Something that has always intrigued and excited me about VR is not only it’s obvious uses; in that it is a completely new medium for so many industries to work with and could truly change how we think about gaming, music, art, cinema and so many offer sectors of life; but also for it uses within what I would call ‘non-expressive’ industries, by this I mean things like business projections, text formatting, civil services training, architecture and similar areas. VR as-is is relatively limited for these sort of tasks, with perceived resolution being quite poor for text formatting, lack of believable locomotion prevents any real training for police and firefighters, and the level of realism that real-time engines can reach (combined with perceived resolution) simply isn’t up to the standard of traditional renderers and not up to scratch when it comes to Arch-Vis. However, there are some amazing pieces of software already ready available trying to push VR out of the space of being solely about video games and experiences and try to show it for the incredible tool it is, and below I will talk about my personal favourites.
DataViz VR Demo is a piece of software that allows you to view and manipulate metrics in a 3d environment and can help flesh out charts, rather than having to view them as a rather clustered flat visualisation. This could be an amazing way to be able to explain cash flow forecasts, pre-emptive sales predictions and the like to any overheads that you may need to explain yourself to. An issue with this is that the only time it really offers any benefit is when there are multiple people within the same graph at the same time, as I feel its main benefit is the ability to explain and physically manipulate the data, to show potential changes or shortcomings. The main issue with this is the fact that VR is quite expensive, and to have two or more of them, and the equal amount of VR-capable PCs, would be an extremely high cost, especially when the main area in which this could be used would be pitching, so realistically to use this software for that purpose is extremely high risk, and offers relatively little added value to your pitch. Beyond that, the software is limited by the limitations of current-VR, with text not being very legible from distance due to not poor perceived resolution as well as the encumbrance on being wired to a PC.
Thread Studio is a VR application designed to help fashion and graphic designers to concept their pieces, allowing them to apply images/logos to a range of items such as t-shirts, mugs, baseball caps and even frisbees. This is a free application and is available to buy on Steam. However, as you would expect, this price reflects what you receive in some ways, in that this is by no means industry standard software, and is relatively useless beyond early stages of product prototyping. I feel the main use of this could be to give designers a good idea whether or not certain colour pallets and designs work in a real environment, and for smaller companies or start-ups, could save them a lot of money they may not necessarily have in terms of prototyping. I think once VR evolves, and real-time engines improve, tools like this will completely displace any sort of early stage development prototyping, especially in industries such as fashion design.
Rumpus is an application that allows you to code and see your changes as they take place within VR. The concept of the game is user created content in its purest form, and if work continues on it (which sadly doesn’t seem to be the case at the moment) it could be a truly great ‘sandbox’ type game, where everything is down to the player’s ability and creativity. The programme falls down however in that the method of input is still using a keyboard, when in reality for anything of this nature, for it to be in any way improved by VR, it needs to a physical interface, and thus a 3D-object based coding language. Other pitfalls of the software are the lack of multiplayer and the lack of easy sharing capabilities, meaning you can work for hours creating scripts and you will be the only person to ever see it, which is a shame. Overall as a software Rumpus still needs work, and sadly that doesn’t seem like it’s going to happen with the twitter page being relatively quiet over the 6 months. However Rumpus still stands out as one of the best VR environments I have seen, and even putting the software aspects aside, I think Rumpus if worth playing simply for what Luke has created aesthetically.
There are several applications similar to Medium available for other headsets (I recommend checking out Masterpiece VR for free on Steam) however, Medium is undoubtedly the best VR modelling and sculpting software available for you to buy right now. It has a great range of tools for you to use and is an extremely polished piece of software. I think for the sculpting process, being able to physically interface with your creation, and having the ability to blow it up and get a sense of true scale, as well the ability to then add minute details that when viewing it as a standard flat-screen model, you may overlook. Where Medium falls down, and where I think all VR modelling software falls down is that the lack of a traditional graphical interface. With something like Autodesk’s 3ds Max or Maxon’s Cinema4D, you rely heavily on the use of keyboard shortcuts as well as tools and modifiers that are imported into the software as plug-ins, both of which are not features within Medium. Whereas in 3ds Max I can simply apply a Turbosmooth modifier to a model, within Medium I will physically have to smooth the object using a smoothing tool, or for example in 3ds Max I can simply install iToo Software’s Forest Pack plugin and have access to hundreds of different tree models to use at my disposal, within Medium I will need to import these, one by one as OBJs or model them myself. So although Medium is a great tool for more ‘human’ art, it is a far way off replacing the standard workflow for CG artists.
As someone who enjoys recreational music production a great deal, I am a huge fan of Soundstage and would go as far as saying it is the best production tool (for any industry) currently available in VR. For the most part, the programmes I have talked about so far are a long way off being actually viable for industry-level use, however, I think soundstage is a lot closer to that level than any of the fore mention applications. It suffers from a few of the shortcoming of Medium in that you don’t have access to plugins, which are a huge part of traditional music production yet still feels like a genuine piece of software, that is not only fun and enticing but very functional too. The latest update solved my main qualm with the app that was the lack of a traditional GUI sequencer, and I think it is that addition that pushes Soundstage beyond just being something to mess around in, and makes it something that you can actually dedicate time to, and pick up transferable skills. Not only this but it adds a whole level to music production in that for the next few years if any big names were to release an album that was made in VR, it is a great selling gimmick, or even beyond that DJs could live stream sets via platforms such as Twitch. I think similarly to art, music is a medium that lends itself well to VR and could be something that pushes VR into the mainstream, with Samsung recently using an ad campaign in which a girl watch a live concert whilst sat in her room, via the Samsung/Oculus Gear, which (although strangely eerie) helps push the concept of VR beyond the niche gamer market.
There a lot of really great software that I haven’t included here and for the most part, this is down to the fact that I don’t think they are capable of actually changing our workflows or genuinely improving an industry. A big one for this is Tilt Brush by Google, which I think is an absolutely beautiful app, and possibly the thing I have spent most time in in VR, however as a lover of art, I simply don’t think it can necessarily change the industry, and definitely not improve it, initially it is extremely impressive, however I feel a lot of the beauty in art is the physicality, and of course art is subjective and this is just my opinion, but beyond a few exhibitions I highly doubt Tilt brush art is ever going to displace watercolour.
Another app worth mentioning is Bigscreen and other similar apps. These apps can to some degree improve your workflow and has, in fact, helped workflow within the company I work for a few times. As a company we create visuals of luxury homes and other non-residential buildings. Bigscreen allowed us to sit and talk over images with a client (who also owned a Vive) in real-time, with us both looking at the same image and both giving input, rather than having a back and forth via email or skype. The issue with this is, our business is relatively niche, and that was the only client who had ever actually used a VR headset prior to coming into the office, never mind owning one.
There are also a lot of great educational games and apps, however, I think there is enough of them to consider them separately and discuss them at a later date, as I think they probably hold more worth than anything else in VR. The last worthwhile mention I would like to add is 3D Sunshine, which is rather niche software in that it is only useful when paired with other games, namely Microsoft’s Minecraft and Space Engineers by Keen Software House. 3D Sunshine allows you to create and then import structures into these games, which can make building large structure a much faster process, and especially when also pairing Minecraft with the Vivecraft Mod, being able to create something externally and then view it in true scale, is quite breath-taking.