OpenSim founder goes for Unity

One of the founders of the OpenSim project, Adam Frisby, is now focusing his efforts on the Unity platform — because it can scale better, the viewer runs on multiple devices, and it has better graphics.

His former firm, DeepThink, has been acquired by the Sine Wave Company, which is now focusing on building large-scale virtual worlds.  One high-profile project the team has completed is Gojiyo, India’s largest virtual world with over a million users.

Gojiyo is an immersive social world, similar to Second Life, with such locations as a tropical beach, a ski slope, and the moon surface. Users can earn in-world currency by completing quests. However, unlike Second Life or OpenSim, there is no in-world content creation capability.

A matter of scale

While Adam Frisby is one of the founders of OpenSim, he now primarily works in the Unity 3D platform.  According to him, the main reason has to do with scaling, as Sine Wave has recently been doing some very large projects.

Adam Frisby

“These projects have lots and lots of users, and getting that many users into an OpenSim environment is very costly, and from a hardware perspective, you need a lot of servers to maintain it,” Frisby told Hypergrid Business. “You also need to have full-time support staff keeping everything running smoothly.”

With OpenSim, it is a struggle to put more than sixty avatars into a single region, he added.

“On an overall grid environment, you’re going to be capped out at around a thousand concurrent,” he said. “There have been projects we’ve been doing that have requirements that exceed this significantly.”

At the time of this writing, the Gojiyo platform had 1,167,092 registered avatars, and counting.

… And a matter of graphics

Unity doesn’t just scale better than OpenSim — it also has better graphics, said Frisby.

OpenSim is dependent on the Second Life viewer, which Frisby said was graphically dated.

“It is difficult to do anything too impressive with it,” he said. “You’re limited to what can be stuffed into the properties, the objects that Second Life supports.”

However, Unity has no such limitation, and the platform offers rich and vibrant graphics as a result, he said. In addition, Unity is capable of client-side scripting, client-side interfaces, and client-side physics for realistic simulations. Not to mention the fact that it can run on mobile devices.

“One of the biggest advantages of Unity is this right-to-deploy-anywhere philosophy, where you can switch between deploying on the web, to deploying on the desktop, to deploying on consoles, on mobile devices, with relative ease,” Frisby said.  “You can build something with one platform, and have most of it work when you switch to another platform.”

Unity’s presence is only growing, largely due to its flexibility.  Millions of people already the Unity plug-in, and a Flash export option is on its way, which will make it even more accessible.

Crowded field

Sine Wave isn’t alone in its interest in Unity.

ReactionGrid, another pioneering OpenSim vendor, offers its own Unity-based virtual world platform, called Jibe.

And, last year OpenSim hosting company Second Places released a platform called Unifier.

Other vendors offering immersive Unity-based virtual environments are HostaVirtualEvent’s TPLD  and Hyperfair Inc., both of which focus on the corporate events and meetings market. Using the Unity platform with cloud computing enables them to go big, with a single room able to host up to 500 avatars.

Now that Unity environments can be exported to Flash — which means that users no longer need to download the Unity plugin, since almost everyone already has Flash — interest in this platform is likely to grow.

But, back to Frisby and Sine Wave.

It all started in Second Life 

Sine Wave started out doing motion-capture animations in Second Life, selling mainly to individual consumers.  The company has developed a total of 14,000 virtual products, with an emphasis on dance moves, and has sold several million items.

Meanwhile, Frisby’s DeepThink was operating regions in Second Life, working on OpenSim-related consulting projects, and doing other virtual worlds-related development work.

Frisby was also one of the founders of the OpenSim project itself, an open source alternative to Second Life, and of the OSGrid, OpenSim’s single largest virtual world and its main testing ground.

Last year, the Sine Wave Company bought DeepThink’s assets, and brought Frisby on board to focus on designing custom worlds for corporate and institutional clients.  Many of them are media and advertising companies who want something cool, fresh, and interactive.

“A lot of our virtual worlds have gotten embedded inside web pages,” Frisby said. ” There are not too many people doing that, so we’ve got the ability to sort of stream down the entire world, as you go, similar to how a Flash file works, but we give it a little more sophistication.”

While most of their work is now done in Unity, Sine Wave still builds customized environments in OpenSim for some corporate clients, and continues to build and release Second-Life-based virtual products for individual consumers.

Sine Wave also offers OpenSim hosting through SimHost, which was also acquired from DeepThink. SimHost offers individual regions on OSGrid and other open grids, standalones and mini-grids, and full private grid hosting and management.

“We’re a managed provider,” Frisby said.  “But customers still have the flexibility to make their own changes and add new regions to a configuration.”

The company has offices in London and Shanghai, and is opening up a new one soon in Los Angeles.

While the Chinese market isn’t a big focus for Sine Wave, the Shanghai office allows the company to take advantage of the cheaper rent and labor costs — and also gives the company access to China’s talented young programmers.

“We can get a lot of skilled software developers there, more easily than we can elsewhere,” Frisby said.

The road ahead

Sine Wave is now working on some projects that will position them at the juncture of the arts and technology, said Frisby, almost all of which are based on the Unity platform.

Resonance Live is a music-based virtual world, with performances from bands all over the globe, which has already had over 500 events with such artists as Rebecca Saforia and Jamie Parnell. Some individual events have had over 300 or 400 attendees.

ResLive. (Image courtesy Sine Wave Company.)

Gallery 1 will be a 3D art gallery and social space for artists, which will contain 500 of the world’s most important works of art.

Sine Wave has also recently completed an animated TV series in cooperation with System Ada Animation Studio, called “Legacy of the Gifted.”

“We’re working like crazy at the moment,” said Frisby.

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Alexander Gladstone

Alexander Gladstone is a freelance business and technology writer based in Shanghai, China.

22 Responses

  1. graymills says:

    I thought Gojiyo used OpenSim as its backend or did I imagine that? Maybe worth mentioning Intel’s DSG for possible scaling of OpenSim.

    • I thought so too, but I guess not. 

      Intel’s DSG is pretty cool — and Kitely says they’ll be supporting it at some point — but it requires a lot of servers. Basically, instead of one region, one server, it takes all the various jobs that a region server does, and splits them among more machines.  Which is good for Intel sales, I guess. 🙂

      The thing about OpenSim — and this is true for DSG as well — is that users don’t just experience the world, they also affect it. They move stuff around. Rezz things. Build new stuff.

      With Unity, you build your stuff in external programs, or Unity scene editors, upload it, and your users can come in and see it, with only limited interactivity, or none at all. 

      In OpenSim, you never know if a building is going to be there from one minute to the next — someone might come over and move it, or take it down, or replace it with something else. That’s a lot of extra work for everyone involved — both servers and viewers. 

      Personally, I think that, over time, the OpenSim style of virtual world will come to dominate because it’s much less expensive, much easier to create and update, and much more extensible.

      In the short term, however, Unity is a much better option for companies and non-profits looking to create more-or-less static worlds easily accessible over the web — campus tours, museum tours, concerts, virtual dating sites, games for marketing and sales and games for casual players.

      I am disappointed that Tipodean hasn’t moved further ahead with its Unity viewer for OpenSim, though — you’d think that this would be the best of both worlds! 

      • graymills says:

        Hard to monetise the viewer at this point in time I would think (and maybe IBM got all the mileage from it that they needed) — Rezzable had the same problem iirc (and also went down the Unity route ultimately)

        • I see two ways forward for viewer development.

          One: college kid or kids bang it out, fueled purely by pizza and Jolt cola. Or am I dating myself? Are they now fueled by burritos and Red Bull?

          Two: some investors sees long term-potential, Netscape-style, and fund development, figuring they’ll get the eyeballs first, and figure out monetization later (or sell it to Microsoft or Google). 

          • Three: The classic way. A company is successful utilizing related products and sees a general need for a new viewer base (for legal, money, portability, or other reasons) and is willing to develop it as an open application because their core business model is on the server side.

      • I like what you’re saying Maria. See, for me as as user all this sounds exciting and scary at the same time. It’s always wonderful to have more options to address different needs. Having a Unity based static world is the right choice for many. I met some people in Second Life who’d been there for years and never tried nor wanted to do more than use what is available to them in-world or through the marketplace. But for those who want to have more control of what, when and how they have things, those who want to express their creativity by creating and affecting their environment, a talk of an either or is scary. I went for several visits to Unity based environments and while I can see how useful they can be for many, I seriously missed having the option to create something. Even if I wasn’t the best content creator, which I’m not by any stretch of imagination, I want to have the option to learn and do.

        Personally I believe I’ll be using both types of worlds but I’ll enjoy more a world that I can contribute to and interact with freely. 🙂

        And this is where I stop :p

        • Even folks in SL or OpenSim who never build anything themselves still benefit from the in-world building tools — all the designers they buy stuff from use them, all the places they visit were built with them. Easy-to-use building tools mean a wider and richer variety of experiences, locations, events, and just stuff. 

          When only professionals can create content your choices narrow dramatically. Now, if you’re a corporate client, you might not want all that crazy stuff that folks make in Second Life. You might want to get as far away from it as possible! Unity lets you have a very controlled environment. 

      • Revel Peters says:

        I use both opensim and unity they are different beasts.  Nothing wrong with either, but one is a gaming engine more or less and one is a sanbox that has lower security and allows you to use much more simple building blocks.   Unity is a game engine that allows you to create easy to access browser based games that will run on your telephone or on a pc bascially opensim is not but lets a person create an avatar login and build anything he wants assuming the grid owner allows it.    I like both, but its an apple-orange comparison just like people trying to compare minecraft to opensim they are different beasts and have different end results to the casual user.   I can invite people to my unity server if i so choose just like opensim, but that is about where the comparison ends.  

      •' Samantha Atkins says:

        Most users most of the time aren’t moving build elements around at the edit level. They may rezz new things like attachments, vehicles, outfits and so on. So I don’t get any implication that just because of in world building that the graphics can’t be as good and it can’t scale. In world building just doesn’t happen that often in most places on the grid what have much traffic. A lot of building is from one to a few developers off on some region or up out of the major traffic areas working away.

        Any 3D interactive world is going to have a lot of changes going on just from movement, physics, interacting with various things in the scene. This is true of Unity as well of course. So where is the real bottle neck or set of bottle necks? Poorly performing update streams down to the client, server code issues, asset handling, bad script engines? I have seen all of these and more take some of the heat. Does anyone know of a fairly definitive overview?

        I don’t see that strong a reason why you couldn’t have a building content type interaction designed for Unity.

    • Adam Frisby says:

      There’s bits of OpenSim stuffed into the region server. 

      Our newer stuff is all hand built though, and gets much better concurrencies per server as a result (400 avs in a single region wont cause any sweat to be broken; other than poor client framerates – a focus of attention this year).

  2. Adam Frisby says:

    Hi Alex,

    There’s a couple of corrections that need to be done to this! It’s sine wave that sells dance moves, not DeepThink.

    Also – OpenSim does have potential in many areas, rich serverside interactivity is one of them; you get a lot of power out of the box. It’s the question of the right tools for the right job at the right time.

  3. I’m not sure about the graphics. I only see few things missing now. Espacially bumpmaps (SL/OS has a preselection, but you cannot couple your own with the texture) and, optionally, reflections for those systems that are fast enough to support it (its pretty common in games now).

    The limitations to modelling am pretty much out of the way with meshes. And I have to say, I’ve seen some convertions of OS to Unity and they never looked better in the Unityviewer

    • Adam Frisby says:

      Bumpmaps are ancient tech; normals are where things are at these days; and have been for at least half a decade.

      But SL is missing the whole host – everything from custom shaders, to vertex and bone animation, to post processing (windlight sorta counts, but not really.), interactive clientside physics (e.g. cloth simulations, physics aware particles).

      SL’s client is really stuck in a dead zone of 3D graphics, circa 2002, and hasn’t moved on since.

      • Thank you Adam. I judged from rudimentary knowledge and the simple “looks”.

        Which brings me to a question to a wider audience. A declared goal of OpenSim is to be as compatibel to SL as possible, but why is there no fork that tries combine the best of SL/OS “old world” with the new world of 3D tech possibilities?

  4. I’m curious to know how the statement “On an overall grid environment, you’re going to be capped out at around a thousand concurrent” has been validated as well as the environment upon which such an absolute number was discovered or estimated.

    I am assuming this conclusion was reached on standard data components (such as single mysql backends for centralized data) as well as the standard ROBUST or other layout where there were centralized grid services being overloaded. Of course a large environment is only as good as the backend services on which it depends, and as has been shown many times over the “shard and cache” approach only gets you so far.

    Curious to hear how you came to this conclusion.

    • Adam Frisby says:

      There’s a couple of pain points – Inventory is a big one; the moment it gets to any appreciable size, it becomes a nasty bottleneck. (Although it can be partitioned to a degree), user services can be another – although that’s a less difficult one to solve due to the smaller data sets (friends and presence can be an exception to this however).

      Some data is experimental from our various projects over a long period of time, some is conjecture based on knowing the structural designs.

      There’s also a serious management overhead to managing enough regions to support that sort of concurrency. This is probably the larger issue than just centralised dependencies.

  5. Five: Google gets a hold of it and restricts us all to blatant personal identities, removes options for virtual personas, and gets all up in our business.

    As for Tipodean and the web embed option, I’d still love to see that happen for OS worlds. There was some Germain gaming company site I found about 2 years back that had what clearly appeared to be a SL style region embedded in the page, same sort of controls and the ability to interact with the objects. I never bookmarked it and don’t remember now where I found it but to have that option would be so ideal. 

    I’ve checked out Unity but the learning curve seemed pretty harsh. There needs to be a middle ground – we’re willing to learn but then on the programmer side, try not to just geek completely out so it’s not so alien to the layman. Believe it or not, lots of creativity can be found in people who don’t know squat about programming.

    Throw us a bone ;-p

  6. Ener Hax says:

    “…it also has better graphics, said Frisby.”

    while that is a true statement, it does not equate to Unity being better than OpenSim. the measure for that is always the intended use and audience.  if that were true, then you would never see animated movies, which never have graphics that are better than real moviesUnity is great but i also wanted to point out that there is a spectrum of graphics with some of the simplest being the mental image painted by text – it’s hard to argue with the success of the printed word =)good luck Adam and no wonder i have never heard from you! you’ve been busy at SW doing what looks to be innovative work!

  7. Fco. Javier says:

    I agree and clap with joy the position of Adam Frisby that want go to work and evolutionate in a “new” 3D technology-enviroment as Unity or anothers. we not cna stopped the evolutin and this part of the programing ande 3D enviroments are in high evolution.

    But i disagree completely in thier (my opinion) unfortunatelly and their critics agains their own creature Opensim. Not why not be at least in part of they true, if by the reasons and why Opesim is as is.

    By not extended me excesivelly in they, i go to reminder to him the 1st lines of the web about Opensim:
    “OpenSimulator is an open source multi-platform, multi-user 3D application server. It can be used to create a virtual environment (or world) which can be accessed through a variety of clients, on multiple protocols.”
    Now him say that go to Unyty ,into another reasons “because  (Unity) it can scale better, the viewer runs on multiple devices, and it has better graphics.”  and the same Adam Frisby it forgets on purpose that Opoensim was create  and evolutionate unther the shadow of Secondlife and not go to explai the alot of reasons why today continue as this, but is fault of the same creators and developments that Opensim not was leave these “big shadow” of Secondlife for be an enterelly independent platform (include with compatibility  with Second Life) and ther ir limitations and relativelly “bad graphics” is why they was choose let that be as now (and these part of “bad graphics, is relativelly, exist some viewers, as exodus, Zen or include the recent “deprecate” Kirstens” that was show that in simply high graphics or ultar with shados ,the graphic quality of Opensim is very very nice in a good sim or enviroment create.

    We have clear that a 3D Enviroment or virtual world made in Opensim platform  not is the most wonderful currently compared with anothers, (o maybe really is so wonderfull but we not see), why a good part of these is question of the client-viewer, not exactly the platform. Not is the same wacht a Virtual enviroment in Opensim with (example) the Hippo Opensim the use the Kirstens or include the deprecate Emerald,the diference can be  an abyss. Then in these way the trouble is find a good viewer that is the pat that show graphically these 3D enviroment better or not. and th another things,as the users…depend of a lot of things  (include the broadband conection).

    We have clear also that today , Opensim is a platform  a bit limited but not so as anothers and have a lot of resources and a lot of people (mostly in personal ways) that use this envirooment and show that is ppossibel make a lot. An the recent version 0.7.3 include when are at themoment a bit far of a final hyperstable version, demostrate an estability and apowerfull very hig compare with anothers enviroments (include the same  Secondlife)in the same stage of evolution “prefinal ” and include today a lot of busines use as commertial  goal this platform. Then is my opinion that Opensim deserved a bit more of suppotr of the big  sponsors and a bit more of efforc of their developments  why not was show really all their potential. Their advanced was be very slow and maybe never  we see a version that show all their potential, why anothers enviroments have a beter and fast evolution, but repeat is my honest opinion  deserved a bi t more time of attentionand maybe a turn in the direction for lookto the goal marked in the first lines of the Opensimulator web. Sincerelly and with my al respects, Opensim not can received a critic of any of their creators of developmments about their limitations why is they who was made these program in these way so “ugly and spartan”.

    Lugh Kondor.

  8.' Alessio Zumbo Cazzaro says:

    Hi 🙂

     What about “hipergridding” in that new technology?

  9. M. says:

    Unity is maybe the wrong engine for that too. Without the possibility a user can create content, the engine is not worth a dime.

    The right engine should:
    -Scale better (Performance)
    -Open for mobile applications, internet
    -Content creation in game (build)
    -Improved Graphics