Computer Arts - - Special Report -

which fol­lows Lt. Jim Down­ing through the at­tack us­ing HTC Vive. Sim­i­larly, Easter Ris­ing: Voice of a Rebel (for the Ocu­lus Rift) is a pow­er­ful ac­count of war-torn Dublin in 1916, cre­ated by the BBC, Crossover Labs and VRTOV, which uses a dis­tinc­tive geo­met­ric an­i­ma­tion style hinged on the idea of re­con­struc­tion, a well-crafted nar­ra­tive and plenty of haunt­ing eye con­tact. But cre­at­ing emo­tive 360° con­tent needn’t be som­bre or in­cred­i­bly high-tech. To see how pow­er­ful and in­fec­tious pos­i­tive energy in VR can be, just watch the BBC’s YouTube360 video of Le­ices­ter City fans cel­e­brat­ing their Premier League win in a hum­ble pub.

“Build an in­ter­est­ing nar­ra­tive,” says Vi­su­alise’s Stu­art. “Cajole the client into that way of think­ing. Your ex­pe­ri­ence needs di­rec­tion and thought, and must give users more value than just look­ing around.” In De­cem­ber 2016, Vi­su­alise worked with The Fi­nan­cial Times on Hid­den Cities: Dublin, a 3D 360° video in­spired by the grue­some Emer­ald Noir crime fic­tion genre that has emerged in Dublin since the re­ces­sion. The film was pro­duced for an FT mi­crosite, Face­book and YouTube. In the film, the FT Week­end Magazine’s as­so­ciate ed­i­tor Natalie Whit­tle ex­plores the darker side of the city with award-win­ning crime writer Tana French, who dis­cusses the places that have in­spired her book. It was a com­plex shoot – the sweep­ing cin­e­matic im­ages in low light were shot on a cus­tom-built 3D (stereo­scopic) VR rig based on two Sony A7sII cam­eras with mod­i­fied lenses, whereas ex­ter­nal shots and sev­eral time-lapses were filmed us­ing a Google Jump rig. “It’s not a very good ad­vert for Dublin at all,” laughs Stu­art. “It’s a brave move for Google too – you’d ex­pect them to want to pin restau­rants, but here we have grave­yards and Pool­beg power sta­tion,” he adds.


Al­though tech demo-style VR roller­coast­ers and race tracks have been done to death and are, thank­fully, mostly be­hind us, the idea of the demo shouldn’t be aban­doned all to­gether. The im­mer­sive na­ture of VR makes it an ex­cel­lent ed­u­ca­tion tool, whether you’re show­cas­ing a new prod­uct or us­ing VR as a doc­u­men­tary medium. To launch Jaguar’s I-PACE car, REWIND col­lab­o­rated with creative agency Imag­i­na­tion to cre­ate a real-time multi­user so­cial VR ex­pe­ri­ence for press and VIPs over two con­ti­nents. Us­ing 66 con­nected HTC Vive Busi­ness Edi­tion head­sets, REWIND de­vel­oped an en­vi­ron­ment where users in LA and London were able to in­ter­act with each other, and then beamed in live video of a pre­sen­ter talk­ing through the car’s in­no­va­tions. Built in Unity, the ex­pe­ri­ence in­volved 3D film con­tent and live video (in­clud­ing the de­signer demon­strat­ing the de­sign process us­ing Tilt­brush), and in­ter­ac­tive el­e­ments where each user could pick apart the en­gine to see how it worked. There was, of course, a VR test drive – some­thing in­te­gral when your pro­to­type car is so pre­cious no one can touch it. The PR buzz around the launch was phe­nom­e­nal, but REWIND also launched a light ver­sion of the ex­pe­ri­ence to Vive­port (the app store for VR) that night, so any­one in the world could ex­pe­ri­ence the fun.


The end of 2016 saw some canny ac­qui­si­tions (The Eye Tribe by Ocu­lus, and Eye­flu­ence by Google) that hint that eye-track­ing will be a big ad­di­tion to VR in 2017. As well as al­low­ing you to shoot lasers out of your eyes, the technology will be a big boon for nav­i­ga­tion. It will also be huge in terms of un­der­stand­ing the psy­chol­ogy of a user – the gamer that fre­quently looks at a weapon, but doesn’t pick it up, for ex­am­ple. “The re­al­ity is that it’s adding an­other in­ter­ac­tive el­e­ment to VR,” says REWIND’s Sol Rogers, who has worked on projects for FOVE – the first real-time en­gine VR plat­form with eye-track­ing, which is ex­pected to have a con­sumer launch later this year. “Plus, for mar­ket­ing ex­er­cises, we can track where you’re look­ing, what your

eyes rested on, and for how long.” An­other ben­e­fit is what’s called foveated ren­der­ing – the tech that FOVE is named af­ter – where only points where the eyes fo­cus are ren­dered at high-res, giv­ing a 4x per­for­mance boost. This makes high-qual­ity, wire-free VR a real pos­si­bil­ity.

But the star of the show has to be mixed re­al­ity. “I have said rather boldly that mixed re­al­ity is the big­gest tech ad­vance­ment since fire,” says Rogers. “It’s the first thing that aug­ments hu­man in­tel­li­gence where I can add in as much ed­u­ca­tion, knowl­edge and train­ing that I want.” The im­pli­ca­tions on train­ing and cre­at­ing in 3D are huge – think com­plex surgery or 3D mod­el­ling – as is the abil­ity to see prod­ucts like a new kitchen unit or sofa lo­cated in situ be­fore you buy. Asobo Stu­dio, a French stu­dio that has de­vel­oped games for the de­vel­oper edi­tion of Mi­crosoft HoloLens agrees. “Speak­ing as a mar­ket­ing per­son, I’ve never seen any­thing like it in terms of in­volve­ment,” says Asobo Stu­dio’s com­mu­ni­ca­tions man­ager Aurélie Belzanne. “It’s not the same as VR. Imag­ine you are able to in­vite your favourite star into your liv­ing room, and have them per­form a song just for you.”

The games that Asobo Stu­dio has cre­ated for HoloLens aim to show devel­op­ers what can be achieved with the new technology, which fea­tures 12 sen­sors in­clud­ing four en­vi­ron­ment un­der­stand­ing cam­eras. Frag­ments is a life-size first-per­son crime thriller set in your liv­ing room, whereas Young Conker fea­tures cute char­ac­ters that race around the room. “The magic part is be­ing able to read your en­vi­ron­ment,” says Asobo Stu­dio founder Mar­tial Bos­sard. “Know­ing a ta­ble is a ta­ble and how to re­act to it is the path where no-one has suc­ceeded be­fore.” Bos­sard’s ad­vice to those that want to ex­plore this ex­cit­ing new me­dia is to build ac­cli­ma­ti­sa­tion time into your games, work it­er­a­tively and adapt quickly to new par­a­digms. “Nor­mally, you show the player what you want them to see, but here the user can look any­where, not nec­es­sar­ily where you want them to. You need to tease them to look in the right place and be flex­i­ble with your sto­ry­telling.” In mixed re­al­ity, as with VR more gen­er­ally, the sky re­ally is the limit, and the rules are as yet un­de­fined.

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