The Burning Man Virtual Experience is throwing a virtual farewell party today

I found myself on a virtual bus, driving in the dust. My avatar jumped, and a few others. Outside, in the sand, were motorcyclists. These drivers were real people: it was a 360-degree video. They stop moving as the clip ends. For a few moments, I felt like I was at Burning Man, a festival I’d never been to. I was touring BRCvr’s Re-Burn 23, saying goodbye to Microsoft’s AltSpaceVR virtual space, which is happening End of this week.

BRCvr is a group working to create portals and memories of real-life Burning Man moments throughout the pandemic. I attended her Annual virtual burns over the past three years. The free social experiences were some of the highlights of my time spent indoors with laptops, game consoles, and virtual reality headsets. But the world of BRCvr, hosted inside Microsoft’s AltSpaceVR app, is soon disappearing. This is because Microsoft Shutdown AltSpaceVR And all its worlds permanently in the month of March, part of Thousands of layoffs Including many of the company’s VR and AR teams. Burning Man was a joint liaison between AltSpaceVR founder Gavin Wilhite and former Microsoft AR/VR head Alex Kipman, and the virtual burns have been sources of experiments for Microsoft technology, including a live concert with 3D-scanned artists.

The founders of BRCvr, Athena Demos and Doug Jacobson, chatted with me via Zoom and also about their designs for the new spaces being shared over the weekend. The spirit, despite the founders’ dismay at Microsoft’s lack of support for AltSpaceVR artists, is one of forward-looking party. The goal is not to finish things, but to look forward to what will be built next and where it will be.

“We found out about it in early December, because we were building for Microsoft at AltSpace — when they told us, we were like, ‘What’s going to happen to all your worlds?'” Demos explains. “They want to focus all their efforts on a network,” says Demos, referring to Microsoft cross-platform token technology It continues to be fleshed out, while in the meantime, the Mixed Reality and Virtual/Augmented Reality teams are being ignored, along with the worlds they made.

It’s a stark reminder that virtual worlds don’t last forever, and that the future of whatever everyone is trying to call the “metaverse” is still in a state of flux. In the meantime, though, BRCvr is holding a final virtual cremation ceremony this weekend to remember what happened and think about what’s next.

Metal scaffolding dome in VR at night and 360-degree video of people fighting inside.

A 360-degree video bubble of the realistic Thunder Dome lives inside a virtual reality dome. Enter it, and you can enter the moment.

BRCvr (screenshot by Scott Stein)

Celebration, end, evolution

According to Demos, much of BRCvr’s work could be salvaged and used elsewhere. But this is not true of all artists. Some who have used AltSpaceVR collections to create their work can’t export their creations at all, leaving the art trapped inside AltSpaceVR and doomed to destruction. It’s a cause for artist sadness and a worry: if the social worlds want us all to build life in these new universes, we need to be able to control how we get our creations out again, preventing them from getting lost to the whims of big tech.

The demos are optimistic about the progress that’s yet to come: “I think all these layoffs will lead to a bunch of small businesses forming, a bunch of small businesses forming, a bunch of new technologies that will be made. It’s going to be like a boom — maybe in two or three years.” , and all of a sudden it would be like, “Where did all this crap come from?” to bridge new ideas.

Previous expanded layouts of BRCvr in AltSpaceVR included a map of Burning Man’s playa that mirrors real space, with portals and experiences built throughout. This time, the social hub is made smaller but leads through portals into virtual spaces where immersive videos have been layered. And for the first time, I’m now seeing bubbles from the 360-degree video showing me what the actual Burning Man festival was like last year. I walked inside a virtual bar, and suddenly inside I saw the actual bar and the real people who were there. I entered a half-dome cage where people fight – the Thunder Dome – and for a few moments I forgot I could go back out again.

A wooden bar structure in virtual reality, and a glowing bubble inside has a video of the real thing

This open bar now has a video bubble inside it. Get in and see the real-life version.

BRCvr (screenshot by Scott Stein)

Some of the exhibits, such as a circular room filled with doors, each leading to a specific personal tarot card reading, are recreations of the Burning Man installations. Others are scans, 3D objects with photo-realistic details sketched out on them. Some of them are 360-degree video bubbles. Already, it feels more full of animated memories than previous BRCvr virtual burns.

Virtual places like these act as vivid memories of events that eventually disappear. But this time, even those memories are disappearing for the time being. It’s oddly poetic, given one of Burning Man’s and BRCvr’s founding principles is “leave no trace.” In this case, thanks to the disassembly of AltSpaceVR, that would indeed be the case.

But in the end, these virtual destinations can and should be mirrors of real-world places, extensions, and extensions. Demos and Jacobson solve that, one scan and video at a time. Maybe eventually, these virtual worlds and real worlds will feel really present, on the platforms and software creations yet to come, and I can’t wait to be a part of it when it does.

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