We were lucky enough to have a VR (Virtual Reality) party recently. When I told some friends about this, they just stared at me blankly. I’m sure you’re probably having the same reaction as you read this!
This week we're hooked on talking about Virtual Reality – it really is that good!
So, a ‘VR party’ is a group of people getting together (in a space of at least 2m x 1.5m) with a virtual reality headset. Michael, our Head of Development, set up his HTC Vive and prepared the office, ready for a day of VR experiences. Our meeting room was cleared, curtains closed, air-conditioning on, with the sensors and dedicated PC set up!
As my husband and I arrived, we entered the VR room to see JJ, one of our awesome developers, wearing what looked like a slick, black brick over his eyes, with big headphones and two black controllers in his hands. The TV behind him displayed what he was seeing in the virtual world, so we could all follow his experience as it played out.
When it came to my turn, I have to say I was apprehensive; not only about feeling nauseous, but the fact that eight or so of my colleagues would be watching me walk around over-cautiously, looking a bit like a wally.
As I pulled the Vive down over my eyes and Michael placed the headphones over my ears, I was suddenly transported into a starry, peaceful place. The headgear felt heavy and quite tight, but this was soon forgotten...
After going through the tutorial I felt ready to tackle the virtual world! As most of my colleagues did, I played the archery game: it was completely immersive and thoroughly enjoyable, although after a while my arms were pretty tired! I forgot that everyone was in the room, instead it felt like I was alone at the top of a tower defending my castle in a distant land.
I also had a go at Tilt Brush, Google’s three-dimensional painting experience, and this, I have to say, was fantastic! With a generous choice of brushes and every colour under the sun, your cubed space is your oyster. Nothing I painted looked any good… that would take a few hours to master, but it was super fun nonetheless! My favourite part was painting something and then being able to walk to another side paint around it from another angle.
Below are some thoughts from other crew members:
Emily – how was your first VR experience?
“I was surprised by how immersive it was, it freaked me out to put on the headset and be in the middle of nowhere! I really enjoyed the physicality of the experience; I think that’s why the Wii took off, as you’re physically carrying out the required actions, and not just sat on the sofa using your thumbs.
There were some occasions that I felt restricted: for example, not being able to walk around in real life, and have that correspond precisely to where you walk to in the VR Lab experience. Instead, you point and click with the controllers to teleport to a particular spot, admittedly with a fair amount of precision. However, my desire to physically walk around ended up with me leaning outside of the designated space and accidently hitting the window sill!
Unfortunately, now my husband wants an HTC Vive of his own...”
Matt – did you enjoy the VR party?
“Yes! I’ve used VR a couple of times before, so I wasn’t overwhelmed and had a good idea about what to expect, but it was still very cool! However, this was the first interactive VR experience where I used controllers and was able to explore an environment.
The thing that stood out most for me was the intuitiveness: it made sense to go to a table and pick stuff up without having a big ‘OVER HERE’ sign above it. Everyone who did the tutorial worked out that with a laser in one hand, and balloons in the other, you could shoot the latter with the former!
As most people have described, the experience is super immersive: when doing archery I felt like the male version of Katniss Everdeen! When I came out afterwards it felt like I’d done a proper work out, which never hurts either.
I did feel like there were still a few too many restrictions. One of them being the wires; during the games and/or experiences you naturally turn around, which means you end up with wires tangled around you.”
Shelley – what were your thoughts on our VR party?
“Coooooool! It was interesting to watch others play it first and then do it yourself as it’s such a different experience. From the perspective of a non-gamer, it was easy to play and I didn’t want to leave! I really liked the physical side of the experience, my arm was tired from the archery!
As a designer the Tilt Brush experience was my favourite part, I don’t know how else to describe it but captivating. Being creative in a three-dimensional place allows you to shift your mentality and look at a problem from all the way around – which is a change from looking at everything in two-dimensions. I could spend hours just creating and playing!
The possibilities are all there for the future of virtual reality, from helping people overcome any anxieties they may have in a controlled environment, to providing a creative space for people with autism. I can’t even imagine what I’m going to need help with from my children in future; will we be trying on clothes, doing our shopping or reading our email in VR? Who knows!”
I don’t think I’m alone when I say I can’t wait for the next one! For our readers, if you get the opportunity to try VR then I would recommend grabbing it with both hands.
Let us know if you’ve tried it out already, and about your experiences! Until next time!