We believe that Virtual Reality has the power to send extremely powerful messages that no other medium can possibly convey. As a result, we created Diver, a Virtual Reality experience designed to spread awareness about environmental pollution. We started with a simple list of hobbies- what would people want to experience in Virtual Reality? From there, we thought of how we could convert a simple game into a meaningful and immersive virtual experience, in a way that only Virtual Reality could manage. Through Diver, and Virtual Reality itself, we sought to bring attention to the severity of pollution while also allowing users to navigate an underwater, though polluted, environment.
What it does
Diver is an underwater Virtual Reality experience, where the user is able to use Sixense Razer Hydras to swim and enjoy the beauty of underwater marine life (There's even a whale!), and the Oculus Rift to look around them. However, there's a catch: The ocean is filled with trash, and it's the player's job to swim around and clean up trash including cans and water bottles.
Once the user has cleaned up enough trash, they will have "won" our game, but the message we want to send is much more profound. A message will display saying "Congratulations! You beat our game! In reality, however, pollution occurs on a much greater scale..." and at that point, pollution rains from above and throughly covers the ocean floor where the user is swimming.
In this case, seeing is believing. It's one thing to hear about pollution- it's another to experience it around you. One person alone cannot solve the problem, and that problem is escalating quickly. This is the message we wanted to send through Diver, and the unfortunate reality we wanted to convey.
How I built it
To create Diver, we used the Unity Game Engine, the Oculus Rift, and the Sixense Razer Hydras.
All actual game functionality was built inside Unity, including the scene itself. We wrote several scripts in C# to implement the actual user "swimming" and the random instantiation of trash in the scene.
The Oculus Rift, arguably the most essential part of our message, brings Virtual Reality to the game engine and allows the user to become fully immersed in the experience. It provides 360 motion tracking, allowing anyone to look around them while in the scene completely hands free.
The Razer Hydras, an input mechanism designed by Sixense, were used to map actual human hands into the scene. When the user holds the Hydras, they gain control of these hands, and can move in a 3D space to move the hands as well. Through this input mechanism, we were able to let the user "swim" around them, an action achieved by actually moving the hands while inside Virtual Reality.
We obtained facts from kanat.jsc.vsc.edu/student/brookfield/mainpoints.htm and music, titled Perspectives, from http://incompetech.com/music/royalty-free/index.html?isrc=USUAN1300027.
While the work on Diver was split amongst the three of us, we collaborate for opinions and to keep each other updated and aware on the progress of the part. Tasks were given based on who was capable of doing so. Several examples of collaborative tasks include working with the swimming simulation, designing the murky underwater fog, and music choice. Communication among the team was also important to ensure proper combination and building of the project in the end so that everyone's work gets successfully integrated.
Challenges I ran into
Our biggest challenge was trying to work with the Razer Hydras to simulate swimming. The user, ideally, should be able to use the Razer Hydras to swim through the scene and collect trash. However, we had trouble deciding the best way to implement the action. We settled with using the Hydras to detect which direction the palms of the hands were facing and, by using the distance from the start of the movement to the end, allow the user to move in the direction opposite of where the hand is facing in a distance relative to how much distance your hands moved, as if they are "pushing water" and moving. Mapping actual swimming gestures and practices was unrealistic given our time frame, so the swimming in the game is more of a "push away from the direction you want to move", which sometimes takes a bit of getting used to.
Distributing work was also tricky. However, we were able to get through by lots of communication and making sure each person was up to date with their task and no one was falling behind. There was a lot to do so each part and person were important.
Accomplishments that I'm proud of
Diver is a creation based on the desire to make a difference in the world. Though it is still, at it's core, a Virtual Reality game, it transcends that purpose and is far more of a message we want to send out across the world. We truly believed in the power of Diver to raise awareness and think that it has the potential to change perspectives for those who don't recognize the actual severity of pollution in the environment. Virtual Reality is still a very undeveloped field, and through our project, we are guiding it in a more positive and helpful direction.
What I learned
Honestly, we were forced to face the realities of pollution ourselves. Through looking up facts and creating devastating scenes, we had to confront a reality that pollution is far worse than we expected, and essentially tried to convey the same shock we initially experienced.
On a more technical note, we learned a lot about actual movement in Virtual Reality using the Razer Hydras, and about input mechanisms in general and the role they play in VR.
What's next for Diver
We want to expand the message that Diver sends. Rather than just presenting the user with an ultimate feeling of hopelessness as trash piles up, we want to show that, through collaboration, the problem can be solved. First, we want to clean up what we have, and improve the actual quality of experience and make it more understandable for the general public. From there, we want to integrate ways and show the user that they can make a difference if everyone pitches in.