Hopefully we’re beyond underwater rollercoaster zombies now
Virtual reality has started to mature, with a new generation of hardware due to be released this year from the major vendors. Better resolution, field of view and tracking will improve the user experience – increasing comfort, and providing a greater sense of immersion than before. While important, these cumulative improvements to the tech are only part of the story; the real magic is happening on the content creation side and a great deal of work is being done to understand the language of VR and how to build better, more powerful and immersive content.
For many people their first experience of VR will probably involve an underwater dive or a trip into space, while those of a stronger disposition might attempt a rollercoaster ride or zombie hunt. Such experiences and demos are a familiar staple in the growing pool of consumer VR content and generally provide some kind of other-worldly experience, placing the user somewhere completely removed from reality.
Creating a meaningful user experience lies at the heart of VR production and for architecture this can become a powerful tool for communication and engagement, at every stage of the process. Some accessible VR tools have arrived in recent years from the likes of Twinmotion, Enscape, and Worldviz, giving anyone with a headset the ability to view Revit or CAD content. Such use of VR as a viewing medium can be a very useful internal design tool but to really engage people the user experience must be carefully designed, and paired with physically accurate lighting and materiality.
Last year was an exciting one for VR as the content has diversified and we have all learnt more about the medium. At A-VR we have produced VR simulations of entire buildings complete with exterior landscaping and internal spaces, to be navigated interactively. We have also produced seductive choreographed tours of these spaces that, although an analogue to conventional film, are a far more powerful and engaging. With a VR film you experience the world through the primary senses. With an animation you watch the screen. One of our recent projects, an aparthotel made from shipping containers, used a novel approach to the VR tour by providing users with 1:1 mapped VR version of the final fit-out, rendered as an overlay in the empty shipping container. In this way people could visit the physical container, don a wireless headset, and explore the space unhindered, exactly as you would in a show flat but as an entirely virtual experience.
The value of re-purposing the VR experience for different audiences is a key feature and advantage of the medium, and the shipping container proved this conclusively. Bit by bit we are seeing a gradual refinement of content that is more targeted and less about the initial wow factor, which for many has already been experienced; hopefully we’re beyond the underwater rollercoaster zombies now. 2018 should be an interesting year for VR as the industry continues to mature and the content gets richer and more compelling, while benefiting from improved hardware across the board.
Felix Dodd is founder director of A-VR London