR headsets and hand controllers, like me.
Office hours felt amazing. I was focussing on sounds and on the people around me. I listened to their voices, saw them move and felt their presence. I had something to do there, was actively participating. With all those senses working together, vision, hearing and presence, I wasn’t motion sick at all, during any of the office hours.
Now I only had to find a way to reproduce that feeling, while being alone.
Virtual Reality Yoga
The solution came to me while doing one of my yoga workouts. I have a very small space for my mat in the garden between the flowers. I put my earplugs in for some soft ambient music and for half an hour, 45 minutes, I focus only on myself.
You only need a small space to move around in for yoga. There is an activity to do and you focus on a presence. Your own presence.
I could work with that.
Relatively simple build
I kept the building for my first experience for virtual reality relatively simple, not much more than an empty room. Yoga studios are perfect for that, being barely furnished by nature. It keeps the whole experience light and fast to load.
All models in the room are only there to reinforce the feeling of presence, not to be admired on their own or up close. You could even close your eyes during the whole experience, and still feel as if you are there.
I build the whole scene in Maya, then combined it all together and loaded it up as one model. It took 92 takes. The whole scene being one model also adds to the lightness of the experience and prevents parts of the scene from clipping or becoming invisible during certain view angles.
As little textures as possible
About 95 % of the modelling is made new for this room, I reused only geometry for the stools and lamps, but those are retextured as well.
I used as little textures as possible. The yoga mats on the floor and in the wall racks, for example, share the same texture, so do the windows, door and beams. And the wood on the wall racks, the sideboard and stools is the same as well. I think there are no more than 10 textures plus linked materials all together in the whole scene.
None of the textures have occlusion or shadows baked on them, like I’m used to do for my Second Life builds. I used only the lights of the Sansar engine for that: one directional light from outside the windows and 3 point lights inside the room, at the location of the lamps. I aimed for a bright morning sunlight look.
The painting on the wall is something I made at a yoga camp in France about 20 years ago, I painted it by hand as a meditation exercise. I hope it radiates calmness. It also gives people something to focus on during the exercises.
The base texture for the white stone walls was made by InSight Designs. I know their work from Second Life and they sell their textures outside of SL too.
The beams on the ceiling create something like a horizon, very important for people that experience motion sickness fast, it helps them focus too.
The content itself: Virtual Reality Yoga
I have over 20 years of experience as a yoga practitioner and can make my own routine, but I wanted to make sure the excercises in my first virtual reality yoga session where easy and safe to do for everyone, including older, handicapped or obese people.
I could imagine stepping into a virtual reality yoga studio might even be easier for some people, then to walk into a real studio.
So I checked all exercises with Ernest Cazander, sports coach at medical rehabilitation center De Hoogstraat in Utrecht. He has much experience in helping people with physical impairments or disabilities to enjoy sports.
I wrote the exercises myself and taped my own voice in 8 seperate parts, then edited them together in Audacity. I also added some music in de form of 3 songs by Huma-Huma, part of the YouTube Audio Library.
Questions and feedback
I had great fun making this experience. It challenged me to look at things in a different way and I had to try new things. I can already see several ways to build further with this.
If you have a virtual reality headset and hand controllers and about 10 minutes to spare, please try my yoga session, see how it feels? And if you have any questions or feedback, please post them under here.
Thank you for reading!
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