Your VR experience doesn’t have to be limited to twisting your head to look at things and pushing joysticks around on a game controller. Makers and VR companies alike are already pushing the boundaries of where the virtual world ends and the real world begins. We’re talking temperature changes, creative controllers, ambient wind, motion. Here are some ideas you can try to pump up your VR setup.
Hack Existing Items to Create Full Body Controllers
Eward Hage and Kevin Derksen have you strap on a real parachute harness to enhance their parachute simulator. The finished rig, dubbed Para Parachute, uses a winch to lift the user off the ground, and then drops them from a horizontal position to vertical dangling position when the parachute is released in the game. With the Oculus Rift on your head and your feet off the ground, it feels like the real deal. This is just one example of how an item can be hacked into a controller with the right sensors in order to completely transport the user.
Or Build a Custom Full Body Controller from Scratch
A team of interactive artists from the Zurich University of the Arts wanted to capture the firsthand experience of a bird flying through a city, so they built Birdly. What really makes this special is the motion platform that acts as both controller and feedback. Lying on top of it, the user controls the direction and speed of their flight through a simulated metropolis by flapping and twisting a pair of outstretched wings. As a fan blows in your face and the platform dips and leans along with your flight path, the game uses movement to create a full-body experience. Of being a bird, that is.
Incorporate Air and Temperature Effects
Haunted houses have used pressurized air to create fast scares for ages. The same effect can add an exhilarating element to VR gameplay — short bursts of air for near-miss gunfire, larger for explosions. At this year’s Game Developer Conference we spotted the Vortx, created by Whirlwind VR. It goes further by adding a heating feature, which lets you feel a campfire’s glow — or that dragon’s breath.
Shake Things Up With a Tactile Transducer
If you just want an extra kick in the pants, try mounting a “tactile transducer” (aka bass shaker) directly to your couch. These work by transmitting low frequency vibrations through whatever it’s attached to. You can buy bass shakers, but it’s easy to make them from scratch by hacking a subwoofer (there are enough good tutorials for this on YouTube that I can’t pick one to single out as “exceptional”). To get the most boom for your buck, mount your bass shaker to the biggest, most central piece of wood in your couch or chair. Or for a standing experience, you can build a simple wooden platform and attach the shaker to that.
Create a Moving Platform So You Can Walk Around
Systems like Infinadeck, Virtusphere (pictured above), and CyberWalk are taking steps to create platforms that will allow you to actually walk around your virtual environment. The basic principle is simple: You move in one direction and the platform beneath you moves in the opposite direction, like a treadmill. Once you factor in more than one direction you’ll need to get creative. So far we’re seeing conveyor belt systems that have both X- and Y-axis movement, and oversized hamster balls on wheels. No one has a perfect system (yet), so falling down should be something you take into consideration.