When Alex Schwartz told people he could juggle in VR with the HTC Vive and SteamVR controllers, they didn’t believe him. But now he has video proof: not only can he juggle quite effectively with the system, he thinks that it would be an excellent way to teach the skill to beginners.
Alex Schwartz, Chief Scientist at Owlchemy Labs told me that juggling is something he uses to zone out and clear his head. Having juggled now for 18 years, he must be able to achieve a zen-like state.
“Sometimes when my code is compiling I’ll grab my juggling equipment and use that as a little timewaster,” he told me. And now he can do it in VR. Although Owlchemy’s in-development Vive game, Job Simulator, wasn’t created specifically for juggling, Schwartz demonstrates his proficiency even despite the system’s restrictive cables. In the video above you can see the virtual action happening on the small monitor to the left.
“The controllers are so accurate and low latency that you can represent your physical dexterity in VR one-to-one.” Schwartz said. “So if I was able to throw a ping pong ball from 10 feet away into a small cup in real life, I could map that one-to-one in VR, as long as you have your physics engine correct.”
Not only can Schwartz juggle in VR, he thinks that it might be the very best place to teach and learn the ability. He recalls a time from his childhood; his elementary school actually had juggling as part of the curriculum.
“…they used to teach kids to juggle in gym, but they used scarves so they fell very slowly so that you can understand the pattern. You could actually kind of drag them through the air in a slow motion pattern and not have to deal with the weight and speed that gravity implies,” he said. “Juggling in VR is a great stopgap to learning juggling in real life because it’s really hard to slow down gravity in an elementary school gym, but in VR it’s trivial.”
In fact, a Juggling Simulator game (I’m starting to notice a trend here) has been on Schwartz’s mind. He thinks that the fidelity of the SteamVR controllers is so good that juggling skills learned in VR would easily translate to real life—and let’s not forget that physics are under our control in the virtual realm, making it easy to slow things down for beginners.
“I have this theory that humans like to predict the trajectory of parabolas, as proven by the success of Angry Birds, which is really just about matching the ideal trajectory,” Schwartz told me. “That’s all juggling is—when it comes to down to each throw, you’re trying to match the exact height, width, and depth of a throw. When you describe it, it sounds really complicated… but if you just show a dotted line in VR, it would be simple to understand.”
Schwartz has even thought about ways to curtail some common beginner’s mistakes, like not throwing quite perpendicular to the ground, causing novices to walk forward to make the catch. “You could actually train in VR for people to throw closer to their body by changing the simulation and trying to get them to compensate,” he said.
It’s clear Schwartz has thought a lot about making a juggling game, but whether or not he’ll embark on that quest is still up in the air. “The problem is that when you use the Vive and come out of it… I now have 20 or 30 games I want to make… it’s almost choice paralysis.”
The time for Juggling Simulator may be approaching however; the HTC Vive Developer Edition that’s soon to be in the hands of devs will come with wireless controllers, making it even easier to juggle. If Schwartz does end up working on such a title, I think the marketing path is clear: demonstrate the efficacy of the game by using it to learn flaming chainsaw juggling, then do it in real life for the first time in front of a live audience!
Lead photo courtesy Lauren Ellis