Tore Knabe’s Virtual Reality Experiences

Posted July 20, 2014 by Edmund in Features

There is a wealth of little tech demos and interesting VR experiments available to download for the Rift.

Ambient Occlusion Room

Ambient Occlusion Room

They may not hold your attention for as long as fully fledged games but they are just as vital to the development of the medium and act as fascinating demonstrations of VR’s potential. Tore Knabe, aka Tamulur, is a software developer based in Berlin who has been producing a steady stream of such experiments for some months. His demos stand out because they are both inventive and well produced. Knabe takes care in using the right 3D assets and sounds to build scenes that are a cut above mere proof-of-concept tests and are lovely experiences in and of themselves.

In this video, we look at five of Tamulur’s most recent demos. They all experiment with perception in a virtual world – one with your sense of self, another your sense of space and a third with your sense of time, the two most recent demos employ binaural sound and so require headphones. There are two others demos that make use of the Razor Hydra which I’ve no doubt are well worth trying as well if you have access to one.

The Ambient Occlusion Room explores the notion that it is easier to get a good spatial understanding of a scene if it is full of untextured objects then a fully texture rendered room. And that textures are most useful when you are focusing on what a specific thing is, not where. In this room, textures are only applied to an object if you are looking straight at it. Unfortunately, there’s no real call for rapid spatial awareness in the demo, so Tore’s hypothesis never really gets tested but there is no denying that it is a strikingly beautiful effect.

It is reminiscent of the ‘runner vision’ aesthetic from Mirror’s Edge, although that game used bright, unreal, primary colours to highlight points of interest. Here it is us that defines the focus, and that gives the style a completely different aesthetic meaning – maybe the perspective of an investigator, or a character with extreme perhaps debilitating focus? If you’re interested in adopting this visual style into your game then the demo provides a number of options for you to see what might work best. You can change the area of ‘influence’ to just texture a single object, all objects in close proximity to you or to everything within a cone.  You can have the textures get clearer the more centred they are, or to simply toggle on or off.

Knock Knock

Knock Knock

Knock Knock is a simple demonstration of binaural sound but delivered with an ingenious premise. You are sitting at a desk when you start to receive cryptic messages on your computer screen. They tell you that a mysterious girl is here and wants to see you but if you look at anything more than her shadow you will lose her. These messages are neatly done – a sound alerts your attention but they only progress to the next line when you’re looking at the screen, ensuring you don’t miss anything.

The Binaural sound is mostly very effective – the knock on the door makes you turn your head with a start. The footsteps are really the only sounds that don’t feel quite right. However, when the girl whispers in your ear, it is chilling. Combined with the visual cues of her shadow on the wall in front of you, you get an incredible sensation that someone is mere inches away from your head. It becomes a real challenge to resist the powerful temptation to turn and look at her. If you do, she fades out before you can process her features, leaving you alone. The slow opening of this demo discourages you from playing it over and over to catch a good look at her, helping to maintain the mystery, although  you will probably sit through it a few times out of curiosity anyway.

 

Three Voices

Three Voices

Three Voices is another Binaural sound demo – this time challenging you to pick out three different voices talking over each other.  You are on a stage in a large theatre, as you step into the light three actors begin orating one by one. First time round, the three monologues are played with standard audio and then it restarts with full binaural sound. The difference is certainly noticeable. The lighting is arranged such, that you can’t see the actor’s lips move, which is no doubt primarily to save on animation. It would have been interesting to test how seeing the speaker’s lips impacts your ability to pick them out, but to be fair it would have arguably compromised the audio test as well. Of course, this experiment could just as easily have been conducted with no visuals at all, but it is a testament to Tamulur’s craftsmanship that effort has gone into composing the scene and placing you in an impressive environment.

Ask Socrates

Ask Socrates

Ask Socrates is an experiment in shifting perspective. It is designed to encourage you to examine an idea using a Socratic dialogue by typing out a proposition, then switching characters to literally view the idea from a different angle. You are seated in a cosy living room, fireplace blazing, opposite a man who, it has to be said, looks more like an 18th century philosopher than the famous Greek. After you are done typing your idea the camera swoops round and thrusts you into the head of Socrates to type out a response. The whole conversation is then saved as a text document for you to review later. This is an interesting concept but it doesn’t work particularly effectively as a productivity tool. Typing in the Rift is not a very easy task and you’re not afforded much space to structure any given argument. I don’t know what it says about me, but I quickly descended into hurling insults back and forth at myself.

The main thing worth examining in Ask Socrates is the way in which it switches perspective. And, I’m afraid it’s probably more a lesson in what not to do. There’s nothing inherently wrong with moving the camera between the two characters as the transition, but here it is probably a bit too fast to be comfortable in the Rift and the clipping through the head is inelegant. This kind of transition is also problematic for this particular concept – by experiencing being neither character for a moment, it makes it all the more difficult to see yourself as either one – arguably making it harder take the exercise seriously.

Time of Statues

Time of Statues

Time of Statues is Knabe’s most straight-forward experiential demo. It consists of a few scenes of you being carried by a towering statue, set to a magnificent soundtrack. The sense of scale here is fantastic and it is a lovely environment to take in. Understandably, as you are riding a statue, the movement is incredibly slow.  This is not Senza Peso – although it does engender awe, particularly as the other statues turn to watch you, it does so at its own lumbering pace. Time of Statues’ stated purpose is to experiment with time perception in VR, but even so, it probably will push your patience to its limit. It could probably stand to be almost twice as fast, whilst still evoking the idea of living statues who see time much slower than us mere mortals. Even so, the soundtrack is beautiful and apt and the choreography of the first few sections is artful enough to make you anticipate the scenery to come.

I only stumbled on Tore Knabe’s work very recently and really enjoyed an afternoon of playing through his experiments. They are all so thought-provoking and well executed that I’m torn between wanting Knabe to keep producing these experiences and wanting him to start on a more fully featured project. If you’re a developer working on a VR game then you could draw a lot of inspiration from this body of work. If you’re just an enthusiast, looking for a taste of some of the devices and techniques that we might see in the future of VR then you should keep an eye on this developer’s portfolio.

Download all demo’s mentioned above by clicking here

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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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