Who says the future of the metaverse belongs to humanoid avatars? Last month I told you about Immerse Framework, an impressive new toolkit for multi-user creation of VR environments in Unity 3D -- now watch this equally impressive demo of Immerse Collaborative, an add-on for that toolkit which makes it possible for multiple avatars to interact in the same VR space together in real time:
That avatars and their functionality are seriously simplified, but project lead Jon Brouchoud argues there's a very good reason for that:
"We were tempted at every step of development to add features," Jon tells me, "but took we took a reductionist approach instead, and attempted to understand not how much we can add to the application, but how much of it we can remove, in order to simplify as much as possible, while still offering a truly useful multi-player solution."
This is a radical departure from High Fidelity's version of VR collaboration or even that of Oculus itself, but Jon believes simplicity like this will be a desired feature for numerous applications of VR:
"Ultimately, we believe there are lots of use cases for multi-player virtual reality that really don't need the full depth of a public metaverse-style social platform, nor do they need all of the bells and whistles of complex tracking, input and other interactions. They just want to get people together virtually, and be able to walk, talk and point at things."
This sounds exactly right, especially for real world applications like architecture and industrial design. For that very reason, Immerse Collaborative's avatars are decidedly non-humanoid:
"This comes back to our reductionist development methodology," says Jon. "How much of an avatar can you remove, in order to simplify the login / access process, yet still feel a strong sense of presence and human connection with another person in VR? We found that the simple thumbnail pic (something everyone is already used to doing with other social media platforms), along with a simple 3D icon representing your location in the space, offers a surprisingly rich sense of presence, and many people are actually relieved to not have to deal with the avatar choice and customization process."
Jon is a real life architect who's been pioneering VR for about a decade, first in Second Life -- so he can speak directly to the experience of using VR for real work, and the pitfalls that can involve:
"In cases where all you really want to do is get everyone into a virtual space together, we wanted to eliminate that inevitable first 15 minutes of every meeting that's usually spent giggling about which avatar you choose, being distracted by whether your avatar looks like you or not, or getting used to how unnatural most avatar animations look. I still love visiting the many other social platforms, and look forward to the evolution of the metaverse, but our goal with Immerse Framework is relatively niche. We just want to enable our clients to get to business in virtual meetings as quickly and easily as possible, without any technical hassle or distractions."
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