SteamVR is still very much a work in progress and the issue likely isn't Vive hardware itself. Do you know what your motherboard model is? What type of USB port are you plugging the headset into (2,3,3.1?).
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Hi @rmilyard, it's super cool that you're able to dedicate so much space for a Vive setup; I know many people who would kill for a setup that large. That said, large spaces do present unique challenges and push the limits of the current hardware spec. The lighthouses themselves have two components: an active laser component and a stationary LED component that flashes and provides optical sync between the two base stations.
The limiting factor in the system is the range of the stationary LED's which drops off at around the recommended max of 16 feet (due to the inverse square law). The sync cable allows you to extend beyond that distance and is required for setups past a certain distance. That said, most experiences, as well as the current iteration of SteamVR, are not designed with larger spaces in mind so you may have software issues relating to the software environment completely independent of Vive hardware.
The base stations have a female 5.5mm x 2.1mm (inner positivity) plug. Be careful when purchasing AC adapters since they're often manufactured very cheaply. An extender like this should work (but is untested on our end). You'll also likely need to extend the HMD's cable which can be challenging as well (you'll need active cables and not all cables work due to manufacturing variations).
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With a number of relaxation or ‘virtual tourist’ style apps in VR, what can you do to be unique? Nature Treks VR might have the answer. We talked to developer John Carline about it.
Hello John! Please introduce yourself.
I’m John Carline, developer of Nature Treks VR (on Twitter @NatureTreksVR) and I do, well, pretty much everything on the project. I’ve been in the games industry for over 15 years, during that time I’ve held senior art positions for several large studios, namely lead artist at The Creative Assembly and Lead Environment artist at Pandemic Studios. After several large (and often stressful) projects and some international moves I decided I’d leave big studio life, move closer to family and start one of my own. So far it’s been working out, financially it’s been tough but quality of life has been much more rewarding.
Tell us in a few sentences what Nature Treks VR is, and what you can do within it.
Within Nature Treks VR you can freely explore nine diverse environments from baking hot beaches to snowy hills. At the risk of sounding pretentious, it’s perhaps not so important what you do with Nature Treks, but how you feel. We all live very busy lives now and I believe it’s important we get some time to reflect, so perhaps we don’t always need to be struggling to find the next thing to ‘do’.
Nature Treks VR is devoid of timers, health bars, un-lockables or objectives that you might find in ‘normal’ games. There is no pressure, it’s an escape from all that. However, I believe that even the twitchiest of FPS gamers will get something out of the Nature Treks VR experience, providing they go into it with the right expectations. It’s something you can step into for five minutes or get lost in for an hour. Either way you’re mostly likely going to remove the HMD feeling ‘better’ than you did before.
However you can to interact with, create and influence your environment using the ‘creator’ orbs. (More on that later!)
What was the origin of Nature Treks VR? What made you decide to create it?
In around 2011 I created a piece of software called Nature Treks – Healing with Color. I was quite jaded with mainstream games after coming of off several large AAA productions. So, I started to think about using my knowledge in a more positive way. My wife works with adults with learning disabilities and we often talked out their limited freedom of choice in regards to when and where they go out. Nature Treks – Healing with Color was a combination of a nature simulator, color therapy and relaxing music.
The original was rough around the edges but had a positive response, with several thousand free downloads in the first week. After that I remade the project assets, cleaned up the mechanics, got some professional VO and released a ‘deluxe’ edition with a couple more environments (five in total). It sat on my website and was available to download for free – I’ve no idea how many downloads it had, it wasn’t marketed. I also ported it to iPad, where it can still be found.
Around that time I moved onto another project (Oriental Empires) that required my full focus so Nature Treks was left abandoned. I’d always imagined a concept like Nature Treks working well in VR and during 2016 I began to get emails asking if there were plans for a VR version. I kept the name but completely rebuilt the project from scratch. It’s had a lot of attention put into it, hopefully that shows.
What was added to Nature Treks VR with the ‘Creator’ Update? What can someone ‘do’ now?
The ‘Creator’ update adds an interactive, creative and dynamic element to the experience. In each environment, you have a ring of ‘creator’ orbs that are unique to that location. Many of these will allow you to throw a seed that will instantly grow, this could be a tree, bush, flower, rock etc. Creating your own space in Nature Treks VR is hopefully a relaxing process in itself, it won’t have you fiddling around with a complex UI. However, there are also many other elements, you can create a ‘kaleidoscope’ of butterflies, or perhaps a swarm of fireflies. You can throw suns or galaxies that burst and expand above you. You can control the time of day or summon the weather, be it rain, lightning or snow.
What animals and creatures do you encounter in Nature Treks?
There are quite a few, including… elephants, lions, rhinos, stags, hippos, zebras, bears, rabbits, foxes, whales, boars, wolves, sheep, cows and crocodiles, as well as a variety of fish and birds.
Do you see Nature Treks VR becoming more about ‘relaxation and exploration’ or ‘creation and construction’?
Nature Treks VR is used by a broad range of people, so I want to be careful to keep consistency. At this stage, I’d probably say you can expect greater diversity that will take the form of new locations, new animals, new audio etc. One thing that I am looking at is the introduction of a ‘special memorable event’ in each environment. What if you picked up a mammoth tusk up in ‘White Winter’ and suddenly an enormous herd of mammoths came thumping past? Some of these encounters might step outside the realms of our reality and give you a taste of what’s to come next.
You set me up for our last question – what’s next for Nature Treks?
I’d like to take the Nature Treks VR experience and evolve it into the f
antastical, abstract and at times surreal. However, that will most likely take the form of a separate project.
Thanks for talking to us, John!
Nature Treks VR is available on Viveport .
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This editorial is written by Felicia Miranda, a freelance technology journalist. Follow her on Twitter @FeliciaVagabond. We hope this editorial helps you find the best VR content available!
Whether it’s movies, video games, or a live event, music can make or break an experience. This is especially true you when you pair it with something as immersive as virtual reality. That said, these are some of the best music apps for the HTC Vive. Download and enjoy!
Developer: Maxint LLC
Available on Steam
When I feel tense from a long day, music is the best way for me to relieve stress. I turn it up loud, and with no-one but my pet bunny around to watch, I sing and dance to my favorite songs. Music lovers – if this sounds like you, download Soundboxing without hesitation.
Soundboxing is a VR rhythm melee game that challenges you to box to the beat of the music. Unlike other VR music games such as Audioshield and Thumper, Soundboxing separates itself with its creative approach.
You’ll immerse yourself into a musical matrix where you can choose any of your favorite songs on YouTube. If you’re lucky, someone may have added a beat challenge to the song you selected, so you can start punching immediately. If the song hasn’t been played by someone before, well, now you’re the punching maestro! You can create a challenge for others to experience.
Soundboxing has gained quite the reputation for being a great workout, and I can confirm that’s the case! You’ll have fun trying to beat the high scores on your favorite songs while working up a sweat.
Developer: Hard Light Labs LLC
Available on Viveport
I know what you’re thinking. “Please don’t make this an article all about rhythm games.” No worries – I completely understand that desire and want to show fellow music aficionados that there’s more to music-fueled VR than rhythm games.
SoundStage not only lets you experience music, but also allows you to create! Utilizing room-scale virtual reality, SoundStage is a sandbox app that you can turn into a complete music studio.
Whether you’re someone who enjoys a bit of experimentation, or a musician looking to immerse yourself in the magic of the 80s, there’s no shortage of synthesizers, drums, sequencers, and so much more to choose from. The best part? SoundStage has an easy to use interface that ensures anyone from any skill level will have a great time.
My favorite past time involves recreating themes to popular television shows and movies. With SoundStage I can spend hours jamming out in VR, and it doesn’t require me to spend a ton of money on equipment, or annoy people with my terrible drumming skills. It’s a win/win for everyone!
Available on Steam
Festivals bring people from all over the world together. They make for some incredibly memorable days and nights filled with music, dancing, and friends. TheWaveVR is a Vive app that replicates this experience by whisking you away and letting you jump into a pulsing neon music show that you can enjoy with fellow music lovers whenever you want.
Although it’s in Early Access, TheWaveVR capitalizes on a concept that anyone with a love for music and entertainment will find fascinating. It’s as simple as putting on your Vive headset and jumping into a new world where you can find good music and camaraderie among other festival goers. Check the billboard to find out when the next show takes place, or grab a few friends and host your own party where you’re in control of the music.
As the DJ, you’ll choose the music and control the visuals, putting on a spectacular show for your friends to enjoy. Conversely as the showgoer, you can dance and embark on a virtual psychedelic journey.
Available on Steam
So far, all of the music apps I covered require a good amount of mental and physical energy, so this one is for the people who want to sit back and enjoy the experience. PolyDome immerses you into an environment that changes every time you interact with it. The app does this through different modules that you choose, and the more that you add, the more intricate the sounds become.
PolyDome is still in Early Access, which means you can expect more content as the developers make some progress. There are talks of including more ways in which players can interact with the environment. Recently, a module called Wavecraft was added, which lets you use your voice to build structures that you can then loop to add more dimension to the virtual world.
I stumbled across PolyDome while looking through the free VR experiences on Steam. I immediately fell in love with the gems, which are little nodes that come in different shapes that produce unique sounds. You then insert as many gems as you’d like and connect them to create beautiful music sequences that you can navigate in VR. The amazing part is that each time you play, you’ll receive a different musical experience.
The Music Room
Developer: Chroma Coda
Available on Viveport
Finally, there’s the ultimate Vive app for music lovers. Similar to SoundStage in its studio-like approach, The Music Room is a VR application that’s more of a realistic simulation. Featuring a variety of instruments that include drum kits from Pearl, Zildjian, Sabian, and Ludwig, The Music Room allows you to play an instrument similar to the real thing.
It’s an app that’s directed at professional musicians, allowing you to practice in famous locations like the Cherry Bar and Bakehouse Studio. You can practice performing live or record your own elaborate song! There’s no holding you back from expressing yourself and getting a taste of what it feels like to be a professional in complete control of the music.
I know the first point of contention with many people on The Music Room is the price, and while it’s definitely not pocket change, it is a worthwhile investment for those who are serious about making and playing music. You’ll not only save on equipment but also gain valuable performance and recording experience through a virtual world where mistakes are much more forgiving.
Soundboxing, TheWaveVR and PolyDome are available on Steam.
Soundstage and The Music Room are available on Viveport.
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While the 4th of July is still a way off, there’s no reason why you can’t start celebrating early with some fireworks – virtual ones, of course. We chatted with Virtuallight VR‘s Johan Sundkvist, game designer and developer of Pyro VR, about all the pretty fireworks in his sky.
Hello Johan! Tell us what Pyro VR is, in a nutshell.
If you love fireworks and crackers, or just want to blow sh*t up, this is the game for you. Imagine having your very own warehouse of fireworks and pyrotechnics at your disposal. Wouldn’t it be a dream come true to enter a firework shop and yell “Hey, I’ll take it all” and later that day go bananas in your backyard with all the pyrotechnics? Or why not plan an awesome firework show?
How much, let’s just say ‘research’ did you do for Pyro? Are the fireworks modeled on real ones, or did you just go nuts in creating new stuff?
First of all we contacted the pros in town, the local pyrotechnicians. They handle all the firework shows in the county and they know, without a doubt, what they’re talking about.
They brought us to their storage hidden deep into the woods, which used to be the old military warehouse for ammunition and mines. Today it’s packed with hundreds of shelves and boxes containing fireworks and pyrotechnics. A wet dream for any pyro-nerd!
Together with the pro’s and a sound engineer we spent the whole evening shooting fireworks, recording all the sounds to Pyro VR and at the same time learning more about the work. (Watch a behind-the-scenes video of that night!)
All fireworks found in Pyro VR are modeled after real products and should sound and behave like the real deal. We also added products that are less “Pyro-nerdy” to attract a big crowd.
How many fireworks are in the game, and what can you do with them (except the obvious)?
At the moment you can find around 50 different pyrotechnic products in the game (and more are coming). Our goal is to make it easy for the player to tell exactly what each product does when they’re making a firework show. Therefore we have provided a label with information on each firework. You can mix and match colors, sizes and effects as you please, and don’t forget our fuse modules that will let you connect several fireworks for a bigger bang.
Are you a ‘fireworks fanatic’ in real life?
I’ve absolutely loved fireworks ever since I was a kid. Every year before New Years I collected firework ads that we received with the mail, cut out pictures of different ones and planned how to make the best show for New Years. No doubt, a lot of my saved pocket money was spent that day every year. I also knew all the names of the fireworks sold in town. I guess you could say literally a real firework fanatic.
When I got older I was always the only one sober at New Years, guess why? Yes, because I had a firework show to take care of later. I had been planning this for days, the exact time and setting for each firework, everything to make it perfect. Here you can see one of my “shows”:
After the release of Airborne VR 1944 we felt like we wanted to focus more on gameplay and therefore a firework simulator seemed like the way to go.
Oooh, pretty! Now, we all know there’s only one thing missing here. That’s barbecue. Any plans for a virtual backyard to let us virtually cook out?
Oooh, BBQ sounds tasty, let’s put virtual cook out on our to-do list!
What’s next? Any fireworks you still want to add and haven’t managed to yet?
First of all we want to complete the game, at the moment it’s an early access and our deadline is set for September 2017. Players can expect more products, bigger bombs, new locations and an entertaining career mode where you get points based on your skills as a pyrotechnician!
Thanks for talking to us Johan – we’ll let you get back to setting off fireworks.
Pyro VR is available on Viveport.
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Can you tell us who you are, and your roles on Tree?
Milica Zec, director: I come from a traditional filmmaking background, having begun my career as a film screenwriter and editor. Before pivoting into VR, I worked as a filmmaker with the performance artist Marina Abramovic for nine years, including on her seminal MOMA show “The Artist is Present.”
About a year and a half ago, I made my directorial debut in the VR medium with my first piece, Giant. The piece premiered at Sundance before travelling to GDC, Cannes, New York Film Festival, and 18 others. During pre-production for Giant, I realized I wanted to span the gamut and explore the intricacies of collective life on earth through virtual and augmented reality. Giant went from stand-alone film to the first part of a trilogy, the next installment being the VR exhibition Tree.
While exploring the creative possibilities of VR, I began a VR/AR studio called New Reality Company with my creative partner Winslow Porter.
Winslow Porter, director: My background is as a creative director and creative technologist. I’ve always loved dreaming up different ways for immersive technology to elevate storytelling, which led me to attend NYU Tisch’s Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP). After graduating in 2010, I helped create large-scale immersive installations for Google, Delta, Wired, Diesel and Merrell and also produced the interactive documentary CLOUDS, which premiered at Sundance New Frontier 2014 and won the Transmedia award at Tribeca Film Festival Storyscapes that same year. When Milica, a long-time friend and collaborator who I had met when working as a film editor, called me with to help produce and co-create Giant, a very real, virtual project which would soon pave the path to form New Reality Company. After Giant toured around the world, we began work on our newest project Tree. And here we are!
Congratulations on being one of our first projects selected for the VR for Impact program. Can you give us an overview of Tree?
Winslow: Tree is a first-person VR experience where users take on the body and perspective of a seedling, which eventually grows into a majestic rainforest tree above the canopy. We take participants through the stunning Peruvian Amazon, replete with biodiversity, as their arms transform into branches and their bodies turn into a trunk. I won’t spoil the ending, but we then immerse users into what unfortunately befalls trees every day under the scope of human intervention.
Milica: With this piece, we wanted to make deforestation appear as something deeply personal. In Tree, climate change happens to you. Beyond that, it’s an intimate and solitary experience that hopefully increases respect for nature – how it functions, and how much it does for us on earth.
Can you tell us about the origins of Tree? What initially inspired you?
Milica: Fifteen years ago, my friend Aleksandar Protic composed a piece called “Nightmare of a Tree,” a juxtaposition between natural splendor and human intervention. The music was so riveting that it stuck with me throughout the years. While in pre-production for Giant, which explores the damage man brings upon man, I started thinking about other kinds of destruction human beings knowingly or unknowingly engage in and immediately landed upon the subject of exploitation in nature. Winslow and I then started brainstorming ways to adapt the composition into VR visuals in order to highlight man’s impact on the natural world.
Winslow: Tree feels very timely – according to NASA, at our current pace of deforestation, by 2100 all of our rainforests will be gone. Some studies estimate it will be sooner. So to show users the life of a tree in a universal way, without words or language and instead inviting them into a visceral and solitary state of being, was a powerful inspiration for us.
What kind of research did you carry out to make the atmosphere and surroundings of the rainforest in Tree feel real?
Milica: We were fortunate enough to partner for this piece with the Rainforest Alliance, a nonprofit with thirty years of experience collaborating to save at-risk areas in the Amazon. They helped us to legitimize the different elements of the environment we chose to depict (Madre de Dios, which is a region in Peru).
Working with their brilliant team helped us to make sure everything, including all the indigenous biodiversity, plant life, and even the proper textures of the soil, was totally accurate and photorealistic to the Amazon. We also based our tree on the texture and look of a Kapok, a species native to Madre De Dios and with a storied spiritual significance to indigenous tribes. It was crucial for us to accurately depict an Amazon environment which might not be around for future generations to experience.
Are there any details or elements you are particularly proud of in Tree, that perhaps were very challenging to pull off?
Winslow: Tree is quite ambitious from a technical standpoint. The success of the piece relies upon making users feel like they’re consistently and steadily growing as a Kapok tree, while also surrounded by dynamic lighting and shadows generating in real-time. That required us to work around some serious computing challenges, namely mapping and deforming morph targets in Unreal Engine for the tree’s seamless growth.
The piece was particularly immersive because people are able to control the branches of the trees with the Vive controllers aided by Ikinema, which allowed for seamless real-time limb motion-capture. Thankfully, we partnered with HP to secure Z640 workstation computers and NVIDIA for their top of the line Quadro P6000 graphics cards. This hyper-capable technology allowed us to comfortably hit 90 frames a second to push the boundaries of what was possible in the game engine, also ensuring a comfortable VR experience.
This incredible hardware, along with the ingenuity of our lead artist Jakob Kudsk Steensen and our partnerships with visual effects studios Konvrge, Milk VFX, Rewind, Decochon and Underscore, helped the lighting and shadows come to life and for our tree to grow smoothly through the virtual canopy, interacting with unique aspects of nature along the way.
Milica: Even today, we continue to tweak and fine-tune the technological elements of Tree. This Earth Day, we secured a partnership with Intel to continue improving the experience. We’re incredibly fortunate to have such great partners and studios around us to help our virtual environment grow.
Were there any advantages to utilizing the Vive’s room-scale capabilities for Tree?
Milica: For Tree, one of our main goals was to place users into the ‘shoes’ of nature. We made our users the center of the Tree experience; each one conducts their own story, so the piece becomes totally unique to each person. The room-scale element of Vive was perfect for us in that regard.
Room-scale allows people to move their body and arms as the tree, exploring the environment and truly making it their own. That kind of autonomy is necessary, especially when using a real-time game engine, to encourage a deeper submission into the VR experience.
Tree focuses on the rainforests directly. Are there other environmental issues you think could be tackled in VR? Is VR even the right medium?
Milica: The greatest capability of immersive technology is to serve a powerful story. Before using VR for a climate-related project, I would ask the question of whether the technology is serving your vision first, rather than your vision being led only by the technology. I would warn against using VR for the sake of simply exploring a new medium.
Of course, I would love to see a range of environmental issues addressed in VR – the capability of the medium encourages create solitary and personal experiences, which is an incredible way to bring attention to climate change.
Winslow: At Sundance, we were part of the New Climate program, which featured projects zeroing in on environmental issues of all kinds, with coral bleaching and melting glaciers being just a few topics that were addressed. It’s our duty as artists to bring these to light in a way that really connects with people and ensures that, even though reversing the damaging effects of climate change is a daunting task, we can come together and fight against environmental degradation. When you bring people together into a festival and show them a piece about deforestation one after the other, it creates a community of people who have that cathartic experience together. Then they can hopefully channel any empathy or autonomy the experience gave them into real world action.
Speaking of film festivals – can you tell us about how you presented Tree there?
Winslow: In a film festival environment, things can often feel hectic and overstimulating, which is at odds with the kind of solitary experience we wanted to create for Tree. The best way to counteract the fast-paced energy of VR events is to transform Tree from a simple headset piece to something very theatrical. We brainstormed with creative agency Droga5 to create a full user flow around the piece and enhance Tree as an installation.
Milica: Before fitting users into the headset, we give them a real seed of a Kapok tree to plant in a small bed of soil near the installation. This gives participants a doable and personal action to complete before entering the VR experience. It’s a commitment that begins the immersion into the headset. The first environment we depict is that of a seed underground, so viewers immediately connect the physical seed to their character. After they undergo the tree’s growth in headset, they come out of the experience and are given back a seed with a message from us and The Rainforest Alliance: “take this seed as a reminder to keep our forests standing.” Instead of ending on a note of destruction, we want to imbue viewers with hope by placing power back into their hands.
Winslow: Along with the seed and messaging, we also incorporate 4D elements into Tree, including vibration, heating, fans, and a custom scent track, all to simulate a real tree’s growth through an Amazonian canopy.
We’re proud to be partnered with MIT Media Lab, with Xin Liu and Yedan Qian who helped us to set up Max MSP and sync up all our haptic elements to the visuals of the headset for Sundance and Tribeca. Our other immersive elements come from a long-standing partnership with Subpac, who provide us with vibrating vests; International Flavors and Fragrances (IFF), who have equipped us with a dedicated scent track evocative of different parts of the rainforest; and Scent Communication, provider of machines by which we channel our smells to the user. Immersive haptic elements are becoming increasingly integral for creators to help viewers suspend disbelief and fully submit to their momentary new world.
What kind of reactions have you seen from people experiencing Tree for the first time?
Winslow: We have been overwhelmed by the response to Tree from viewers of all walks of life. During the last few moments of the experience, several viewers cried or shouted in headset, and even more individuals told us the piece made climate change feel personal to them for the first time. Some people’s reactions were more physical than emotional – we saw a lot of sweaty touch controllers!
Milica: In the press, Tree has been written up by the New York Times, Vice, Forbes, the Observer, and the LA Times, among many others. It’s been called “chilling and exhilarating” (KCRW), “confronting” (Deseret News), and “a departure in technological innovation” (International Documentary Association). We’re so incredibly grateful to have people feel so adrenalized by the piece.
Scientifically speaking, climate change is undeniably real, and the evidence is all around us. However, some people still feel that climate change is not an urgent issue. Do you think Tree will change opinions like this?
Milica: Our ultimate goal with Tree is for as many people to experience it as possible. The story is not bound by language and it is one we can all relate to, as every human being has a relationship to nature. We want Tree to exist with full haptics through museums, VR arcades, festivals and commercial centers across the world and but also as a digital download for viewers to experience in their homes.
Hopefully Tree can reach individuals not just from the art world, but from all types of backgrounds and professions who haven’t been exposed to the facts of climate change. It is crucial to us that we’re not just preaching to a choir; we want even skeptical viewers to viscerally grasp deforestation.
Winslow: We also want to bring Tree to climate advocacy events to act as a way to contextualize potentially confusing facts, figures, and statistics. It’s possible to get so invested in the minutiae of these issues that the absolute urgency of action on climate change becomes almost secondary. At academic conferences or places of education, we envision a future where Tree can remind people how devastating the consequences of climate change and spur action as a result.
Have you plans for another VR project? Is it likely to be on a similar theme, or something completely different?
Milica: Giant and Tree are the first and second in a trilogy examining collective life on earth. We are now in production on our third piece Breath, an augmented reality piece with a communal component. Giant explores the destruction man enacts upon man; Tree looks into the devastation of nature by man; finally, Breath brings it all together by highlighting humanity’s similarities in life and death. The trilogy altogether sheds light on how humanity fails each other, but how our commonalities provide an inescapable spiritual bond.
Winslow: Beyond our new AR piece, New Reality is also working with brands, clients, musicians and artists to help them realize their visions with the aid of emerging technologies. We take concepts and figure out the best concrete way to make them come to life, always highlighting their vision while trying to tap into the universal human experience.
Finally, to anyone out there who may be developing a VR project for social good… do you have any advice?
Milica: I would say “be brave.” Honestly, that’s what it takes in VR – it is totally unexplored terrain, which means risk is standard procedure. As I mentioned before, it’s important to make sure the VR technology is serving your vision and that the message of social good is really enhanced by that immersion. If you have a clear intent in mind, and an aching desire to get that message across to people in a new and profound way, it’s up to you to dive in headfirst.
Winslow: Follow your passion and don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Your message is the most important part of the experience. VR is so new that rules are being created one day and broken the next. Iterate as much as humanly possible. Right now in VR, creators who are launching their first experience are able to use the same platforms as major gaming and entertainment studios. Watch as much VR as possible and immerse yourself into the growing communities. And of course, have fun.
Thank you for talking to us, Milica and Winslow!
As part of the VR for Impact program, Tree will debut on Viveport. Stay tuned for a future release date.
VR for Impact is a a global initiative and commitment by Vive to drive virtual reality content and technologies, all in support of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Learn more at www.VRforImpact.com.
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In VR, no-one can hear you scream. Actually, everyone around you probably can. Bear that in mind when experiencing Homebound, an intense VR app that takes you from orbit to ground-level… probably a little faster than you might be comfortable with.
Our wannabe astronaut is Wiktor Öhman, who led us through re-entry.
Hello Wiktor! What’s your day job, and what did you do on Homebound?
My name is Wiktor Öhman and I’m a 3D artist, currently working as an Art Lead at Quixel. On Homebound I was generally the sole developer, taking on all development areas myself, with help from friends and colleagues at Quixel. If you want to stay up to date with my endeavours you can follow me on Twitter on @Disting.
How would you describe Homebound?
Homebound is a short and intense sci-fi survival VR experience set in a near future aboard a space station orbiting Earth. As disaster strikes you are forced to abandon the station and try and get back home to Earth. It’s a sensory feast and features some of the most realistic graphics in VR to date.
What was the initial conception for Homebound – was it VR, the idea of exploring in a zero-G environment, or something else?
The initial conception of Homebound was to showcase Quixel Megascans materials, allowing users to inspect the real-world scanned data up-close in VR. As we were exploring the space station in VR we quickly started dreaming up gameplay scenarios one by one and suddenly it was shaping up to be a truly exhilarating experience.
Homebound was developed using Unreal 4. Why did you choose the Unreal Engine for development?
Seeing as I, as pretty much the sole developer, didn’t have any scripting or programming experience prior to developing Homebound, Unreal Engine 4 felt like a given choice considering its Blueprint system, allowing you to create gameplay and systems with a visual, node-based system.
You’re simulating weightlessness here; for the non-developers amongst us, how easy is that to do? Is it just a checkbox to say ‘weightless’ or is it more complicated?
Trust me, I hoped it would be a checkbox. The reality is that there are so many variables to keep in mind to make it an enjoyable experience. Acceleration, deceleration, top speed, easing and so on. This was the area that was tweaked until the very end of development, based on the feedback from the testers.
Being weightless can cause people to feel motion sick in VR. Any advice for anyone who might get motion sick, or who is worried about it?
Motion sickness is and was the main challenge when developing Homebound. Me, personally, never felt a hint of it, nor did the internal testers. Once we started alpha tests it quickly became apparent we needed to focus hard on it. The number of reports have decreased, but there seems to be a baseline that’s hard to break. If you are worried about motion sickness I would say, take it easy and take short breaks here and there. Each experience has its own kind of motion sickness so, according to my own experience, you can’t really get VR legs as many claim.
You’ve included a few Easter Eggs in Homebound – or homages, if you like. Want to share any, and why they were included?
One of the Easter Eggs we included has quickly become popular among the players – the “Simpsons Crisps”. This was added pretty late in the development, but is something we joked about quite a few times during the development. And if you look closely around the station you can see some photos of parts of the Quixel team.
In your view, is what happens in Homebound the worst thing that could happen to an astronaut? Or have you thought of other, more terrible fates?
Oh, I’ve thought of many terrible ways to die in space – the worst probably being simply drifting off into the vast nothingness just waiting to die. That seems pretty terrible.
What’s next for you in VR – what are you developing next?
Glad you had another question, so we get a chance to end on a more positive note! We’re in pre-production on our upcoming full-length VR game which will have the same focus on highly realistic visuals.
Thanks for talking to us Wiktor… and good luck getting home!
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Normal, everyday mini golf courses are so… dull. Why not play in the clouds? With Cloudlands: VR Minigolf you can do just that (and don’t have to worry about the rain, either). With the latest update debuting on Viveport, we talked to Justin Liebregts, co-founder of Futuretown, about the latest developments.
Hello! Let’s start with the origins of your development studio, Futuretown and Cloudlands: VR Minigolf.
Myself and a colleague from college founded Futuretown several years back and had the opportunity to participate in the initial launch of the Vive and what we consider the dawn of commercial VR back in 2016. When we first got our hands on an early HTC Vive prototype, I coded about a dozen different test game mechanics in Unity to see what would be fun to make into an actual game. One of those early prototypes was a golf driving range simulator, which ended up morphing into Cloudlands: VR Minigolf.
And the rest is history! For anyone who hasn’t experienced it, can you tell us a bit more about Cloudlands: VR Minigolf?
We’re positioning Cloudlands: VR Minigolf as the premiere mini golf experience for virtual reality. It’s a really family friendly game, built from the ground up for motion controls. You putt the ball through fantastical levels as you would in real life – there’s no swing meter or power bars. My favorite part of the game is the 1,000-plus user created courses. Our team built one of the first VR level editors and you can build courses as you would build something out of LEGO pieces.
The most exciting part about our latest addition is that now, all platforms can create and share courses. Prior to this update, players were locked onto the Steam Workshop platform which was only accessible for Steam buyers. Now, all our players can create and share their amazing courses with one another.
While mini golf isn’t quite as demanding as golf, it’s still a real-world simulation. How did you try to simulate a golf club swing?
I’m a golfer in real life and as I mentioned earlier, we had started with a driving range simulator. It was super satisfying but we found several technical and user related challenges in the mechanic of swinging in VR. Players would often swing under, over, or through the ball. Game engines can have difficulty detecting collision between two small objects moving fast and there were challenges getting ball hit detection to work well with high velocity swings. There was also the issue of having no weight or being able to “feel” where the end of your club was. Many early play tests left players frustrated. These issues weren’t too difficult to resolve, but as a VR launch title, we felt that mini golf made more sense because the courses would be easier for us to build as a team, and probably be more entertaining while also being more accessible for all ages and skill levels to play. Not everyone plays full on golf, but almost everyone can play mini golf.
In your opinion… do you prefer mini golf or ‘real’ golf? (Virtual or real world…)
Haha. I’ll probably always prefer real world golf, but I recently went golfing for the first time this season and I realized that all of my putting practice for the winter season came from Cloudlands. Swinging a virtual putter vs a real putter still has its differences and it took me a few holes to re-calibrate to a putter that has weight to it.
Did you research actual mini golf courses for inspiration, or did everything come from your imagination?
As a team we went to Castle Fun Park, a mini golf / kids entertainment centre in the Fraser Valley, close to Vancouver. We were looking for things like how the ball hits off of the wall, or bounces over elevation changes, and how a course as a whole feels like a cohesive package. The first few holes we designed were heavily influenced by our real life mini golf experience and searching online. However, once we became comfortable prototyping we let our imaginations run free and this is where you get some of the more non-traditional hole designs.
Tell us a little more about the level editor. Is it easy to put together a course? How much control does a user have over course design?
It’s super easy to put together a course. We have several hundred “pieces” that we’ve organized into categories such as floor pieces, hole pieces, props, landscape etc. The pieces have snap points and you can snap pieces together intuitively using the motion controls – watch this video for reference:
If you don’t want to conform to the snap points, we also have a free-mode where you can just place pieces anywhere without any constraints.
Have you considered integrating Vive Trackers into Cloudlands?
This is a tough one. We love what the Vive Trackers are enabling developers to do. As a company, we’re hesitant on building any types of third party peripherals. We also feel that for golf specifically, you could essentially have the same functionality but with some kind of putter-to-Vive controller adapter, without the need for the tracker since there’s a 1:1 relationship with the controller to the putter already.
Good point! We’ll make our own solution. Finally, an important question… who has the best ‘par’ in Minigolf at Futuretown?
Haha, I’d say our producer Adrian Ng is the best at the game. When we were creating the first holes and testing the multiplayer, he’d always be a few strokes ahead of me and I haven’t really managed to beat him yet, even with all the user created content.
Thanks for talking to us, Justin!
Cloudlands: VR Minigolf is available now on Viveport, and also in Viveport Subscription – including the new level editor.
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Between apps like MakeVR and Tilt Brush, 3D creation is advancing rapidly in VR. One of the pioneers in the field is Kodon, a room-scale virtual sculpting app that lets anyone shape their own creation… no messy potter’s wheel or sculpting clay required. With their latest update now live, we talked with Gustav Tresselt, lead developer at TenkLabs about what’s new.
How long have you been working on Kodon? What initially inspired you?
We’ve been working on Kodon for about a year now! The initial inspiration was basically playing around in 3D as an indie dev – I needed 3D models. So I decided to make a program to make them myself – in VR!
Your latest major update is v0.50 – you’ve called it ‘50% complete’. What does that mean in terms of current features? What’s been added since your last major update?
v0.50 is the product of tight cooperation between me and my sculpting expert, Emil. This version tries to meet experienced sculptors with features like move, inflate, crease and similarly which really speeds up the workflow. We’ve also added some awesome environments that add new lighting and reflection details.
If v0.50 is 50% complete – what’s your final vision for the 1.0 version? Are there major features still to be implemented, in your mind?
At v1.0, experienced sculptors will prefer Kodon to the established tools, and casual users will get an intuitive understanding of 3D sculpting. And yes, the 50% complete refers to the feature set as well as bugfixing. Some examples: re-meshing feature, surface and voxel tool improvements, major optimizations, and last but not least: geometric sculpting will be back.
Who do you see as the primary user of Kodon? Professional 3D artists, hobbyists, or someone else?
Kodon has a semi-professional focus. We are trying to reach both long-time professional 3D artists as well as people who have no clue about 3D sculpting, such as myself.
Did you draw inspiration from any traditional 3D modeling programs?
I had no idea about 3D modeling programs when I started making Kodon. After Emil came into the picture, we’ve focused more on ZBrush.
Can you import existing 3D models, then export them again? Any restrictions?
Absolutely! Via the PLY and OBJ formats you can easily do this. There are some restrictions on size, and some special form of OBJ files (like ZBrush’s vertex color format) are not supported. The program also does not respect quads at this point.
Finally, Kodon has been out for a while – what’s the most impressive project you’ve seen created using it?
Emil (and other professional sculptors) have made some amazing stuff already, this is the first thing he made (pictured left).
Adham Faramawy earlier this year made an exciting abstract sculpture setup for Royal Academy of Arts “Virtually Real” exhibition. His object was 3D printed to a giant sculpture weighing literally tons! (Click here to see some video of Adham’s creatio
Finally, this 3D printed flower pot from an early version of Kodon will always hold a special place in my heart (below).
Kodon is available now on Viveport.
Read more on 3D creation:
Artist Liz Edwards on creating art in Tilt Brush
3D creators go hands-on with MakeVR
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This editorial is written by Felicia Miranda, a freelance technology journalist. Follow her on Twitter @FeliciaVagabond. We hope this editorial helps you find the best VR content available!
Key moments in history, big and small alike, helped shape the world as we know it today. Previously, we flipped through textbooks and viewed documentaries, but thanks to virtual reality, we can now unravel history in a whole new way. Whether it’s making scientific discoveries about the universe or studying an event that turned into a catalyst for war, these Vive apps will give you a new perspective on some of the most impactful moments in history.
We Are Stars
Developer: NSC Creative
Available on Viveport
I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “We’re all made from stars,” and the next thought that quickly comes to mind is something along the lines of, “Can that really be true?” We Are Stars answers that question and much more in one of the most entertaining and educational VR apps on Viveport.
We Are Stars takes you on a virtual journey through a billion years of evolution, where you’ll learn about some of the most mystifying aspects of our universe. The experience is enhanced by the brilliant narration of Andy Serkis, best known for his roles as Gollum from The Lord of the Rings and Caesar from Planet of the Apes. Serkis, in combination with the breath-taking 360 visuals, is sure to make a lasting impression as you explore the cosmos.
Read our interview with Paul Mowbray, producer on We Are Stars
VR Terra-Cotta Warriors
Developer: Beijing Virtual Real Space Technology Co.
Available on Viveport
VR Terra-Cotta Warriors takes you on a trip through ancient China to get an up-close look at the life-sized terracotta statues built for Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China. These statues, meant to protect the emperor in the afterlife, resemble various personnel from his army, including warriors, generals, and other military officials.
If you enjoy learning about history, then you know how frustrating it might be when you want to get a closer look at an exhibit at the museum. The best part of VR Terra-Cotta Warriors is that it feels like a mini museum without any of the barriers. I marveled at all the stunning details in the sculptures, from the texture of the clothes to the life-like features on each statue’s face. It’s a fascinating first-hand look at the statues that highlighted the burial practices of early China.
Remembering Pearl Harbor
Developer: LIFE VR
Available on Viveport
It’s been 75 years since the attack on Pearl Harbor, and in respect for all the lives lost, LIFE VR and TIME put together a riveting VR experience called Remembering Pearl Harbor.
I explored this important part of history through the eyes, ears, and letters of lieutenant and postmaster, James Downing. Using his letters as a timeline, Remembering Pearl Harbor put me in the shoes of a survivor on the shores of Pearl Harbor and in the home of a typical American civilian following the attack on December 7th, 1941, “the day which shall live in infamy”. The most gripping moment was hearing that exact quote in Franklin D. Roosevelt’s speech on the radio, which makes it seem like the attack on Pearl Harbor happened only yesterday.
My Brother’s Keeper
Available on Viveport
Unlike Remembering Pearl Harbor, which focuses on recreating a historical atmosphere, My Brother’s Keeper uses American history to tell a compelling story of two brothers who end up on conflicting sides in the Civil War.
My Brother’s Keeper is not only interactive but also remarkably immersive. It’s a short film that uses 360-degree capture and 120 frames per second to drop you right in the middle of one of the fiercest battles of the American Civil War. One of my favorite features is the ability to stop and look around, examining every moment taking place on the battlefield. Faces filled with emotion, followed by a bloody aftermath with casualties demonstrates the power virtual reality has to bring these tragic moments to life.
Historium VR – Relive the history of Bruges
Developer: Sevenedge Interactive Media
Available on Viveport
Imagine sailing through the beautiful canals and dimly lit streets of Bruges during the Middle Ages. With Historium VR, you’ll experience the grandiosity of this city during the 15th century. It was built from the ground up by a well-known historical attraction presently located in the market square of Bruges, so you know you’re getting an accurate interpretation of this wonderful moment in time.
Although a relatively short experience, I quickly fell in love with the new way Historium VR immersed me in the old world. As I studied architecture, cobblestone walkways, and arched bridges, the narrator took me through a fascinating history lesson that included landmarks such as Dampoort, St. Donatian’s, Waterhalle, Crane, and Belfry. The best part is you can choose to embark on a fully narrated journey or pick between specific locations of Bruges you wish to explore. Definitely a must-have for history students and enthusiasts.
Historium VR is available on Viveport. Remembering Pearl Harbor and We Are Stars are also available in Viveport Subscription.
My Brother’s Keeper and VR Terra-Cotta Warriors are available for free on Viveport.
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