With recent advancements in inside-out tracking on standalone VR headsets, the tantalizing possibility of ‘world-scale’ VR experiences—those unhindered by limited tracking volumes or even physical barriers—is coming into focus. A pair of developers have created a prototype VR game that’s played across an entire football field.
‘Return to Grindelind’, as its called by creators Jeremy Kirshbaum and Alexander Goldman, is a rough prototype of a world-scale VR game that’s designed to fit within a football field. Running on the HTC Vive Focus, a standalone VR headset with inside-out positional tracking, the game has players returning to the pillaged town of their youth, searching for clues as to what happened.
Yes it’s crude, but the graphics and the gameplay aren’t the point; rather than artificial locomotion like teleporting or sliding around the virtual world, in ‘Return to Grindelind’ you physically walk an equal distance in the real world to navigate the virtual town while searching for clues and advancing the narrative.
While the prototype gameplay amounts to little more than walking from A to B and a quick scavenger hunt, it’s a straightforward demonstration of a unique range of experiences now possible on low-cost hardware which previously would have been significantly more expensive (imagine outfitting an area the size of a football field with all the rigging and sensors needed for external tracking).
‘Return to Grindelind’ is the latest experiment from Sixer VR, a VR research and prototyping studio headed by Kirshbaum and Goldman. The project is not about bringing a game to market, the pair notes in their post about the experiment, but about understanding what it would feel like to be in a world-scale VR space.
“[…] we found that the user experience and ‘feel’ of worldscale VR is transformatively different than conventional 6DoF. Walking tetherlessly is more than just a mechanical capability. The ability to see a far off thing and simply go toward it makes the virtual feel all the more real; a castle a half-mile away is actually a half mile away,” they wrote. “When you take off the headset, you almost feel that the virtual environment is still there, albeit invisible. In my experience, worldscale brings VR immersion to a new level.”
But the project was also an avenue for thinking about the practical considerations of such an experience, like how to keep players safe, and whether or not such a large space would even be available to players in the first place.
“Whether other designers and the public feel the benefits outweigh the risk, or if worldscale VR will be relegated to pre-built and designed arenas, remains to be seen,” the pair wrote. “Perhaps new forms of public spaces will emerge. […] However worldscale VR evolves, this conversation—around using VR in public spaces, design responsibilities, and social etiquette—is one we need to start having now, before the epic fail videos start rolling in.”
We’re probably still a long way from purpose-built arenas specifically for world-scale VR usage, but Kirshbaum and Goldman make a good point—it’s worth starting to think about this, not just in the context of VR, but also in AR which could have us seamlessly interacting with both the real world and a virtual world that’s mapped directly to it.