Adding Another Dimension
A video game provides virtual access to the water for anyone with an internet connection.
O I tighten the headset around my head and pull the goggles over my eyes. No, I’m not stepping on a high-performance race boat, I’m going sailing, virtually in VR Regatta: The Sailing Game. The owner of Base Station VR in Providence, Rhode Island, flips a switch, and I’m transported to a tropical bungalow surrounded by crystal-clear water. Looking around the room, I see a number of wall hangings — one features high scores of other players. I walk outside where two boats are tied to the dock: a keelboat and a Laser.
I select the latter and opt for a sunset sail to figure out the controls. I press the ignition and start motoring away from the dock. I bring in the mainsail using the pedestal in the middle of the boat and trim the jib with a winch. Trimming the sails correctly and steering the boat at the right angle directly translates to the boat’s VMG.
While VR Regatta is a video game, it’s incredible how much technique from real-life sailing carries over. Attention and finetuning is key to sailing in VR. The smallest adjustment in steering or trim results in instant changes in speed. Sails luff when I go head-to wind, and water gurgles when speed increases.
It’s realistic, says sailmaker Tristian Sinaju, of Annapolis, Maryland, who plays the game. “I’m very impressed with the game. It’s not very complex, but the controls respond well, and you can shift your body weight around the dinghy to flatten the boat when you’re heeling.”
Players can sail a generic keelboat, racing a downwind course, or race a Laser on a short course. The Laser requires sailors to grip the virtual mainsheet tight and use the handheld controller as a tiller extension.
The only obvious downside to sailing the boat in VR is that players can’t physically feel the heel of the boat, so when a puff hits, there’s a natural instinct to hike out despite no real counterforce.
When first released, VR headsets and controllers weren’t cost-effective, but now a virtual-reality gaming setup costs $2,000 or less.
Greg Dziemidowicz, the CEO of Marineverse and creator of VR Regatta, tells me that several clubs in Australia have integrated the game into their junior sailing programs. Instead of watching a movie or playing unrelated games during bad weather, VR Regatta helps keep kids focused on the sport, challenging each other around the virtual racecourse, reviewing rules and tactics, and just refreshing parts of the boats.
The application of VR Regatta is something the creators of the game don’t even have a grip on themselves. For now, Marineverse’s focus is education, but there’s a possibility the game could evolve to have implications for serious Corinthians and professionals, and Marineverse is always taking user suggestions on how to fine-tune the game so players get the most out of it. Q