glo­be­trot­ting with google

See the world from in­side a head­set

Games Master - - Upfront -

“stand in front of a gi­ant globe, spin it around, and choose a lo­ca­tion”

De­spite be­ing an un­de­ni­ably im­pres­sive re­source of vis­ual in­for­ma­tion, Google Earth has al­ways been some­thing of an odd­ity. While al­most ev­ery Google prod­uct ben­e­fits the tech gi­ant by gath­er­ing data from users, Google Earth gives data back as a god’s-eye view of the planet. It’s not for work, but it’s not re­ally for play – it’s sim­ply an ex­pe­ri­ence, meant as a demon­stra­tion of Google’s knowl­edge. Google Earth VR, avail­able on the HTC Vive for free on Steam, is the Google Earth you know, but up close. Stand in front of a gi­ant globe, spin it around, and choose a lo­ca­tion. Zoom in and fly around, see­ing as­ton­ish­ing land­scapes from all an­gles. Grab the sun at any time and move it back and forth to change the light­ing. There are even des­ig­nated des­ti­na­tions in outer space avail­able for VR trav­ellers to visit.

World of in­for­ma­tion

It’s fair to say VR head­sets are still a long way from main­stream ubiq­uity, but Google Earth VR is some­thing many of us might still get the chance to try out. It’s a free-of-charge util­ity that demon­strates the HTC Vive’s po­ten­tial – ideal for show floors or dis­play mod­els. If VR doc­u­men­taries are for film buffs, and VR games are for gamers, then this is a VR util­ity for a gen­eral au­di­ence.

The pro­mo­tional im­ages and start-up screen look ev­ery bit like a travel brochure. So you might ex­pect Google Earth VR to feel like a first taste of holodeck tourism. How­ever, it’s not meant to con­vey what it feels like to be some­where else. For some­thing like that, there are ded­i­cated VR doc­u­men­taries that use not just vi­su­als, but sound and sto­ry­telling to evoke a greater sense of im­mer­sion. That kind of tourist ex­pe­ri­ence is about emo­tion, but Google Earth VR is about in­for­ma­tion. In­stead of trans­port­ing you some­where else, it brings the world to you.

Ma­nip­u­late the Sun and Earth by hand, to move the world around you or change the time of day.

Google’s pre­view im­ages and short­cut lo­ca­tions em­pha­sise pop­u­lar tourist at­trac­tions around the world.

Away from pop­u­lar land­marks and ci­ties, some de­tails are very dis­torted, high­light­ing the tech’s lim­i­ta­tions.

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