As many of you VR fans / developers know, Owlchemy is very passionate about floors. When it comes to standing VR, our preferred flavor of VR, getting the floor height correctly calibrated is of utmost importance. If you’re standing in VR and your floor is off by more than an inch or two, your sense of presence, your willingness to move about, your comfort level, your perceived height, and your overall level of acceptance that this virtual world is real is reduced heavily.
With seated VR content, the concept of recentering makes sense to align the player to their origin, but with standing VR, the origin absolutely must be the center of the floor area in which they are situated.
To solve floor calibration, there are a number of ways to go about it. The software could tell the user to put their controllers on the floor to obtain an absolute floor height but this would fail on platforms where your floor area is not guaranteed to be within tracking due to the tracker FOV or other occlusion. Another method would be to manually input your height, which can be clunky and prone to terrible user error (do *you* know your exact height? did the height calibration occur when you were standing perfectly straight up?).
With the above options being lack luster and with no built-in ability to find the height of the floor on PlayStation VR, we decided to take things into our own Move-filled hands and design a custom calibration within Job Simulator. Instead of reaching a controller toward the floor and possibly exiting the tracking frustum, we realized that we could simply steal some math from our good buddy Leonardo da Vinci.
It turns out the human wing-span and human height are nearly identical, so if we have the player simply outstretch their arms and pull both triggers, we can obtain their exact height in one shot, without the process even seeming like a calibration step. Behind the scenes, at the moment of calibration we find the current position of the HMD relative to the camera on the Y-axis (since the user is standing) and then we use the player height we’ve calculated to find how high the HMD is from the ground, and use this to calculate the height of the camera from the ground. This gives us our absolute spatial calibration of the world from our previous relative-only space. This calibration method allows us to find the floor and also build a universal calibration for the room instead of for that particular player. Once we save this calibration to disk, unless the tracking camera is moved, any player can play the game and be exactly their real-world height in-game.
While it’s preferable when platforms build this kind of calibration into the system software, this method could technically work to solve floor calibration across any standing hand-tracked VR system, so we felt it would be good to share it with the VR community!
Today is a pretty big day for Owlchemy Labs. We’re announcing that we’ve raised a $5 million series A from Qualcomm Ventures, HTC, The VR Fund, Colopl VR Fund, Capital Factory, and some local Austin entrepreneurs to enhance our VR efforts!!
This is an incredibly exciting time in Owlchemy’s history. Job Simulator is making waves as a bundled launch title for HTC Vive, making it one of the most played VR games to date. Job Simulator is also slated to be a launch title for both Oculus Touch and PlayStation VR later this year. Additionally, the recently announced Rick and Morty VR title is one of the most anticipated upcoming VR titles.
Those that have been following Owlchemy since the beginning know that this company has been a passion-driven endeavor since the beginning. Owlchemy Labs, like many other early startups, started in the cramped extra bedroom of an apartment in Boston, MA. Our first games Snuggle Truck and Jack Lumber were built by an all-remote team of crazy, devoted, and hilarious folks across the US and Canada. Over the years, we assembled a team of insanely talented people and went to work building the games we’d always wanted to make. Games with humor — games with a focus on a quality experience — games that didn’t take themselves too seriously. We focused on mechanic-driven games and formed insane premises around them as the design process naturally led us from rough concept to something shippable. Take Jack Lumber, one of our favorite pre-VR games. A tree killed Jack’s grandma and he set out to get revenge on the forest, an origin story as absurd as the senses of humor of the founding team. This game resulted in one of our favorite trailers we’ve ever made (thanks to the help of Kert Gartner!):
Note that at this point Owlchemy was working out of a spare room/closet generously donated to us by MIT Game Lab’s Philip Tan and Rik Eberhardt. Thanks to the annoyingly loud HVAC system, the room was up for grabs and ended up being the spot of our first office for Owlchemy, essentially cultivating the growth of our company.
I’ll never forget the moment that Devin opened the Oculus Kickstarter page and pulled me over to tell me that this was the beginning of something huge — that most people in the world didn’t yet understand or see the significance of. Looking back, it was our leap of faith right then that would define the future of Owlchemy — our insistence that VR was about to explode caused us to drop everything and spend a month building Aaaaaculus! (the BASE jumping VR experiment that was originally a collaboration with Dejobaan and Owlchemy). We were essentially stumbling around in the dark with no rules of what VR was or what it could be. This was before the days of best practices guides and before anyone knew that for example we shouldn’t turn the head of the player or use keyboards and mouse to spin your VR avatar around wildly. We were exploring in a ripe new world and it was scary and strange. Speaking at Steam Dev Days alongside Palmer Luckey and Michael Abrash and Joe Ludwig as the only devs there building VR content was a trip.
I distinctly remember the fleeting feeling that at that time we may actually be participating in ‘good old days’ that people would talk about 20 years from now, and it was OC1 and Steam Dev Days that really drove that feeling home. We were surrounded by a small group of people who staunchly believed that we were on the precipice of a major shift and a series of decisions and moves (that others told us would be disaster to our company) had led to us being there somehow participating in the process of figuring out what VR was and what it could be, alongside some insanely great minds.
That led to the opportunity to build a brand new VR game. At the beginning of the development of Job Simulator, we thought it would be a great idea to hunker down in the harsh Canadian tundra in CTO Devin’s basement with prototype VR hardware and build something new.
These headsets were so early that raw PCBs were hot glued to the front with wires poking out that would shock your hand if you touched them in the wrong spot. With one hand made prototype, a half broken tracker, and two tracked controllers, we sat down and threw out everything we knew about VR and started to experiment. Instead of trying to build out a design that was in our heads, we simply tried to figure out what could be done with tracked hands in VR and the ability to move about a space. It turned out physics and realistic hand interactions created a childlike playfulness and manipulating objects in the world was actually extremely compelling. It was here that the beginnings of Job Simulator emerged.
This experimentation brought us from that 4-person team to our 16-person team that we have today. With Job Simulator packed in the box with the Vive and being a launch title for Oculus Touch as well as a launch title for PlayStation VR, we have one of the most played VR titles out there. We’re also thrilled to be working on Rick and Morty VR as well as a number of unannounced projects. Receiving a Sundance selection for our work and having the opportunity to speak around the world is surreal. Sharing knowledge and meeting other VR developers has been an incredibly rewarding experience. Additionally, it’s deeply inspiring to see emails and tweets from players and fans who say that our games have showed them the true potential of VR or that our work inspired them to build their own VR experiences.
Our work in VR has led us to understand that direct interaction with virtual worlds using your real hands will not only define what makes VR great but will shape all content to come. VR is on its way to change everything about how we interact and communicate with one another. It will connect people in a way that we’ve never realized was possible. It’ll be social in a way that defies expectations and as crazy as it sounds, VR is going to change the world. We don’t see VR as the next iteration of existing technology, but instead see it as the dawn of a new medium. We believe that VR will become a key part of daily life, much like how mobile phones have in such a short period of time become indispensable. We’re excited for the discoveries yet to be made, the genres of content that have yet to be explored, and for VR to open up interactive media to an entirely new audience. We know that we haven’t scratched the surface of what’s possible in the space, and that’s ok. It takes a ton of experimentation to figure out what might work and a ruthless dedication to throwing out work, constantly questioning norms, and looking at problems from new angles.
We want to thank our investors and advisors for trusting in our vision and for joining us on this adventure to explore VR and what it’s capable of. Owlchemy will continue to be staunchly multi-platform, bringing our games to emerging new platforms and remaining at the bleeding edge of what’s possible. This investment allows us to continue to create and explore VR more deeply with a stronger team. With that, we’re actively looking for absurdly talented senior folks to join us on our VR adventure.
The 6 year anniversary of Owlchemy Labs is coming up in only a few months. What a ride. Here’s to the next 6 years!
To follow our stream of consciousness on Twitter, follow founders Alex and Devin as well as the company here:
We spent this past weekend in San Diego, giving the first look of Rick and Morty Simulator directly to the fans! People who came by Adult Swim on the Green were able to play a delicious first few minutes of the game ever released to the public.
Tested also has you covered with an interview with Alex, and some footage of the game. Be warned, here be spoilers:
Lastly, Rick and Morty VR was featured when the Adult Swim area was named the #1 Top Thing to Do at Comic Con Without a Badge by Discovery’s own SourceFedNERD, who was quoted saying “this is the coolest VR thing I’ve ever done”!
We’re super pleased we were able to take the game out of our labs and get it into the hands of fans at Comic Con! Fan feedback is incredibly important to us and your reactions to the game were absolutely fantastic — we’ll be laughing about the demos, the incredible amount of expletives, and the great reactions.
We can’t wait to show you more of the game in the months to come!