Linden Lab, the company behind Second Life (2003), has been cooking up their new VR-ready virtual world in stealth for some time now. The company has revealed two screenshots giving us the first glimpse of what that new world will look like.

‘Stylish’ and ‘beautiful’ are two words that come to mind when looking at the first two screenshots of Project Sansar, but those same two words are rarely associated with Linden Lab’s aging virtual world, Second Life.

The new views are but a glimpse into what the company hopes will become an expansive virtual world built with the new generation of immersive VR devices in mind; clearly visuals, and perhaps more importantly, style, are a major focus.

While Second Life is capable of looking good in the right circumstances, the company acknowledges that it isn’t optimized for the high-performance rendering requirements of VR headsets. That’s one reason why Linen Lab is starting from scratch with Project Sansar.

“The fact is, we will never ever get the framerate in Second Life to be what it needs to be to have a smooth comfortable experience in the Oculus [Rift],” CEO Ebbe Altberg told me. “We now have VR in Sansar and it’s super smooth… we have the framerate and we’ve got some really beautiful scenes up and running.”

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The two new views of Sansar show a more modern, and apparently stylized world, rather than aiming for photorealism. Style is important to any game that plans to stick around for a long time; cutting-edge graphics are only cutting-edge for so long, whereas a stylized world derives its looks from internal and self-controlled means, rather than the graphical fashions of the day.

As I’ve done before, I’ll point to a title like Halo 3 (2007)—a game with a stylistic approach combined with a reasonably good lightning system—as having aged much better than games that went for the high-poly & high-texture of the time.

Lighting is crucial because it suggests form even without any texture, whereas texture without lightning can create misleading illusions of form. Without a decent lightning system, your textures will look like cardboard no matter how high resolution they are. Thankfully, it looks like lightning is a big focus for project Sansar, with the new views showing simple but effective reflections, bloom, and atmospheric perspective. This will keep it looking fresh for years to come as long as Sansar sticks with a stylized aesthetic.

But consistent style is major hurdle for a company transitioning from Second Life, a platform that offered users near infinite freedom in user-generated content creation, creating a range of content that is as varied performantly as it is aesthetically.

“Second Life is going to have its 12th birthday this year. The way Second Life was built was quite substantially ahead of its time,” Altberg told me. “It achieved something that, back then, was borderline nuts to even try to accomplish…. to retro-fit SL, to modernize that stack to become as performant as you need it to be would be a massive undertaking, and we decided it would be easier and less disruptive to start anew, and leave SL as it is for those that love it for what it is.”

Update (11/5/15, 11:51AM CT) – A Linden Lab spokesperson reached out with the following clarification:

“We won’t actually create content nor will we dictate a cohesive style for Sansar experiences; instead, users create the experiences and they’ll be extremely diverse in type and style vs. a singular cohesive “game” world. These [screenshots] are merely to show the diverse range of experiences our current alpha users are creating and how much detail you can derive from our platform.”

Original article continues below.

Sansar on the other hand, may ultimately encourage or require that creators abide by a certain set of performance guidelines, with the help of Linden Lab.

“Our users are starting to understand that VR is a different medium and they may need to approach it differently than they have in the past [for performance and experiences],” he said. “We’ll do a lot of things to help users understand how to create performant content. There’s a lot of work yet to do, but we have plans for things like automatic optimization of content, polygon reduction of content that preserves quality at the same time, including showing users that create content some sort of visual indication of how performant their content is going to be across various platforms… I’ve already see stuff in Sansar that I know you’d never see in SL.”

  • Allie Tomsen

    You refer to Second Life as an “AGING” Virtual World? How about “established,” or “proven?” It seems that loaded adjectives are now a part of everyday rhetoric.

    • Hyena

      from the technical/engine pov wise, it is rather aged compared to new stuff and they can only do so many more improvements to it’s old bones

    • Jen

      yeah like it or not SL is AGED.. and this is coming from someone who has been playing/active since 08 the only way they are going to effectively bring in a newer crowd they are going to have to probably start a whole new project and that’s what this is….part of busies is changing with the times.. and since they are kind of borderline game/chat/opensandbox mix type thing they are going to have to change with the times at least sometimes.. they wont bring in new people if they cant appeal to them.. shit I am 34 and I think SL needs a new installment.. it needs upgrading big time.. from its code platform down to its servers.. .. then again I have always been quite adaptive and love new things.. xD.. im gonna be that 80 yo granny with the newest gadgets.. and playing the latest games.. :F

      • Rhiannon Welles

        It may be aged but it is the best virtual word going. Nothing else I’ve seen comes close.

  • Jen

    @.@ i want to play in it.. I wish i could get invited.. but my level of creation for sl is extremely low quantity.. tho i love it so.. I know everyone else is extremely on guard when it comes to the new world.. but I for one am all up for the new.. I could probably leave SL for a new world providing it can out do SL.. the images are great. Tho I do hope that they will have a wider range of vr compatibility.. I know right now VR is extremely new but there are already PC VR sets that will undercut the Rift in price.. and compete with them.. so i hope that they do not stay exclusive to Rift.. also I hope that it will be able to be played by people who don’t have any VR set.. only because i can see that it can diminish the amount of people who will log in.. since right now VR isn’t really a normal thing that even most house holds will have for a couple years yet..

    • RayneSaltair

      Same here. I’m a mesh creator but I don’t think they will invite someone that isn’t bringing in a certain amount of cash.

      • Jen

        yeah i am pretty positive you have to be a bigger better known creator.. I can do mesh to, to a degree.. but the items I make I only make cause I want to not specifically cause i think it might sell… so While i do sell enough to have most my SL life paid for.. i definitely do not “bring home the bacon” in a sense it has no effect on my RL.. just SL… So i am pretty sure it has to do with the high roller creators.. and people who are pro skilled ya know.. I do wish at least there were more people that were in this beta that are willing to report more on it.. or record some of their testing and building.. that would be nice..

      • Jeeves7

        Itll be land as far as high dollar, as always.

  • Michel

    when will Sansar be available…

  • Amanda Moore

    I’m so excited about Project Sandsar! I love VR and can’t wait to “walk into SL” OMG so facinating! I spend approx 22 hrs in a bed due to illness and SL is a great way for me to interact with people. I love it. I perform in SL so doing this with my VR headset will be so amazing. I would love to help pioneer that effort!

  • Jeeves7

    Im sorry, but the graphics they are showing are gonna have to be better. Its still hard edged, fake-lit scenery, and the avatars are going to have to be better as well. they had better bring in some concept artists at least, and give us the virtual space with its proper shadows, lighting and atmosphere.

  • Spiritdove Smith

    so that means they dictate how I build my Vr world? what if I like simple and dont care for having a college degree just to build..

  • Jess

    to be honest i dont agree. some stuff is cool. but there is stuff i payed for. and I’ve heard that Secondlife 2 will NOT allow you to import your inventory. . so until they can find a way to fix that. no i will not be apart of the hype for a new sl world.