“Playing” Attention to VR at the 2017 Victoria Film Festival, Reviews & Beyond

victoria-film-festivalUpdated: Mon 11:30pm, Feb 6

Virtual Reality is poised to become a viable medium to work in for many an artist (cinema or otherwise) and at the 2017 Victoria Film Festival, I spent a part of my weekend at Fort Tectoria playing these types of games and attending the last discussion of Springboard talking about it. This medium is a challenge to work in; Derek Jacoby, Maureen Bradley and Kate McCallum are people with a tremendous interest in this tech and they presented a fascinating look into how to work with and filming in virtual space is at now. The challenges to make it mainstream was also looked at.

Jacoby is aware of what other companies are doing. He’s the head of Victoria Makerspace, a collective tool workshop at the Vancouver Island Technology Park, where they get to play, if not create items, that will get used in the future. Whether that’s with video games (which they all agree is the driving force now) or in rehabilitation (where VR can make a huge difference to those with disabilities and can not get out in the world), as long as interest is high, then it will happen. Unlike 3DTV’s and how it fizzled, Jacoby also noted there’s the potential of mainstream not accepting it. Bradley focussed on the challenges of filming in this space and showed how video editing (where my interest is) is done. Software stitches the varying layers of 2D images onto a 3D like map, and rendering is not a perfect science. McCallum talked about the work she’s doing now and which types of businesses are taking interest in this new medium.

In trying out the technology on the HTC Vive, I see it has the potential to be really fun. As for whether the player can control the action, that’s debatable and comparable to those choose your own adventure novels from decades past. Hyper-narrative fiction exists, but it’s not gone anywhere. Perhaps the mainstream prefers linear over non-linear storytelling, but we never know. At least from a technical standpoint, users being tethered to a wire restricts mobility in the virtual space. As for whether video game arcades can make a comeback depends if we can find ourselves able to move in a room or walk inside a hamster ball-like interface to simulate the ability to move around. I find myself feeling critical at the idea of playing a video game where you aim a pointer at an established point in a virtual space, and click a button to move there instead of walking.

star-wars-trials-of-tatooine-virtual-reality-htc-vive-vr-lightsaber

Of the game demos I tried that VicVR brought to be demoed at Tectoria, they effectively show how being in a new three-dimensional space is like. As I have already said and just like in Batman: Arkham VR, you have limitations in certain type of movements that you can do. These early games do not truly allow you to physically move in a room. You’re more or less stationary, limited to a small space, to navigate around as objects move away from your or zoom up close. Space Pirate Trainer is a shooter where you’re trying to dodge slow-moving missiles from drones. You have to shoot them down before they hit you. Nice idea, but it has limited appeal. Trials of Tatooine is the most fun (even though it was very short!) as I was playing with a lightsaber and pushing virtual buttons to fix the Millennium Falcon. I must tell you trying to swing the blade right to bounce the lasers back at Stormtroopers is not as easy as you may think! I’ll have to try this game again the next time I’m here.

There’s also a cute archery game where I had to defend the fort from invaders. I liked the feel of the force feedback from the controllers because it truly felt like drawing an arrow on a bow. I can get used to using joysticks than wearing a glove to articulate your hand motions in the virtual space.

Another game lacked force feedback and it should have existed. The slingshot game I tried had me aiming a ball to knocked down crates in a factory. If I hit a blue box, I get an extra ball. If I hit a red one, it explodes and sends more of them tumbling down! Fortunately, when there was not a lot of people waiting in line, I managed to try four of the ten games outside of what’s scheduled for the day. Not all of them were games either. The one where I wandered through a mountain top showed the capability of rendering vistas for as far as the eye can see.

I will return to try a Dance Dance Revolution, shooting down zombies and having a snowball fight VR style! Although, with the current weather being what it is — snowfall since Sunday afternoon — I’d rather engage in the real thing and pelt James with a few. There’s a continued discussion on 360-degree cinema on Monday and the group (Mike Wozniewski (moderator) of HoloLabs, Chris Bedyk of Perspective Films Inc., Jason MacNaughton CEO of ThisIsMeInVR.com and Mike Irvine Executive Director of the Fish Eye Project) discussed the differences between 360-degree video and VR. One offers immersive experiences and the other does not. Also, the question of who controls the medium is looked at along with the challenges of mainstream acceptance. Since each company is vying for the position of being king, there’s no standardisation over how to create the content and what kind of content should be first considered.  will be the determining factor, but there’s a lot more.

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