VR Made Easy Through Cospaces and Limitless Ltd.
Of my goals for the latter half of Summer ’16, one was to reach a base level of competence in environmental design with Unity. My efforts over those two months culminated in the design of a city in which two species of monkey took the form of cubes and wandered through land and sky in their own segments of the city street. The project, entitled Monkey Side Story (see here), is only a half realized vision (since it lacks the grand battle that was to be an allegory of Sapienic tribalism and hu-man’s cruelty to hu-mans), but it does show that a layman can put their imagination to work given a requisite number of component parts and platform where they might be assembled.
In order for Virtual Reality to take hold, it must also give ordinary users a platform that lets them take ownership of their visions in a manner that can be stored and shared. There are game engines that allow a lot of this freedom, but the more elaborate that world, the greater sacrifice of time and computation you can expect to make. So, now that quality VR headsets are accessible to the consumer market, many quick, convenient programs for creating virtual environments are popping up. Two of them will be discussed here, Cospaces and Limitless Ltd.
From your first few minutes of tinkering with Cospaces, it becomes clear that the VR platform was intended for novices and youths. Indeed, that short span of time is all you need to master the Cospaces environment and about half an hour is enough to flesh out your first VR scene. After you’ve chosen your landscape and time of day, what remains is to place and resize a set of objects strategically across a circular plain. You’re free to recreate a graveyard, Oktoberfest tent or Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. If you’re drawn to the abstract, you might place an elephant and a butterfly opposite each other on an over-sized scale. Once your art piece is complete, you may upload it to the website and access it through a mobile VR app, where you will wander through the large-scale diorama and explore it from every angle.
Unless prototyping a scene for another engine, this platform is unlikely to attract VR professionals. This is purely for adults who like the casual artistry of Windows 95’s Paint or Nintendo’s Mario Maker and, of course, kids in the early stages of digital self-expression. It is also a social platform since your curated VR environment may be accessed publicly and enjoyed by all users. This social aspect is a guarantor of success and renewed interest because, unlike a photo, the places you go are truly visited. The expression, have you been to my village in Cospaces?, will seem as fitting as, have you seen my village?
Another VR creation tool that can be learned ‘in minutes’ comes from Limitless LTD. If you’ve ever shared a work space with VR developers, you will have seen them switch from headset to laptop several times over the course of a day. Traditionally, a developer has to create or buy an animated asset, like a Samurai swordsman or a monkey cube, to which they apply a script that gives instructions to the piece of animation. They must set triggers, plot vectors, re-plot vectors and re-re-plot vectors to get the desired movement. Virtual desktops allow people to work on their computer without removing the headset but, should they want to use the keyboard, they will be slowly striking virtual keys with the mouse or trying to type code blindly. Beyond the irritation of repeatedly stretching and tightening straps across your head, it can give developers the symptoms of a dissociative disorder. Or, at the very least, a headache.
Limitless’ answer to the problem is letting developers stay in that virtual space and create from within. They are now allowed to enter their scene and use their controllers to draw paths of varied complexity for the animated character to follow. In this way, users become less like designers/programmers and more like film directors choreographing a scene for a film. So far, the only Limitless designed program on display is Gary the Gull, directed by Mark Walsh of Pixar. But given its accessibility and promises of vastly reduced design time, we can expect to see many more Limitless enabled projects in the near future.
For those of you sitting on the sidelines of VR development, unwilling or uninterested in building something of your own. Here is a quick and painless starting point from which you might learn to manipulate objects in a 360 medium, or decide you like things just as they are and go no further.