I met the crew from AltspaceVR inside a virtual space station. We chatted briefly, moving around the room, playing with some glow sticks that had been left out for our entertainment. Then I moved off to the side, and watched as my avatar reappeared at our starting location. I could hear myself talking, and follow my steps. I watched as beta-Ben repeated the last five minutes of my life.
This time-traveling adventure was a demo of the new VR capture-and-replay feature AltspaceVR introduced this week. The company has been on the forefront of experimenting with live entertainment in virtual reality, bringing on comedians like Reggie Watts, news casters like Al Roker, and even journalists like our own Russell Brandom.
Walking through a surreal sort of selfie
Up until now the only way to catch a performance in AltspaceVR was to log in while it was happening live or watch it after as a flat, two-dimensional video. The new VR capture collects data on everything happening in the three-dimensional environment, so that during a replay a viewer can move freely around the space. As a nice gimmick, viewers inside a replay can even interact with certain items, for example grabbing a glow stick.
I checked out a replay of a Reggie Watts show and definitely felt like the energy and movement of his character came across. Since the show had been recorded before the capture feature was announced, however, AltspaceVR had erased all the avatars in the crowd, as those people had not consented to be filmed. I was alone in a room with a prerecorded avatar of Reggie Watts, and sea of emoji rising toward the ceiling, reactions from the ghost of an audience I could no longer see.
Why loop just beats when you can loop yourself?
The appeal to broadcasters is obvious. Right now VR content is still expensive to produce, and the audience is small. Giving consumers a chance to experience it on-demand when they join the ranks of headset owners adds a valuable shelf life to virtual reality experiences produced in AltspaceVR.
For the average user, you now have the trippy opportunity to do something, then watch and, in a very limited way, interact with your past self. In clear violation of the Prime Directive, you can reach out and grab objects from out of your past self’s hand.
I can imagine that as our ability to capture what your real body is doing, this would open up incredible opportunities for athletes, dancers, and performers of all stripes to evaluate and perfect their own body language and position. For artists, there is also an opportunity to create interactive works that employ multiple versions of yourself. Instead of just layering samples of his own voice and instruments, Reggie Watts can start looping himself.