Trying the Vive or the Oculus at festivals is cool but you have to wait in line for everything and the lines for the best pieces are usually already closed. It takes about 2 hours to watch 3 things and you know that strangers are most likely snapping you gesture around in the air with a screen strapped onto your face. Cool to try, I’ll take it, but not the best experience.
This week I finally got my hands on an Oculus to use in the privacy of my school (at least here I know the people snapping me) and with a whole day to play. It was my homework for my Worlds on a Wire class to get comfortable using an Oculus, production laptop setup and all, and watch/experience the Oculus story studio Emmy-winning short Henry and their newest piece Dear Angelica. Best homework ever.
I liked them both very much. Henry was very Pixaresque, which makes sense. Apparently a whole team from Pixar transplanted to the Oculus Story Studio. There was no dialogue, only funny noises. It was interesting to see some of the things I’ve been talking about in my classes like sound to direct attention and different modes of interaction in “real life”. When the piece started, Henry is on your left shuffling around in another room. You hear him and turn to him, aware of where he is even though you can’t really see him. A ladybug buzzing around also got you to look behind you. These two sounds really made you explore the whole room even thought the majority of the action happens directly in front of you. Sometimes Henry made eye contact with you and it felt pretty genuine even though it came from a cartoon. This was one of the small interactions of the piece. Eye contact is important in VR, if done correctly it enables presence. I’d seen a VR animation short before, Invasion, by Baobab Studios. Maybe because this is because it was my first but I think I liked it better than Henry, mainly in terms of storyline and characters. It made me laugh more.
Now Dear Angelica, really blew my mind. I hadn’t seen anything like. It was like a story created perfectly with the Tilt Brush. It was longer than anything I’d seen in VR. It was a story about the memories a girl had with her mother, a recently deceased actress. It was magical and dreamlike. Memories were painted all around you in a tangle of different colors. The interaction provided was subtle but so much more effective for me. The visual part of the story, the painted colors, grew faster in the areas that you were looking at. It utilized all 360 space successfully, a hard feat, so watching it in a spinny chair is a must. I’m drawn to the medium of VR because of its dream like feeling. Dear Angelica felt very much like being in someone else’s dream to me. It was beautiful and masterfully done. My only complaint, which could very well be something for all VR pieces or the Oculus in general, is that I couldn’t fast forward or rewind. Maybe there are reasons for this (nausea) and I don’t think it would normally matter but the first time I watched it the tracker lost the headset and after fixing it I wasn’t able to jump back in where I left off. When you pause it you can start where you left but when a problem arose I couldn’t. The piece was long and I was 3/4 of the way through when this happened. But luckily it’s novelty does not wear off and it is so visually beautiful that I didn’t mind watching it all over again.
I did a little extra exploring after finishing my assignment. I ended up in Altspace. It’s kind of like a virtual reality chat room. I’d heard about it on the Voice of VR podcast, which I highly recommend to anyone interested in VR. Altspace was kind of weird. You start out in this room in a forest with all of these other avatars (which are real people) around you. You can do ‘activities’. I watched a Reggie Watts comedy show. There was a whole new social etiquette and considerations. In AltSpace, in the center of ITP’s floor I guess the Oculus microphone picked up all of the sound around me. I couldn’t hear it so I didn’t know which is an interesting note but I assumed that’s what happened when I was muted at the Reggie Watts show….. I could still listen to what everybody was talking about though. People were trying to talk to eachother, some people weren’t responding. A guy went over and talked to a girl because that’s what you’re supposed to do I guess. It was painfully awkward. She was a university researcher and he had a strange accent and I think I overheard him say he was in Saudi.
Back in the room in the forest I went to go and try to listen to a group of guys talking in a circle, a lot of Northern Californians. They kept moving and it took me a second to realize they were avoiding me because of the noise emanating from me, at some point I had become unmuted. I definitely blushed in my headset. It’s so strange when you think about it, feeling embarassed because you haven’t figured out the rules yet by people you don’t know and you can’t actually see but you can hear that are located in different parts of the world simultaneously. I will make it back to Altspace to explore more, but it’s very weird and I’m not sure how I feel about it. Very interesting though, there’s so many more worlds to explore in VR.