There is a lot of negativity of having to update all assets promptly and the risk of losing worlds and kits during this update. And I don’t want to dismiss the mixed emotions about this update as I have already expressed my disappointment in some aspects in previous articles. But I want to focus equally on the positives of this update and talk about what the future could mean for AltSpace if we implement this technology change now.

Why this change is needed

Speculating from my understanding of the technology used on AltVR, we can learn a bit more about what is to come if we go back a few months to when AltSpace held the Microsoft Mesh Demo.

This is the official video introducing Microsoft Mesh as a platform technology, so this video isn’t specific to AltSpaceVR. Still, it is clear from the official AltSpaceVR documentation that they want to integrate at least parts of this technology into AltSpace.

If you watch both videos, you will see the use of AltSpaceVR technology in the real world using a device by Microsoft that uses the same technology.

Unity is an industry-standard software

Unity is a platform used by many in the gaming industry and used for building applications. It also has an extensive scripting language compatible with Unity, making it a widely accepted technology type to integrate with. This leads to why I believe we have to ‘start from scratch’ and re-align by uploading all assets and switching over to a technology that has been modified to be compliant with Microsoft Mesh SDK.

Extracted sceenshot from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lhKn9mjy_QM

AltSpace in 5 years time

I think AltSpace will change heaps in the next 5 years, and this will be in part being driven by the pandemic, which may throw parts of the world into lockdown and drive innovation.

Quest 2 headsets aren’t commonly available in Australia, so I think overall, as the demand for VR and remote technology grows, we will see the headset market grow. The technology on the platforms supporting these headsets will grow, and the desire to do more with what we do for less input of work will be greater.

So quite possibly, I could be uploading my assets to the cloud and have access to them on AltSpace and other platforms. I could take an existing world I have, as a nightclub and spawn it on my coffee table and show my family what I am building in Unity if they were using a headset.

We would obviously need to invest in new headsets that support this technology down the track, but things need to be changed now to be future proof.

This Mixed Reality Toolkit that was released could be a way for projects to be automatically updated and changed to remain future compatible for as long as you upgrade and stay updated. There may also be room for backwards compatibility for older assets. This leads me to my beliefs about why we have to update everything now.

Logical explanation for why we MUST update

If you were at the Microsoft Mesh demo in AltSpace, you would have witnessed the scene changing seamlessly without users having to enter a load screen. Unfortunately, at the event’s start, you had to download a massive world template that supported this one-off experience prematurely on AltSpace. Still, it showed that world kits and assets, skyboxes and the works could be updated seamlessly in real-time.

For this to happen, assets and the world have to be loaded and unloaded into memory in a particular way. These assets have to know what they are, where they exist and almost be artificially self-aware of themselves. If you load an asset in AltSpace and there is the potential for that asset to be seen elsewhere on other networks and platforms supporting Mesh, you have the ability, in theory, to take your assets with you.

This theory is supported by the mesh demo, where they demo how easy it is to share projects and prototype designs that are no doubt built-in software like Unity that has been exported to Microsoft’s cloud so that they can be supported more widely.

So if they were to try and use the kit artifacts and manifest world files that currently exist, they would not be as compatible, and there would be strong limitations, and these assets would not play well with Microsoft’s Mixed Reality headsets.

Why can’t there be backwards compatibility?

I thought maybe AltSpace could set up a separate client that supported old worlds, but the thought of that creates too many problems for AltSpace. First of all, the network would be separated into two; users would be reluctant to build on the new network while the old tech is available. And also, as this new technology builds, it would make it impossible to convert data in the future, so there is a window of time where they support migration.

Maintaining old worlds will cost money and staff resources and confuse new people who are coming onto the network and not understanding why people are on two networks.

Hence even though I wish they would support backwards compatibility with the current assets, it does make sense they didn’t go down this road and for a good reason.

How I personally feel about the future of update

Although I am worried some users may lose confidence because this isn’t the first time the community has had to upload. One of my friends claims this to be his 4th mandatory update and is annoyed by these changes, which is a frustration I have seen in the community. But after reflecting on the Microsoft Mesh demo, I wanted to provide the community with official videos and announcements that support these platform changes.

The technology is too new for AltSpace to make guarantees. Still, they are certainly going above and beyond to future proof their platform, and I do think AltSpace is taking the frustrations of world updates seriously. But I think for them to address this issue while meeting their company project missions seriously, they had to pull the pin now.

Why now?

Virtual reality is growing is the pandemic is driving this. More and more users are joining, and more and more people are creating stuff. Other networks like VRChat with backwards compatibility are fantastic, but the problem is that their platform is far too big to be bold enough to make a huge platform change. AltSpace is still young enough to bounce back.

We will wait and see but I am feeling positive that this change is for the overall.

Photos from the AltSpaceVR Microsoft Mesh Demo