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Inside VR (Nov 21st, 2019)

1. Valve is unveiling details of "Half-life: Alyx" today. "Half-Life" is one of the most beloved gaming franchises of all time, and fans have been pining for a third installment in the series for about fifteen years, so it's no wonder that the news that "Half-Life: Alyx" will be released in March 2020 has caused such a buzz (at the time of writing Valve's announcement tweet had 41.7K retweets and 132.9K likes). The game (which as the name suggests is likely to focus on Alyx Vance's character) is expected to be set after the first game and before the second. Further details are imminent, as the company promised a full reveal this morning. – BBC

2. Could escape rooms be the perfect match for VR entertainment experiences? Michael Irving visits Autron VR which just opened a few blocks away from Zero Latency in Melbourne, Australia, offering experiences that are not available on regular home VR systems. Irving was quite impressed by how well the escape room experience worked, noting that games such as "Space Station Tiberia" are the perfect entry point to VR due to their simple and intuitive interactions. He also adds that the escape room structure helps hide some of the problems of room-scale VR games by allowing better use of a small physical space in a way that feels natural, If you happen to be in Melbourne, prices start at AU$44 (about US$30) per person. – NEW ATLAS

3. Throwback Thursday: NASA Fixed Base and Motion Base Simulators

One of our recently featured "Women in VR" Lisa Laxton worked at NASA's Johnson Space Center at the Shuttle Mission Simulators, where they had a full-size mock-up of a Space Shuttle called the Fixed Base Simulator and a full-size mock-up of the cockpit mounted on a movable platform called the Motion Base Simulator. These, according to Laxton, formed the basis for virtual world technology as we know it today.

The Motion Base Simulator (MBS) provided crews with computer-generated visual scenes out of the forward windows only, while the fixed-base simulators supplied forward, aft, and overhead window views. Simulation software modeled all Space Shuttle systems including many pre-programmed malfunctions, response to cockpit controls, and interactions between systems.

Before a flight, astronauts logged many hours in these simulators. Instructor stations in the complex allowed simulator instructors to monitor and control student progress in the simulations, including the insertion of malfunctions. A central simulation control office monitored the health of the facility, scheduled its use, and responded to maintenance requests.

When the Space Shuttle Program ended in 2011, however, these simulators were retired and given to museums. The Fixed Base simulator was shipped to Chicago where it was originally planned to be an attraction at the Adler Planetarium, but in 2016 it was transferred to the Stafford Air & Space Museum in Weatherford, Oklahoma.

4. Scott Stein asks whether immersive theater is the future of VR experiences. "The Under Presents" was first previewed as an interactive demo at this year's Sundance festival and is launching now on the Oculus Quest. Made by Tender Claws in partnership with New York theater company Piehole. "This is the intersection of cabaret, drag type performance, and commedia dell'arte, mask type performance and puppetry," says Tara Ahmadinejad, Collaborating Director on The Under Presents and Co-Founding Member of Piehole, who directed the actors in Los Angeles remotely from New York, using a special interface built for the performers. Stein describes the experience as "mind-blowing," saying he felt "lost" and "like a visitor to the underworld and a participant in an immersive experience that's presented with live performers." The price of the app ($20) is, he adds, reasonable if viewed as a ticket to a virtual theater event. – CNET

5. Virtual Reality is being used in a New Jersey school district to tackle bullying, by making students experience what if feels like from the victim's perspective. "We needed a way to convey to those people, 'if you knew what this felt like, you might not do it,'" says Michael Davino, the superintendent of the Springfield School District. The district introduced virtual reality technology into the curriculum last year. He enlisted the services of Kinful, a company that teaches social-emotional learning by using VR – to develop real-life scenarios such as being excluded from activities like basketball. Nearly half of children in grades four through 12 reported being bullied in school at least once in the past month. And nearly a third of students admitted to bullying others in the same time frame. Davino hopes that by using immersive technologies, they can help students understand the short and long-term consequences of their actions and empathize with victims of bullying. – CBS NEWS

6. A Florida museum is hosting an exhibition of 3D art by veterans created in Virtual Reality. This is the Imagine Museum's first veteran project exhibition called "Veterans' Reality," which worked with five local veterans to sculpt the images with Google Tilt Brush before 3D-printing the pieces, which represent the veteran’s view on life after military service. Natacha Delince who created art in the shape of a cat using virtual reality, which she titled “Kitty With A Tear," said the experience proved therapeutic for her. “I had a difficult time transitioning from military to civilian life and I remember my animals being a source of comfort for me,” she said. The project was funded by a grant from the Duke Energy Foundation. – WTSP  

7. "Godzilla VR" is now available in London. Bandai Namco Entertainment has brought the experience, which was launched at the Osaka VR Zone arcade in 2018, to the O2 arena's Hollywood Bowl venue to celebrate the 65th anniversary of the first movie that saw the giant lizard trampling its way through the streets of Tokyo. Gamers get dual joystick controls to pilot an attack helicopter pursuing the monster, which has to be sufficiently weakened before your secret weapon – a Blood Coagulant Missile – can be deployed. "Godzilla VR" costs £4.99 GBP (about $6) to play. – VR FOCUS

This newsletter was written and curated by Alice Bonasio, a journalist and consultant obsessed with the immersive technology space, including AR/VR/MR/XR and any other acronyms that fit into the realities spectrum. Over the past 15 years, Alice has advised a wide range of start-ups and corporations on digital transformation and communication strategy and is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Tech Trends. She also regularly contributes to publications such as Quartz, Fast Company, Wired, Playboy, The Next Web, Ars Technica, VRScout and many others. Follow her on Twitter @alicebonasio

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