Author: Jon Woodall – Managing Director, Two Patch Pirates
This is a bi-monthly event organised by Wired Sussex where companies and individuals can showcase VR-related projects they are working on. This month there were 5 projects on show – of various degrees of interest/relevance to me and Two Patch Pirates.
The event began with a brief introduction from Chris Chowen of Wired Sussex then one person from each project gave a brief description of what they would be demoing. Some projects had multiple people in attendance – below I’ve only given the name of the one that gave the introduction.
As usual with VR Brighton events, pizza, beer, snacks and soft drinks were freely available.
Music Visualisation/Prediction Project – Owen Daughtery (@OwenDaughtery)
Owen Daughtery is an undergraduate student at Sussex Uni and was demoing his final project. The part that was demoed was a VR music-sequencing engine where you created and arranged notes that were then repeatedly played.
It’s tricky to explain in writing but essentially you stand in the centre of a cylinder. Within the cylinder are small spheres representing notes – which are repeatedly played from top to bottom down the cylinder. The vertical position of each note therefore represents when the note is played. The angular position of the note (i.e. where it lies around the circumference of the cylinder) determines the pitch/frequency of the note (which note it is) and the position of the note relative to the centre of the cylinder (you) determines the amplitude of the note (how loud it is). You could move notes around by grabbing and dragging them and could add new notes by grabbing a note at the very top of the cylinder then dragging it to where you wanted it placed. Additionally, there were different coloured source notes which would play with different tones.
It was certainly an interesting concept albeit with a few glitches and one big omission (no way to set the duration of notes – maybe make them able to be cylinders themselves rather than just spheres).
My feeling is that it mainly existed as a framework to enable the second part of his project – where the software would attempt to predict future notes for you based on which ones you had already created. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough time to have a look at that part of the project (like all the projects present there was always a queue of people waiting for their turn to have a go).
Shakespeare VR – Relative Motion (@Relative_Motion) – Chris Lane
Relative Motion is a performance company, formed by individuals with a background in theatre and the performing arts. In recent years they’ve moved into producing VR experiences. At this show and tell they were showcasing their most recent production – Shakespeare VR – which apparently includes elements from Romeo & Juliet, King Lear and As You Like It.
Unfortunately, there was always a queue for it when I tried to have a look so I can’t really comment any further upon this one.
Manus VR Gloves – Manus (@Manus_VR) – Steve
Manus VR Gloves have been around for a couple of years now – though most won’t have heard of them as they aren’t really a consumer product.
The target market for these gloves seems to be at companies for training and simulation VR projects (a market that’s growing nicely). The gloves don’t rely on cameras (as is the case with consumer products) but instead have a lot of built in sensory capabilities that can track the movement of individual fingers. This allows a finer degree of tracking than is possible with camera-based systems as well as avoiding the occlusion issues (where a hand is obscured by the body or the other hand) common to consumer products. The manus gloves also allow haptic feedback (by vibration).
The demonstration on show involved assembling an engine – where you picked up components, rotated them and added them to one another. You could move around the engine as you assembled it – with tracking of both hands’ position and alignment at all times.
This sort of level of performance comes with a commensurate price. You know something’s expensive when, if you visit the website, there’s no information anywhere on a price just a form to submit for a quote. As Two Patch Pirates are currently developing games for the consumer market, this sort of technology is out of our range at present – but it’s good to see things like this as, before too many years, it’s likely this is where consumer-level hand tracking will be.
Foresight – Percept Imagery (@PerceptImagery) – Akshay Saswade
Percept Imagery are a local (Brighton-based) company focused on immersive technologies for architecture. The product they were demoing, Foresight, is a cloud-based collaborative visualisation system for architecture and related areas. In a nutshell it allows a designer to upload an architectural design, then have clients (or other collaborative partners) view in full VR the model on portable VR headsets. No computer is needed by those viewing the model (internet connectivity obviously is needed) which significantly reduces the cost and increases the flexibility of their system.
It is also possible for the designer to interact with their clients within the VR environment.
Although not directly relevant to what we are doing at Two Patch Pirates, there is obviously a clear overlap between what Foresight are doing and our own work in VR gaming, so it was interesting to chat with Akshay.
Alto – Visospace – Laura Loonstein
Visospace are based in Sydney, Australia with a recent presence in Brighton. Their demo was one of the first proper demonstrations of their product outside Australia.
The Alto is Visospace’s attempt to provide a solution to moving within VR. A significant portion of people using VR suffer to one extent or another from motion sickness if they attempt to move around using a hand-based control system. It is widely thought that this is because of the disconnect between what you’re doing and what you perceive your VR persona to be doing (i.e. your different senses tell your brain varied messages). It is Visospace’s hope that by making in-game movement a result of actual movement this motion sickness will no longer occur.
I should say at this point that I have never had an issue with motion sickness in VR – so there’s no way for me to personally judge how well they’ve succeeded in this objective.
The Alto system is a disc on which you stand. In fact, it’s a sandwich of two discs with a filling of (it feels like) springs and pressure sensors. The Alto can detect how your weight is being applied to the disc – that information is then sent to the PC running the VR software and used to control your movement.
The demonstration that was being run was a simple one of an island environment. You used the left-hand Vive controller to take-off and control vertical velocity and could then freely fly around by moving around (or transferring weight balance) on the Alto pad. To move forward you could shuffle to the front of the pad – at which point you would fly forwards all the time your weight remained forward. Similarly, you could halt by moving back to the centre of the pad and reverse by moving to the back. This was all easy to do – though practice would be needed to get quick at it.
Alternatively, I soon found you could fly it forwards and backwards very quickly by adopting a sideways posture (think surfing or skate-boarding). If you then lower your centre of gravity (bend the knees) you can very easily and from a very stable base transfer weight from left to right to rapidly move either forwards or backwards. Turning is then awkward – but it was very fast to move around and fun to surf down the hills on the island and off out across the sea.
There are basically two linked problems I see to using the Alto for movement in general:
1. Falling off it. Some of the people using the Alto lost balance a few times (and were caught/steadied by the Demonstrator). I didn’t have that problem at all – as I lowered my centre of gravity – but that was in a very slow-paced gentle simulation experience. If used in a fast-paced game, especially one where instinctive dodging was required, then it’s pretty much inevitable that users will on occasion trip over the edge of the Alto or just overbalance. Falling over with a VR headset on isn’t fun – even if you have a large enough open space that you just land on the floor.
2. You have 3 (that I can see) means of using the Alto for forward/backward motion. None of them are ideal as a general movement solution. The first method is shuffling to the front and back of the Alto to move forward/backward. The problem with this is that it leads to a disconnect – that the actual forward and backward movement in-game occurs when you AREN’T moving in RL. The second solution is to use forward/backward weight-shift to move forwards and backwards. This is the best solution conceptually but unfortunately shifting weight forwards and backwards leaves you very imbalanced and prone to falling over. The third solution is the one I found worked well – looking sideways then shifting weight left/right to move forwards/backwards. That works well and is very stable but unfortunately makes it very hard to turn without first coming to a halt.
Although I can’t see the Alto as a general solution to movement in VR, I think there are a section of games where it could work very well as a movement controller. I can see myself buying one once they’re available at retail if I haven’t bought a developer kit by then. The biggest problem it faces is one faced by all standing VR games – that if the environment becomes immersive enough it’s easy enough to forget (even briefly) your real surroundings and fall over (Ronnie O’Sullivan in VR pool trying to rest his arm on the table comes to mind). The Alto exacerbates that problem by having you stand on a (slightly) raised platform.
Thanks to Wired Sussex for organising the event. Next one will be in a couple of months’ time when, maybe, there’ll be something from Two Patch Pirates on show.
Email : longjon (at) twopatchpirates.com