Metatron’s SpreadHive is a 3D spreadsheet app intended for use exclusively in virtual reality.

As the Information Age continues to unfold, the data being generated and manipulated is amassing at an exponential rate. Datasets can reach staggering complexity, and traditional 2D spreadsheets like Excel often struggle to portray them when the data involves more than two data dimensions. Consider one of the most simple multidimensional datasets, that of the historical winners of Hollywood Oscars. Excel users would define one axis as Year, and the other as Category, and simply fill in the winning names, job done. But what if that user wanted to include not just the winner, but all the nominees in each category? Suddenly, a simple spreadsheet has little choice but to sprawl out into a multi-page monstrosity, and this with a dataset that is orders of magnitude less complex than most. A better solution to multidimensional datasets is clearly needed, but monitors and popular spreadsheet programs are simply not up to the task.

With the inclusion of virtual reality technology, a way to portray data in three dimensions presents itself. Spreadsheets typically never extend into the third physical dimension, depth, because there exists no intuitive way to display stacked cells in three dimensions - cells wind up in front of and behind one another, the very definition of occlusion. Utilizing a 3D game engine like Unity, an arbitrarily-sized three-dimensional grid of cells, or “hive”, can be constructed quite easily, but this approach is rarely pursued on monitors because of the occlusion problem. With VR adding gaze-directed raycasts as a potential input method, a solution becomes possible.

SpreadHive seeks to solve the occlusion problem inherent to 3d spreadsheets by varying the transparency of various layers of cells depending on where the user is looking. The raycast emanating from between the user’s eyes can be visualized as a laser dot, and where this dot intersects with the geometry of an individual cell, that cell bubbles into full view as any cell occluding it is turned at least partially transparent. Selecting one particular cell in a hive may still be difficult or impossible from an arbitrary starting location, and as such additional control methods and menu items will need to be involved. In VR, however, it becomes possible to array those menu items on the user’s periphery rather than in some nested menu, and it will even be possible to allow users to “teleport” their viewpoint inside the hive to gain a better perspective on their data.

Many challenges exist with this approach, not the least of which is fine-tuning the transparency mechanism, but this seems surmountable. Actual data entry or manipulation of the hive is problematic in VR, and while this may also be a solvable problem, the Jam version of SpreadHive will be presented strictly as a data viewer, a method of examining but not otherwise interacting with complex datasets when armed with only a Note 4.

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