Assignment #7: Experiment with scaling in the VR world

While we work on finishing our second project for the Virtual and Augmented Reality course, which is about making a halloween-themed VR funhouse, we were tasked with exploring how a scaled up world will look like. Till now, people have just imagined how it will feel like if we suddenly shrank down in size – much like how Ant-man does – but now, with the help of VR, we can make it real and experience how it feels.

For this experiment, I scaled up one of the scenes from our VR funhouse project (still under development) by a factor of 10, and here are the results:

Kid's Room Scene – Normal Scale Kid’s Room Scene – Normal Scale

10x Scale – Alphabet blocks kept on the baby chair 10x Scale – Alphabet blocks kept on the baby chair

10x Scale – Alphabet block tossed in the air 10x Scale – Alphabet block tossed in the air

The first thing I noticed, before even putting on my VR headset, was the lighting. Scaling the models by 10 times the normal size, the volume of the space increased by a factor of 10 x 10 x 10 = 1000. This means, that I had to increase the range of my lights by 100 so that they may cover double the area than they did previously. Once the lighting was fixed, I tried running the scene on my Vive, and I have to say, the view was breathtaking! And, by saying this, I’m not exaggerating at all. I found myself, standing on the floor, with everything around me looking absolutely gigantic. The feeling was very real-like, far more real than how I imagined it would be. Is this how the world looks like to small rodents like rats? That is, if we ignore the differences in the vision of humans and other animals, and compare only on the basis of size.

After I was done appreciating how strange and wonderfully-real it felt, I soon realized that everything around me was simply too far away for me to reach. Things that appeared to be relatively closer were still out of my play area. Since, our project requirement restricts us to physical movements within a 3m x 3m space only, I did not have the mechanics set up to move myself around in the VR world by artificial means, like teleporting or flying. For this reason, I moved a chair (with an attached table) to the center of my scene, and moved my entire VR world half-way down the ground, so that I can spawn on top of the chair once I run the project. Looking down at the ground from on top of the chair, was as scary as looking down a cliff.

However, at this scale, I was able to notice minute details of the scene in a much better manner. The textures of all the models were bloated, and didn’t look that great, especially on the low resolution models. The illusion of depth and detail, which is normally achieved by using normal maps on the materials, was no longer looking real. At this scale, we surely need to use high-resolution textures. Moreover, the physics seemed to behave the same way, which should not have been the case. Since my size has shrunk ten-folds, my strength should also get reduced proportionally, but this wasn’t the case. However, this was more of a fault of mine than the Physics engine’s, since I should have increased the mass of objects, and the friction appropriately. One thing that still felt wrong, was the collision detection. If you notice from the pictures above, the 3 alphabet blocks are sort of going inside each other. Generally, we make the colliders a little smaller, or bigger than the object, to approximate its shape, but upon scaling up the models, this approximation does not work – we need to add colliders that exactly mimic the shape of the object.

If we have to develop such an experience for VR, we will have to explore other ways of navigation and exploration, since the user will have very less information about what is above his head. For instance, while I was standing on the floor, I had no way of knowing what was kept on top of the chair. Even if I were to teleport above the chair using a bezier pointer with longer range and height, it will be difficult for me to ascertain where exactly am I going to land. Some alternative could be that I could fly around this space, if I were a bee, or crawl up on walls and other objects, if I were an ant or spider-man!

Although it is very fun to walk around in this scaled-up world, this capability can be used in various fields other than entertainment. In engineering, one could zoom-in on a specific area of a CAD design, and see if various parts fit perfectly with each other. Similarly, the interactions happening at a very small-scale, for example on a quantum scale, can be simulated in VR, wherein the Physics behaves very differently than we are used to.