How would it feel if...? A mind-blowing virtual reality experience
By Stephanie Naudo
Have you ever dreamed about how it would feel to step on the moon? I never imagined what it would be like. But this afternoon, I landed there. How did it feel? Pretty cool. Looking at our planet Earth from up there was such a mind-blowing feeling. Because of the weightlessness, each gesture was extremely slow, and my surroundings were deeply still and quiet.
Maybe you’ve guessed correctly that today I had my first experience with virtual reality (VR), and it was incredibly fun. For a few hours, thanks to Magicbox, I attended a virtual reality session at the Virtual Room. I was first a knight in a European medieval castle before becoming an astronaut. My ride? A shiny yellow and silver spacecraft.
The Virtual Room is located down in Basement 3 of Lucky Chinatown. With the common rooms decorated in a black color scheme, I really felt I was entering the underworld of video games. Upon my arrival at the registration desk, I was greeted with a big smile by Rebecca. Her eyes were twinkling, indicating that I would have a fantastic and memorable time. Her excitement was contagious. I didn’t know what to expect prior to coming, but now I was getting impatient and excited.
So what is virtual reality? It is a simulated experience that immerses you in either an extremely realistic or extraordinary fantasy world. The concept was invented as early as 1968 by Ivan Sutherland, an American computer scientist and computer graphics pioneer. However, the term “virtual reality” was only coined in 1987 by Jaron Lanier. He was the founder of the visual programming company VPL Research, the first company to sell virtual reality gear. The ’90s saw virtual reality creeping from only specialized public spaces out into private residences. Since the turn of the twenty-first century, we have seen the rapid expansion of virtual reality evolving along with affordable technology, especially smartphones.
Grappling with the technical aspects of Virtual Reality
As this was my first experience with virtual reality, I was not initially at ease with the technical equipment. The headset felt heavy and the controllers awkward to manipulate. However, Rebecca was around to walk me through everything. She placed the headset in the correct position and explained how to press the triggers on the controllers to open and close my virtual fingers. Once I got that right, the game started. Oh my! The medieval scenery blew my mind! The equipment didn’t matter anymore; I was immersed in a Middle-Age dungeon. Right away I was stunned by all the details that made the décor and experience unique: the brown stoned walls; the two iron-bound chests; the ceiling candelabra; the chains, ropes, and pulleys; and the wall torches flickering.
Virtual Room has successfully created stunning graphics and incredible make-believe ambiance. They work with a team of fifteen (sometimes even more for specific projects!) talented European graphic designers, concept artists, game designers, art director, and game developers. Together they master 3D engines and closely collaborate at Virtual Room’s own studio in Paris. The in-house Creative Team aims to launch one new game per year.
Teamwork at its best!
Back to the medieval castle, my first mission was to retrieve three objects from a wooden hanging cage. My first moment of excitement started right at the beginning of the game. I couldn’t figure out how and where to insert a lever into a slot (this is the game’s first step). At this moment, anxiety kicked in.
But if one player gets stuck, other players need to help each other to successfully figure out the problem and find a solution to progress in the game. “Place the stick as close to the biggest wheel as possible,” Rebecca shouted in my headset. “It should be able to find its way!” Yes, I got it! The lever did find its way with a clunk. Whew!
To get the wooden barrels down (this is the game’s second step), players have to pull the lever and activate the wooden gears mechanism at the same time. Once this is done, each player grabs a crossbow with some arrows to shoot at the two wooden barrels on the other side of the dungeon, about ten meters away. After a few tries, I successfully busted the two barrels. The wooden hanging cage came down, and I was able to get the three objects out, which by this point I saw as trophies. As Henry Ford said, “Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is success.”
After that, I moved on to the next TimeTravel game: let’s go to the moon!
The WOW effect
The next scene was truly breathtaking. Wow—it was the moon. I could have stayed there forever because of the view over Earth—first the United States, then Europe—that was slowly rotating on its own axis. The ambience was so peaceful, and, well, I had fun throwing rocks!
Although I had had some difficulties during the medieval experience with the lever and when shooting at the barrels, throwing rocks was a breeze. My tip is to throw the rock gently and a bit higher than you normally would. During that part, my friend Sarah joined me. We threw the rocks back and forth and had a fantastic time! Sarah took quite a few tries to throw the rocks, her competitive streak came out and she started trying to distract me with (terrible) moonwalking. It worked a treat and boy did we laugh! She got it finally though and we ended on a high of success and giggles.
Right before leaving, Rebecca mentioned the Virtual Room has a new TimeTravel game called Are We Dead? that just came in. You have to beat up zombies to save your lives. Yes, bring it on! For sure, that sounds like something my team would love to do.