In 2014, Greg Edwards took photos of all of the work on the Burning Man Playa, and then set out to create a 1:1 scale 3D model of Black Rock City all in virtual reality (BRCvr). He showed a demo on the Google Cardboard to the Burning Man Board in 2015, but VR was still in the early days of VR and before social VR had been deployed to mobile VR headsets or to 2D clients. But after Burning Man announced on April 10, 2020 that the in-person gathering at Black Rock City was cancelled, but that “We are, however, going to build Black Rock City in The Multiverse. That’s the theme for 2020 so we’re going to lean into it. Who’d have believed it would come true? We look forward to welcoming you to Virtual Black Rock City 2020.”
I had a chance to talk with Edwards to fill in the gaps between his initial prototype of virtual Black Rock City VR from 2015, and how he started playing around with it again after a text from his friend on April 3, 2020 asking what other models they could play around with in AltSpaceVR. Greg’s 1:1 recreation of the Burning Man playa and Black Rock City is simply put one of the most impressive worlds I’ve seen in VR yet. It’s not only a meticulous to-scale recreation of BRC, but he was able to create a toolkit in AltSpaceVR that would allow Burners to create their own world in the months and week before (and actually during) Burn Week. There were somewhere between 80-100 worlds linked from the BRCvr 2020 World event in AltSpace when it finally opened up at around 8:12pm PDT on Sunday, August 30, 2020. And at the time of the recording of this interview on Thursday during Burn Week, there were between 120-200 worlds with the number of people doubling each day.
The Microsoft team at AltSpaceVR has a lot of Burners on staff, and so they’ve been an instrumental technological partner for Greg and the BRCvr team, and this event has been a fusion of the AltSpace community helping the Burning Man community help get ramped up on building worlds and holding events in VR. I hope to catch up with more of these AltSpaceVR community members after Burning Man is over, but it’s been pretty amazing to see the level of participation, creativity, and serendipitous collisions that I’ve been able to have over the past five days of Burning Man. It’s not only a technological achievement to have a world this massive run smoothly on an Oculus Quest, but it’s an accomplishment of the radical self-reliance principle of Burning Man to empower the community of Burners to get ramped on a set of optimized assets from Edwards and the worldbuilding tools from AltSpaceVR to be able to make these spaces for theme camps, party spaces, private rooms, art exhibitions, and landmark staples of the the Burning Man culture.
Edwards says that he’s currently planning on leaving these worlds up throughout the course of the year so that the Burning Man community can have some virtual spaces to continue to gather and connect to each other throughout the course of the year. It’s pretty uncanny timing that the theme of this year’s Burning Man was “The Multiverse,” and there are 8-9 other officially-sanctioned virtual Burning Man platforms that attempted to recreate different aspects of Burning Man. See this post from Evo Heyning for more context, and you can find the links to the other Burning Man Multiverses on the Kindling site.
LISTEN TO THIS EPISODE OF THE VOICES OF VR PODCAST
4/ Ran into @AndyFidel_ of #GetSocial community on @AltspaceVR & they've been tracking development of different camps over the last couple of months & has seen a lot of the 150+ @brcvr worlds already. Check out their short highlight video clip & coverage:https://t.co/Cq6uw91P74
— Kent Bye (Voices of VR) (@kentbye) August 31, 2020
6/ I explored 110+ @bcrvr @burningman worlds in @altspacevr over last 2 days.
The main #BRCvr 2020 World is the most extensive & largest VR space I've been in yet & is well worth roaming around.
Be sure to spawn a flying tool (Settings > Items)
My map with green star highlights: pic.twitter.com/xYsQm3Wb2q
— Kent Bye (Voices of VR) (@kentbye) September 1, 2020
There's 10 different virtual Burning Man platforms, and ARTery member @amoration just posted a good run-down of the different worlds (check out her BM art tours). I've just checked out @BrCvr in @AltspaceVR so far, but @TheWaveXR has an event on Saturday.https://t.co/AAXujfIHCj https://t.co/KfBye9TCI3 pic.twitter.com/dhJ4QYuAXD
— Kent Bye (Voices of VR) (@kentbye) September 3, 2020
@sully9088 hey DS! 🔥 Did you enable Worlds in #AltspaceVR? You'll find Black Rock City in the features. Here's also a running list of different worlds and camps at #BRCvr: https://t.co/YSlbEtAmOm pic.twitter.com/dYvgCerOpK
— Andy Fidel ✨ (@AndyFidel_) September 4, 2020
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[00:00:05.452] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast. Hello, my name is Kent Bye, and welcome to The Voices of VR Podcast. So on today's episode, I'm going to be diving into virtual Burning Man and the experience that Greg Edwards had created for AltspaceVR called Blackrock City VR or BRC VR. So going back to April 10th, 2020 is when the Burning Man organization announced that there was not going to be a in-person Burning Man this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. And so the theme had already been selected for the year to be the metaverse. And so the Burning Man organization actually implemented the metaverse with eight to 10 different virtual worlds that have launched during this Burning Man week that started back on Sunday, August 30th, 2020. There's a build week that happens beforehand. So a lot of folks were building stuff at the last minute. And Greg Edwards had created this whole Altspace toolkit to be able to go in and build a theme camp. And he created a scale model of the Playa, which is one of the most stunning and amazing things I've seen in VR so far. Just the sense of scale that I got from roaming around this Altspace space with different portals into these different art pieces and temples and camps. And it just made me feel like the closest I've ever been to Burning Man since I've never been able to actually attend creating this two-scale architectural model of the space just gave me a deeper sense of what it means to be on the playa, absent all of the sandstorms and everything else, and it's a virtual representation of that. So there's actually quite an amazing story behind the Blackrock City VR by Greg Edwards, and going back to 2014 when he first scanned it and he pitched it, and then I wanted to catch up with him just to get a bit more of that context and that backstory of the Blackrock City VR, as well as what his happened in trying to do this translation of the Burning Man community into virtual reality, and specifically this blending together of the Altspace community with the Burning Man community, and all the different things that have come from that. As well as this theme of the metaverse, and I see a lot of what is being created here as the early seeds of what the metaverse is potentially going to feel like when it comes to these different worlds, to launch into these other sub-worlds, and then launch into other worlds as well. So that's what we're covering on today's episode of the Voices of VR podcast. So this interview with Greg happened on Thursday, September 3rd, 2020. So with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.
[00:02:32.766] Greg Edwards: My name's Greg Edwards, and I am the co-founder and lead technical director developer for VRCVR, the alt space platform Burning Man experience that is all the rage right now. We're right in the middle of Burn Week. And it's just, there's no other way to say it, it's blowing up. Yeah, that is who I am and that's what I'm in the middle of doing right now.
[00:02:59.183] Kent Bye: So I had a chance to do a little tour with you maybe three or four weeks ago to get a little bit of a sneak peek. And I've had a chance to go through and experience over 120 different worlds at this point. I know there's still more that's being added all the time. If you could take us back to the beginning of the Blackrock City VR, you know, how this got started and the backstory of your involvement in this project.
[00:03:22.607] Greg Edwards: Oh, okay. So this goes way back. I had started getting fascinated with the idea of virtual festival experiences back in 2013, 14. And I did a project for Coachella back when VR was just starting back in the VR days, back in the Google Cardboard first round VR days. That's where I cut my teeth on the idea of delivering VR experiences to mobile, because in my opinion, that was the only place anybody could really ever experience VR. It had to be mobile, it had to be on a phone. Nobody was going to buy a Vive. Nobody was going to spend $5,000 on VR. You wanted to get it to people, it had to be on mobile. And once I finished Coachella, I started to get into the Burning Man community and it was and people. And my skill sets were pretty much right in line with making this happen. And so I approached Athena Demos, because she's kind of a figurehead in the LA community. So you want to do this idea, you need to talk to her. And we started collaborating, she fell in love with the idea. We built it 2014 and had it for Google Cardboard, showed it to the org the next year. We loved it, it was a great experience, but it was, at that moment, there was no social VR infrastructure. VR was just starting, but it was, there was no home for it yet. So it sat in a hard drive in my closet till April when COVID hit. And my friend Doug Jacobson wanted to go in to have a birthday party in VR, and he was really liking Altspace. And he kept on saying, come on, let's do it in VR, and I kind of pushed out of the VR world for a bit because I went into augmented reality because everybody figured that VR was going to blow up and then nothing happened. And it was kind of, all right, well, you know, I'm going to stick to AR. Don't jump back into that world yet. Finally, I did. Threw in this old Matterport model that I had of my old place, my old apartment, or artist loft. They said, oh, do you have anything else? And I still remember the text, April 3rd. Wait a minute, I still have an old Burning Man. model that I made way back when we threw it in and all of a sudden people started piling with the world go wait is this burning man does this look like burning man you started hearing avatar saying this feels like burning man we turn to each other going okay we have something and a week later the org cancelled burning man so then called up Athena and I said are you ready to jump back in on this project because I think there might be something here why don't you run it up the flagpole ask around the org what's going on. And we hung up five minutes later, she says, I've been invited to a call about this in 10 minutes, because the org is trying to figure out what to do. And that was mid April. And we'd already had a proof of concept, we already had something to show everybody that we're working with, which is teams of, I think we might have a team of between 50 and 100 volunteers, people just seeing this project and went, how can I help? How can I bring myself to build? with this. That's not even counting all the individual theme camps and artists that are empowering themselves with how to develop in VR and just linking to our project.
[00:06:55.197] Kent Bye: So, yeah. So my understanding is that the Burning Man organization had like eight official virtual worlds, and there's a lot of unofficial ones that are out there, as well as a temple that they're doing, like an official temple. So the alt space version that you're creating here, which is one of the most impressive virtual worlds that I've seen in any platform, full stop, just the scale of it. And on top of that, then linking off into all these different worlds that you've created this template and alt space, But maybe talk about being selected as one of the official ones, because there are eight official virtual Burning Man's that are happening during this week and the Black Rock City or the BRC VR is one of them. So maybe give a little bit more context as that.
[00:07:37.977] Greg Edwards: Well, there was, I wouldn't say it was so much of a selection. It was more of a, we all came together as a community going, Hey, this is each individual project and groups that, Hey, this is our approach on how we can help the community and how we can help with the multiverse concept. And the org went, you know, great, follow the principles. Let's help the community out. You know, that's pretty much how it's gone. So it's, it's been radical self-reliance all the way right up. So there's some really cool projects. There's some really cool other projects in the multiverse that I really appreciate. And then things are spot on. So it's, I just, I haven't had time to play in all of the other multiverses, because I haven't even seen half of the worlds in my own project, or our own project, because I've been so busy getting main ply fixed. I, you know, working just right, I haven't had a chance to really explore everything that, and that's how vast it is right now. I haven't even had a chance to see half of what has been made for it. And it's Thursday.
[00:08:50.284] Kent Bye: Yeah, I think I spent between 10 to 14 hours, like popping in and out between Sunday and Monday, and got through 110, 120 worlds since then. And there's still stuff that's being added that I haven't checked out yet. But let's focus on the fact that Burning Man has a theme each year. And for some reason, last year in 2019, they chose the theme for 2020 to be the multiverse, which seems pretty prescient.
[00:09:18.032] Greg Edwards: That's an interesting topic. And it's I'll give you the facts with how I know, you know, but draw your own conclusions. We pitched this to the org in 2015, met with all the, put a headset on Larry Hardy, who comes up with the concepts and he comes up with them five years in advance. That was 2015. This is now. So put a headset on him, showed him what, you know, the burn could look like virtually. And now we're here.
[00:09:51.073] Kent Bye: Oh, wow. So he picks the themes five years in advance and you showed it to him five years ago. Yeah. Wow. Well, there's uncanny timing for whatever Larry stepped into.
[00:10:02.696] Greg Edwards: There's so many steps. Like I finally met Gavin last night briefly, who's the guy that first came up with the developed old space. That was years ago. He made the business deal with Microsoft in a tent on Playa at Burning Man. years ago, so they sold it to Microsoft. And Microsoft were in the process of going, huh, something bad's gonna happen. We might not have a Burning Man this year. Some of the heads of AltSpace go, maybe we should do something. And I was in the middle of talking to one of their, this was right after me and Doug uploaded it up. I went on LinkedIn and started hitting up anybody in AltSpace and just like, I have some questions. I wanna see how do we design this? How do we scale this? What are the parameters? I got ahold of one of the producers, and I'm sitting there in the middle of talking about this, and I couldn't say, hey, email, I'm a developer, I wanna make Burning Man. I had to be kind of coy about it, because I wasn't going to speak for, because we didn't know what the multiverse thing was gonna be. I just had this information going, all right, this is my idea, how do we do this? At the same time that that meeting was happening, the head of AltSpace, this world popped up in her menu. She went, huh. Clicked on it, but oh my god, I'm home and then sent us an email going What is this? How did you make this and what can we do to help and that has been Microsoft and all space? Mission and goal all the way through this they see how important this is and see how special it is and they Understand better than just as well as any of us follow principles honor the community Let's build something special. Let's do it, right? And they've been amazing to work with every step of the way.
[00:11:52.849] Kent Bye: So when you said this person from alt space got into the world that popped up and she said she was home, did she mean that she had been a burning man before?
[00:12:00.630] Greg Edwards: And it felt like she's a she's a burner for years. They all are. Katie, Alex Kidman, they've they've gone to the burn for years. And they personally want to go, OK, I mean, this is kind of how it's felt, the relationship. It's also much we're working with a corporation. It's more of, we're collaborating with a bunch of other burners. And instead of a bunch of wood or hammer and nails, they just happen to have a very wonderful, robust VR platform that they can bring. And then we have a bunch of people that can 3D model. That's kind of how it's felt. We just so happen to have this very well-developed VR platform to help you build your art piece. And we have an art piece that helps other people build their art piece. And that's just how it's felt this entire time.
[00:12:51.033] Kent Bye: Well, so maybe you could just from your side, catch us up a little bit of you launched on like on Sunday, I think around 8, 12 PM, I was there when the switch got flipped in it, the playa got opened up for the first time you had a gate and some individual worlds that were popping up on the popular tab that I was able to kind of pop in between. But the playa really is the way that you can go in and get that full experience of flying around or locomoting through that space. I've never been to Burning Man and I spent hours like mapping it out just to get a sense of how that world gets mapped and the architecture of the space. I got so much of a sense of the relational components of different themes that you're able to lay out and For me, I saw a number of different categories. There was very specific Burning Man things that were just like a moop world with a photo saying, okay, this is the moop and the matter out of place. And this is like the 2019 status report. And it's like, that's the only thing in the world. That's an artifact from Burning Man. And I loved all the signs and just give me that sense of the culture that's there. And then there's the art worlds, which are either recreations of Burning Man art or art that is just virtual art that you could never see in any world. And then there's like the camp worlds that are either a camp that is a recreation just to get the people together, or there's some other art piece or a theme to that camp. And then the Esplanade seems to have a whole themes of like the big major camps and that you did a great job of laying out a number of those so that when you're walking around the main playa area, then you can kind of go in and see like a high res version. But oftentimes I would, you would get as good of a sense of the architecture of that piece from the playa without having to go in. So there seems to be all these different types of worlds that are there. And I imagine what has probably happened is that of all the other virtual worlds that are out there, there's not a lot of other ones that, at least that I know of, that you have such a real-time embodied, even if it's on a 2D screen, you have this virtual embodiment. You're able to locomote through the space with other people and talk to them. And it gives you that Burning Man experience where I would run into people who were have been to Burning Man and had this is the first time doing any sort of virtual world or at least for the alt space. And they've been in Burning Man for years and they're sort of having that type of Burning Man experience. Of course, it's highly mediated through the technology, but at least to have those types of collisions that you would have at Burning Man and those different types of conversations. And then I would imagine that as people were able to see that, they get inspired and they want to build their own camp or they want to build something else. Yeah. Then they're coming to you. But maybe you could just talk about like how it's gone since you've launched and how people are still wanting to get involved and what you did in order to make it easy for people to get onboarded and create stuff in here.
[00:15:34.660] Greg Edwards: So, so we, we developed this in a way where we've been trying not to think of it as a song or as an app. This is a festival. This is an event that we all know and love and are very intimate with and know how the community works. in it. And the magic of Burning Man comes down to the week before during COVID. Without that, it's not legitimate, it's not authentic. So we had to come up with a workflow that worked itself towards the last minute, the last minute magic. As difficult and scary as it was, one, to develop a world that most VR professional high-end VR developers would say with, you know, back in their career, this cannot be done. That you shouldn't build it like this. This is impossible. It'll just be too heavy for the headsets and people will get sick and it'll be a bad experience. So one, do the impossible. Step two, Do it in a way that is last minute where you don't know what, you're basically building something where you don't know where half the elements, what they're going to look like, what they're going to feel like and how they're going to perform in your headset. That's step two, bring that in. And then step three, do it in two weeks. So that was build week. Um, so we did a lot of work setting up how you build these worlds with an already built toolkit and just go, all right, please, everybody stick to this and we'll be okay. stick to this set of tools, this set of textures, you build it like this will be okay. Then it was placement, putting art in, and that process, and then flipping the switch. And it's a testament to our team and how hard we work, but it's also a testament to how well the Burning Man community jumped into a medium that most didn't have any experience in. and how much they wanted to create and collaborate and participate. They learned something they didn't know was possible. They developed and made their art and brought it to us in the right way that made this all work. Overall, most of the community built amazing pieces of artwork that we could drag and drop in with a little bit of work and tweaking, of course. But overall, this entire community picked up on the vision and ran with it just like the rest of our team did. And that's why it worked.
[00:18:09.940] Kent Bye: Yeah, there's definitely some worlds that feel like are completely created out of that toolkit that you created. And maybe they'll add a photo or it's a camp that already exists. And there may be around 50 or 60% after I went through over a hundred, the ones that really stuck out are the ones that had custom art assets and buildings and stuff that's already there at Burning Man, the type of structures and architecture that makes it unique and not just like a cookie cutter type of experience. But all those other assets, make it so that's not just an empty world, like give you that sense of being there. But also on the playa, I have to ask, how did you get so much stuff into one space? And how does it run in a way that, cause that just doesn't seem like it's possible.
[00:18:55.262] Greg Edwards: Every piece of art had to be, we were asked for them to run on one specific material. So everything runs on one specific texture. They're all grouped together in clusters. It was a careful thing that sometimes had to be redone and thrown away at midnight and worked until three or four in the morning. When I'm sitting there going, this thing opens in 48 hours, and it's still running at 20 frames a second. And it was late at night. Everybody else had gone to bed. It was just me looking at the headset going, this isn't working. And then hours later, dug in. got it to work, put the headset in with all the art and saw the numbers, 40 frames a second. That was the first time I dropped on my knees and just cried. Just cried. It's like, this is gonna work. This is gonna work. People are gonna be able to experience this. They're gonna be able to spend hours in this, connecting with their friends. This is gonna work. And everybody that's built their own world or theme camp
[00:20:04.244] Kent Bye: Art piece that we're really hoping that this would be a powerful connecting experience They were going to be able to bring that to It's quite a miracle that you you were able to pull that off I mean, it's literally one of the most impressive virtual worlds i've seen the mere scale of it and I have to ask Is it to scale what you've created? Is it approximately to scale or how do you approximate that because it feels like it would be but i've never been so I can't so I I took a
[00:20:34.453] Greg Edwards: satellite photo of Burning Man. You see all the RVs and tents. And then I had my little toolkit of RVs and tents. And for about a third of it, I matched the best I could, the RV in the satellite model with the RV. So it's kind of arranged. So yes, it is not only to scale, but it's also based off of the tent and arrangement of 2019. But some people go in and go, what the hell, it's my tent. There's my RV right there. Like, well, it's an RV that looks like yours, but yeah, it's parked where you parked it last year, which took a lot of time, but it was important to get it right. It was really important to get it right.
[00:21:24.141] Kent Bye: Yeah, and I noticed that it was a few days after I looked at it, maybe on Wednesday or Tuesday, maybe, that you had the past years of The Man, like you have going back to 1997 to 2018, you have, and then I don't know if The Man is 2019 that's there, but you have the previous years of The Man, which is also like an archive, and I started to go in and out and check out some of them. There's not a portal link back, and there's no way to easily save. you have to wait until there's enough people in a world to be able to favorite it. So it's, there's so many things that like are just implemented and say like VR chat that are like, it's easy to favorite a world, but it's like near impossible to figure out how to favorite a world and to come back to it, which I think is like some weird, like, I don't think that alt space was necessarily originally designed to like host Burning Man.
[00:22:18.129] Greg Edwards: There's a few things in it that are needed, but the overall, I don't know what the experience would have been doing it with VRChat, but all I know is it's just, it's felt right working with Altspace. They've put a lot of resources, a lot of time to help us do this right with no obligation, no talk of commerce, commodification, anything like that. And it's, you know, trade off one or two features, but they've also added a lot of features for us directly that I don't know. They've done a lot of custom work with us and for us. But it's just felt right. It's just felt right all the way through. And it's like that you can't, you know, there's a couple feature sets that, but you know what, going to pretty man, you don't have all the featured sets you'd like. Things go wrong. And that's kind of the magic of it is you have a dust storm and you're trapped and you can't go home, so you gotta go to the nearest tent and then whoever's in that tent, you make friends with. And that's, it's, things don't always work perfectly, but overall, we've had a couple of glitches where me and Playa had a whiteout where things didn't work for an hour or two. Nobody noticed, everybody just went on to other parties and other worlds, and that's exactly how this works. It's kind of worked in the technology It's robust enough and strong enough that even when you have 10,000 more people than you were expecting showing up on the platform, it still holds together.
[00:23:51.946] Kent Bye: You know, I think that because Altspace was really one of the first social VR apps that was really putting a strong focus on cross-platform compatibility with Gear VR, PC VR. Just yesterday, 18 hours ago, they launched the Mac client, which is great for, I'm imagining a lot of people who actually go to Burning Man don't have a gaming PC. They may just have a Mac.
[00:24:15.484] Greg Edwards: That was an ask in the very beginning. When we started this going, we would really like this to have us working for Mac. And they're like, we will get on that. And they built this for Mac because we said it needs to be built on that. And they pulled it off. Right on the wire, but that's kind of how Burning Man works.
[00:24:36.177] Kent Bye: Well, so have you been able to just kind of hang out in these worlds and have just time for you to socialize like you would socialize at Burning Man?
[00:24:44.122] Greg Edwards: Not really. I've had a couple of fun moments. I'm hoping today's is a bit of that. Like months ago, I had a great moment at the airport that I've talked about, you know, that hit me with nostalgia. The airport world was very well done. There's a bunch of others. Kate Raddenbush did a project a year or two ago, it was called The Passage Home, which was a tribute to Larry Harvey, the founder, where the sun rises through a lined piece of artwork where his silhouette at the end and the the sun rises the sun shines through his heart at this perfect sunrise moment and we animated that and built that and showed that to her yesterday and it was just supposed to be an intimate thing between me and one of the teammates Justin and her but then like then all of a sudden tons of people just started pouring in and checking it out
[00:25:44.266] Kent Bye: Well, so let's talk briefly about the 10 principles because the striking thing to me is how you have something like Burning Man and how you institute the culture. And there's these 10 guidelines that you have laid out and we don't have to go through each and every other one. I just want to get like a broader sense of how you take something that used to be like, you had to put a lot of effort and energy and skin in the game to actually show up to Burning Man. And once you get there, then you're kind of like the rules or the code of conduct are these principles that everyone is trying to enforce and different things like gifting and decommodification and immediacy and you know, all these different principles. And yet here you are now with Virtual Burning Man trying to instill those 10 principles, but yet open it up to anybody to come in. And it's sort of a crapshoot as to whether or not they're going to be living up to those principles or not. But I feel like there's certain things that are built into the world that are reflecting those principles. But as you think about radical inclusivity, this is really, I would say, putting some of that to the test in the sense of, you know, how do you make this as inclusive as you possibly can to be able to instill these different principles and how you take the cultural aspects of the 10 principles and to institute it into a virtual world and try to make that translation.
[00:27:01.485] Greg Edwards: There's a few that don't really Translate like leave no trace and that kind of stuff. You can't digitally do that unless somebody is giving but it's mostly deep commodification and radical self-reliance Now those are the big ones that help other people build their worlds and Yeah, just foster a strong community and teach people how to build and teach people how to help themselves and do it on their own so that's that's Yeah. As far as the 10 principles, that's a pretty, pretty solid pieces right there. It is getting the community to know how to build for themselves.
[00:27:42.267] Kent Bye: Hmm. Yeah. And I was in a, the play alchemy space when Alex Kipman was there and someone on stage said that Alex was actually pretty crucial and getting that world together. And as I look at that world has a lot of the same type of shading styles as other alt space worlds have done. Can you speak to a little bit about the backstory for the play alchemy world?
[00:28:02.212] Greg Edwards: Uh, that one just kind of was, um, they handled it on their end. So it's kind of on point with how they develop in alt space. So there's kind of our style of how we build main playa in our worlds. And then they, it's a, it's a departure. It's a different look. And I'm, I very much welcome it because the whole point of every world that I wanted was it has to look photorealist or not photorealistic, but It has to look like something you would see on Playa. We didn't want floating mountains, you know, or anything like that. But then once you jumped into a world, then all gloves are off and it could look, how are we? And they, they had a wonderful team that, I mean, I've looked under the, I've seen some of the models I've looked at. It's very well built and very well done. And it's a beautiful experience. And I can't wait to see all of the new technologies and the new concepts that they're going to release through that world. It's coming up soon. I can't talk too much about that. But they pretty much handled it on their own. That's kind of what this something that they were thinking of doing anyway, that kind of experience, just we built this and then connected it with that.
[00:29:16.044] Kent Bye: Yeah, I'm wondering if you could talk a bit about the temples, because I think I may have asked you on the little tour about, I guess, the ethics around recreating a temple that was destroyed, because there is this element of leaving something behind, and then Destroying it and then now all of a sudden you have the capability to virtually recreate some of those temples and you have all of those Past 20 years of the actual man as well as a number of different temples that may have been burnt down so just wondering if you could speak a little bit about that in terms of that's a part of the tradition to Destroy it and then what's it mean to recreate it? And what's that bring up?
[00:29:53.921] Greg Edwards: Okay, so I feel like a temple is a beautiful work of art a structure up until the point where people start putting their intentions and you know the offerings offerings of their lost loved ones you know what it's they start filling that container full of what goes in the temple then it turns from an art piece of something completely different and i would never in a million years try to recreate or build that experience it's tough to try to figure out exactly how to explain it but a temple is a work of art up until people start putting in their attention. Then it is something else entirely that I have no business trying to recreate. I would never try to recreate a temple with the writings of people saying goodbye to loved ones. That is something completely different. The temple crew are running their own setup that is reflective of the experience they want to give people. And Sylvie and Jeremy have done a really good job of working on those projects. we haven't tackled our own type of temple experience in such a way. So that's the entire idea of temple lies within the temple designer. So we try not to put our own spin on it or anything like that.
[00:31:12.775] Kent Bye: I was talking to Evo, Evo Hanning, and she was part of the artery team who helps document the playa art, the locations of it. And I noticed as I go around, I love being able to fly around and move around the playa because it gives me a sense of, okay, this is the rough architecture of the space where I've seen tons of photos of art pieces, but I'd never really had a sense of the overall architecture of the space until I was able to actually visit the alt space. Burning Man is like, oh, okay, well, there's this whole wide open area where they have all these art pieces. Can you talk about the process of, like, if you just took photos and recreated it, or if you wanted to try to go back to the artist and get their consent to see if they wanted to have, like, a virtual recreation of some of these art pieces? Because it seems like a lot of those pieces were actually at the Burning Man, but maybe you could just talk about that process of filling out the playa with all those art cars and other art pieces.
[00:32:04.378] Greg Edwards: Oh, so 2014 was just me showing up just to do a photo proof of concept. And went around, photographed every art piece, built what I could, And then it was basically a show of the order, let's do this for this for next year. That didn't quite happen. But it's the amount of art that's on file now that is from 2014 is very small. It's maybe a third. Comparatively, you know, we've already talked to the artists and anybody that wanted it to be taken off has been taken off. But it's mostly 2020. Then mostly made by artists that have followed our parameters and then added it to it. So then that's the way I prefer it. I didn't want to have to make all of Burning Man because I wouldn't have been able to come up with half of these amazing concepts that everybody else has brought in.
[00:32:55.690] Kent Bye: Yeah. So maybe you could give me a sense of how many people, when you launched it on Sunday, the official opening, how many worlds did you have at that point? And how many, how many do you have right now?
[00:33:09.578] Greg Edwards: Oh, 80 to a hundred at launch and we have maybe double that now.
[00:33:16.913] Kent Bye: Okay. About that. So there's a whole team that helps determine where camps are going to go. And here you have a virtual recreation of a whole area. You have the Esplanade, the main areas, but then you have all the other, you have most of the portals along the Esplanade actually. I mean, there's some that are very specific locations that are kind of hidden that are easier to find at night. But if during the day they're really, you almost have to go on an Easter egg hunt to be able to find out where they're at. So maybe you could talk a bit about how do you place those portals relative to trying to serve two needs, which is one is to maybe do an actual recreation, but the usability of it would be terrible because no one would ever find it versus trying to consolidate it in an area where people you think are most likely to find them.
[00:34:04.699] Greg Edwards: Well, we're mostly stuck to the main playa area. Pretty much we had all the artists kind of ask where they wanted to go. and we put it in a database system. And then two o'clock in the morning was me checking the database going, all right, they said they want to be here, put it here. And all right, now there's too much stuff here, I got to move it here, you know, and then, and then the next day, after I slept two hours from a 24 hour placing setting, you know, giving everybody information, okay, this is where I put stuff. And then it was multiple Zoom calls of people in headsets, you know, in Zoom going, all right, I found the piece. What's this weird dragon one? Oh, that's so, okay, here's the portal. And then just, it was long Zoom sessions of everybody coming together and in a chaotic environment, doing very well under pressure. Amazing. It was an amazing team. Like, you know, I've, I built the underlying structure of this, but I couldn't even remotely have pulled anything like this off if I didn't have the solid team underneath me. It just, it's probably some of the most amazing professionals I've ever worked with. And the whole core, I am, yeah, it's just, it's just inspiring how solid everybody was with this. I can go, I can do a laundry list of names, but this was a good team and that's why this worked well.
[00:35:34.145] Kent Bye: Well, you said that it's kind of blowing up right now. So maybe you could elaborate on specifically how you measure how many people are engaging with it, or how do you, how do you know it's blowing up?
[00:35:45.694] Greg Edwards: Because the number of people in it double every day. And not only that, when they're in, they say, and we're also noticing like the numbers are actually probably a lot bigger than we, than we think, because we're only tracking the number of people in the main space playa. But what people are doing is bar hopping. They go on Playa and they find an event and then they go to a different event. So we don't, we can't track how much time or how, you know, when we, we only see numbers, but it's people are not only on main Playa, they're staying and then they're jumping to other experiences and just bouncing around. People are staying. I don't know how many times I hear, Hey, I was planning on just spending an hour in Playa and then five in the morning popped up and I was still there but they're staying for hours and that was the goal.
[00:36:36.218] Kent Bye: Yeah, well, I will say that there is a weird technical thing with alt space, which is that the main BRC VR 2020 world seems to be an event rather than an actual world, which means that there's no way that I can favorite it to go directly there, which is a bit of a crapshoot. I've luckily favorited. I was in a world where the empty playa was enough so I could favorite that world and I can go there. But for most people, it's a bit of a crapshoot to even get to the playa sometimes because it's like you can portal there from other worlds. But I think a lot of people I talked to just look at the popular tab and see what the popular worlds are, and they go there. But it can actually be very difficult to actually get to that main playa world.
[00:37:18.969] Greg Edwards: Well, the reason why that's set up is the system called front row, where you can only have 70 people or so in a world at one time. That's because of headset performance, stuff like that. And you know, an old space was meant to be a place where Few people could get together in a room. It was never designed to be something like this. So it's an event because a world is a place everybody can come into. An event is, all right, we're going to have 1,000 people seeing this event. We duplicate it. So there's multiple instances of it duplicated. So that's how that works. That was the solution to make this work right.
[00:37:55.898] Kent Bye: And I've also noticed that some of the events that people are having get filled to capacity and I can't get in. Is that mean because some of the worlds that are created are not front row compatible? Yeah. And that, I mean, that seems to be on this. Again, getting back to the, how Microsoft was setting this up, it wasn't necessarily designed to be able to deal with this. And it really feels like it's stress testing different aspects of all space. Cause it's, it can be frustrating when you're trying to get in and it says, sorry, the room's filled. You can't get in. Or if you go to the main playa and it, instances you into a different world than the person you're trying to meet up with, I found it is better to try to go to the person. And then if you go to the person through the social VR, if you're friends with them, but, you know, to try to take a group of people through, it's very easy to get split up and hard to get back into the same instance sometimes.
[00:38:42.857] Greg Edwards: Well, we kind of knew that that was going to happen, and we've tried to work the best way. But you know, one of the great things with going to Burning Man is you show up with a bunch of friends, you leave camp, you go to an experience, and then you lose half your friends. Guess what you're forced to do? Make new friends. So we've tried to take every technical limitation of what we're working with and figure out clever ways of making it work. towards our advantage and towards what the Burning Man experience actually is. We haven't gotten it right every time, but it feels like people are having fun. It feels like people are connecting and experiencing it right. So, so far so good.
[00:39:24.752] Kent Bye: I've heard a lot of people when they go to Burning Man, you build a bunch of stuff. It's somewhat disposable architecture where you experience it for that week or, you know, the lead up to it on the course of like a, the scale of like two weeks and then it's gone. Believe No Trace is a part of the principle. So after Burning Man, what happens to all these virtual worlds? Is it going to be persisting to allow people to continue to meet up or is it going to be all destroyed? Just like Believe No Trace.
[00:39:52.088] Greg Edwards: No, no, we're keeping it open. We've talked about how right after Burning Man, that's day one of year one of starting this out. And it's kind of this, burners run on a cycle of, you know, you build something, you know, you spend all summer coming up with cool ideas for the burn, you wait till the last minute, you frantically build something magnificent, you build it, and then you take it down. And, you know, Burning Man's over. We still have this massive piece of art in digital space that's still going to exist. And that's going to be an interesting thing, but it's still there after this. And it's still something that we need to take care of and grow and build. And it's probably going to keep, we haven't even scratched the surface of this. And it's an interesting, we don't have that reset that Burning Man has every year. This is just going to keep growing and building. And it's a wonderful thing, but it's also kind of an intimidating thing. How this is going to structure out and how do we build this and expand it and let it expand as its own entity. We don't want to force the community into what we think this should be. We have to empower them to build on how they think it should be.
[00:41:16.202] Kent Bye: Well, the structure of Burning Man is usually really decentralized in the sense that everybody that's there is building and tearing down their own thing. But here it's somewhat centralized in the sense that you are one of the primary architects of this space in collaboration with AltSpace, who would be the stewards of potentially maintaining some of this. How does that like, we don't usually have that type of digital stewardship when it comes to spaces like this. And so is this your job that you're able to do full time? Or is it you're doing this on as a volunteer basis?
[00:41:46.539] Greg Edwards: Or how does this get sustained in the future volunteer basis at the moment? But that's why we've tried to encourage and empower these artists to create their own worlds on altars. It was very clear that if we try to maintain everybody's accounts for their projects, it was not going to work. and we would just collapse and falter. We had to take the time to train and explain to as many artists, this is how you build it. This is the parameters of how you should run it. Then you need to have the account. You need to upload your own work. You need to have control over your artwork. And that's how we move forward. So we control how we link everybody to the first ring of everybody's artwork, which was what I think Playa will be. It's the first central ring of how to expand this concept, and it'll just go out and out and out. And it'll probably differentiate from the Burning Man thing the further it goes out, but I'm curious to see what this looks like as it grows. I mean, we have the right principles, we have the right concept, we have the right community at its core. And I'm really curious. I'm really curious to see what this looks like in a month or two months from now.
[00:42:57.553] Kent Bye: Yeah, I've already started to see some worlds that start to link out to other kind of non Burning Man art worlds that folks have created.
[00:43:05.034] Greg Edwards: Yeah, yeah. So how Burning Man works is, if you want to go, the best thing to do is to join up with a theme camp so that you have a small community within the community that help each other out. You build a shade structure, a hangout structure together, kitchen thing together. So everybody kind of groups together in these theme camps as their own personal safety community. And we attempted to kind of push that in a way where, all right, theme camps come together and then we link the theme camps and theme camps link to other worlds. It didn't quite materialize like that, but it's still materializing in a similar way, but just not structured to a theme camp, which is located in a physical space on Playa. It's just interacting and interconnecting with everybody anyway. Everybody's making their own homes on AltSpace and then linking each other up by who likes what and who wants to connect with who. So we're seeing the interaction and the connectivity. It just wasn't quite going the way we were expecting, but it's happening nonetheless exactly the way it should.
[00:44:13.787] Kent Bye: Yeah, I did an interview with Phil Prosdale, one of the founders of Second Life, and he said that, you know, with the internet, you have Metcalfe's Law, which is the value of a network increases with the square of the number of nodes connected to that network. And so when you have links between the nodes, then you're creating these connections that make the network more valuable. And I think that we start to see a little bit of the early days of that metaverse, you know, the metaphor of the World Wide Web and what we have with hypertext link and Google comes in and indexes that. And then the number of sites that have the most links become higher on their page rank algorithm. But this is another sense of, you know, I have my top 40 or 50 worlds that I saw and, you know, I could go in and potentially create an alt space world that links off to these. It could be a guided tour based upon my own experience. But I feel like that ability to link to other camps that it's something that's unique or different that you have in the virtual space that you don't quite have as much. I mean, you have flyers and you have other ways to spread the word, but it's hard to create teleportation portals in reality. So you have this other dynamic of how to create that type of network of the metaverse, really.
[00:45:21.119] Greg Edwards: The wonderful thing about this is most of the expense of this kind of project rests with alt space. So this has been a wonderful test on how do communities develop and structure themselves in VR and in a natural way. Like how do individuals, communities come together in the VR space? Because this is important because, well, society needs a way to connect. People need a way to connect now, you know, because of COVID. We can't just all be sitting in our apartments doing Zoom calls with what we need to figure out a way to form new memories. That's just a social need right now. And this is giving us a way to see how, what are some good practices so that our whole team can learn how to better engage and empower a community, develop, structure themselves in the VR space. That's when VR grows, is when there's a community. the foundation of it with alt space, we just kind of gave it a little kick.
[00:46:33.553] Kent Bye: Well, for you, what do you think the ultimate potential of virtual reality might be and what it might be able to enable?
[00:46:41.738] Greg Edwards: I think I'm seeing it. I spent so long trying to build, you know, startup VR in the early days, and I kind of got disillusioned. And that's why I didn't even have a VR headset till a year ago. Cause I just felt like I worked so hard at building VR and it didn't happen. And it was already kind of like, well, maybe, maybe I would just need to do the smart thing and stick to AR. Maybe that's the real focus. But in the past six months, I've seen it not replace life, but giving people an opportunity to have connected experiences. And that's, That's more than I could have dreamed of years ago. So it's, it's hard to see where this could go. I just hope that this doesn't isolate people, but this is continuously used as a way to connect people. That's just, that's how we're trying to move forward and it feels right so far.
[00:47:40.818] Kent Bye: Hmm. Yeah. And is there, is there anything else that's left unsaid that you'd like to say to the immersive community?
[00:47:48.461] Greg Edwards: I'm just, uh, the cool thing about, the alt space, because Burning Man started Baker Beach, they got kicked off because it became too big, so they moved to Playa, you know, in Nevada. And then this year, you know, COVID happened. And the wonderful thing about the Burning Man community is they've been welcomed into this VR space by, by and large, a very robust, wonderful, welcoming alt space community. And it's been one community welcoming into another. And that's been the most beautiful thing about seeing these communities merge, you know, is our crew of our developers then bringing it into other people and everybody just wanted to bring in their best self and it was beautiful seeing everybody bring their best self into this and that's why it looks, that's why this project looks the way it does and feels the way it does. Everybody just wanted the opportunity to finally give and build. So that's I mean, you don't get many opportunities in life to be a part of something like this. And that's been a dream come true.
[00:49:03.794] Kent Bye: Yeah, as you're as you're saying, those two communities come together. I immediately think of Andy Fidel and the social community who has been I know Andy's been working with a lot of different folks and just helping them get up. And just to see those two cultures come together, it's been really it's it's kind of a weird mix. The Burning Man and Old Space is a weird mix of the old space aesthetic and everything that's there, as well as the Burning Man community.
[00:49:24.950] Greg Edwards: The Old Space community, I mean, Old Space was developed by Berner as well in the very beginning. He built the community with Burning Man and his lessons in mind.
[00:49:36.231] Kent Bye: That Eric Romo and somatic Bruce, or who are you talking about? Gavin. Gavin, okay.
[00:49:41.292] Greg Edwards: But yeah, it all kind of has a, it all started together. It just ended up in this place for various different parts of the story. And I'm very happy to be a part of it and be a piece of it, but there's a lot of pieces that came together that are much bigger.
[00:50:00.407] Kent Bye: Well, I always said that there are certain aspects of the Burning Man culture that philosophically, we could start to prototype culture within these virtual worlds and see how that culture can then get translated into the real world. And I think a big complaint that a lot of people have had about Burning Man was that it was so insular, and it was hard to carry forth a lot of those principles out. And I mean, obviously, there's lots of people who do lots of different things to do that, Burn Us Without Borders and everything else, but that type of community and gathering to be able to start to spread that out and to prototype new culture. And I feel like this is the first seeds of really, with the pandemic, it's really catalyzed these communities to think about how to actually do that and to see what that looks like and see where this may go in the future and how to implement these different principles and see what can be created out of that and see how that spreads out into the broader culture.
[00:50:48.649] Greg Edwards: Well, yeah, it's, um, I remember the first moment I realized that I could edit video on a PC back in like the late nineties. And then 10 years ago that I could build a VR experience in unity. And those are just powerful aha moments that have completely changed my life. And I'm excited to see what happens to an entire community of people that are realizing they too can build in VR and make a home in the digital space and express themselves here. That has been an important motivation in this project as well as trying to give that aha moment of what I can build in VR too. I can be a VR developer and just see what happens.
[00:51:35.142] Kent Bye: Awesome. Well, Greg, thank you so much for all the work that you've done to pull this off. It's quite a technological engineering feat and the community cat herding all the different levels that you've had to do in order to build this infrastructure and shout out to the Altspace team as well as helping make this happen, but incredible. moment, I think a turning point, a milestone within the history of VR in terms of this event and hopefully what comes from here after this to see how a lot of the stuff that you've started to lay forth can start to spread out here in the future. So thanks again for coming on the podcast and sharing a bit of the story and for pulling off this amazing feat. So thank you. Thank you.
[00:52:13.905] Greg Edwards: Thank you.
[00:52:15.278] Kent Bye: So that was Greg Edwards. He's the co-founder and lead technical director as well as lead developer of BRC VR. That's Black Rock City VR. So I've a number of different takeaways about this interview is that first of all, Well, it's pretty stunning, just the experience itself. And I've immersed myself and experienced quite a lot of the different worlds, as well as gone to a number of different events. There was an XR Social Club outing, which was going around and doing some world hopping. And I'm hoping to dive in a lot more this weekend and check out more events and more of the worlds. Because since its launch, there's been about near double the number of worlds that I first checked out. And that was anywhere from 100 to 120 different worlds. So there's continued to be worlds that have been built. Probably one of the most striking things that I take away from this is that, you know, Greg was saying that there's three different things that he had to do, uh, which was to number one, do the impossible, which if you're to ask anybody in the VR industry to recreate the Burning Man playa to scale in alt space, you'd be like, okay, yeah, you're not going to be able to get it down, which I think I didn't ask him the size limit, but I believe that like, in order to be quest compatible, it has to be around like 16 megabytes or something like that. So. to recreate the entire like playa experience and like that small of a size pretty remarkable that it's able to run and to run at the efficiency that it does and just the amount of the scale of going around and exploring around that space is quite impressive if you do do it and it does sound like it's going to be around i highly highly recommend using the fly tool if you go into settings, items, spawn a flight tool and then you grab it and then you push it forward and it allows you to fly around and because it's to scale and you're like walking around it kind of takes about how long you would expect it to take to actually walk around and so you can teleport but it's really nice to be able to just fly around the playa and explore around it but For number one, he had to do the impossible, which was to create it at that scale, but also to enable creators who have never created anything in VR to be able to make something and for it to actually run, which if you know anything about optimizing experiences to be able to run in VR, it's quite hard to do that. And something like VRChat Even though you're able to have the robustness of these VRChat worlds, you have to go through all these hoops of learning and knowing Unity and doing 3D modeling. I mean, the barrier to entry is fairly high when it comes to just asking people who have never done anything to be able to create something in a virtual space. So imagine there's been some people within the Berner community who already had some 3D modeling skills and that shows in some of the different worlds that actually have more recreations of some of these different camps that have existed in the past. There's like the Esplanade, which is in between where the camp area is and open playa. And that is where a lot of these big theme camps are at. And the playa has a lot of the art projects. There's temples that are around the 12 o'clock area. There's like a clock system. And so at the very top is the 12 o'clock and then there's a nine o'clock portal. And then down at around six o'clock is the center camp. And most of the portals that Greg put in are along the esplanade. So right in between the playa and where all the camps are. And there are some portals that are hidden within the main camp area. And they're actually easier to find at night because when you're flying around, then they kind of glow in the dark and you can find them. and he's continuing to add them. I went through and mapped the best I could on Monday and Tuesday, and I think he's continued to add more stuff, but it's overall just super impressive. But there's this principle of trying to do everything at the last minute. Like the burn week, you have all these different plans, and then you go out and you actually make it, and then you show it off at Burning Man. So there's this concrescence of everybody coming together at the last minute and there's like this deadline and it's this rush to be able to try to get things created and built. And so there's a certain quality of things being of the moment because of that, because everything is being generated at that moment. Then you have the community coming together and be able to organically create stuff. And anytime you think about trying to recreate something at the last moment within VR and have it work, then you know that that is kind of a recipe for disaster, which I think it's Why been able to pull this off as such a huge engineering and technological feat, not only on Greg's side, but also on the AltSpace team and Microsoft to be able to enable the tool set, to be able to actually have this type of dynamic community creation in that way. So it does sound like that the AltSpace team does have a lot of people that have been to Burning Man, lots of burners. And so I think they understand that Burning Man spirit. And so there's 10 principles. And one of the principles is decommodification. And so what's it mean to have one of the main official sanctioned areas to be essentially hosted and subsidized by a major corporation, they've been very low key about it. I mean, they haven't Talked about it too much. I know Alex Kipman has talked a little bit about some of the stuff that's going to be happening in the play alchemist world that he and a lot of other folks on the all space team were involved in creating. It has front row and the play alchemist world. So they're able to have talks and they're not going over capacity. A lot of the other worlds are just like these user generated worlds that don't have front row enabled. I think you have to actually have like a unity project in order to have front row. So because it was a user generated platform, then a lot of the events that were happening in alt space were unfortunately getting to the point where they had to cap out. So whoever got in was able to get in. So maybe it's kind of recreating that same aspect of Burning Man where there is an actual capacity, but it's one of those technological things that hopefully will get sorted out at some point. Also just overall, the alt space. platform was not necessarily designed to have this type of open world building and exploration. And so a lot of their tool sets made it difficult to favorite things. And another example is that, you know, when you go into a world and when you go back out to the world, then you get respawned into the very beginning of the BRC 2020 world, which is such a huge sprawling world that if you're trying to explore around and then each time you go back to that main world, you have to go back to the beginning and then You know, it's just a pain. It'd be nice to be able to go back into a world at a very specific location. And so to have teleportation that takes you to specific locations, just to have a little bit more of a persistence as you go in and out of these different portals, you know, would be better than respawning from the origin point and only having one spawn point. They do have a map that was fixed later in the week where you're able to kind of teleport to different areas, which helps, but still, it's just be nice to feel like you were exploring a space to be able to go in a space and come out of it and not feel like you were getting sent back to the beginning. but the fact that he was able to create this toolkit that allowed people to use these sets of pre-proofed assets with one texture file meaning that they could start to put in like all these different fires and barrels and tents with the skyboxes and the playa and you know just a lot of the different 3d assets that he had created just to give you this feel that you were at a space that felt out the overall architecture you know as a baseline having that same theme and then from there people are able to add their own specific flair and flavor and potentially even 3D models and cams that capture some of that Burning Man culture. The culture of the 10 principles was replicated throughout different worlds. And it was interesting to see how those principles are communicated because the equivalent in the virtual spaces is the code of conduct and the culture that you're trying to cultivate. And I think that Burning Man has been doing this for decades now. And so they have it down pretty well in terms of how to communicate these principles, how to embody those principles within the actions, but also in the worlds, these different posters that were created. And I think they're pretty interesting to say, okay, these are the shared values that we're going to have with this community and how that is embedded within the worlds that are created, but also the behavior of the people that are going there. Now, because you have not only the Altspace community, but also like anybody that has an Altspace account coming into these worlds, then how do you ensure that those principles are enforced? You know, I think that's a big, giant open question to see what are the different barriers and boundaries that you have with having in-groups and out-groups. And with Burning Man, it used to be that you had to actually travel there. So that is one method in which that they were able to filter and really focus on that community. As they expand into these virtual spaces and really try to embody these principles of radical inclusivity, then how can they start to expand out those principles to be more inclusive of people who wouldn't have the means to be able to go to Burning Man? And there's a gate experience where you have all these RVs that are lined up, and at the end of the gate experience, there's actually a big infographic that talks about the demographic and the income and racial diversities, sexual identities, and You know, it is liberal, progressive, with majority white attendees, as well as, you know, fairly affluent folks that are going to Burning Man. So there's a certain amount of privilege that you have to have in order to even get to Burning Man. And to attend the virtual Burning Man, again, you have to have access to all this technology and the knowledge to be able to find it and navigate it. And with some of these technologies, you have to have good enough hardware to even fully experience it. The Altspace team actually released a Mac client just for this week because they got rid of it just because of the pains and be able to support and sustain something like the Altspace experience and to make it performant within a Mac computer, you know, was too much trouble than it was worth. And they originally released the Mac client and they got rid of it. And now they brought it back for the Burning Man, just because that was an important part of making it accessible. So accessibility and inclusivity, I think is a big open question for anybody that's in the technology space. And so, yeah, I think it's an important open question to sort of put out there to see, like, how can you have more diverse and inclusive communities in general? It's pretty amazing to hear Greg say that he went to Burning Man like 2014, he did a bunch of scans, he created a prototype for the Google Cardboard around 2015, showed it to the organization and Larry Harvey back in 2015. And he said that these themes for these camps are made around five years in advance. And so Larry Harvey, who passed away in 2018, he had presumably helped create the theme of the metaverse over five years ago, perhaps after he saw this initial demo that Greg had showed him of this recreation. And the fact that he's able to meticulously recreate the placement of all the different RVs and tents and to have this two scale model, it's really quite impressive. Hopefully, if you have a chance to go check out the Black Rock City VR world, and if they keep it as an ongoing event, or if it's a world, just to be able to explore around, because it's really quite impressive to be able to see what they were able to create. and it does give you this architectural sense of that space. And I think it's a great seed to be able to start to think about the metaverse and what's it mean to take the model of what can the metaverse learn from the Burning Man community, which is that you have these principles, one of which is radical self-reliance, and so you're wanting to go and build and maintain your own sense of your health and safety, but also align and collaborate with other people, giving and sharing of your gifts with each other to be able to build something that you couldn't do on your own. And so you have these theme camps that are building different worlds. And then what Greg had originally thought was that there was going to be these theme camps and from those theme camps, then those would be linking off to other people that were building stuff. But I think because people are just learning. How to create what's essentially like the hello world of their virtual world by being able to create their very first immersive world by taking this kit and be able to see it. Then they see what they can do just to be able to learn the tool set. And then as they go around, then they start to get inspired by what's possible. And you start to say, okay, well, okay, well, there's these temples, there's these art projects, there's these theme camps that have a certain theme. And then there's these other worlds that maybe make sense to link off to specific sub worlds from a main world. And so Greg had thought that. The virtual world was going to evolve like that, where you would have people coming together in theme camps and collaborating with each other. And then from there, maybe linking off to some of their other camps. And you saw that a little bit with like the marshmallow camp had created like the radical self-reliance camp, as well as like the red tape camp where. It was kind of like this joke where, you know, you had to fill out all these different forms in order to get access to the camp and they're kind of linking to each other. The get social camp also has like portals and Andy Fidel from the AltSpace community was helping a lot of the different creators from the Burning Man community, as well as Nira, Jennifer Brooks, who was creating a lot of the interactable art. entities, whether it's wings or hats or these fire staffs. And, you know, she was working a lot of the different things that people were actually interacting with and playing as they were going through these different worlds. And those ended up beginning spread out through all the different worlds as well. So you had this very interesting, like alt-space-esque aesthetic for some of these different interactables and other aspects kind of fusing in as these shared pieces of art that were able to be re-contextualized and remixed into all these different worlds. So really quite fascinating to see these two worlds come together. And I'll be very curious to see how it continues to unfold and to see what kind of events happen this weekend. I know that Alex Skippin was saying that they're going to be screening Andrew Jones's Samskara, which is a dome experience, you know, recreating a way to be able to project video within a dome and I saw it at VRLA back in 2016 and it's a great experience. And I think it may have even had some screenings at Burning Man as well. But to be able to be in the play alchemy world and be able to see the actual dome experience as well, that should be pretty interesting to see how that plays out. And the whole Microsoft team, you know, kudos to them to be able to embody these different principles of Burning Man, of the decommodification and just, go out and help out and not to expect any sort of financial compensation. But, you know, for them, they're hoping to develop their own platform and to really make it so that communities can organically form and evolve on their platform. And I think it's very striking to see that Burning Man is happening right before Oculus Connect 7. I'm going to have a hard time not saying Oculus Connect 7. It's now Facebook Connect 1. They changed the name. So it's now. Facebook connect one where Facebook horizon is going to be, I don't know if it's going to be officially launching. I know they've been having these different betas, but it's going to be Facebook's version of the social network versus alt-space, which, you know, if you would ask me like five years ago, which of the social VR platforms were going to be hosting burning man in 2020, not sure if I would have guessed alt-space VR, but if you look at Microsoft, you know, I, well, The whole history for how Microsoft bought Altspace, I don't think that full story has been told. Anyway, Microsoft, Windows Mobile did not succeed successfully against either Android or iPhone. Android and iPhone were the two major platforms. And so Microsoft has been left in having to completely change their strategy to be a lot more open and be able to be platform agnostic and to be able to create their services that work on both Android and iPhone, but also They've been investing hundreds of millions and billions of dollars in creating a whole alternative platforms with augmented reality and their Windows Mixed Reality VR headsets. And so with Altspace, that's their social VR platform that they were able to acquire, you know, they're able to help facilitate different aspects of the community, trying to embody these open principles of really just trying to foster the community. But overall, just the fact that the Microsoft team was able to collaborate with Greg and that Greg was able to create this toolkit and for people within a week or two beforehand, or even during the week of to still be able to go in and participate and to be able to create. And you know, what's it going to look like moving forward where Burning Man usually used to be this ephemeral event. It would be people coming together, they build stuff and it would all go away. Now, what's it mean to be able to create these digital recreations of these different spaces? Is that going to be able to help sustain the community to persist and be able to continue to come together throughout the course of the year rather than just once a year? What's that going to do to the Burning Man community itself with all these different virtual worlds that are there that have just launched within this past week? how are those going to persist and you know what are the ways that people are going to want to interact with each other and to be able to build and make different spaces and contexts for people to connect together and how is this going to be lessons for the future of the metaverse where you have this main playa area and then these different portals into these different camps and then from there you go on to these other different tiers as you go down multiple tiers and it gets further and further away from what that main aesthetic of burning man is like and so Yeah, I think this is a fascinating moment in the history and evolution of virtual reality, especially because, you know, we're six months into this pandemic of people being sheltered in place or quarantined. And, you know, it's an opportunity for people to start to gather. What's it mean to gather? And most conferences have focused on the content that they're presenting. But Burning Man, there are talks, but that's not the point. The point is that you're meeting people and you're meeting art. And it's about, you know, this expression of your creativity and being able to build and make stuff. And just to see how they're able to translate that into alt space and to see how that is going to continue to foster out into people building these different virtual representations within virtual worlds, but also places like alt space and other things in virtual reality. I hope in the future we'll eventually get to the point where folks look at WebXR and other things like Mozilla hubs, and hopefully there'll be a radically open source, decentralized approach. But at this point, in order to actually run it, you really need a company like Microsoft and Altspace to be able to really facilitate a lot of the stuff on the backend. Because even at that, there's certain times in which that infrastructure will start to crumble based upon the usage and number of people that are using it. So we're not quite at the point yet where we have like an open decentralized approach, but I'd point to like Mozilla hubs and what's happening in the WebXR community to see maybe by next year, we'll have like the real foundations for building up these different worlds. And I think these events are actually really great ways to catalyze the building and the growth because it's people coming together to really facilitate the needs of the community, connecting to each other. It reminds me of something like the VRChat virtual market, the Vket, where there's people that are coming together and the same thing that they're building these worlds that are fairly ephemeral. You come in and there's a number of ways that you're, you're selling things. So there's a commerce element. So this Burning Man is a little bit less about like selling things and it's more about the community coming together. And so, yeah, anyway. I'm really excited. I had a great time exploring around the different worlds. And I know that there's going to be a number of different folks doing different retrospectives, playable agencies, Evo Haining. She's a part of the Artery team, which has in the past mapped out all the different art that's in the world. And I think she's been doing something similar with this world, doing art tours. So definitely check out Evo. She's got a good rundown of all the other eight different metaverses that are out there. I've only been really focusing on the alt space and the VR one, but hopefully this weekend I'll be able to check out some of the other ones as well. So that's all that I have for today, and I just wanted to thank you for listening to the Voices of VR podcast. And if you enjoy the podcast, then please do spread the word, tell your friends, and consider becoming a member of the Patreon. This is a listener-supported podcast, and so I do rely upon donations from people like yourself in order to continue to bring you this coverage. So you can become a member and donate today at patreon.com slash voicesofvr. Thanks for listening.