Virtual Reality

Some days it makes me sad that I can't share the experiences I've had with virtual and augmented reality with my co-workers and friends. There is nothing like the donning a HMD and entering a game environment that completely replaces all of your perceptions. Look down at your hands, arms and body. They are not your own. You have the ability to create objects in your hands simply by touching two fingers together. Crazy.

I want to recreate and expand my virtual reality experiences. So I tried to contact an old friend of mine, Shawn Kendall. He and I worked together in the Toy Scouts, a university research group. There we did several projects and displayed them at Siggraph 1994 and 1995.

My favorite project from the Toy Scout days was Jitalwast. You stood in a pod surrounded by asteroids. They whizzed by your head in 3D and you could hear them coming at you from behind. If a chunk of rock were to get too close to your pod you could shoot at it with projectiles formed by pulling an invisible bow. If you were not quick enough with the bow then navigation of the pod was controlled through the placement of your feet. It was great fun. It was like nothing else I've ever experienced. No commercial VR ever came close.

Our projects in the Toy Scouts led to jobs together at the Institute for Simulation and Training (IST). IST had us put together virtual environments for training missions and psychological experiments. That place felt a lot like Wonka's Chocolate factory to me. They had great equipment and it always smelled like magic blue smoke. My imagination ran wild. We logged serious hours in the lab sometimes forgetting the to go home at all, mostly because there were no windows. Passing the time by playing with 3D sound generators, HMDs, 3 space tracking devices, super computers, or by just listening to wacky PHD candidates trying to make people sick in the Woozy Helmet Lab.

CAE's Custom HMD Gemin-EyeAfter IST we both moved over to AcuSoft. AcuSoft pulled in defense contracts usually paired with a larger corporation like Lockheed Martin or CAE. There we got to play with large battle simulations using Army Simulation Network (SimNet) and Distributed Interactive Simulation (DIS.) For the army, we built training units tanks and helicopters. I've blogged about them before, but I don't think I really touched on the VR aspect. The helicopter simulator we did with CAE was the most interesting. It used an augmented reality system. The virtual world was imposed into the pilot's view using CAE's Custom HMD, Gemin-Eye. This allowed the pilot to play in the virtual world, looking out any direction he chose, but still allowing him to see the actual instrument panel and his own body.

Shawn has now started the company Immediate Mode Interactive, is a course director at Full Sail, and co-authored a book about writing games in Java. I want to talk with him about my desires for new VR explorations because he had a great passion for VR. He once called VR his child and expressed how he wanted to deliver it to the world. Driving cross country delivering VR to the people from an RV. That was his plan. I don't think it ever came to fruition. I figure Shawn will know how I can get some cheap, used, HMDs and Head Trackers.

As a first step I want to put together a HMD stereoscopic version of God of War. It may take some time but I think it would be worth it. Not exactly VR, but a step and, almost certainly, it would blow a lot of minds around the office.

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