Greetings from delightfully temperate Seattle! At this weekend’s PAX Prime, I had my first experience in the HTC Vive and got to see the brand new Fantastic Contraption demo.

christine-genova-porter-road-to-vrChristine Genova Porter caught the VR bug in late 2014. She’s excited about the new ways of storytelling, learning and empathy that VR enables, and loves to advocate for VRs many merits. She works as a Product Manager for Telestream. You can find Christine on twitter @geaux_girl and LinkedIn.

I was assisted by Kerry Davis of Valve who walked me through a demo loop on the HTC Vive. Since this was my first experience with the Vive, Davis pointed out some of its differences compared to the DK2 (which I’ve got at home). Lighthouse Tracking interacts with an array of sensors on the Vive, and enables free movement around the space you’re in (to about 15 feet square), and even provides a gentle, graphical alert when you approach a wall or barrier, so as not to interfere with your VR experience.

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I put the headset on and Davis launched the demo. Two controllers appeared in front of me (being held by the then-invisible Davis) I reached out and took hold. He gave me the lowdown on their use. In the virtual world I touched a colored wheel which represented the circular trackpad of the real-world controller; a colored balloon of the same shade of my selection inflated from my controller and disengaged. I gently batted it off into the metaverse.

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I was walked through four different demos, theBlu: Encounter, Tilt Brush, Aperture Science Robot Repair, and Fantastic Contraption. The sense of wonder that VR enables, such as being approached by an absolutely life-like, massive humpback whale, as in theBlu, is precisely what has made me a passionate advocate for VR. Put simply, no other medium can to put you this close (sidenote: Chris Milk opines in his inspiring TED Talk how VR is such an effective agent of empathy. If you haven’t already, do download the free VRSE app [Android, iOS] and experience the varied emotions and experiences assembled there).

New to the Vive scene is the Fantastic Contraption experience which is basically a 3D puzzle, that when complete, actually, like… does stuff. Here’s how it works: I am presented with a rough, blueprint-like schematic on the virtual floor at my feet. The schematic provides context and clues about what I’m supposed to build, but ultimately no form. Hovering to my left are a variety of components to be used to fill the empty vessel of the schematic.

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Easy enough. I reached for a component with my controller, guided by the ‘nub’ on each item. Upon making contact, I receive a satisfactory haptic ‘click’ from the controller letting me know the component was now in my grasp. I take the component and add it to the form.

The wheels go on quickly. Next up are the axles, created with Sticks. I grab on the two ends of an axle (the two nubs), and see the length is determined by the distance between my hands. I can easily adjust the size and snap into place. Again, feedback lets me know I’ve made the right connections.

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Eventually in front of me is a crude vehicle with a big yellow button. I engage the yellow button with the controller and lo, my vehicle heaves forward toward the target… but then veers slightly right, misses the target entirely, and falls off into the abyss. I recall my right axle was a bit skewed—and impressively, the performance of my contraption reflects this structural flaw. After two more unsuccessful attempts, it’s unfortunately time to move on.

I will be interested to see how crazy the game can get as players are challenged to create increasingly complex contraptions to move the Orb into ever more difficult target zones.

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  • J Spinale

    has anyone tried remaking “the incredible machine” in VR yet? Rube goldberg style physics puzzles from way back…