© Tammeka Games

What the industry can still learn from VR

Racing game with the ulti­mate immer­sive feel: a fan box from ebm-papst simu­lates the head­wind expe­ri­enced by the Radial-G science fiction racer. Glenn Jarret, Managing Director of the British virtual reality company Austella, tells us why part­ner­ships like the one with ebm-papst should set an example.

Glenn, connecting fans to a racing game to simu­late head­wind – how does anyone come up with such an idea?

Glenn Jarrett, Director of Austella, whose sister company Tammeka devel­oped the VR game.

The idea came with the release of the “Radial-G: Racing Revolved” racing game published for the PlaySta­tion 4 by our sister company Tammeka Games in 2016. We came up with a clever promo­tion for the release: We rented the wind tunnel at Kingston Univer­sity and used it to simu­late the game’s speed feeling. It liter­ally blew the attending jour­nal­ists away. The posi­tive media coverage got us thinking about whether it might be possible to deliver a similar impact with a portable unit.

How did ebm-papst get into the game?

I knew our devel­op­ment part­ners, the elec­trical compo­nents dealer RS Compo­nents and the guys from ebm-papst, pretty well from previous jobs. So, getting the two compa­nies on board seemed the obvious thing to do. That soon proved to be the right deci­sion, because both sides worked on it enthu­si­as­ti­cally and had a lot of fun. It was just great.

How exactly did that work? Isn’t it a case of two worlds colliding?

Well, one reason for Austella’s exis­tence as a pure VR specialist next to Tammeka Games, which actu­ally devel­oped the game, was that coop­er­a­tion between the gaming industry and other indus­tries wasn’t working very well. With Austella we broke with the usual clichés and now we also work for the medical and educa­tion sectors. So we know how things work outside the world of consoles and such. And in places where we might have differed from ebm-papst, we didn’t see that as a problem but as a chance to learn from each other.

“We have to try out new things constantly.” Glenn Jarrett, Director Austella

How can a big company like ebm-papst learn some­thing from you?

I’d say that coop­er­a­tion with a small company like us can actu­ally be a source of inspi­ra­tion. Big compa­nies are big because they do some­thing espe­cially well. But that’s not enough to last. At some point, even a large corpo­ra­tion has to learn new things if it wants to stay where it is. On the other hand, we’re focused one hundred percent on inno­va­tion because the poten­tial of VR is nowhere near to being exhausted. We have to try out new things constantly. And if ebm-papst or other compa­nies get infected by that, then really exciting things can happen here.

The VR fan even comes in a stylish, profes­sional package.

But were there also things that you picked up from ebm-papst?

We were defi­nitely impressed by the holistic and struc­tured approach our part­ners took toward devel­op­ment. They really thought of every­thing, espe­cially in terms of safety. After all, the fan box comes into direct contact with the players, and we don’t want kids getting their fingers between the fan blades.

What was the biggest devel­op­ment chal­lenge?

The game needed to commu­ni­cate with the fan somehow, the racing speed had to be converted into a control signal for the fan. In the end, we jointly designed an inter­face for connecting the game directly to a conven­tional ebm-papst controller. It trans­lates the digital data from Radial-G into an analog signal that tells the fan how fast it has to turn.

But seri­ously, the whole appli­ca­tion is just a game, isn’t it?

Not at all. You have to look at it this way: VR is stuck in a catch-22 situ­a­tion. There still aren’t many glasses being sold, so the big producers aren’t making games on the scale of Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto for the hard­ware. But that in turn keeps more gamers from buying glasses. There’s only one way out of this vicious circle, and that’s to let the players try out the awesome VR feeling them­selves – for example at trade fairs or road­shows. And every bit of atten­tion that we can get with appli­ca­tions like our fan box helps.

Are other part­ner­ships like this possible? Do you have other plans that involve moving air?

Oh, there are all sorts of possi­bil­i­ties. For example, there’s a lot of exper­i­men­ta­tion going on with sensory pods, a kind of whole-body capsule that the player puts on to feel controlled air flow that simu­lates the game character’s expe­ri­ence in the virtual envi­ron­ment. And heat or cold could also be used to increase the immer­sive­ness. Like I said, so far there are no limits to inno­va­tion in VR.

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