I’m delighted to announce the launch of my new YouTube channel BRAIN MAN VR. Each week I share some tips and tricks on how to get more out of your virtual reality experiences and review one or two games available on the HTC VIVE and many other VR headsets. I’ve been working on this project for over a year so I’m really happy that I’m finally ready to commit to releasing a brand new episode every week for a year! So, from now on, when you realise it’s Tuesday – head to Brain Man VR and check out the latest and greatest games from the wonderful world of virtual reality.
I’ve been extremely excited about virtual reality ever since I got the chance to visit Prof Mel Slater’s VR lab when he was based at University College London. I went into a magical world that had been created by scribbling child-like crayon drawings of houses, trees, plants and butterflies, which were scanned in and distributed throughout the 3D virtual room. You might think that the simplistic nature of the images might have ruined the chances of making a person wearing a VR headset truly believe they had been transported into another world. On the contrary, I genuinely felt like I was in a wonderland and the vivid, chaotic crayon squiggles only helped to enhance the sense of enchantment. I was already completely hooked on the concept of VR before I’d gone into the other experience that Mel had arranged for me and my neuroscience PhD colleagues. The second experience was composed of much more sleek and sophisticated graphics depicting human-like avatars in a bar setting. It was designed to help people get over their social phobias. As soon as I walked in the bar, the attractive blond woman at the bar immediately greeted me and asked me what my name was. I didn’t answer straight away as I was distracted by these thoughts: surely an illusion can’t possibly hear anything I say if I respond? My hesitation meant that when I eventually spoke out loud, the avatar spoke over me with another sentence. When she didn’t then reference that we’d spoken over each other the illusion of really, truly, genuinely feeling like we were in a bar together was shattered. And before I’d even come across the terminology, I immediately had a sense for the difference between the two components of a genuinely immersive VR experience – the presence AND plausibility.
Place illusion involves producing sights in the head-mounted display and sounds via the headphones that update perfectly when you move your head and body around in the physical space, just as they would do in the real world. Plausibility illusion is slightly different. All the ingredients of the Place Illusion can convince the human brain that they genuinely have been transported into an alternate universe, yet if two people speak over each other and then don’t say something suitable to acknowledge the error and perhaps make a comment to smooth over the social aberration, then the experience can no longer seem plausible.
Back then, for a set up with enough ooomph to create a completely convincing and genuinely immersive virtual reality experience, the costs were in the realm of £250,000. These days you can get a decent stand alone, VR headset for £400 and so finally, after almost half a century after people started taking the concept of virtual reality seriously, this phenomenon is ready for the people. I’ve spent the past year experimenting with my first VR headset. It’s an HTC VIVE kit that I actually bought 4 years ago. I then had to patiently wait for 2 years while I saved up enough money to buy a graphics PC powerful enough to “drive” the headset and motion controllers. I then had to wait 6 months for all the parts to arrive and then summon the courage to try and assemble the PC without breaking anything! Scary, but with lots of help from a benevolent team of YouTubers who give up their spare time to create tutorials to help others with various tech difficulties, I finally got it done.
I am going to release one episode of my new YouTube channel Brain Man VR every week for a year. Starting today. Wherever you are in the world, every Tuesday, you can go to Brain Man VR and watch me review one or two virtual reality games to a) see what all the fuss is about if you don’t currently own a VR set b) see which games you might want to buy if you do have a VR rig and c) either way get a regular insight into what’s happening in the rapidly developing and incredibly exciting world of virtual reality.