Mo­bile VR

Mo­bile Vir­tual Re­al­ity: is it just VR on the go or some­thing more? Ju­lian Rizzo-Smi­ith is on the case...

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Mo­bile vir­tual re­al­ity offers an on­the-go al­ter­na­tive to stan­dard vir­tual re­al­ity hard­ware. While still new, there are head­sets for many smart­phone de­vices and a de­cent amount of soft­ware with an abun­dance of en­ter­tain­ment and ed­u­ca­tional op­por­tu­ni­ties.

Much like the Ocu­lus Rift and HTC Vive hard­ware, mo­bile head­sets project your phone screen through two lenses, one for each eye, giv­ing the im­pres­sion of depth. Un­like com­puter-based vir­tual re­al­ity de­vices, mo­bile VR uses the mo­tion sen­sors of your smart­phone to fol­low your point of view. The de­vice uses your point of view to track what is shown and heard in-game with sur­round sound aes­thet­ics and three di­men­sional en­vi­ron­ments to ex­plore.

Nearly all mod­ern smart­phones are func­tional with vir­tual re­al­ity. Sam­sung col­lab­o­rated with Ocu­lus to de­velop its own branded Sam­sung Gear VR head­set com­pat­i­ble with most Galaxy note smart­phones. iPhone and most An­droid hard­ware are com­pat­i­ble with the Zeiss One, which comes with a com­part­ment to se­curely con­tain your phone, as well as the Merge VR Gog­gles which are com­pat­i­ble with iOS and An­droid de­vices of the last two years. There’s also the cheap Google Card­board that works well with HTC, LG and Sony Xpe­ria models, as well as Sam­sung Galaxy, Acer Ico­nia and Sony tablets. Al­ca­tel have bun­dled their gog­gles, head­phones, and a phone case with their new Al­ca­tel IDOL 4S smart­phone

“With the ad­di­tion of af­ford­able hard­ware we are go­ing to see an ex­plo­sion in con­tent,” said the co­founder of a vir­tual re­al­ity prod­uct price com­par­i­son site, VR Bound, Daniel Co­la­ianni.

Ac­cord­ing to Ocu­lus’ John Car­mack, the pub­lic’s in­ter­est in mo­bile vir­tual re­al­ity is on the rise de­spite be­ing fairly new.

“We have [over a] bil­lion plus smart­phones [in the mar­ket] [and] we’re head­ing to­wards a bil­lion plus tablets”, said Car­mack in a key­note speech at the Game De­vel­oper’s Con­fer­ence in 2015. “In the long run, mo­bile tech­nol­ogy is go­ing to be­come the dom­i­nant plat­form.

“The VR head­set of our dreams doesn’t have wires, it’s prob­a­bly go­ing to be built on mo­bile tech­nol­ogy… We can [take] pho­tos and videos with vir­tual re­al­ity head­sets in a way that is bet­ter than tra­di­tional de­vices.”

Set­ting up your head­set is fairly easy. Sim­ply down­load the re­spec­tive ap­pli­ca­tion linked to the head­set on the iOS, Sam­sung, or An­droid store

– or for Al­ca­tel’s head­set, through the pre-in­stalled vir­tual re­al­ity store – launch the ap­pli­ca­tion and slide your phone into the head­set where it will be­gin track­ing your movement. It’s heav­ily rec­om­mended you use head­phones rather than sound com­ing from your phone’s speak­ers as it makes the ex­pe­ri­ence more im­mer­sive. While the Sam­sung Gear VR offers a track­pad to nav­i­gate the ap­pli­ca­tion’s menu screens, most mo­bile head­sets re­quire you to in­ter­act with your en­vi­ron­ment and menus by hold­ing your gaze on some­thing for a sec­ond or two.

Sam­sung Gear VR ap­pears to be the most pop­u­lar of the de­vices, with more than 250 ap­pli­ca­tions made ex­clu­sively for the de­vice via part­ner­ship deals with Sam­sung and soft­ware de­vel­op­ers. In fact, over a mil­lion peo­ple used the de­vice in April this year, ac­cord­ing to a post on

Ocu­lus’ Face­book page, less than six months since its launch in Novem­ber last year. Google, Al­ca­tel, and Zeiss are each work­ing on newer models of their de­vices, too, with the Google Day­dream, Al­ca­tel Vi­sion and Zeiss VR One Plus re­spec­tively. At their an­nual I/O de­vel­oper’s con­fer­ence in San Fran­cisco, Google an­nounced Google Day­dream, a soft­ware-based vir­tual re­al­ity sys­tem for An­droid de­vices us­ing An­droid N soft­ware, con­sist­ing of faster pro­cess­ing power, lower la­tency and a 120 de­gree field of view. Al­ca­tel’s Vi­sion head­set sees an im­prove­ment from their first model by be­ing the first head­set to not re­quire a mo­bile de­vice or com­puter, in­tro­duc­ing two 3.8-inch 1080p Ac­tive Ma­trix or­ganic light-emit­ting diode lenses, an octa-core pro­ces­sor, and three gi­ga­bytes of RAM. The Zeiss One VR Plus in­creases the de­vice’s sup­ported range to 53 to 77 mil­lime­tres, with an ap­prox­i­mate 100 de­gree field of view and smart­phone hold­ing tray for de­vices be­tween 4.7 and 5.5 inches.

Most head­sets are con­troller-sup­ported. If you have a PlayS­ta­tion 4, you can con­nect your con­troller to a Google Card­board or Gear VR head­set by root­ing your An­droid de­vice, us­ing the Six­axis Con­troller ap­pli­ca­tion on both your phone and com­puter and en­abling gamepad mode. (Do this by down­load­ing and in­stalling the Six­axis Con­troller ap­pli­ca­tion to both your phone and com­puter, insert­ing your lo­cal Blue­tooth ad­dress from the app on your phone into the com­puter ver­sion of the ap­pli­ca­tion be­fore turn­ing the con­troller on us­ing the PS4’s Home but­ton, and en­abling gamepad mode in the Six­axis Con­troller set­tings.)

The Blue­tooth Wire­less Xbox One-styled SteelSeries Stra­tus XL is com­pat­i­ble with Sam­sung’s model as well, while Zeiss One users can use the mag­net con­troller, which sim­ply at­taches to your head­set us­ing ad­he­sive tape. Google’s Day­dream plat­form in­cludes a mo­tion con­troller mim­ick­ing the Nin­tendo Wi­imote, only with an ad­di­tional sen­sor track­pad for your thumb.

De­spite be­ing fairly new, de­vel­op­ers have al­ready be­gun cre­at­ing games, ed­u­ca­tional tools and in­ter­ac­tive ex­pe­ri­ences for VR. SyFy’s up­com­ing sci-fi crime se­ries, Hal­cyon, is a multi-plat­form nar­ra­tive with both a lin­ear tele­vi­sion for­mat and a vir­tual re­al­ity ap­pli­ca­tion for Ocu­lus and Sam­sung Gear VR. Play­ers ex­plore the vir­tual world of Hal­cyon – a set­ting also fea­tured in the show, hence the name – re-en­act­ing crime scenes and in­ves­ti­gat­ing the vir­tual world from the se­ries.

“When the VR episodes start, en­vi­ron­ments [from the show] will trans­form into the crime scene it­self, and will al­low users to walk around and in­ter­act with ob­jects in that crime scene“, said the orig­i­nal con­cept and cre­ative di­rec­tor Ste­fan Gram­bart.

“You can ex­plore and move around the world, in­ter­act with ob­jects, pick­ing up clues and trac­ing fin­ger­prints, help­ing the main

char­ac­ters solve the crime in the story”, said the di­rec­tor of mo­tion Stephen Bosco.

In an in­ter­view with Hy­per, Gram­bart ex­plained that the film stu­dio de­cided to de­velop for the Ocu­lus and Sam­sung Gear VR to ex­tend the reach of their au­di­ence.

“The fact that the Sam­sung head­set runs off of a phone means that it’s an af­ford­able and ac­ces­si­ble plat­form that will be many users’ first foray into VR tech”, said Gram­bart in an in­ter­view with Hy­per. “...VR adop­tion is rising and the more quality con­tent that be­comes avail­able, the more sta­ble the medium’s growth.”

Gram­bart be­lieves that mul­ti­plat­form nar­ra­tives are be a “pos­si­ble fu­ture of tele­vi­sion en­ter­tain­ment”.

“We were able to de­velop a hy­brid se­ries, de­signed to be multi-plat­form from its in­cep­tion”, he said. “I’m cer­tain we’ll see more con­cepts built as cross-plat­form prop­er­ties, al­low­ing au­di­ences to ex­pe­ri­ence new worlds by binge-watch­ing episodic con­tent, play­ing in­ter­ac­tive games, and div­ing into vir­tual re­al­ity.”

Mo­bile head­sets also sup­port films that can be watched en­tirely in 360 de­gree sur­round vi­su­als, with many made ex­clu­sively for Sam­sung Gear VR. Mar­vel’s Bat­tle for Avengers Tower, for in­stance, is an ac­tion-packed short film based on the Age of Ul­tron se­quel, plac­ing the viewer in the mid­dle of a bat­tle be­tween the Avengers and Ul­tron in the Avengers Tower. Other ex­pe­ri­ences, such as an im­mer­sive take on the world of Juras­sic Park ti­tled Juras­sic World: Apatosauras, and a per­sonal view­ing of mu­si­cian Pa­trick Was­ton per­form­ing live in his stu­dio, of­fer more unique ex­pe­ri­ences, al­beit are also ex­clu­sive to Sam­sung’s model.

There are some in­ter­ac­tive films avail­able on An­droid and iOS de­vices how­ever. 11:57 is an in­ter­ac­tive hor­ror film for both mo­bile and Ocu­lus Rift and the first of its kind, plac­ing the viewer as the main char­ac­ter trapped in an aban­doned un­der­ground labyrinth with only the abil­ity to turn the cam­era an­gle. Lu­cas­Film’s iOS, An­droid, and Sam­sung sup­ported Star Wars 360 VR, is a poorly acted if not nostalgic short film us­ing Star Wars prop­er­ties, set after Re­venge of the Sith fol­low­ing a con­tin­u­a­tion of the Jedi Or­der 66 from the film. Play­ers can also ex­plore the deep ocean ecosys­tems in the am­bi­ent theBlu, with a close en­counter with an 80 foot whale, as well as ex­pe­ri­ence a vir­tual art gallery with over 100 pieces of iconic art.

Some smart­phone apps are com­pat­i­ble with mo­bile vir­tual re­al­ity de­vices, too. Mo­jang’s Minecraft is com­pat­i­ble with Sam­sung, An­droid, and iOS sup­ported head­sets yet re­quires a con­troller to func­tion. Square Enix’s Hit­man Go: VR Edi­tion is ex­clu­sive to Sam­sung Gear VR how­ever, al­low­ing the player to wit­ness as­sas­si­na­tions and take­downs from any an­gle. Clash of Clans also has an An­droid-sup­ported three di­men­sional ver­sion of the mo­bile tower de­fense strat­egy game, plac­ing the user in the heat of bat­tle as op­posed to mak­ing moves from a bird’s eye view per­spec­tive. In Net­flix’s VR app, view­ers watch Net­flix from a cosy cabin in the snowy moun­tains from a widescreen tele­vi­sion set. Posters of Dare­devil, Or­ange is the New Black, and other Net­flix-orig­i­nal shows are seen framed hang­ing on the walls.

While some of these apps’ vir­tual re­al­ity func­tions feel forced and tacked on, there are a va­ri­ety of games built around the im­mer­sive ex­pe­ri­ence. These games vary from first-per­son pro­ce­du­rally gen­er­ated dun­geon crawlers, like Dread­halls, where the player is trapped in a labyrinth searching for an exit while avoid­ing ter­ri­fy­ing crea­tures that in­habit it, to niche Ja­panese ar­cade shoot­ers like OhanaChan.

Un­for­tu­nately be­cause of Sam­sung’s var­i­ous li­cens­ing deals, a lot of the unique games are ex­clu­sive to Sam­sung Gear VR, although they

are of­ten avail­able on the Ocu­lus Rift as well. As ex­pected of a mo­bile mar­ket, how­ever, few ex­pe­ri­ences are com­pa­ra­ble with what’s avail­able on a de­cently specced PC, although there are a few notable ex­cep­tions.

Ro­coco VR is a mur­der mys­tery set in the mid­dle of a party in the Baroque pe­riod. Un­like the tra­di­tional mur­der mys­tery trope of play­ing a de­tec­tive, you play as a poi­soned vic­tim searching for your killer to en­act re­venge be­fore the poi­son takes full ef­fect. The game looks vis­ually in­trigu­ing with the use of black and white to em­pha­sise the pe­ri­odic set­ting, and face­less char­ac­ters re­in­forc­ing the un­cer­tainty of who is after you.

Keep Talk­ing and No­body Ex­plodes on the other hand is a lo­cal co-op based sim­u­la­tion where one player wears a head­set and sees a tick­ing time-bomb and var­i­ous wires in front of them, while the other player in­structs them on how to defuse a bomb us­ing an in­struc­tion man­ual. The game re­quires team­work and com­mu­ni­ca­tion, and is one of the few games that you can not only show to friends to demon­strate the unique­ness of vir­tual re­al­ity, but also play along with them.

Cre­ated by the team be­hind Mon­u­ment Val­ley, Land’s End offers an im­mer­sive tran­quil ad­ven­ture of the same quality of ex­plo­ration based games on Steam. Play­ers ex­plore spec­tac­u­lar land­scapes, some man­made, oth­ers com­pletely nat­u­ral phe­nom­ena, to un­ravel the se­crets of a lost civil­i­sa­tion.

There is also the card based fan­tasy strat­egy game As­cen­sion VR, and a Lem­mings-in­spired puz­zler called Wad­dle Home, where play­ers nav­i­gate an en­vi­ron­ment guid­ing a group of pen­guins to safety. Mu­sic-driven vir­tual re­al­ity ex­pe­ri­ences such as VRock and GrooVR, which aren’t ex­clu­sive to Gear VR, use songs saved to your phone’s hard drive or your SoundCloud and Spo­tify playlists, cre­at­ing unique visual spec­ta­cles mir­ror­ing a vir­tual world rem­i­nis­cent of Dis­ney’s Tron.

There are also a va­ri­ety of ed­u­ca­tional ap­pli­ca­tions on mo­bile vir­tual re­al­ity. Speech Cen­tre VR and Pub­lic Speak­ing for Card­board, help im­prove one’s pub­lic speak­ing skills vi­su­al­is­ing the user talk­ing to a crowd of peo­ple at a board­room meet­ing, of­fice and the­atre. Oth­ers ed­u­cate the user us­ing sim­u­la­tions of the hu­man body, so­lar sys­tem, and an even an in­ter­ac­tive cook­ing sim­u­la­tor – with­out the mess in­volved with cook­ing!

The Med­i­cal Real­i­ties com­pany is a uni­ver­sal agency spe­cial­is­ing in training med­i­cal stu­dents in real prac­tices us­ing a three-hour demon­stra­tive oper­a­tion in 360 de­gree film with Vir­tual Re­al­ity in Oper­a­tion Room (VRinOR). Ad­di­tion­ally, The House of Lan­guages teaches some Euro­pean lan­guages us­ing minigames test­ing your knowl­edge, such as find­ing ob­jects in a house by their for­eign name.

Vir­tual re­al­ity has also seen the rise of aug­mented re­al­ity soft­ware, whereby de­vel­op­ers cre­ate im­ages within mo­bile apps that blend in with real world en­vi­ron­ments. Nin­tendo in­tro­duced aug­mented re­al­ity to the main­stream mar­ket with the launch of their Nin­tendo 3DS model, bundling the con­sole with a pack of cards that when viewed with the 3DS’ cam­era, cre­ate ar­ti­fi­cial im­ages used in ba­sic mini-games. Us­ing a sim­i­lar mo­tion sens­ing sys­tem to mo­bile de­vices, their Wii U home con­sole used the en­vi­ron­ment around the player, with play­ers aim­ing a bow and ar­row in Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker by tilt­ing the gamepad thereby merg­ing their real world sur­round­ings with game en­vi­ron­ments.

In 2012, Niantic, Inc. cre­ated Ingress, a lo­ca­tion based aug­mented re­al­ity game for mo­bile de­vices. A take on the clas­sic cap­ture the flag mode, Ingress used real world lo­ca­tions based on Google Maps’ map in­ter­face, to cre­ate mark­ers known as por­tals, which play­ers would visit to cap­ture for their team.

“By ex­ploit­ing the ca­pa­bil­i­ties of smart­phones and lo­ca­tion tech­nol­ogy and through build­ing a unique mas­sively scal­able server and global lo­ca­tion dataset … Ingress, our first “real world” game, has given mil­lions of play­ers an en­tirely new way to see the world around them”, said a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of Niantic, Inc. in a blog­post on the com­pany’s web­site.

The de­vel­op­ers later used the first 150 crea­tures in the Poké­mon se­ries in their AR-based mo­bile

game, Poké­mon GO, us­ing real world lo­ca­tions as mark­ers for Poké­mon gyms and Poké-stops, where play­ers could visit to re­plen­ish their items. The app used the cam­era from play­ers’ smart­phones to show Poké­mon they were in the mid­dle of catch­ing in real world en­vi­ron­ments.

Novum An­a­lyt­ics are also work­ing on Night Ter­rors, an aug­mented re­al­ity sur­vival hor­ror game that is ac­cord­ing to the game’s de­vel­oper, Bryan Mitchell, “so be­liev­able and im­mer­sive that you’re afraid to play it”. The game is meant to be played in the dark as you ex­pe­ri­ence ter­ri­fy­ing su­per­nat­u­ral be­ings in your home seen through your phone’s cam­era, dis­cov­er­ing se­crets and searching for a way to save a ter­ri­fied young girl trapped in an­other di­men­sion.

“The game takes ad­van­tage of ev­ery com­po­nent in the de­vice: the cam­era, the mi­cro­phone, the LED, the ac­celerom­e­ter, the gy­ro­scope and GPS,” said Mitchell. “Ev­ery com­po­nent comes to­gether to form a sin­gle cam­era depth es­ti­ma­tion sys­tem that makes the im­pos­si­ble, pos­si­ble.”

Much like the Ocu­lus and HTC Vive, mo­bile vir­tual re­al­ity has in­tro­duced an abun­dance of op­por­tu­ni­ties for both con­sumers and de­vel­op­ers. Users can be both an ob­server and par­tic­i­pant of their vir­tual sur­round­ings with in­ter­ac­tive nar­ra­tive ex­pe­ri­ences and some games. De­spite Sam­sung’s deals with de­vel­op­ers cre­at­ing con­tent ex­clu­sive to Sam­sung Gear VR, the Zeiss One, Google Card­board, and Al­ca­tel of­fer im­mer­sive al­ter­na­tives to pop­u­lar mo­bile games.

Yet, un­til Zeiss’, Google’s, and Al­ca­tel’s up­dated models re­lease, Sam­sung Gear VR ap­pears to be the pre­ferred prod­uct, of­fer­ing a great cat­a­logue of films and games com­pa­ra­ble with the PC mar­ket. That said, mo­bile vir­tual re­al­ity is still in its early years and al­ready be­gin­ning to in­no­vate with mul­ti­plat­form nar­ra­tives bridg­ing the gap be­tween tra­di­tional broad­cast tele­vi­sion and VR.

ABOVE: Mo­bile VR HMDs may look dinky, but they work pretty well

The up­side to mo­bile VR? To­tally por­ta­ble. The down­side? Do­ing stu like this in pub­lic

Juras­sic Park wouldn't have been such a disaster if it had been en­tirely in VR

Hal­cyon is a mixed media ex­pe­ri­ence in­cor­po­rat­ing TV and VR

The Net­flix VR app puts you in a vir­tual cabin adorned with Net­flix posters

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