The question of virtual or augmented reality is irrelevant
What’s the answer to the question:
Are you going to put the money into a virtual reality solution or are you going with the augmented?
The answer is both, or maybe I should say neither. To be honest I think the question is wrong and irrelevant.
Let’s start with the immersive part, the virtual reality.- Here we really wanna block out the physical world. You can get that experience right now. Just strap some hardware on your head and get started. Everything you see and hear will all of a sudden be virtual, fully immersive, let the physical space disappear around you and … maybe not.
Just to be safe you still need to be aware of your surroundings. You don’t want to bang your knee into the nearest table. At least set up a virtual cage, a safe zone, where you don’t risk injuring yourself. So in some sense this immersive experience actually bring some of the physical space into the game. The HTC Vive has the ability to bring even more in, with an added camera on the goggles. Some companies also experiment with headphones that can bring in sounds from the real world, at least to avoid an ax murderer sneaking up on you while playing.
But why not continue this trail of thought for a while. It’s obvious that you want to bring a real chair into the game world, again to get a more immersive feeling when you plant you butt in Commander Kirk’s chair on the Enterprise. It’s just a matter of using an ordinary chair, know where it’s placed, and create a virtual representation within your game, in the virtual world.
Or you could use it to dodge a bullet, and in the virtual world it will look like a bunch of sand bags. In the end, the system needs to create enough virtual objects to match your physical space and have you interact with them. So we get a virtual reality where we keep adding physical stuff until it’s more or less safe to move around, and that would actually increase the immersive feeling of the game.
How about flipping this around and look at it from the other side; lets start with the physical world and add some virtual, let’s start with a few overlays with information like when you hold up a phone to an ad. Or you could go with a little better hardware, like HoloLens, where we can place holograms in the real world and move around both realities. But isn’t this still just a gimmick; it’s still your old reality with a little added flare. It’s so far from the immersive experience of true virtual reality, right?
Very wrong. If you have the chance to play around with HoloLens for a longer period of time you can understand why. Make sure to try out the fragments game. It really does a good job of transforming my living room into a condemned building with rats on the floor and rain dripping in from the ceiling / abandoned oil rig / hi tech crime lab. It wasn’t a perfect transformation but close enough to get me stuck in the game. And this with an equipment that are constantly disregarded for not having a big enough field of view.
So what would some extra tech get me here, say a better technique for blocking out the real world when needed. My TV could be an old chimney instead of just a hole in the wall - right now HoloLens has a little issue with reflective areas. The end result would again be closer to the real immersive experience.
Of course, both technologies are currently a bit limited, they have their set of drawbacks; The virtual experience is hampered by cables attached to you head and inability to move around freely. The augmented reality doesn’t support the ability to fully block out physical reality when needed to get the same immersive experience. However, the key here is that you want to work with the physical space and transform parts or all of that reality to your new virtual experience.
In the end it’s two sides of the same coin; one originates in the real world and moves into virtual, the other start with the virtual world and add in the reality. Both requires equipment that understand your surroundings, your physical space, and applies as much virtual as you need and want for your experience.
Maybe this is the reason Microsoft choose to call their HoloLens mixed reality instead of augmented reality. Mixed reality is not one technology or one place in the various realities, it is the span from the completely real to full virtual.
What we have is a virtuality span, much like transparency or opacity level in Photoshop, and with the multitude of equipment existing today and arriving tomorrow, we will have so many different definitions, virtual, mixed, augmented, layered, that all those definitions stop making sense.
As it turn’s out, there already is a scale, the virtuality continuum. Going forward with the current (and soon to come) gear we end up with something that may look like this:
(There is actually another part of this scale and that’s the mediality, how much the the digital can modify the reality. However, in my opinion there is less need for that part currently.)
The right question
So maybe we should instead try to place the experience you are trying achieve on this scale first this mean that the right question is:
What level of virtual continuum do you want your users to experience?
When you have that answer, you can start looking for the suitable tech for that experience and the solution that will help you reach your goal.
Now it’s back to reality for me…