I had one of those really interesting and productive meetings yesterday with an outstanding academic that was brimming with possibilities and has filled me with ideas.
The academic in question teaches multimedia and game design and for the past year or so has been experimenting with the Oculus Rift in his teaching. I’ve been wanting to catch up with him to discuss his work since we acquired a Rift for the team back in December. He demonstrated some of the software which he has created which included a virtual walkthrough of our St Peter’s Campus, where he is based, and a driving game set in the streets of Newcastle. He was able to share some of his more complete work with me there and then so that I can take a more leisurely look back at my office. The screenshot is taken from the St Peter’s simulation and shows part of the exterior of the Design Centre. And a Dalek.
Then he gave me a quick overview of what it takes to develop software for the Rift, recommending we stick to the Unity engine for best ease-of-use to quality ratio, and Autodesk or SketchUp for 3D modelling which he said would actually be the most difficult and time consuming part of the process, as the models need to be very high quality – ‘game ready’ – meaning high polygon count and FPS. He has very kindly offered to visit the team and give us all a more in-depth one day crash course on everything we need to get started in May or June after his teaching has finished. Quid quo pro, I offered our services, Rift and a computer to run it when he attends open days and recruitment events.
Finally we discussed practical applications. Marketing applications are easy, and there are many events where we can, and will have a stall with the Rift set up to attract people over to us and then to start a discussion about what we can do for them. Applications to enhance teaching and learning are more difficult, though Keele University have done some good work in their School of Nursing and Midwifery. Some ideas we discussed included interactive 3D models of molecules for our Pharmacy department, mechanical equipment for our Engineering department, and a virtual gallery of work created by the National Glass Centre, though this is more of a marketing tool again. Equipment is another problem as there needs to be an appropriate amount of hardware for people to use, two Rift’s across the University is hardly sufficient. Of course departments can’t justify such an investment without having the appropriate software and concrete learning objectives ready to go.
We have a similar chicken and egg problem in the team in that none of us really have the necessary programming or 3D skills to develop for the Rift. In order for members of the team to be up-skilled for this we need to have a clear business case and a project to develop, but how do we attract such a project without the skills? And of course we have to do all of this in pretty short order in time to capture the zeitgeist surrounding VR at the moment.