Virtual Reality and Leisure: Technology at the Service of Entertainment
Film and video games are welcoming virtual reality: an ever-expanding technology and market which is on the path to redefining our culture.
“What is real? How do you define 'real'? If you're talking about what you can feel, what you can smell, what you can taste and see, then 'real' is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain”. In 1999 the film The Matrix revolutionised cinema, and these words from the character Morpheus, short-circuited the minds of those watching. In 1999 mass-market commercial virtual reality was still somewhat ethereal. But almost twenty years later, the latest technological advances present new possibilities for us to connect to the virtual world which would have even confused the senses of Neo, the protagonist who came up against the alternative reality created by machines.
Virtual reality (VR) goggles and kits are becoming increasingly more common technological gadgets. The devices join now omnipresent computers, smartphones, and consoles; and as they become cheaper, with the arrival of new options on the market, they’re becoming more and more accessible. Will VR change the way we experience culture and leisure?
Go to the cinema through the virtual door
“What’s coming isn’t digital transformation, it’s an explosion of content at a global level”. For Edgar Martín-Blas, CEO and Creative Director of New Horizons VR, it's simple: virtual reality is here to stay. “What customers want with VR is to show worlds the user has never seen” explains Martín-Blas, whose company has worked for groups such as Ferrari, Disney, Inditex and Banco Santander. The company has also created other experiences such as direct broadcasts in 360°: “You can be sitting on your sofa at a concert or match that’s being broadcast at the time”, he explained.
New Horizons VR is also part of the Assassin´s Amnesia project from Spanish film director Julio Medem, the first fictional series produced in Spain in a virtual format. Is cinema progressing in VR at the same pace? “Right now we’re in a learning and transition period and the format still isn’t going to replace traditional film because it only brings spectators a small amount more information on their surroundings” explained the New Horizons director.
Nonetheless, the moment cinema becomes 100% VR is getting closer with lightfield cameras, which, as well as recording in 360°, allow the input of various focal distances for our eyes. This would allow us to move around within VR content, interact with it, and allow us to look where the focal point is. “Suddenly, we’re inside films. In Avatar, we’ll go into the jungle and move around with the main character”, explains Martín-Blas. “This is the key to virtual reality film: when you truly feel like you’re there”.
Light and shade in the world of video games
In the video games industry there have been various peaks in the popularity of virtual reality since Scott Fisher paved the way in 1985 creating the Visiocasco. For José Luis Soler, coordinator of Florida Replay, the virtual reality video games school, the more accessible cost of equipment is key to the current boom. However, he explained, “virtual reality in games is like the Wild West: everyone jumps in and tries to colonise an area, but nobody knows there’s more to it”.
Soler is referring to the challenges the sector still faces. The main challenge when it comes to designing virtual reality video games is the narrative and interaction. “We come up against problems as simple as displacement. When you’re sitting or standing and you move the camera, it creates a mismatch between your proprioceptive system and what you can see with your eyes which can make you dizzy and nauseous”, Soler pointed out, and it’s a problem that also affects VR in film. The sticking point for developers in the coming years will be finding VR’s own language” stressed Soler.
The main challenge when it comes to designing virtual reality video games is the narrative and interaction
At Tessera Studios they’ve made a direct play for virtual reality for their first video game, Intruders: Hide and Seek. “Although VR platforms and kits for computers aren’t selling as well as expected, what is working very well is VR on PlayStation”, said the video games designer and co-founder of Pablo Lafora. “In less than a year more than a million sets of goggles have been sold. The potential market may be much smaller, but so is the competition. These million users are dying to get content, now is the right time to jump into the wave”.
But what gets some people excited intimidates others. For Carlos Coronado, founder of the video game studio Pantumaca Barcelona “virtual reality is the thing that’s really cool, but you want your neighbour to buy it”. Coronado is sure he won't go for it until it’s more accessible both in terms of price and usability: “It’s insane. I'm a developer and even I find it hard to install a virtual reality headset. There’s a lot more effort involved than in a traditional game and on top of that you isolate yourself: there are hardly any other players to socialise with”.
And that’s not the only reason. Super productions and millionaire budgets - so-called triple A games, are thin on the ground. In other words, the Hollywood of video games still hasn’t come to VR due to the few sales it represents. So the problem shifts to users. “You’re not going to pay 800 euros for a helmet to play a 10 euro game, there needs to be more quality content” explained Coronado. “Virtual reality hasn’t turned out to be the super-revolution we were sold”.
So what next?
VR cinemas, television, documentaries, video games, news reports, architecture, tourist experiences… Industries in various sectors have for some time been playing with the idea of virtual reality with varying levels of success. So why don’t we bring the physical and the virtual together? “What we’re going to see more of in the coming years is mixed or augmented reality that allows us to create spaces where real and virtual elements can interact” said Martín-Blas, mentioning ARKit, Apple's latest launch. He went on: “We’ll be able to put on goggles and read invoices, load up people in front of us to speak to them, launch a 40-inch screen in a bar, have a virtual pet at home...”. “The world ahead is looking crazy”.
By Patricia Ruiz Guevara