The reason why I love VR is because I can do things that I wouldn’t be able to in real life. One of the best examples of this premise is Universe Sandbox 2.
Although it’s just a Vive port from a PC 2D game, the experience lends itself perfectly for an immersive and interactive medium at room-scale with tracked hand motion controllers. In fact, it works best in this medium to the point that I can easily call Universe Sandbox 2 my favorite VR experience.
It all starts with Earth.
You’re standing by it, overlooking this majestic view of the planet you’re currently standing on. You step around it, rather carefully to not bump into the virtual objects.
In your hand is the Moon ready to launch. You press the trigger, and it flies off into space yet falls victim to the pull of Earth’s gravity. Within seconds, the moon flies up and over the world, and scoops right back around and completes an orbit. You just created something that took millions of years to form.
Now, for the fun part
We’re silly beings, you and I. We building structures with blocks, only to fire Hot Wheels cars at them to see everything collapse. Our intrinsic sense of chaos and childhood exploration never really fades away, nor should it.
When someone gives you a world with unlimited moons to launch and after you’ve made your beautiful, delicate solar system, you’ll eventually come to destroying it. And that’s where all the fun begins.
In Universe Sandbox 2, you have full control of the Space-Time continuum, meaning you can create and destroy matter as well as speed up or stop time. You can zoom in and out of the universe, scaling from the continents on Earth to walking around multiple galaxies colliding. It’s truly a magical experience.
You can create two planets flying around each other, creating a beautiful trail of a binary orbital system. You can throw a star into the mix with a mass of a thousand suns and see how it burns up everything. These aren’t just things you watch in Cosmos. It feels real and tangible, and it’s everything our inner astronauts have ever dreamed of.
Touch the Sky
Using a mouse and keyboard is terrible for manipulating things in 3D space, but we’ve never had anything better. However, VR is changing that, and the greatest thing about it is that it requires no new training. We’ve all known what it’s like to grab something with your hands and move it around.
One great feature of this software is that it can be played seated, or standing, or even lying down. You grab and pull the universe around you, moving it and scaling it, overcoming many of today’s VR locomotion problems. Motion sickness isn’t an issue either, since you stand still and everything around you moves.
The game isn’t without a few issues. The user interface could use some work to work better (clicking and dragging scroll bars should never exist in VR), and learning to scale space and time takes a bit of practice. However, once you master it, you can lose yourself in space for hours listening to the excellent soundtrack, feeling like a God.
What VR needs is more content like Universe Sandbox 2, where completing an objective isn’t the main driver of the experience, but exploration and tinkering is rewarded with beautiful visuals. Maybe I’m just an astronomy nut, or perhaps I just love playing with Physics, but this is why VR exists: for doing things in VR that you’ll never be able to do in real life. Playing God for a day feels pretty awesome.