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

Computer Arts - - Special Report -

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.

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