OUT OF THIS WORLD
EVER WANTED TO SEE THE EARTH FROM 250 MILES UP, WITHOUT THE NEED FOR A SPACESHIP? INSPIRED BY NASA’S TRAINING PROGRAMME, REWIND’S HOME – A VR SPACEWALK IS AN INTERACTIVE VR EXPERIENCE THAT’S PACKED FULL OF AWE, AND A GOOD HELPING OF PERIL TOO
Designed to inspire the next generation of scientists, REWIND’s Home – A VR Spacewalk features an electrifying 15-minute VR mission set on the International Space Station. Once out of airlock, players pull themselves around the spacecraft in order to fix external damage. But disaster strikes and they must jet-pack their way back to safety… or not. It’s frighteningly immersive. “It’s not something you want to do again to get a better score, you live or you die in space,” laughs REWIND founder Sol Rogers.
Delivered on HTC Vive, Home was created in Unreal Engine 4. Rogers explains: “Whenever we want something super beautiful for room-scale VR, we go to Unreal Engine over Unity – it’s a beautiful renderer, with better image quality. The downside is its programming and interactivity is a little harder. Unity is more like a tin opener, you can do anything with it.”
Given the autonomy of the player, navigating the spacecraft was a key challenge. REWIND modified the otherwise very life-like CG version of the International Space Station (ISS), removing the handles so that users couldn’t reach places the developers didn’t want them to go. Audio featuring Mission Control was used to guide and was an important storytelling tool. “If you don’t do what you’re supposed to or you start slowing down, they get really annoyed,” smiles Rogers.
Another challenge was avoiding uncanny valley – a big problem when creating realistic people with CGI. “Knowing that faces are terrible in VR, we gave the other astronaut a nice clean visor, so you can’t see that there’s no face,” says Rogers. “Avoid photorealism – weirdly, it’s easier to believe that an ogre is real than a human that doesn’t look quite right,” he advises.
With a haptic feedback chair and a heart rate monitor, Home can also work as a virtual reality installation that feeds back the users’ own heartbeat. Subtle creaks and movements of the ISS in the audio add to the trepidation. Real astronauts tested the experience for REWIND, and one even said it was a more accurate simulation than at NASA. “She actually felt like she was back in space,” says Rogers. “That was really affirming of what we’d done,” he adds.
Developed in Unreal Engine 4 for the HTC Vive, the journey of Home – A VR Spacewalk starts in the International Space Centre airlock, from where players must mend the damaged craft. REWIND added a rumble chair and heart rate monitor to further increase user immersion.