Mixed Reality: A Window Into The Virtual World 

    Consumer Virtual Reality has arrived – however not many people are aware of it, and even less have actually tried it. Although trying a headset is the best way to find out what virtual reality (VR) is all about, not many people have had the opportunity to do so. For a lot of people, gameplay videos will be their first exposure to VR.

    The Rift and Vive are primarily gaming devices (Gear VR perhaps less so) at this point, and the usual methods for marketing games are trailers and gameplay videos. VR gameplay videos can show the person with the headset on in the real world environment, which is quite boring to watch, or they can also show the game from the point of view of the player – unfortunately this means that the camera moves with the person’s head, which can be quite disorientating to view, and does not give an impression of what it really feels like to be immersed in the game environment.

    One solution is Mixed Reality. Mixed Reality can be used in different ways (for more information take a look at the University of Nottingham’s Mixed Reality laboratory) but for the purposes of this article we will be examining its use as a promotional tool for Virtual Reality. Using this method we see the player surrounded by the game world in place of the real world. We get a much better impression of how the player is interacting with the environment. The viewer starts to get a feel for what it is like to be in that game/experience. For instance, take a look at Valve’s own promotional MR video.

    This was created using professional equipment and editing techniques, and is clearly the best example so far of a promotional video for VR using MR. In my experience, when trying to demonstrate the value of VR to the uninitiated, first-person video of these games is often met with disinterest. Showing the same people the Valve video immediately creates interest in VR, even in people who have no interest in gaming. You can see someone standing atop a mountain, taking in the panorama around them; a child throwing a stick for a virtual robotic dog; lasers narrowly missing a players head in Space Pirate Trainer.

    Although some people may have a rudimentary understanding of VR, fewer have an understanding of room-scale VR with tracked motion controls. Seated games/experiences will always be a part of VR – some types of games are designed to be played that way, for instance flying or driving games. But room-scale and 1:1 movement/tracking is a jump ahead in technology, and people need to know about it – MR videos are a great way to educate on the thrills of being able to duck, dodge and shoot in the Virtual Environment.

    Although Valve’s video has been made very professionally, Mixed Reality is within the grasp of consumers. Some games have the option built in, in which case all you need is a green screen, a camera, a capture card and some grasp of editing software (a third controller is also needed in most cases at this point). A quick browse of Reddit shows that some people have gone to the effort of creating a green screen setup at home. There are already a number of homemade Mixed Reality videos on Youtube, from users of the Vive and the Rift – although it seems that recently the majority are from the Vive, this may change when the Oculus Touch controllers are released. Here are some of the best homemade green screen videos, starting with the recently released first Vivecraft (Minecraft on the Vive) MR video – watching it gives a sense of the scale of the experience, and it is fun to watch the player repeatedly attempting to befriend pixellated horses that are actually taller than he is!

    This is a video of a home user playing Assetto Corsa on the Rift.

    The first homemade MR gameplay video of The Lab – this shows the player playing the Slingshot and Longbow games.

    The next video is a home user playing Space Pirate Trainer.

    Fantastic Contraption is a game that supports MR – the developers, Northway Games, have been early standard bearers for the use of MR – they have even produced a guide to creating your own MR content. Aside from recording videos, they have also streamed live MR footage many times. Here is a recording of one of their Twitch streams.

    There is also a very useful Mixed Reality guide from Kert Gartner, creator of trailers. While this may seem like a lot of effort to go to, there are advantages beyond uploading to YouTube. When people are trying VR for the first time, they often want to be recorded. Hence, phones are used to capture footage of a person flailing around wearing a headset. Unsurprisingly, they are often a tad disappointed with the results. This, I believe, is why Valve again used MR at the recent E3 show – not only were people able to play Space Pirate Trainer for the first time, they were able to see themselves afterwards, in the game environment. Our own Zeena Al-Obaidi experienced this and enjoyed seeing herself neatly placed into the game, on a tablet afterwards. In some ways this is reminiscent of people wanting a photo of themselves on an attraction at an amusement park – a reminder of the fun. A picture of yourself with a headset on, standing in an empty room, doesn’t quite do it.

    It makes sense that Valve chose to use Space Pirate Trainer, as it is a game that really encourages movement and could potentially be thrilling to watch in VR. Perhaps not so thrilling in some cases, such as that of singer T-Pain’s gameplay video.

    It is true that Mixed Reality has its limitations – being unable to see users eyes is a drawback of watching someone with an HMD, but it is not a technical hurdle that we can expect to see removed anytime soon. We are still able to see parts of the face, and body language can tell us a lot about a person’s emotional state.

    But there will be much more exciting MR videos coming soon. With a slightly larger play space, (perhaps 4m x 3m or larger), and an accomplished and mobile/acrobatic player, with the right camera angles, incredible videos will be produced. Think about what this could mean for the future of VR e-sports – the top players for certain games will be highly athletic individuals with laser sharp reactions, who can pull off feats that will seem impossible to the average joe. Watching people playing games is about to get a lot more interesting and a lot more fun! VRFocus will of course continue to report on further advancements in the field of Mixed Reality!