Total Immersion

Total immersion gaming is a long standing milestone for the video game industry. The idea where you almost can’t tell reality from digital fantasy is very enticing to a lot of people. What I wanted to know was if there was any way we can achieve this in the near future and how far off that future actually is. Researching this idea I found to my delight that physical Immersion within a game is almost a possibility thanks to multiple technologies & without a great leap of the imagination.

So in the physical immersion department the standard that I wanted to be met was the Star Trek Esq Holodeck. A room that changes the environment around the viewer in order for the brain to be fooled into thinking its in a larger/different space then it actually is. This means a method to change horizon line, perspective and number of other visual details smoothly. Luckily for us the beginning of this kind of technology has started appearing in front rooms all over the world.

The Wii can be thanked for this, with its relatively simple hardware setup of a camera and two infrared LEDs it has allowed a young inventor to adapt the perspective of a image on the fly.  A man called Jonny Lee had a bit of a play with the Wii’s hardware and put forward the idea of a changing perspective.

“We were then able to use the Wii Sensor Bar as an Infra-red tracking mechanism to relate our position relative to the television and render the imagery accordingly.”

Simply put it takes the position of your head and changes the image rendered to match the viewer’s perspective. COOL!

Its not a huge leap to think how this technology can be miniaturised and made to use existing technologies (webcams) to achieve this effect. Add more cameras and bigger, more durable screens and in no time you can be standing in the beginnings of a Holodeck. Although this method is limited to a single user I’m sure it won’t take people like Johnny Lee long before they find a new and interesting way to approach the problem.

So we now have a room that changes the perspective of what you see on the fly. That’s the background taken care off what about the foreground?  Well Tupac’s recent appearance at Coachella turned a lot of heads. I got really excited when this appeared on the interwebs but unfortunately its not the hologram that we were looking for. In fact it was a illusion that gives the appearance of 3D from one viewpoint only. A short but accurate summary of how it was achieved can be viewed here:

So this is still a good start but this technology wouldn’t be any good for a Holodeck you can move around in. We need something that can be viewed from multiple angles. Voxels may be able to give a helping hand in this department.

A company called Holografika has produced a impressive bit of kit that projects light in different intensities, directions and of course colours. This can give a very close approximation of 3D without the need for any wearable gear. Check out the video on their website:

This has some limitations but can probably be overcome with a combination of other technologies or even just a little more time. I for one would be glad never to have to wear “goggles” ever again.

This is only part of the problem taken care of. You are probably going to want to interactive with objects in the foreground right? So the holograms are going to have some kind of presence that will at least seem like your interacting with something. Over to Japan to impress us (as always) with some really interesting use of light and sound.

Over at Tokyo University they have been exploring the realm of Touchable Holography by using ultra sound to produce tactile feedback. This coupled with our good old friend the Wii remote helps with interaction of 3D holographic (almost) foreground objects. Wat? I did not expect this when I started writing this article and the more and more I discover,  the more my mindset changes from if to when.

Damn we are close to our Star Trek standards but there are still a few things missing, one of them is sound! We are used to using stereo, 5.1 & 7.1 setups but is there still a piece of tech that would give our Holodeck that extra edge? What about 3D Audio?

Well one professor may be onto something that utilizes current technology to improve most recordings to give a ultimate 3D sound. Using filters and finding the “Sweet Spot” he clams that his invention can have you hearing sounds from all directions as well as being whispered into your ear. Scary but also a very cool idea none the less.

Lastly and by no means least all this tech illusions would come crashing down around our ears if after taking a couple of steps you hit a wall and squished your nose flat. So we are going to need some kind of movable floor. Check out the Omni directional treadmill.

So not only does this treadmill deal pretty smoothly with changes of direction is seems to have the change of speed issue down as well. Additionally the creators are already looking into ways of using this for Virtual Reality, this and just watching the machine in action gives me very high hopes for the future.

So I set out to see how possible it would be to have near total physical immersion into a video game. What I did not expect to find is a list of very creative and innovative tech and people who have already had parts of the same dream. All we need now is some kind of way to bring all these guys together and before we know it us gamers could be losing the pounds we gained over the year oh gaming. I for one cannot wait and will be a happy test subject if any Aperture like company needs more test subjects for this area.

So I leave you with a quote that seems strangely apt from that film that start my interest in most things digital The Lawnmower Man: Mind over matter Dr. Angelo, not a miracle – a fact.