Last month I shared some VR experiences that personally gave me a range of interesting emotions as part of this crazy lockdown time we have all been living through in 2020. This time are a couple of completely contrasting ones, both regarded as entertainment but might show the depth of what can be achieved with a bit of thorough and great productions values that could augment our reduced physical interaction over the coming months, or whatever unit of time seems to work when referring to the future of work and play. Also don’t forget to check out the COVID-19 articles looking at enterprise and society that are publicly published here by 451 Research, part of S&P Global Market intelligence.

Lost Horizon – Party in the pixels

At the start of July a little bit of Glastonbury hit the virtual world of Sansar with two days of a multi stage music festival hosted on that platform. Sansar was originally developed by Linden Labs, who whilst still running Second Life started to create a more VR centric virtual environment in 2017. Sansar was sold by Linden Lab to a company called Wookie Ventures in March this year. The environment exists all the time, with numerous interesting spaces and events held, as with many virtual worlds. However Lost Horizon was a major undertaking by the creators of the Shangri-La experiences at the physical Glastonbury festival. This meant a huge line up of acts were ready to come and perform in Sansar over 2×12 hour sessions across 4 different stages.

The organizers cited over 70 DJ’s and bands lined up for the event. The event was geared up to also raise money through donations to The Big Issue and Amnesty. It was free to attend, but there were options to get some extra rare virtual clothing and other merch with a VIP ticket, money going to the charities. Live music in virtual worlds is by no means a new thing but Sansar had an interesting twist to offer. Whilst people attended as avatars in a virtual environment (or watched a live stream) the bands and DJ’s were green screened into the environment so we could see them performing, playing instruments, dancing and interacting with the crowd as themselves.

Whilst it was possible to just use a 2d screen to attend I went full on with multiple bits of kit. Firstly there is the VR headset and hand controllers, secondly a pair of noise cancelling headphones with in ear and over ear mechanism that also adjusts to individual hearing patterns and range. I bought the Nuraphone’s a while back and they are very immersive for normal music. Finally I had my kickstarted Woojer vest, a laptop bag sized backpack (though flat at the back, with sets of speakers in that produce haptic feedback across the body based on processing music and sound from applications. It’s a lot of kit, and feels like suiting up for a military operation. I logged into Sansar and teleported to one of the main stage areas. I was instantly hit, in more ways than one, with fantastic sights and sounds driving beast of EDM and a fellow crowd of experienced crazy avatars and lots of people new to the whole thing. Across the stages there were lots of styles of music including more garage, rock and punk bands.

Whilst in the space attendees can trigger dance animations for their avatars, many free and some that can be bought in the virtual store. This is common in virtual environments, some people just pick an animation and leave it running, but the more engaged you are the more you swap between animations, in time with the music and the vibe. Normally I spend an hour or so in VR playing or doing something. This was so engaging I did 3 hours, ate dinner, went back for another 4 hours and popped back the next days for another 6 hours straight, all locked in my woojer, VR and headphones. It was really quite an exciting event, and I have been in VR for many years. I got my son to pop in on his machine, he was not in VR, and we danced away to FatBoy Slim’s gig. He is the shark avatar in the picture below, I am rocking a guitar. You can see FatBoy Slim in the background.

Hand me the spanner

The other really engaging and interesting time I had was buying an early access game on called Wrench. In this game you arrive in a mechanics garage and in front of you is a very smart sports car. In VR you can see your hands and look around with your head. Movement is either physically moving or stand in place and glide or teleport around. The tutorial has you open a large flat cardboard box, you reach and grab the lid and pull it away, physically. Inside are parts for a large workbench. Following the Ikea like instructions on box you pick up pieces, using your actual hands on the controllers to grip and lift, assembling the parts. Finally you take individual bolts and alight then with holes, reach into you virtual tool belt and grab the right size spanner. The spanner has to be placed on the nuts and rotated accordingly to fix the parts in place. It is very intricate, bit too fiddly as there is a degree of parts snapping into place when they are close enough, but it felt really satisfying. Next I was asked to do some routine work on the car, change the oil and change the tyres. It was then I realized how detailed this whole “game” was.

Every part of the car’s brakes and engine are represented and can be pulled apart and put back together again with the right tools. These basic operations are part of levelling up to more complex pieces of work on the car. I am not a mechanic, but back in the 70’s changing your own oil and plugs or putting a spare tyre on a puncture was something that was quite normal. I jacked the car up walked underneath, found the right bowl to place on the floor, undid the sump bolt and oil flowed out into the bowl. I put the bolt back in, turned it too tightly and it broke! A new part arrived in a cardboard box, I carefully put the new bolt in. The car was then jacked back down, I manually flipped two bonnet catches and lifted that off. Next was to twist off the oil cap, find the new oil in the shop, get a funnel and pour the oil in. I kept pouring, thinking this is game it will timeout when its full. It didn’t. I stopped and found the dipstick, pulled it out and it showed it was overly full. So… jack, drain a little and back to the dipstick. Now not enough oil but a quick top up and check and all was well.

I was really surprised at how accurate this was, even the putting too much oil in, been there done that (as a 10 year old). I then went off piste and started randomly pulling bits of the engine apart. There is of course no direct consequence to this but as a learning experience it was really intriguing and fun.

Conclusion – Merging worlds is the key

If you take anything away from this it hopefully is that virtual does not mean locked away all the time. It is not all locked away from a physical reality but a significant part of that reality. The gigs were real music, performed by real people, not on the TV or radio but on a virtual stage. The people gathered were real fans I even bumped into a few old friends at the gig. A game designed with intricate mechanical detail allows training on key elements of car maintenance, possibly acting as a historical record of what car owners used to have to do, or get people interesting in mechanical engineering in the first place.