My first experiences with Virtual Reality

This week, I got to try Virtual Reality in full effect for the first time, and I am floored. Count me in the “VR is just a gimmick… oh wait, I just tried it and it’s amazing.” camp. It’s funny because I had applied to ITP wanting to create truly immersive experiences, and I didn’t fully understand how immersive VR was until I tried it. As I tried it, Ivan Sutherland’s quote really resonated: “Don’t look at this thing as a screen. Look at this thing as a window through which one looks into a virtual world. The research challenge in virtual worlds is [making] the picture in the window look real, move real, sound real, and even feel real.” The Oculus definitely made it feel real. In one introductory scene, Oculus throws you onto the edge of a roof in a bustling metropolis, triggering my fear of heights, even though I fully knew that I was watching this scene sitting down in ITP. The immersiveness of the medium makes you really forget.

Oculus Dreamdeck

One of the first things I noticed when I put on the Oculus was that it really wasn’t designed for people with glasses. Especially the big hipster-y glasses that permeate our times. People using VR looks silly, so I was a little self-conscious using this thing in the middle of ITP, but I guess ITP is probably THE place to watch VR without judgment.

Once I put the device on though, I immediately felt disconnected from the world. This disconnection went away though once I turned on a movie. You kind of immediately forget about the outside world when you turn a movie on. I started out with Henry. It was a very Pixaresque story, and I was surprised by how great the illustrations were. I was dumbstruck just thinking about how much work it would take to animate the entire scene and how detailed things would need to be, especially when things started to fall over and physics began to play a role. I can’t imagine how much more complex it would get when the viewer interacts with a scene. Given how juvenile my projects in Unity were last semester, I’m a little intimidated by how far I have to go.

Speaking of interactivity, I wish Henry had more of it, but it might have taken away from the story. It brings up a really interesting question about how creators in VR balance interactivity and narrative. What is their relationship? Is it an inverse one? Exponential?

I turned on VR Showdown – this was OK. probably my least favorite. It just felt like a regular Unreal game sequence in which we got to control the camera. I can’t pinpoint why, but I felt like this piece least captured the magic of VR. Maybe it was because I felt like I was clearly on a camera rail during the entire experience.

I next turned on Evolution of Verse. It was a bit hard to figure out how to watch Evolution of Verse on the Oculus Rift. With all the different headsets and platforms available, they’re really going to have to figure out how to make this entire process seamless. I don’t want to download a Within App for Oculus. It should be like turning on the TV. Flip it on, choose a channel, and watch. It’d probably behoove Netflix to make a Netflix for VR soon. Really well done though. The train zooming at you brought some fear, beautiful birds. really unlocks how you can really create any kind of world that follows its own rules.

Afterwards, I watched Dear Angelica. Amazing! This was by far my favorite experience so far. It felt like I was watching a movie in a big IMAX dome by myself. Except you could experience the depth of the picture. I loved the visual style they used. I could see at once how awesome but tedious drawing in 3D could be. It was a great way to feel depth, but for 3D objects like Angelica, I could see right through her. The amount of detail and work that would have to go into this would be tremendous, given a more realistic visual style. However, for this piece, the visual style worked well.

I loved how this piece took advantage of space, getting me up close and personal with dragons or space. I could almost feel the heat of the dragons’ breath (or at least wished there was some  heatlamp that would emulate that effect). I liked how they played with size, as I felt huge or tiny from scene to scene. Sometimes, there was a lot going on, and it was hard to take it all in. The piece used sound very well though in order to direct your attention. Just beautifully well done overall.

I could really see how VR could change how humans experience this world. How VR Will Change the Way We Absorb The News does a good job outlining how this could happen. I would love to take a 360 degree camera and walk around Aleppo and let people in on what’s going on there. Maybe then people would have more empathy for refugees. Even segments with some crappy graphics, like Emblematic Group still told a compelling story. I’m not sure whether the VR experience made this more compelling, but an interesting concept using real-life audio.

I’m super excited to dive deep into this medium. There’s so many different directions to go down to build empathy and launch people into experiences they’ve never been in before. The idea that “the point is to experience what someone of great creative talent-an artist-might do to you given total control of both of your eyeballs” is super cool.

I hope to create experiences in which we can take advantage of objective reality vs relative reality. One concept that I’d love to tackle is creating a multiplayer game/experience in which we can tackle the Tragedy of Commons dilemma. This push-pull between self-preservation and group-preservation seems like a poignant challenge between the 20th and 21st centuries, and it’d be nice to illustrate how important group-preservation is for our collective and individual futures.

I’ll end with a couple quotes to remember, as I move forward with this class.

  • “One thing, however, can be said about these examples: the new medium usually succeeded not by offering an improved version of what had been done before but by offering something that was profoundly different in an unexpected way.”
  • “Novelty is one thing, but, to bring people back, it may be important to offer an experience different enough, either in kind or intensity, to make people feel that they need to go through the bother of getting those goggles and putting them on”