VRTGO Labs Launch Event

VRTGO Labs held its launch event on Wednesday evening, in the suitably impressive venue of St Mary’s Heritage Centre, Gateshead. VRTGO Labs aims to be Europe’s first industry-led virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) centre of excellence. While I was unable to attend for long, there were some very interesting things going on inside.

Among the exhibitors was Humphrey Hardwicke, Creative Director at Luminous Group, purveyors of digital architecture, surveys and VR. He explained to me how his company were making use of Unreal Engine 4 to demonstrate interior design visualisations using VR. What grabbed my attention initially however, was that they were using the hand tracking capabilities of LeapMotion paired with a standard Xbox One controller, to allow rich interactivity in their Oculus Rift experience. The improved accuracy of the latest version of the Leap Motion software was exploited well by the Luminous group, and I was able to stylise the room and interact with its objects in a much more intuitive way than I had expected.

HammerheadVR made a brief speech on their AbeVR and Feel Wimbledon experiences. Just two of their projects they felt were successful based on the positive feedback they had gotten, something which may pave the way for even more interactive and emotionally engaging experiences from the studio.

A week earlier I had sampled AbeVR, which places you in the body of a woman from the 2013 psychological horror short by director Rob McLellan. Their Feel Wimbledon experience, made for Jaguar and starring Andy Murray, lets people see what it is like to make the winning strike as a professional tennis player during an intense game. HammerheadVR’s portfolio includes encouragingly varied and noteworthy works with big names like Star Wars, Lexus, Whirlpool and more.

Animmersion had brought along one of their Dreamoc hologram displays, which are gesture manipulable display cabinets that render vivid, animated 3D objects. The clarity and vibrancy of this was immediately impressive, as I had only ever seen very dim holograms in darker environments before. This display was of much higher quality, even though it was being showcased in a church hall flooded with natural lighting.

Other exhibitors at the event included talented work from local studios CCP, Coatsink, Spearhead InteractiveVector76 and Wolf and Wood, who released their highly praised A Chair In A Room, which I am looking forward trying.

Carri Cunliffe, manager of Secret Sauce, welcomed us to the event and explained VRTGO Labs as a mix of office and co-working space, situated at Baltimore House in Gateshead. She made clear how facilities such as a their VR demo room and GTI open source fibre – a high-capacity, high-speed open access fibre optical network – would provide exciting opportunities for local business to co-operate in making the region a hotbed for their VR and AR cluster development programme. Carri then went on to introduce the Mayor of Gateshead, Allison Ilderton-Thompson, who expressed her amazement at the experiences she’d had, and exhuded a positive outlook on the role the council will play in supporting and encouraging technological and artistic innovation in the area.

Despite being only able to attend for a short time, I felt the event further reinforced my hopes that a starting up a VR business could prove to have long term viability. I experienced and learnt about some new tech and opportunities that could be invaluable to me as a startup developer. I eagerly await the next conference and learning from all of these very talented and inspiring people.

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Independent game designer.