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Interactive VR experiences

Amaze: Redway manor

Amaze viewer app: https://www.oculus.com/experiences/go/1230799313655858/

A lot of the initial content with the amaze app seems to consist consists of dancers, pole dancers, and other young ladies demonstrating yoga and similar, along with some more vlogger style unusual experiences. Redway Manor however is more sophisticated.

The user experience is Point of View. Sometimes you are seeing through the eyes of the protagonist, other times you are fly on the wall. After each scene is acted, you are presented with interactive choices of who to speak to next, allowing for different routes through this story. The visual and sound quality is all good with hints of AR mixed into this VR world (as in the screen shot above). In some scenes, the actors not directly involved in the immediate action do have a challenge to behave naturally.

View a trailer over on YouTube: REDWAY MANOR | Official VR Trailer (AmazeVR)

Tomb raider

https://www.oculus.com/experiences/gear-vr/1759965414055326/

While the gameplay is linear, there are interactions required, and it is possible to fail. You are being chased, and take to take too long navigating or solving the puzzles and the Trinity soldiers will shoot at you. The laser pointer is replaced as the game progresses with a torch, climbing grapple or bow and arrow. Simple fun.

Dead and buried

https://www.oculus.com/experiences/go/1490394380970763/

Beautifully crafted, cartoonish 3D rendered stereoscopic western town. A haunted one. Your job is to survive the attacking ghouls by shooting them with your 6-shooter before they overwhelm you, or their snipers get you. Lots of interaction and I feel RSI coming on with the number of reloads I need to perform. This is the first VR to get my blood pressure up as the pressure to be accurate and reload in a short time builds.

The multiplayer choice puts you in a tournament of quick-draw duels with live opposition. I was justly taunted by some youth speaking another language as I lost abysmally. I need to be more accurate and faster on the draw and reload. It is incredibly satisfying to beat the other guy. Since your oculus name is displayed here, and the others are strangers, I really wish I had set a non-identifying username.

Linear VR experiences

These early experiences with my head in an Oculus Go have left me wanting more.  All of these are linear. That is, they are not interactive other than the ability to look around. They are all good introductions to 360° experiences. But leave you after a while wanting or needing more. There will be creative pressure on producers to come up with something different or have compelling story, as binocular 3D and 360° look around alone only hold gimmick value for a short time. After which there needs to be enough motivation to bother sticking your head in a VR headset.

The Missed Spaceflight

https://www.oculus.com/experiences/gear-vr/1231174300328686/

I hadn’t set up parental controls on the device, and so was careful to set up the start of the experience before handing over the headset. In my opinion, the easiest VR experience to share for any family, young and old. That’s a coverage from 10 through to 75 years and in each case it was their first experience with Oculus Go, and a very positive one.

I did find that the text titles at the start are placed too close to the viewpoint, making them unreadable. A few seconds later they are gone and the experience commences with superbly detailed rendering, audio and movement.  A very nice, smooth, impressive introductory 360° VR experience.

Face your fears – Stranger Things

https://www.oculus.com/experiences/gear-vr/1168200286607832/

A very nice example of a 360° rendered experience. There is no interaction, but the scenes are instantly recognisable to fans of the programme and coupled with the sound scaping there are plenty of jump scares. A certain member of my family who is a fan of Stranger Things didn’t sit through the whole of the experience for it being ‘too scary’.

Lego batman

https://samsungvr.com/view/sDrBlQe0peI

SamsungVR is one of the many media player apps designed to deliver 360° VR video. The Lego batman is a neat, entertaining and humorous experience with some excellent attention to detail.

Blade Runner 2049: Replicant Pursuit

https://www.oculus.com/experiences/go/1558723417494666/

Another very cool, short, simple 360° linear experience. There is initial interaction, to set the sound level, and decide on subtitles on or off. Subtitles are rendered when needed on a panel that follows head movement. Unusually the interaction is made not by the laser pointer, but by looking at the button to press and pressing the Go’s track pad. The 3D rendered environment is very clearly computer generated but the movement is super smooth, purposeful and not rushed. The rain is a nice touch. The sound scape brings you in, I found myself returning to watch the film again after this experience.

Summing up

I enjoyed this initial dip into VR and appreciate the huge amount of work that has gone into these to get the attention to detail and feel of the experiences right for each franchise. I’d happily consume more of the same. They do leave me craving more interaction. In fact, while these are all free to view, I would want something more when it comes to paid content. Technically I am assuming the main content of each are pre-rendered  with elements such as the subtitles in the blade runner example laid over the running video. I am looking forward to playing with the tools used to create some aspects of these and delving into the production processes.

Oculus Go – my first use

VR momentum is building and Facebook’s recent release and current heavy marketing of Oculus Go could and should succeed in bringing VR to a far wider audience. This is a relatively inexpensive self contained unit, requiring a mobile for initial setup then only wifi access to the internet. There is no dependence on external hardware such as a PS4, XBox, High power PC or wrapping a more expensive smartphone with cardboard and lenses. I was expecting some rough edges but the overall experience is pretty impressive.\

OculusGo boxed

Unboxing and first view

It is very neatly packaged and simple to set up. Strapping on the headset, I was impressed at how responsive the view is. There is no noticeable lag from head movement. Some visible banding did make it feel like sitting close to an old CRT, so it is possible to be distracted into viewing the pixels. Glancing around, rather than moving one’s head, results in a blur and a colour shift. Pointing your head at anything you want to look at brings it into focus, but that movement takes a little getting used to.

As someone who needs reading spectacles, this may be a complicating factor in the visual artefacts I described. I have the supplied spacer in place.

The controller (akin to a laser pointer) is impressive. This little AA powered grip, with trigger, touch surface, back button and oculus button is remarkably easy to use. It can be seen in-VR and calibration is quick and simple. – Just point forward, look forward and hold the Oculus button to centre the VR world in front of you.

 

First application installed – Netflix

OculusGo Netflix screen shot

The rendered lounge gave really good first impression of VR.  I felt myself reach for the remote and wondered why i couldn’t see my hand. It was painless to set up and connect to my Netflix account. The lounge is neat, and with lighting that dims as you interact with the TV.

But that’s it. I’m not sure of why I would use this to view standard 2d programming. The visual resolution is too low – far less than my conventional TV. Even away from home, I’d find conventional displays such as my laptop or mobile phone offer a far better and more controllable visual quality.

There are a number of UX issues with the app. One such is the swipe action of the controller being inverted from the normal when vertically scrolling through program thumbnails.

Second impression – Samsung VR and behind the scenes of Mission Impossible: Fallout

The first problem with the Samsung VR app is that it requires the user agree to an extremely long set of  terms and conditions. I wasn’t aware of  the swipe gesture on the controller at this stage, and it was impossible to advance through the text using the laser pointer and trigger. Even had i managed the swipe, from a UX point of view, this kind of document is next to impossible to consume in a VR environment such as this. It is necessary to agree to the terms and conditions to proceed.

Following, more red-tape. Permission requests to access to the Mic to record audio and to access  my library of content. I was only expecting to view a video, so I couldn’t understand why the application would be requesting those permissions. No context or explanation is given. They turn out to be optional. But only be hitting ‘deny’ do you find that out – i.e. the application continues to run. There is no obvious indication of what functionality may be lost by denying the app these permissions. So, in my mind there it is clear that UX is in the early stages of research for VR applications.

Once past all of these barriers, the view recorded by stereoscopic cameras anchored to hard points on helicopters recording Tom’s own stunt sequence present an excellent and exciting view. On my first viewing, my internet connection was particularly slow and the resulting compression artefacts detracted from the experience. Any distortion or ghosting around object edges seems far more prominent within a VR environment. The simple trick for crisp clear quality is to download and play back from local storage whenever possible – or subscribe to faster network access.

To be continued…

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