Brighton’s Virtual Reality scene – part 1

Virtual Reality has a growth curve pointing straight towards future consumer adoption. The most interesting developments are still happening on the periphery, and the VR scene is having its moment in Brighton.

I was lucky enough to be one of the first to experience the VRLab at The Old Market, launched as part of the #Tomtech events during the Brighton Digital Festival. A collision of VR art, immersive technology, theatre, gaming, and commercial application, with each headset-wearing experience bringing something unexpected.

The large seating area in the centre of the room was conspicuously empty, while the centrepiece was being beamed up on a giant screen with a row of headset wearing players battlling against gravity in the futuristic simulation Radial-G. This VR game is an immense anti-gravity racing game that literally turns your stomach as you race along the outer edge of tubular tracks in a futuristic cockpit through a world filled with light, techno colour schemes, speed booster and various weapons.

Gameplay footage from Radial G

Elsewhere, putting on an HTC vive, I was transported into a theatre and the middle of a Cirque De Soleil perfomance ‘Zarkana’. It was slightly erie to look at a space to know was empty in the venue and find a beautifully made up powder-white clown at just under arms length away, I wanted to reach out and touch her.

Then came the immersive art piece Through the Eyes of an Animal. Entering through a door into a physical forest set you don a cleverly customised headset, a vibrating jacket, and enter a 360 degree magical world where you see the forest in a way previously unimaginable. The creators Marshmallow Laser Feast have thrown just about every cutting edge digital input form at it imaginable – photogrammetry, the art of using dense sets of photos to create 3D data, Lidar, which uses relected light to create 3D data – best known from the House of Cards video from Radiohead, and aerial 360 degree cameras.

Teaser from Through the Eyes of an Animal

The visuals are custom processed to make an altogether otherworldly experience, then they add a binaural soundtrack wherby sound is recorded using two microphones to give you a sense of position and hear the sound move around you, with VR the sound heightens the sense of immersion immensely. The work was commissioned by the Forestry Commission and the Arts Council, and is a brilliant example of how forward thinking organisations can embrace the technology to create something truly memorable and otherworldly while relating it back to an enhanced key message.

There were other experiences utilisting the VR platform including a virtual storybook, Titlbrush – an opportunity to draw in virtual 3D space, and a great Western style shoot ’em up for the modern age. This VR experience carried the added bonus of a chance to literally get your hands on a new Oculus haptic device – the Oculus Touch. Inside the shoot ’em up, and the other VR experiences, the world around you disappears. While your brain attempts to flip flop between the real and the virtual space while gunning down old West targets, and getting to grips with a series of deft hand gestures to reload your weapon. Lost halfway between real and virtual space half your brain is busy chanelling your inner Billy the Kid while the other half is idly wondering if you are about to flip your gun chamber closed after reloading only to accidentally hit an unwitting spectator.

READ: Brighton’s Virtual Reality Scene – part 2

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