When the Oculus Rift arrives later this month, House of Languages will teach owners how to speak multiple languages with a major update to the software which debuted on the Gear VR.
Fox3D Entertainment is releasing a major update to the delightful learning app, including new artwork, characters and locations.
Players learn English, German or Spanish from the adorable fox in a top hat named Mr. Woo by exploring his colorful world and matching words with objects. I had the opportunity to discuss the inspiration behind the educational app, details on the update and thoughts on VR with Art Producer/VR Director Maxim Miheyenko and Associate Producer Elvina Antonova.
Miheyenko and Antonova are based in Fox3D’s Moscow location. English may not be their primary language, but the passion in their words is unmistakable. The app is very useful to help native English speakers pick up one of the several languages covered.
House of Languages originally began as an entry for the 2015 Oculus Mobile Game Jam. Antonova said they had several ideas, but decided to focus on a learning app.
“We haven’t seen a virtual reality application that will study language, maybe it would be a good idea to try to do something to be useful in virtual reality,” she said. “…We didn’t want someone boring, something boring, like just sitting in a classroom with books.”
Winning $10,000 was one of several benefits of the Game Jam, according to Miheyenko.
“It was a great challenge for us because it was a marathon. Without sleep. A lot of coffee. One of the best experiences I had in the previous year. …[Winning] was wonderful,” Miheyenko said.
Antonova mentioned they’ve consulted with language instructors and visited schools, using the feedback to make House of Languages a comfortable and accessible experience for players.
“I think my favorite part as well is when we start to show people our application … The reaction when they see it. It’s just wonderful, because you’ve been working on it, it’s your idea, and now you can see that people like it,” said Antonova.
From feedback they received they’ve added new animations and art, icons to help match objects with words, a host of new NPCs and more mini-games. Field testing with friends, family and students helped them realize a need to clarify instructions, which led to tutorials for native speakers of English, German, Spanish, French and Russian.
Miheyenko is excited for the new release and the potential of VR to make immersive learning accessible.
Along with the cafe, hospital and eight other locations, players can now explore a school room and grocery store. House, M.D., Back to the Future and other pop culture reference can be found in Easter Eggs, plus a surprise that Miheyenko says is “a romantic meeting with a great actor.”
“We want to make really great new worlds, very cute and very nice where you want to live with great creatures. You want to be in this world as a player. … Mr. Woo is our main character. It’s our teacher, but it’s not just a standard teacher. We’re in the 21st century. He is your friend as well,” Miheyenko said.
The app is targeted at children, teenagers and adult beginners. When I asked about the Oculus age warning, they both stressed the app is meant to be played for 5 to 10 minutes a day with repeat visits to locations. House of Languages is a comfortable and fun experience that complements other means of learning a foreign language.
Miheyenko is confident VR will be an important part of Fox3D’s future.
“Some ideas in research and development are very rough right now because we don’t want to spend a lot of time making art, but we want to spend a lot of time for emotions. To bring something new to virtual reality. We could make beautiful art—we’ve made it as an outsource developer — but for virtual reality, the most important thing is it’s about ideas. Every day we ask ourselves ‘What do I want to see in virtual reality? What do I want to see that’s something new that I can’t find in another way?'”
Look for House of Languages on the Oculus and Gear VR storefronts.
– Story contributed by Jennifer Laface