Last weekend, Owlchemy Labs and VR Austin hosted an event in conjunction with Valve, HTC, Nvidia, Epic, and Unity, that gave VR developers a chance to created rapidly prototyped VR experiences for the brand new HTC Vive headset that works with Valve’s SteamVR platform to enable a ‘room-scale’ 15×15 foot play space.

While SteamVR and the HTC Vive have been applauded for the 15×15 foot space in which they allow players to move, what happens when developers want to tell stories that need to go beyond the walls physically surrounding the user? That question is still up in the air as developers begin to experiment with the opportunities and restrictions afforded by the new platform. At the Austin Room-scale VR Jam hosted by Owlchemy Labs and VR Austin, several interesting ideas were explored to virtually extend locomotion beyond the room-scale player space. Austin-based VR developer Aaron Lemke fills us in.

aaron-lemkeAaron a musician and the founder of VR indie dev studio Unello Design. Mostly interested in exploring the experiential side of VR, he has created nine experiences so far: Eden River, Lunadroid 237, Waking Man, Fire Breather, Eden River Mobile, Eden River HD, Opera Nova, Nebuland, and Zen Zone. Currently he continues to develop relaxing and meditative experiences for Samsung’s Gear VR, the HTC Vive, and Oculus Rift CV1, as well as exploring medical applications for VR.

The Austin Room Scale VR Jam with the HTC Vive was an incredible experience. I wish my 12 year old self could see what his 24 year old self got to spend the whole weekend doing. ‘Room-scale’ is a new paradigm for VR (seems like every few months or so we get a new one). This was a good opportunity to stretch our minds around what designing for room-scale entails. It was a great learning experience for everyone. Some of the most interesting discoveries related to re-contextualizing the room space to make it feel larger than it actually was.

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For instance the Slice VR team made a game called Colonel Apple Pie Jones where you were in a room with an elevator in the corner. Every once in a while you would have to walk into the elevator and go up a floor. This created the illusion that you were really traveling into different spaces.

Another team built a game based on a jet pack that you could use to fly around a large world. You could land, then get out and walk around wherever you landed, then load up again and go explore someplace else.

htc vive steam vr austin room scale vr jam (4)

My team consisted of Aaron Angert, Matt Scott and myself. We created a 3D maze game called Cyber Snake, akin to a 3D version of Operation. The goal was to create an experience that required the player to walk around the space, taking advantage of the room scale positional tracking, but at the same time required very precise hand movements using the SteamVR/Vive controller.

One of the techniques we explored for ‘expanding the room space was dynamically loading new mazes behind the player once they had solved the previous maze. By constantly morphing the room it created a feeling of being lost in the world and forgetting where you were in physical space. By the end of the experience, you really felt like you’d travelled some distance.

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Some people showed up to the jam with teams already formed. Others joined up during the event. We were able to work on our creations most of the day on Saturday and Sunday, while Sunday evening was reserved for us to all try out each other’s work. There were snacks out the whole time and pizza and beer were provided on Sunday.

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Valve brought three HTC Vive systems for us to test our games on. At first there was a sign-up sheet for testing, but eventually they just let us come up whenever we wanted with our game on a USB key to test it out. It was pretty rad, there were a few people from Valve there to watch over the systems and make sure everything was working, (including the guys who wrote the SteamVR integration for Unity and Unreal, which was great for troubleshooting).

For the most part they stayed out of the way and let us test out whatever we wanted. Since there were three Vives running at once, there was never more than a 5 minute wait to test your game. I was really impressed with home much freedom they gave us, and how easy it was to get a game up and running with SteamVR, controllers and all.

On the final night there was a party where all the demos were opened up to the public to try. There was no judging or winner at the jam; for me the reward was getting to play around with what might be the best consumer VR system in the world.

Photos courtesy Lauren Ellis and VR Austin

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  • soylomass

    Can you upload more videos please?, for those who are not as lucky as you :(

  • brandon9271

    This stuff looks so cool! Every time I see the Vive being used I feel like Oculus is having to play catch-up. I’m sure they have some cool stuff coming down the pipe too but this will be here in NOVEMBER! At 36, this is the most excited I’ve been about a holiday season in decades :)

  • spoofhopper

    Looks awesome, sorry to miss it!

  • horos22

    I don’t know, perhaps it’s just me, but the solution to this is really simple: allow for motions like in-place walking, jogging, crawling or jumping to translate into forward/backwards locomotion in the virtual world.

    Seems relatively straightforward to me – have a toggle mode that allows people to move in place like the above, and switch over to explore mode when they get to a place that requires finer motor control.

    I know this isn’t perfect, but what could be (aside from a one-to-one mapping from real world to vr). Going from enclosed space to enclosed space (through the mechanism of something like an elevator) or being stuck in a seated position is going to get really old, really quickly I think, as is being chained to a glorified hamster wheel.

    We are going to need a whole new realm here where the body is the controller, I think, and the faster people get working on this, the quicker it’ll be towards games that have full immersion.


    • brandon9271

      I think devs are going to have to worry about seated VR, standing in place VR and this type as well.. everyone will have their preference and/or whatever space allow in their homes. Allowing the choice of any combo of physical movement and movement via keyboard/mouse,thumbstick should be a fairly trivial thing. I thought Dk2 already worked this way even for seated VR? Standing or moving within the room shouldn’t matter as long as you don’t physical run into the wall.. and that’s the whole point of this demo. To allow natural movement in a confined space.. However, I have a feeling this type of game play would get out very quickly and start to feel like an ‘on rails’ arcade shooter without much freedom of movement or variety.

      Do the Vive controllers have thumbsticks? using one for lateral movement while stand would be my method of choice given the currently available options.

      • SOMEONE

        they have touchpads