Brighton Digital Festival: Fiona's Virtual Reality Experience

20th September, 2016

Thumbnail image  125366 vrlab

Following on from the CDIT Open Studio events I attended at the beginning of the month, last Sunday I was lucky enough to get a ticket to the vrLAB event hosted by The Old Market (TOM) theatre in Hove, presented in partnership with leading VR developers Make[Real].

The Old Market have whole heartedly embraced digital technology. To quote TOM’s Development Manager, ‘It’s about time these two worlds [theatre and technology] shared best practice and explored what they can learn from one another. VR is a great opportunity for creatives from all backgrounds to tell ever more compelling stories.’ TOM have hosted several other Brighton Digital Festival events this year including a Story Hack and a 24-hour Hackathon.

The vrLAB showcased over 15 VR experiences, including games, theatrical performances and films.

In the Main House they had the sci-fi racing sim Radial-G connected to a big screen, with several headsets and smaller screens, which allowed both players and bystanders to enjoy the game. Other VR experiences were set up around the edge of the room and Google Cardboard headsets were available, enabling ticket holders to experience VR using their mobile phones.

One of the games I had a go on was ‘Gold Thief’, which is set in an underground vault, players use the Oculus Touch controllers to take hold of gold bullion and place it into a tray, the more gold you collected the higher your score. However, throughout the mini-game a robot patrols the area: if you’re seen by said robot, it’s game over. Players avoid being seen by distracting the patrol robot by throwing gold bars or by ducking behind the stacks of gold bullion. It was an enjoyable game, which perfectly illustrates how the Oculus Touch controllers can be employed to create immersive game play. Amazingly, this game was created in just 24 hours as part of the 24-hour Hackathon.

As well as playing these games it was fun to watch other players wandering around, fully immersed in the game play, and the game’s team members having to stop them wandering too far or having to guard their tech from the flailing limbs of the gamers!

(The Gold Thief image is taken from here. The pic of the guy modelling the headset and controllers is taken from here

There were also 360° cinematic experiences, such as ‘In the Eyes of the Animal’ which immerses viewers in a vibrant world belonging to woodland creatures (view the trailer here). I experienced the emotive VR film called ‘Ctrl’ produced by Breaking Forth. VR Women described the film as ‘Hunger Games meets Black Mirror meets Tron’. The film is set in a futuristic game of chess and details the abusive relationship between the main character’s mother and her partner by merging the physical and mental abuse he and his mother suffer with the digital chess matches. The use of the VR makes the viewer feel part of the action and heightens the emotional reaction to the film (view the trailer here).

The event took over the whole of the venue and ticket holders queued up to experience the VR set ups which had been arranged in the basement rooms. Descending the staircase to the dimly lit basement felt like I was entering some weird underground club for VR addicts, akin to something out of the Matrix. When in actual fact it was a load of VR enthusiasts, like myself, who were eagerly waiting to try out the latest tech. I got to try out a range of VR headsets, such as the HTC Vive and the Samsung Gear VR Lite as well as the as-yet unreleased Oculus Touch controllers.

The VR experiences in the basement included a stomach churning VR rollercoaster and a virtual experience of solitary confinement, called 6x9, amongst many others. Sadly, I didn’t get a chance to experience them all.

My favourite VR experience was Tilt Brush. Tilt Brush enables users to paint in virtual reality. It was amazing to see 3D brush strokes appear before my eyes. I would have loved to have had more time on it but I was conscious of other people wanting to use it. There’s a range of brushes to choose from; stars, light and even fire. Tilt Brush enables fashion designers and architects to mock up their designs in an infinite digital environment, saving them space and the materials they would have used to create a mock up.

(Montage nabbed from @MakeReal3D’s twitter)

Overall the event was well organsied and they managed the visitors well, which was difficult to do as so many people wanted to experience this new technology but TOM had only released a certain amount of tickets to allow ticket holders time to use the equipment. I just wish I could have experienced every single one of the different experiences. Plus, they enabled game players and ticket holders to enjoy the game play by having screens hooked up to most of the games, showing what the game player was seeing.

TOM is a great, independent venue, hosting all kind of high quality events and shows. Check out their website for their upcoming event listings. It’s also worth checking out the other Brighton Digital events, listings can be found here.


Words by Fiona 

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