Is It a Birdly, Is It a Planely?

A while back I had the chance to experience Birdly, an Oculus Rift-based experience of being a bird. It’s more than Oculus Rift-based though because it has this whole rig that lets you lie flat, tilt your body to steer, and move your arms to flap and also to steer. It’s a very nicely done version of what you might want something like this to feel like, complete with a fan blowing in your face for ‘air resistance’.

Naturally I spent most of my time look at or for the seams of the experience. As you’ll see in the video above, I started out by crashing into buildings, finding that to be disappointingly unremarkable – it had the smoothness of a Half-Life 2 restart or something, a blink and you come back to life. Then I spent time trying to see my bird body, which I feel they did a nice job of, particularly being able to look at your wings. Eventually I focused on trying to fly out of the simulated city to the sea – I made it to the beach just as my timer ran out. Another person I was with at the time also flew very close to the ground to demonstrate that all the cars, people, etc. were a completely flat texture on the ground which was surreal and quite interesting visually. Funny that in a sense you maintain a ‘bird’s eye view’ all the way to the ground.

All that said, I didn’t finish with a burning desire to ‘birdly’ again. I kind of want to fly out to sea forever because it seems romantic, but beyond that the experience normalised incredibly quickly. In a way that’s a testament to the designers and engineers – it didn’t ‘throw me out’ of the bird body. But on the other hand it’s something I wonder about with the latest VR push: is it really that remarkable? Is it actually all that different to what we already do? If I get used to being a bird in the space of two or three minutes and no longer marvel at it, what’s it for?

Perhaps VR is better off as installation art than in the living room?

11 December 2015
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