Firebox Web Browser

Posted March 19, 2014 by Edmund in VR Software

Firebox is a VR browser that conceptualises webpages as rooms, and links as doorways between those rooms.

It is an idea that instantly makes intuitive sense. But at the same time, you may be wondering whether or not it could ever deliver a pleasant of efficient browsing experience. Indeed, at present, it is not a viable means of actually browsing your favourite webpages. Firebox does not render most pages in a useful way. For example if you visited virtualrealityreviewer in Firebox you would be confronted with a room full of dozens of doors with images placed haphazardly on walls and video content nowhere to be seen. It would be both hard to find what you are looking for and very easy to get lost.

virtual realityEven so, the experience is comfortable and the way Firebox renders the links, as portal-style windows into the next room, is very cool. It would be nice if there was some controller support, though. At the moment you have to navigate with a mouse and keyboard. WASD move you around and you can reorient yourself with the mouse. Spacebar toggles on flight mode, which allows you to move around quicker and explore your surroundings more freely. Unaided flight has sometimes made me feel nauseous in VR, but for some reason it felt OK in this.

The key thing is not to think of Firebox as browser to read normal webpages as we know them today, but as a framework for creating a new world wide web of locations. By adding some Firebox-specific tags to an ordinary HTML document you can define how your room should be displayed. If you’re comfortable with HTML you should be able to fairly easily set a skybox, select a room shape, and populate that room with 2D or 3D images. You can add sound files that trigger based on your position and even include 3D objects. And this is where things get really interesting –

Tuscany in the Firebox VR BrowserThis may look like the Oculus Tuscany Demo but it isn’t. It is actually a webpage rendered by Firebox. If you explore it you will find some easter eggs, like a message that plays as you approach the fireplace. Toggle on flight mode and you’ll finally be able to explore the town surrounding the villa.

The current version of firebox boots onto a hub room with portals to several different experimental pages. The Tuscany replica is a real achievement, but there are plenty more rooms that are worth a visit. Many are almost on a par with some of the best experiential Unity demos. There are museum-like networks of rooms containing giant models. There is an enchanting fantasy forest to check out and a maze to solve. These pages really show off the potential of Firebox as a platform for exploration, education and even adventure experiences. All of these experiences can be physically interlinked creating a kind of MMO world of endless possibilities. Right now, there is probably enough Firebox content to entertain you for the better part of 2 hours.

image22Any conversation about Virtual Reality sooner or later turns to a discussion about persistent virtual worlds as imagined by science-fiction stories like Snow Crash.Something like Playstation Home or Second Life might seem natural frameworks to apply VR to, but Firebox promises to be a VR hub that is as open as the world wide web.

This is an exciting notion – if it can set standards that are suitably flexible then in the short term, this could easily take off in the same way that Twine has done – leveraging the openness and collaborative nature of html to make creating modest VR experiences far more accessible. In the longer term, I can see most major websites experimenting with VR-friendly versions, in the same way most websites today design a mobile version alongside the desktop.
If certain rooms could allow concurrent users to see each other and communicate, then VR Browsers could be a paradigm shift in the way we consume networked content.

Firebox is not only one to watch, but also something to consider getting involved with.

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About the Author

Edmund

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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