Day & Night

TL;DR. I’m making a tiny WebVR experiment for the HTC Vive that you can play with here:

A year ago I tried virtual reality in an HTC Vive for the first time. That Vive was an early developer’s kit—a primitive and unvarnished version of the consumer product that HTC and Valve would release a few months later. As I stood in outer space among the stars, drawing a cube and other doodles with a paintbrush of fiery plasma (thank you, Tilt Brush), I realized that I wanted to build virtual reality experiences. Not just 360 videos — which, though compelling, are linear and passive—but to build spaces one could walk around in and interact with.

The Vive comes with Valve’s distribution platform, SteamVR, which makes browsing and downloading virtual reality apps a snap. But I’m also excited about another platform — one that’s been central to my creative output for over two decades — and that’s the World Wide Web. Currently Google’s Chrome, Mozilla’s Firefox, and other browser makers are gearing up to support WebVR, a method for delivering virtual reality experiences right through your everyday Web browser. This means if you’ve got a VR rig like an HTC Vive, Google Daydream, Samsung GearVR, etc. you can visit a website with WebVR content and it will push the visuals and audio to your VR goggles. Magic!

Soon WebVR support will be built right into the best Web browsers—no need to download or setup anything extra. But for today you’ll have to visit the website for download links and setup instructions:

To me the Web is the ultimate platform. It’s global. It’s open. No one company or country can fully own it. I love finding new ways to express myself using bits of Web technology. For example, back when popup windows were often a source of annoyance I realized I could re-contextualize them to be fun and humorous: I released Browser Ponga traditional Pong game played not in a browser window, but with browser windows. Later, while teaching myself the Web Audio API, I felt compelled to write Beep.js—a JavaScript toolkit for building browser-based synthesizers. And while at Google’s Creative Lab, Iain Tait inspired Jeff Baxter and I to prove that slot cars could race across multiple screens—and that it could be fun. With the help of Active Theory, Plan8, Giorgio Moroder, (and many more), we created Racer: A Chrome Experiment.

And now I’m excited about WebVR.

Day & Night is a quick get. Just a few minutes of play can help a young child—or even an old fogey like you—better internalize what it means for our planet to rotate and revolve in the daytime glow of our closest star. The short engagement time could be ideal for kindergarten classrooms — rotating through a body of 15 students in a 45 minute period. (Sure, manufacturers don’t intend their product to be used by little ones. But it’s far safer than say... swimming.) And with two Vive rigs—Yes, you can run two rigs off a single pair of base stations—that could be 30 students. Today’s high fidelity virtual reality hardware is too expensive and requires too much specialized knowledge for your average school system to justify purchasing. But a company lending two high-end rigs and a chaperone to a class for a single day? That seems possible. And over the next few years competition and innovation will erode these barriers of cost and knowledge.

Day & Night is also a “minimum viable product”—emphasis on minimum, less so on viable. Or product. It’s a bare foundation to build from. And I look forward to doing so. In the meantime, here’s where the experiment stands:

In some ways this is my second chance at virtual reality. I’d nearly joined the VR community a decade ago when I was accepted into Randy Pausche’s Entertainment Technology Center at Carnegie Mellon—but at the last minute I chose to attend graduate school elsewhere. It’s pretty exciting to see the Web gain this new immersive layer and I can’t wait to see what new things emerge from it. Get building!