Hi Christian! Welcome back to MTBS! You’re not involved with just one, but TWO companies. What is Hypercast and Hammerhead Interactive? How do you differentiate between the two?
Hammerhead is a fresh games development studio that has been specializing in VR ever since the Oculus Kickstarter. TMRW Ventures Ltd. specializes in product development for emergent technologies, and taking new innovations to market. Hypercast is a joint-venture between Hammerhead and TMRW that develops B2B VR product experiences.
How many people are on your team? How did you manage to get started?
The four of us have been collaborating since second year of university. We developed Undercurrent in our final year, which received a lot of attention as it was the first underwater game for the Rift. This success gave us the courage to form our company and pursue our dream of developing next-generation VR experiences.
Hypercast was formed as a result of right time, right place. The TMRW guys saw our work on Undercurrent at a time when they were exploring commercial solutions using Oculus Rift. The opportunity was clear and with good synergy and shared ambitions between our two teams the proposition felt stronger together.
Let’s talk about Hypercast first. What is this software company in the business of doing? What is Hypercast?
Hypercast is our brand for bespoke virtual reality business applications. We utilize our experience working with games and emergent tech to create anything you can think of. We are always looking for new opportunities and challenges as we pave the way for virtual reality.
Right now we’re working on opportunities that span luxury product experiences, experiential advertising campaigns for events, and complex data visualization for research projects.
Out of all the applications I’ve seen in development for VR, this is the first time I’ve heard of it being used in the yachting industry. What are the big challenges you are working to overcome? Is drumming up yacht sales really that challenging? Why?
We used a luxury yacht as an example due to their high ambitions for customer experience, but the principle can be applied to a host of industries. At its core Hypercast provides fully immersive visualizations, that lets users customize products in real time, whilst experiencing the feeling and physicality of the product first hand, which in this case is a 30 meter long luxury yacht. These features combine to expedite the sales pipeline in a cost effective manner.
The compactness of our VR systems allows sellers to show off their entire product range within a limited space or in regions where they may not have showrooms. Sales people can even take the kit directly to the client and let them configure their bespoke yacht from the comfort of their home.
Configuring bespoke features can be a lengthy process and clients often struggle visualizing the end product. We solve this by providing real-time customization tools that ensure that products are tailored to the client.
For Hypercast to serve its purpose, is it necessary to be in VR to be successful? Why or why not?
Hypercast is a B2B proposition right now, so does not need a large consumer base to prove successful. We work with visionary companies looking to understand, explore and develop VR solutions that help solve commercial challenges or offer them new and exciting opportunities with their customer base. Beyond this our roadmap includes consumer related applications and therefore it’s important that the Oculus Rift (and other VR HUD’s) prove popular and that we make applications that consumers want to get their hands on.
When working with the super wealthy who have the money to spend on things they need “just so”, yachting makes sense to me. Are there other markets with similar needs that you see Hypercast going into? Are there other verticals with similar needs?
We’re just scratching the surface at the moment. Opportunities span many sectors from sales and marketing uses within luxury goods, to industrial design solutions, or training applications in healthcare. The possibilities are endless and we are thrilled to explore the market.
You’ve obviously done a lot of research in VR and have drafted guidelines the Hypercast team lives by. During your software development, did you come across some lessons you didn’t anticipate? Any eureka moments that could save fellow developers a lot of pulled hair?
It is a tough question as there are so many facets to VR development and it is very case specific. It is usually a balancing act between realism and comfort against responsiveness and functionality. A fulfilling experience is achieved through a series of small successes, as a result of continuous testing.
VR developers basically have to rewrite the rulebook for games design, which is something I took upon myself for my dissertation on Virtual Reality Design Principles (www.VRGameDesign.co.uk). I finished the paper a year ago, but developers are constantly discovering new challenges and finding solutions to the limitations I describe. At the moment a lot of knowledge is stored in forums and blogs across the web, which makes it difficult to access. We hope to develop a more dynamic platform for VR learning material, to accelerate the collaborative learning process. We hope to connect with more people interested in sharing their experience to help build this site.
You were interviewed on MTBS last year to talk about Undercurrent. How has development been going since then? What are the latest additions you’ve been working on?
We have mainly been focusing on Hypercast during this year, as it will provide us with the funding and experience to carry out a large project like Undercurrent. We have continued to showcase the demo, gather feedback and engage with the community. We recently began developing our prototype in Unreal Engine 4, which has been a huge advancement in the development.
One of the biggest requests was for full buoyancy control, which was initially cut to contain the player without artificial boundaries. We have implemented complete vertical controls and instead limit mobility using ice caves and undercurrents. We also want to make the dynamic ecosystem a larger part of the game, where the player can interact with his surroundings and experience the consequences first hand. But more on that later.
There has been a great deal of focus placed on the visualization of VR – choice of HMDs, visual specs, etc. Have you been experimenting with different methods of interaction as well? How so?
Oculus has been super supportive in giving us feedback and hardware. Oculus has done everything right by us from the get go, and we want to continue supporting them as our primary platform. That being said, we are super excited about the variety of additional HMDs coming out, who all have a slightly different take on the experience. We will surely start supporting devices like Avegant Glyph, CastAR and the Altergaze when the time is right. We would also like to implement more peripherals like the Omni Treadmill and Myo. If anyone out there is developing hardware that they think would work well in one of our experiences please get in touch!
I understand you have an interest in phantom limb pain. What is phantom limb pain, and can you explain what work you are looking to do in this area? How does the Myo fit in?
Phantom limb syndrome is a symptom for amputees and has been a problem which has been traditionally treated using a combination of drugs and prosthetics. The pain occurs naturally as a sufferer performs every-day tasks – the brain fires control impulses to the muscles in the hand or wrist but they never reach their destination.
What we can do now with the Oculus Rift and Myo is provide an affordable solution that Phantom limb sufferers can use at home or away. The Myo is unique in that it can track minute muscle impulses through the forearm, catching those impulses and translating them into motion on a virtual puppet limb inside a virtual space. If this technology works as we expect then this will allow phantom limb sufferers a quick and easy way to re-align themselves at home comfortably and affordably.
As an independent game and content developer, you’re kind of betting the farm on VR. I know your content supports other formats too, but VR is obviously high on your list of priorities. Going toe to toe with other content makers, does supporting VR offer some kind of competitive edge for you? Why or why not?
We have a chance here to be part of a virtual reality renaissance. That is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that we simply can’t pass on. Besides, we are young, so this is the perfect time to bet big.
We firmly believe that VR is the next logical step in computer interfaces and that it is one of those technologies that are bound to happen. It’s just a matter of time, and everything suggests that the time is now. VR is our flagship that we use to demonstrate our technical skill and ability to overcome tough design challenges. It is an opportunity to stand out from the crowd of traditional developers, and establish ourselves early as front-runners of the VR charge.
You recently joined The Immersive Technology Alliance (http://www.ita3D.com). Why’d you do it?
We want to engage in initiatives that help drive the industry forward, foster innovation and inform best practises. We’re delighted to be a member of the ITA.
VR games, VR movies, VR broadcasting, VR Chat, the “VR Showroom”…lots to be excited about! Outside the confines of your work, what applications excite you the most in the immersive space and why?
The ultimate nerd dream has to be the Metaverse from Ready Player One, where people play, socialize, work and go to school in one massive interconnected universe. I realize that this will have some questionable effects on society, so maybe I will just settle for a VR operating system so I can finally have my 16 screen setup.
360 VR Video streaming is another fascinating area that we are exploring. This allows people to watch real-time concerts or football games from their home, socialize with friends across the globe, or enjoy meditative holidays during work.