The Apollo 11 Virtual Reality Experience Review

Posted February 8, 2015 by Edmund in News

Educational experiences are fast becoming some of the most compelling applications of VR.

The subject of history, in particular, has already seen a few different approaches – there have been VR documentaries, From Ashes brought the lecture-format to life, and more than one Timetravel experience allows students to be transported to historic locations. Apollo 11 differs from these other educational experiences as it focuses in on one particular historic event – the Moon landings. Using speeches, interviews and real audio from the mission, you experience moments from launch day – June 16th 1969. The full experience is set to take students through the entire mission – giving a much richer understanding of both the small details of what it might have been like to be there as well as the wider historical context of the event.

Apollo 11 Virtual Reality Experience 2The Apollo 11 experience was created by Immersive VR Education which is a new studio set up by David Whelan, editor of Virtual Reality Reviewer. Titan’s of Space creator, Drash has also been working on the project – his hand is clearly visible from the start as the demo includes some useful features we’ve come to expect from him, such as a button to toggle IR camera bounds.  What follows are my impressions of a demo build of the experience.  I have not been personally involved in any of its creation, and while I always strive to be honest in my opinions – please do be aware that I work closely with David on Virtual Reality Reviewer. I am also further biased by the fact that I’m a massive space geek.

After some brief snippets of text, which put the space race in its proper context as a part of the Cold War, we open with President Kennedy’s immortal 1962 ‘We choose to go to the Moon’ speech. We watch this from a sofa in small room, much like the one from Welcome to Oculus, but adorned with NASA imagery. I think this could provide more educational value if it were designed as a 1960s living room, although the TV set would have to be a heck of a lot smaller than the anachronistic 60 inch flatscreen we see here.

Apollo 11 Virtual Reality Experience 3The eventual transition from that living room to the lunar orbit is sublime. The soundtrack matches the beats of Kennedy’s speech powerfully, and the visual of the Earth rising over the moon as the command module floats past you is inspirational. Other standout moments are the interview with Buzz Aldrin about launch day as you descend to the base of the Saturn V rocket on Merritt Island – you get a great sense of scale and of place – together, the scene really helps you relate to Aldrin’s words. The moment you leave Earth’s gravity is another highlight – it is handled simply and elegantly but is very effective.

What doesn’t work quite so well is the launch countdown segment. While it’s great to get an appreciation of the space and the view from the cockpit, the sequence lasts quite a while without much to look at. The soundtrack does help keep you in the right frame of mind, as it does throughout, but I can imagine some people growing restless. Some animation on the astronauts would significantly improve this section. When we do finally take off, of course, the lack of any G-force pushing you into your chair is a noticeable immersion-breaker but there’s not much that can be done about that.

Apollo 11 Virtual Reality Experience 1There is no denying that Apollo 11 is still very much a work in progress. It still needs, at least, to add the lunar landing itself and the return voyage to feel complete. There are also improvements to be made to the existing segments – some textures are missing or could be enhanced and adding more animations would have a big impact on immersion. If you’re not naturally interested by the subject matter then it could be considered a little slow at times, but on the whole it is very well composed; there are numerous examples of very smart direction for VR – the opening sequence is a good example of layering on different points of focus. The way your eyes are drawn up to the top of the rocket once you reach the foot of the launch pad is very effective. The sound – both in terms of the stirring music selection and use of authentic audio clips – is a great success and holds the experience together, even in the slower moments. Overall, Apollo 11 is a great example of how VR can bring an historical event to life and points at an interesting new avenue for educational experiences.

I’m looking forward to when the final product lands. There is a link to the Kickstarter in the video description below and the demo is publically available today.

Download & Kickstarter Click Here

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About the Author


Edmund Ward is a philosophy graduate who has focused on aesthetics and cultural critique in the information age. He grew up with 'the dream of the holodeck' and is prone to get very excited by new innovations in natural user-interfaces. Edmund is currently looking for volunteers to look after the glucose drip that will sustain his "fleshform" (as he insists on calling it) when he migrates permanently to VR.

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