Designing a Custom VR Controller
For the past year, we’ve been working on a VR project called Shapesong. It’s something we’re all super passionate about, and something we’ve shown to a relatively small amount of people (even winning a couple awards), but never actually introduced to the world at large. Well, that’s changing now. We want to bring everyone into the loop of what we’re working on, and what has been inspiring and motivating us so that others can learn from our experiences and get excited about what we’re making.
The simplest way that I’ve been describing Shapesong is as an experience where Fantasia meets Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory in a shared, virtual environment. Let’s let that sink into your imagination for a moment…
Ok, great. So what the heck do we mean when we say it?
Well at a high level, we want to create worlds where everything you see can be interacted with and played musically. Just like Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory did for candy, in Shapesong we want people to walk up to a tree and bang on it to create a beat, or to swirl around a pool with their hands to create some texture, or to catch rain drops to play a melody. The Willy Wonka metaphor is for us a way to encourage people to experiment with sound, and to not be afraid to try something musically that is maybe unconventional. We want people to forget about all the rules we’ve built up about what music should and shouldn’t be, and focus on the things that captivate, compel, and inspire. Pure imagination.
On the Fantasia side, we want to tap into this idea of becoming a master of sound and light, controlling it completely and being immersed by it. Fantasia was this amazing experiment by Walt Disney and his associates that tried to blend sound and light into performances seamlessly. Probably the most famous part of Fantasia is Mickey in wizard’s robes standing on a cliffside, gesturing like a mad composer and creating storms with intense waves synchronized with powerful orchestral music. It’s this feeling that we want to recreate and apply to a fully interactive, immersive virtual world.
So what about the “shared” part? I think if you were going to try and define the thing that really separates virtual reality from other media technologies, what really makes virtual reality so powerful, it would be the removal of almost all of the limitations of our physical reality combined with an immersive natural user interface. One of the key implications of this is the ability to naturally connect with each other over great distances, called telepresence. Telepresence is, I think, by far the most interesting thing about virtual reality right now. I can be with someone hundreds of miles away and interact with them like they were right next to me. Combine that with the power we wield over the digital realm and the possibilities are limitless. This is what we want to apply to the music experience. Where in the past fifty years technology has served to, for better or worse, isolate us more and more in not only our music consumption, but also creation, telepresence stands to bring us back to the communal drum circle where music all began.
So that’s what we’re trying to do with Shapesong. In all honesty, the journey of creating Shapesong has so far been filled with both so much challenge and so much discovery that we’re still ourselves trying to define what exactly Shapesong is, or wants to be. But, the above encapsulates our overall vision that guides each of our experiments and creations.
We want to start sharing our work and engaging with the community so that everyone can be a part of the journey we’re taking in creating Shapesong. Shapesong has by far been the most interesting and creative project that I personally have worked on, and I think that others will enjoy seeing how we’re approaching different music and interactive concepts in VR - and seeing what we discover. Our goal is to release into Early Access sometime later this year. My hope is that when we do, people will already be excited to try what we’ve created and will have a hundred ideas of what they can create with it. Follow us down the music-VR rabbit hole and lets see how deep it really goes.