Of toys and VR

snapshot taken from inside VR with handheld virtual camera

My recent quest to create a VR handheld video camera for composing shots in VR got me thinking about the future of toys in VR (and AR too).

To see if my camera worked, I needed a test subject to “film” in VR , so I created a very simple “Cosmic Surfer” character using Gravity Sketch VR, brought it into Unity, added my Tilt Brush constructed “space-scape” and grafted on my “sky paint” drawing script. I puppeteered the character (attached to the left controller) by moving him around in VR with one hand and filming with the other (camera attached to my right controller) -action sports style. All of a sudden I am making wooshing sounds and acting out my scenario just like I used to do as a kid with my toys, and it was a ton of fun!

The simple, uncomplicated joy of moving an inanimate object through space of my own free will, reminded me how fun it was to play with toys and act out stories with them. I remember there being tons of personality in just how a toy was posed. That Army Man with his arms raised above his head with an M16 (and a bayonet attached?? Who does that?!) — what was his story? Who knows, make one up!

What’s this guy’s story?!

The point that really struck a chord with me was that simple, non animated virtual objects can be a lot of fun to play with! I think holding something in your (virtual) hand and moving it (puppeteer like) is a really fun way to play and interact. We don’t always have to posses the character. I never wanted to be the GI-Joe, I just loved all the adventures he would get into!

Those thoughts led to imagining a future (not to far from now) where kids (of all ages) will have access to a vast library (maybe through a Netflix like service) of branded, virtual toys from the past to play with in AR/VR. The entire collection of 1960’s era Major Matt Mason? Heck yes! Every He-Man toy ever made? Cool. Playsets of yore (with no missing pieces!), entire toy lines from the 20’s, 30’s etc, international toy lines as well, yes yes yes! The nice thing is, just like their real world originals, they don’t need to be animated, you do that yourself by picking them up and moving them. I see an opportunity for “archival” 3D scans of toys, not CG modeled versions of the toys, but the actual toys themselves. Archival scans people! That’s what I want.

Only some of the Major Matt Mason line
VR/AR playsets? Yes!

The use of a physical AR “marker toy” that the AR software would use to map the virtual toy to, would give you something to hold on to and approximate the virtual object. Imagine a marker that is a posable mannequin, like the one Crayola uses for their Color Alive Easy Animator technology, http://www.crayola.com/easyanimationstudio you could physically pose the virtual doll by adjusting the pose of the mannequin. Cool!

3D scanned versions of these could be posed and moved in VR using a marker mannequin.
(ok there would be some major technical issues to work out, like how do you hold it without blocking the markers, but hey, the idea is there)

Augmented reality headsets like Magic Leap (and maybe the Microsoft Mixed Reality HMDs?) will make playing in AR a more immersive experience, but looking at the world through a phone AR camera is not that far from viewing my surfer with the VR camera. I really like the idea of playing with these toys in VR because of the total immersion quality of VR (not to mention the cool scenes you could create), but AR has the potential to overlay entirely new skins on the physical environment, creating a world allowing you to set your virtual toys on objects and have a tactile experience as well.

That’s all. Just some thoughts. Thanks for reading. Hopefully it got you thinking as well or better yet…inspired!

Cheers. scobot