Development

VR Developer’s Journal Part 1: Getting into VR

August 21, 2018

This is the first in a new series of Fresh blog posts about Virtual Reality (VR). Eventually we’ll be diving into the more technical aspects of software development for VR; however, this first blog post is more of an introduction, to give you some background and better context to what follows.

It’s important to note – I’m an experienced software developer, but I don’t see myself as a VR expert (yet). Much as possible, the information shared in these blog posts will be factual and I’ll give links/references where it makes sense. The experience and opinions expressed are my own, so please get in touch if you notice something awry or would like to discuss anything further.

The Trouble with Getting a Virtual Reality Headset to Bangkok

On April 5th, 2016, the HTC ‘Vive’ Virtual Reality (VR) headset was launched and enthusiasm for main-stream VR began spreading throughout the world. It was an exciting time of discovery for many people – including myself – and there was no way I was going to miss out on the action! So I decided I would take the plunge and be one of the first to buy a Vive and experience this latest re-imagining of VR for myself.

Working for Fresh, I head up the Asia / Pacific team. We’re located in Bangkok, Thailand. It’s an awesome place to live and work and we have a smart team of friendly, creative people working out of our traditional townhouse office, located in the central business district of Bangkok.

Bangkok cityscape.

Unfortunately, when it comes to new technology and the release thereof, Thailand is sometimes a bit behind the curve. When the HTC Vive launched in the USA it was only shipping to a limited number of countries. Thailand was not on that list.

Fortunately, Fresh’s HQ is in Bellevue, Washington. I have friends in Australia too, so I had options. In the end, I purchased and shipped via my friend in Australia. The plan was simple: HTC would send directly to him and then he would ship to me. Sounds easy enough, right? It was…but what I didn’t plan for was the cost.

At launch, the HTC Vive was priced at roughly $800 USD. With shipping to Australia, the price bumped to $927 USD. Add to that the import tax of sending it to Australia – then shipping from Australia back to Thailand – and another nearly $400 AUD was added. To round things out, I had to pay another final import tax payment for getting it to Thailand.

All said and done, by the time the Vive arrived in Bangkok I’d spent more than double the advertised price! The question is, was it worth it?

First Impressions of Virtual Reality

Looking back through your life so far, are there any pivotal events you remember – defining events that have changed the course of your life’s history?

Speaking for myself I can think of a few, such as:

  • Discovering breakdancing and graffiti in the 80’s
  • My first computer (Sinclair Spectrum)
  • Buying my first car (a 1960’s VW Beetle, for £50 GBP pounds)
  • Starting to surf and skate, back when the Bones Brigade were first ripping it.
  • …and the list goes on.

Getting my first VR headset in 2016 is now on the ‘pivotal events’ list too. Actually, it occupies a pretty big place on said list. For me, it has really changed the course of events over the last two and a half years and is the reason I decided to write a blog series about the experience.

To experience VR you have to try it, sounds stupid right?! It’s really true though, as it’s pretty difficult trying to explain what VR is like to someone that has never tried it. That said, now follows my best, bumbling attempt at explaining what VR is like…

Imagine – you’re playing a 2D game on your computer, console or phone (if you’re not a gamer, try putting on your imagination hat a moment). It could be a game like Minecraft, which most people have probably heard of. Now, imagine that you can physically step into that game-world, completely immersing yourself in the experience.

You’re no longer looking at the game on a screen – you are actually inside it! Surprisingly the human mind and body are quite easily tricked into believing a different reality is actually real, as once you put on a VR headset and spend a few minutes moving around in VR, it really starts to feel like you are there, discovering new worlds.

The feeling of presence in VR can be very real. That is to say, if you are standing on the edge of a building staring down into the abyss, it can really feel like you are there, and that can be both exhilarating and terrifying at the same time! If you’ve ever watched a scary movie – or played a scary game in real life – you may be familiar with that ‘fear’ feeling; like there are butterflies in your stomach.

Well in VR, try multiplying that feeling exponentially. Trust me, the first time a zombie or monster attacks you in VR, it can feel very real! Of course not all VR experiences are scary and you can pick and choose what you experience; however, you should understand that going into VR is quite different, as you really ‘feel’ the experience and should be prepared.

Interested in learning more? In the next section, I’ll dive further into content – and how you can create your own.

…to be continued.

Will Lingard

Software Development Director

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