January 17th 2018 will go down in history as the date that the Estonian VR community held their first true VR meetup. This means that the whole event took place inside a VR app. This was a solution to the problem brought up in the last physical meetup we had – that there is never enough time for simple networking and chit-chat in our regular events and that’s a shame, as developers from different cities see each other so seldom. Another reason for taking up this virtual challenge was the fact that many of us were curious as to how usable the VR chat rooms of today really are. So pretty much every app with “social VR” somewhere in the description was briefly tested before the event. As we needed a working web browser for the first meetup, the lucky chosen app was AltspaceVR.
Here’s what went down:
In the beginning of the event all guests received a warm greeting from Jason Schmidt, Community & Events Lead at Altspace. We introduced people to the basic controls of the experience, e.g. how to express all them emojis when you lack facial expressions and how to block the inevitable troll or two. Jason was also a huge help before the main event – he took the time to show Madis and Mario the basics of hosting an Altspace event and gave both some superpowers that really came handy during the main show. Speaking of which, the only real presentation of the evening was a first look at the new and glorious www.eevr.ee website. The homepage of the Estonian VR scene is now up-to-date in terms of web technology, community news and the larger local situation.
For example it’s now super easy to find the VR arcade nearest to you or filter EEVR members according to their special skills (be it marketing, 360 video etc). This is something we wanted for a long time and Mario finally got the opportunity to make it happen. The dictionary also got a big overhaul thanks to Madis and his VR terminology project. From the presenter point of view we can say that giving a virtual talk to a virtual audience is definitely strange and scary at first (since we can’t even be sure that everyone is experiencing the same reality that we are, as was shown with the out-of-sync web browsing).
We’re also so used to reading live feedback from the audience members and having it all replaced by emojis and really limited body language was hard to get used to. Maybe we will in time, or maybe the tech quickly gets better before we have to “unlearn” the basic cues of other human beings.
After the “official” part of the event we took on some of the leisure activities that Altspace has to offer. We specifically picked the “Game room” for our event so we had access to some simple experiences/experiments. Even though gaming is not the main focus of Altspace, we found some pretty nice activities. Arguably the most popular was Holograms Against Humanity, a VR version of the classic and humorous card game where anything goes. How much VR adds to the experience of a plain card game is another question. We also tried to shoot some flying plates, try our hand at a tron-like mini game and marveled at the miniature earth that showed the location of all the participants in the room (even though the event was in estonian, we were visited by many different coutries. Yes, even from Uganda).
Since the point of VR EEVR is to try out different software, some of us that stayed longer then migrated to SteamVR Home for some additional fun. We ended up building the worlds tallest tower made from household tables, from which it was excellent to jump off with a jet pack in order to then ski down some steep slopes. Sound very dream-like or psychodelic now that it’s written down…
All in all, the event went better than expected – people came, trolls were tolerable, Altspace was super supportive and we actually could give an awkward presentation in VR! A huge thanks to everyone involved and also to the many local VR arcades that offered special prices for people interested in joining us! Until next time (in a month?).