Disclaimer: the real headset does not actually have the Jurassic World logo on it.
Thanks to the good folks at Moviepilot, I recently got a chance to head to a Jurassic World press event in Universal Studios Hollywood. In addition to seeing the stars of the film in person, the highlight of the event was getting to try the 'Jurassic World VR Experience.'
The virtual reality app is the direct result of a partnership with Universal Studios and Samsung, conceived and created by Felix & Paul Studios in (somehow) under one month, and with the blessing of director Colin Treverrow. So expect this baby to be exclusive to the Samsung Gear VR headset. And after getting a chance to try it out, I have to say: if this is a sign of things to come, I may just save up for a headset of my own.
After being seated and fitted with the VR headset, I was curious as to what the experience would be like. Would I be stuck in a room full of raptors? Would I encounter a triceratops stampede? There were quite a few possibilities floating through my head.
The first thing I saw on screen was the Jurassic World logo. I knew that after this screen, all of my curiosities would be answered.
At the bottom of the logo, it said: apatosaurus. The fact that this experience was labeled implies that when this app is released to the public, there will be more dinosaurs to experience.
So after the logo, the screen fades in on an apatosaurus asleep by its nest. I knew that the dinosaur would awaken soon, so I decided to test the headset's functionality and look around the virtual environment.
I remember being a bit irked at my previous experience with 'Google Cardboard.' Since there was no head-tracking module built into the device, my phone's mobile sensors did not allow for accurate movement. If you moved too far one way, the screen would try to adjust itself, meaning that you had to be careful with your movements. While far from terrible, the limitations of 'Google Cardboard' still took me out of the experience.
Unlike the 'Cardboard,' the 'Gear' has a head-tracking module built into the device, along with a focus dial. These features lead to a much smoother and more immersive experience. Being able to properly survey your virtual surroundings without the worry of messing up the sensor's calibration was beyond satisfying. Thanks to the head strap, not having to hold the device up to your face was a plus as well.
Moving on. Something I truly admired about this VR experience was how much attention to detail there was. Instead of merely being an anonymous floating head in the environment, the thermos sitting on the log below you suggests that you play a scientist studying an apatosaurus.
After about a minute of looking around, the apatosaurus finally wakes up. Once it does, it doesn't have to move too far before its long neck points your way.
The 3D effects combined with the panoramic view allowed me to get fully invested in this experience. When the apatosaurus (who I will name "Gertie") started sniffing at me, I actually reached out my hands to pet her. Being able to pet a dinosaur is pretty much every dinosaur lover's dream. The only thing that would make it better was if there were sensors in the front to detect my hands so I could pet her in the simulation.
After a while of Gertie studying me, she suddenly got up on her hind legs to stretch. I even found myself saying, "Whoa, down girl." Yes, I partially said this because I was playing along, but given how immersive the experience was, I kind of said it out of instinct, too.
After this, Gertie strutted back to her nest and fell asleep. The simulation then ended and I found myself applauding it.
This app has a considerable amount of potential. In addition to a charming experience like this, I wondered if there could be a more frightening experience in the app. Part of me was so struck by the beauty of the VR landscape and the gentleness of the Apatosaurus, I forgot I was even scared! Maybe when the app is released, there will be an experience with raptors or the t-rex. Imagine hiding in a closet from the raptors, only to eventually be attacked. Not for the faint of heart.
This particular VR experience channeled the awe of the original Jurassic Park, and was actually shot in the Muir Woods. ILM deserves a shout-out for the flawless design of the apatosaurus itself.
I've seen videos of gamers using 'Oculus Rift,' but without access to the technology, I never had a sense of how innovative and amazing modern VR is. We sure have come a long way from the red-and-black virtual boy. It took almost two decades, but we finally have a quality VR market bubbling up to the surface.