webxr-trevor-flowers

In the final interview of this VR for Good series, I’m featuring the WebXR Device API and how this represents a new open standard that allows for the easy creation and distribution of immersive content.

I had a chance to sit down with one of the members of the Immersive Web Community Group Trevor Flowers to talk about his involvement in helping to shepherd the open standards process with the likes of Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook, and Apple.

Flowers compared the shift from dynamic 2D web pages to either fully immersive world’s or a portal into a virtual world as being as big of not bigger than the shift from print layout to cross-platform, cross-device, cross-form factor, fully-reponsive and reactive design. It’s taken 20-30 years to evolve and formalize the design frameworks to move from static print to dynamic and context-dependent. Now to add in a lot of new display types, control types, and input types has a combinatorial explosion of design decisions that need to be made. Based upon the TODOMVP Rosetta Stone of implement different app frameworks, Flowers estimated that the existing design frameworks can help reduce the number of decisions to be made to be at around 200. But for an equivalent spatialized version of the app, it explodes out to around 3000 decisions. Flowers estimates that it will take another 20-30 years for the design patterns to normalize to he point where we start to get bored with the options.

Flowers also has a background in networking, and had some super insightful comments about how WebAssembly may help to catalyze edge-device protocols for rendering and delivering content on local mesh networks. It’s still very early days, but he expects that there will be a lot of compelling WebXr use cases for WebAssembly.

Finally, we covered some of Flowers’ projects with his art, design, prototype engineering, and product consultation company Transmutable where he’s creating a digital production studio in WebXR for independent content creators. We also bit about his “Wider Web” responsive design framework called PotassiumES, and some of the projects he wants to see to help ensure a lot more trust and privacy verification services for XR devices.

It’s certainly an exciting time for the open web, and there are so many new design problems that are being opened up by the spatial web that will require expertise beyond existing web development & design teams. Flowers says that future spatial web teams will likely have expertise from 3D modeling, environmental design, lighting, theater, architecture, industrial design, and beyond.

LISTEN TO THIS EPISODE OF THE VOICES OF VR PODCAST

This is a listener-supported podcast through the Voices of VR Patreon.

Music: Fatality

rec-room

Rec Room is one of the most successful social VR platforms, and they’re also on the most platforms including PC VR, Quest, PSVR, PC 2D, PS4 2D, and most recently iOS phones and tablets. There aren’t a lot of other casual social mobile app experiences that offer voice chat, and they saw a lot of grow in 2019 with a lot more than a million downloads (which was reported at the end of 2018).

I ran into Rec Room‘s head of community Shawn Whiting at the Impact Reality Summit, and we talked about his journey to Rec Room, and all of the world building tools that they’ve enabled. There is a lot of user generated content in Rec Room, and the majority of room visits are now coming from user-created rooms.

Whiting talks about the visual scripting language and world building tools that has Rec Room users collaborating on dev teams, and creating rooms that are sometimes getting millions of visits.

Whiting didn’t provide any specific numbers on the number of total users, monthly active users, daily active users, or retention time. But he did give me a sneak peak of some of the all-time stats for Rec Room (i.e. these are not just from 2019)

  • 1.6 million rooms (this excludes everyone’s default dorm room)
  • 200 million room visits
  • 22 million friends made
  • 30 million photos taken in game using our virtual camera

After our interview, Whiting also said that it’s possible to record embodied, volumetric performances that can be overlaid with multiple characters to make it possible for users to record and share their stories.

I left this conversation really impressed with everything that’s happening within Rec Room. It feels the early days of a fleshed out Metaverse, although currently a walled garden version as they focus on creating an embodied experience that’s uniform across so many diverse platforms.

Whiting says that there is a whole generation of digital-native content creators ranging from experiences like Minecraft, Roblox, Dreams, Little Big Planet, & Fortnite. He said that their users are very quick at picking up these building interfaces, and they’re able to create experiences with their tools that are on par with what their devs are creating with a professional 3D modeling pipeline and Unity. There are over a million rooms that have been created, and the Rec Room YouTube channel has been featuring The highlights.

Finally, Whiting forgot to mention and wanted me to pass along that Rec Room Inc is currently hiring for a number of positions in the Seattle area.

LISTEN TO THIS EPISODE OF THE VOICES OF VR PODCAST

This is a listener-supported podcast through the Voices of VR Patreon.

Music: Fatality

kaixr

Kai Frazier is a history teacher who decided to make a complete pivot into creating accessible and diverse educational content and kits for education. She curates 360 videos and produces content aimed for underrepresented minorities to be able to give them an experience of what’s possiible for their career trajectory.

Originally launched as “Curated by Kai”, but recently rebranded as Kai XR, Kai is using her direct experiences of the pains of being an underfunded and underappreciated public school teacher, and is creating a set of tools, materials, and experiences to help bootstrap an immersive education revolution.

She’s certainty someone to watch who is taking a different approach than most, but in a way that is really connected to the needs and desires of her target demographic.

LISTEN TO THIS EPISODE OF THE VOICES OF VR PODCAST

This is a listener-supported podcast through the Voices of VR Patreon.

Music: Fatality

queerskins

Queerskins VR is an embodied story that explores the range of experiences from love to loss, and the shame, regret, and fears around sexual identity. It’s got a magical realism aesthetic that transports you back to the 80s AIDS crisis as two devout Catholic parents drive to the grave of their gay son. You can hear their conversations as you rifle through a box of diary entries and objects that represent a lifetime of memories. It uses a wide range of volumetric capture approaches from Depthkit to photogrammetry,and stylized 360 video that results in an extremely compelling and transportative experience.

I talked with Queerskins writer and director Illya Szilak and creative and technical director Cyril Tsiboulski at the Games for Change Conference in June 2019 about their journey into VR, their production process, their accompanying installation and photo documentary project, and their future plans of other embodied stories they want to tell.

LISTEN TO THIS EPISODE OF THE VOICES OF VR PODCAST

This is a listener-supported podcast through the Voices of VR Patreon.

Music: Fatality

avenues-inside

One of the most intense interactive storytelling experiences I’ve ever had was the Accenture AVEnueS training application for child welfare caseworkers.

I was tasked with assessing whether or not I should remove a child from her parents as a representative for Child Protective Services, and so I was interrogating the parents through a series of prompts with different types of questions. I had to match the style of question with the temperament of the parent, and try to resolve contradictory stories and incomplete information.

At the end, I had to make a choice deliver the news to the parent. I opted to see how intense it would be to have to tell a mother I was going to take her child away and the resulting heart-wrenching pleading that followed was almost too much to bear. I learned that I’m probably not really cut out to be a child welfare caseworker.

It’s this exact type of screening and soft skills training that Accenture sees is a perfect fit for virtual reality. They collaborated with Courtney Harding’s Friends with Holograms in order to create a fusion of 2D billboarded video in 360-degree photospheres with a light branching narrative based upon what type of questions you ask.

I had a chance to catch up with Harding as well as Molly Tierney, the child welfare strategy lead for Accenture, while I was at SXSW. We talked about how they’re using VR to do screening, on-the-job training for a wide variety of human services fields. Tierney praised VR as being an inexpensive, easy to use, and deeply immersive, experiential learning environment for soft skills training.

Another big takeaway is the power of conversational interfaces to create a sense of social presence. I saw this demo on a 3 degree-of-freedom Oculus Go, and it used monoscopic photospheres and billboarded 2D video. All of these are the most minimal ways to get content into an spatial experience, and it was really impressive for immersive and effective it still was.

It looks like Oculus will be phasing out the Oculus Go from Enterprise offerings, and so it these experiences will likely eventually all be fully spatialized with volumetric capture. But as stopgap, the 2D and monoscopic versions are still cheaper, easier to produce, and the immersion benefit probably doesn’t outweigh the additional tech production and post production costs. All of these technologies and production pipelines will take time to get fleshed out, but the good news is that there are so many VR training scenarios that will help to fund a fully spatialized workflow.

LISTEN TO THIS EPISODE OF THE VOICES OF VR PODCAST

This is a listener-supported podcast through the Voices of VR Patreon.

Music: Fatality

storyfile

StoryFile is an interactive storytelling platform that allows you to interact with someone as they tell their story. A comprehensive oral history could be as many as 1000 questions and 20 hours of content, and StoryFile’s combination of a conversational interface with natural language processing to categorize the content provides new interactive ways of accessing these oral histores

I talked with the StoryFile founder Stephen Smith about his Ph.D. on how how video has changed Holocaust testimony, the evolution of this tech platform, his involvement with capturing volumetric testimony of Holocaust survivors in The Last Goodbye, and how oral history helps to ground the broader historical context through the lens of an individual’s character, stories, and experiences.

LISTEN TO THIS EPISODE OF THE VOICES OF VR PODCAST

This is a listener-supported podcast through the Voices of VR Patreon.

Music: Fatality

home-after-war

Home After War is an Oculus VR for Good piece that focuses on the civilian causalities of mines and improvised explosive devices. It uses photogrammetry to recreate an Iraqi home, and features haptics and immerskve sound design to provide an embodied storytelling experience of these IEDs on Fallujah, Iraq.

I had a chance to break down the experiential design with VR creators Gayatri Parameswaran and Felix Gaedtke as well as with Geneva International Center for Humanitarian Demining’s head of digital media Sandra Bialystok.

They have screened Home After War at Venice 2018, SXSW 2019, and at the United Nations and other NGOs for the past couple of years.

LISTEN TO THIS EPISODE OF THE VOICES OF VR PODCAST

This is a listener-supported podcast through the Voices of VR Patreon.

Music: Fatality

daughters-of-chibok

On 14 April 2014, the terrorist group Boko Haram kidnapped 276 girls from a sleepy, northeastern Nigerian town called Chibok. While it made news around the world, some of the incumbant Nigerian politicians declared it fake news by the opposition party designed for embarrassment. The region wasn’t a safe place for local Nigerians to independently verify, and so it was a story that make Nigerian documentary filmmaker Joel Kachi Benson curious about what the truth actually was.

After being encouraged to learn how to produce cinamatic VR experiences by a client, Benson traveled to Chicago, Illinois in the United States to learn how to produce 360 video. Benson found himself near Chibok, and dropped in to start investigating and building trust with the community.

Benson ended up creating the cinematic VR piece Daughters of Chibok, which followed the story of a mother who lost her daughter to the Boko Haram kidnapping in 2014. His incredibly moving piece ended up winning the Best VR Immersive Story for Linear Content at the 2019 Venice Film Festival.

I had a chance to catch up with Benson in Venice to unpack his journey into VR, the larger geopolitical context of Boko Haram, the fake news dynamics, and his journey of building trust with the Chibok community, and the process of capturing the grief and loss of the parents of Chibok.

LISTEN TO THIS EPISODE OF THE VOICES OF VR PODCAST

This is a listener-supported podcast through the Voices of VR Patreon.

Music: Fatality

tripp2

Tripp is a VR toolkit to gamify meditation in order to help you self-regulate and perform better. They had a really interesting strategy of bootstrapping the company by targeting corporate wellness clients, which allowed them to create a production pipeline of generative art that is a lot more abstract and novel than a typical mindfulness app.

Tripp also has a heavy emphasis on assessment and creating approaches to customize and tune content for their users. They started as a B2B business, but have also been expanding onto consumer VR headsets having launched on the Go and Quest in 2019.

I had a chance to catch up with CEO Nanea Reeves at the Games for Change Conference where we talked about Tripp’s founding story, why they initially launched with the Daydream headsets, their approach to generative art, the role of biosensors and biometric data for assessment, and some of their future plans. Eventually they’ll be creating experiences to cultivate flow states, but they’re starting with interday and intraday content that’s focused on calming and relaxation.

I’m super impressed with Tripp, and the seem to have found a winning strategy that’s going to allow them to grow and expand into creating technology that’s going to allow users to become more mindful, relaxed, self-regulated, and perfomant.

LISTEN TO THIS EPISODE OF THE VOICES OF VR PODCAST

This is a listener-supported podcast through the Voices of VR Patreon.

Music: Fatality

space-safari

The Ørsted 360° VR Space Safari by Khora VR is one of the best 360 video pieces I’ve seen.

I highly recommend checking it out in YouTubeVR’s app, or you can watch it on your phone in a portal window view.

The piece attempts to invoke the “Overview Effect,” which was first coined by astronauts who gained a more holistic and global citizen perspective after witnessing the Earth from the perspective of space. The Ørsted 360° VR Space Safari is the most successful attempt of this I’ve seen so far as it features a stunning scale shift that’s reminiscent of the famous Powers of Ten film from 1977.

I talk with Khora VR CTO & Cofounder Peter Fisher at the Impact Reality Summit about the production journey for this piece, their collaboration with sustainable energy producer Ørsted, and some of the unique approaches that Khora VR has been taking to evangelize VR in Copenhagen, Denmark.

LISTEN TO THIS EPISODE OF THE VOICES OF VR PODCAST

This is a listener-supported podcast through the Voices of VR Patreon.

Music: Fatality