As with any new medium, some have deliberately crafted bizarre digital worlds for us to explore. Psychedelic experiences, surrealistic interpretations and experiments with size and scale have helped create some truly unique demos about what VR can offer, and many of them are very playable, too.
We went diving into forums and the depths of the Oculus Share site, to find some of the strangest, mind bending experiences that also adhere to all of the standards of VR development. They play well, don’t cause instant nausea and, most importantly, send your mind on a trip that it is not soon to forget.
There are a lot of companies and enterprises that could benefit in a promotional or sales sense from VR. Architects can show clients around homes that haven’t been built yet, window sellers could show off designs pre-sale and travel agents could take you to exotic destinations within the comfort of virtual reality, to give you a taste of what a locale can offer.
Nobody really expected food companies to get into virtual reality though. Despite the fact that you cannot smell, or taste within VR (yet!) Groupe Bel, a multinational French cheese marketer teamed up with Hammerhead VR, the company that put together the original Undercurrent VR demo, to create a short experience, all about Boursin cheese.
The spreadable soft cheese features in the demo, which is in essence a rollercoaster ride through a fridge, as well as all of its ingredients. It’s very detailed and beautifully rendered, making for quite an immersive, albeit bizarre experience. All about cheese.
Not every experience in VR has to be interactive. That creates all manner of difficulties for film makers, because as much as there is lots to show an audience, it’s often what you don’t show them that can be most important. How do you control that if you don’t know where they’re going to look?
That wasn’t a problem for Tyler Hurd, who made sure he’d know exactly where the audience is looking with Butts, “an animated VR short about love, trust, and learning what it means to be truly free,” according to the official site. While you can question that all you like, it’s very difficult to watch this bizarre minute or so of film without cracking a smile and wondering what strange happen-stance gave Mr Hurd the idea for it.
One of the older Rift demos on this list, Dumpy Going Elephants was originally released for the DK1 and was recently ported over to the newer, better DK2. It puts players in control of Dumpy, an elephant, and more importantly, its trunk. That appendage is all that players can see of themselves while playing, but crucially they can control where the trunk goes with a turn of their head.
Swing left and the trunk swings with you, likewise in other directions, which makes for a surprisingly effective weapon to mess with the physics-bending, impressively colorful world that players find themselves in. You’ll knock down buildings, send football playing children flying up impossible cliffs, and even sling trees at aliens. There isn’t much point to it, but it is fun and very, very strange.
This one is on the verge of drifting into the type of Oculus Rift demo we won’t be covering as part of this piece, though loading the game up makes it clear it’s meant to be silly rather than pornographic. Players find themselves faced with a multi-mouthed alien (of specified gender) who is rather keen on them. In order to progress to their spaceship for more intimate canoodling, they need to first kiss them on various sets of lips.
Each set must be kissed for a certain amount of time to progress to the next round. While the game does move quicker and become more complicated as you go, it’s not difficult to succeed. You’ll have more trouble trying to explain what just happened, and you’ll probably spend more time telling friends about it than you did playing.
I almost didn’t include this one on the list, as out of all of them it is the least polished, the most amateur feeling. Textures are a bit ropey in places, the text is jarring and broken, and some of the automated camera movement can be nauseating. But by god, is it weird!
BadBox start by making you a human sacrifice. From there, you progress through the afterlife into your own “BadBox,” which involves flying through alien landscapes, strange lighting effects, impossible architecture, and surprisingly foreboding geometry. Spikey, anthropomorphic collections of flesh and metal appear to threat you with their sheer oddity rather than jump scares.
The story you’re put through doesn’t make a lot of sense, and a number of portions of the demonstration can feel broken or at best, dull, but you will spend the majority of your time in the “BadBox” having very little idea what is going on — and it puts even the bravest players on edge.
Although this one is certainly a lot more polished than BadBox, it still falls into the category of low-tech, tech-demos. The models could use some work, as could the textures. However, as with the above dive into hell, Alien TSA is just too bizarre a game to pass up.
This once has a bit more interactivity to it, since you, in your endless wisdom, have signed up for a job at the alien Transportation Security Administration. Your job is essentially to act as passport control, but based on arbitrary factors like species, gender and clothing type, rather than official documentation. You’ll find yourself firing your taser at dogs, those not wearing ties and those who decide to swim through the air rather than walk.
The whole time you’ll have to field phone calls from your girlfriend, mother and other members of your family and friends. This is distracting enough if you leave it unanswered, but answering them often gives you a lengthy call to deal with while still zapping potential illegals with your taser.
Bonus points to the creators for having a looping “royalty free,” soundtrack, made up entirely of the developer humming.
As much as people have said that Google’s Neural Network visualisations looked like a drug trip, the fact that those images were static means they can only hint at that sort of sensation. VR, however, represents an excellent setting for emulating the effects of certain substances on our senses, most obviously what we see and hear.
While a number of content creators have built very surrealistic scenarios, with swirling colours and fractals, they give themselves away too easily. If you know something is supposed to be trippy, you’re likely to call its buff.
It’s Just a Ride is an exception. This is an entirely static demo, in that the player cannot move, save for looking around. You find yourself in an alien landscape, with two alien-like figures. Nothing happens to start with, but before long you begin to rock back and forth, with the visuals stretching and blurring as they do.
It’s a difficult effect to describe, but as time goes on the players view passes through feeling very drunk, to a whole new plane of surreal visuals – surprisingly, without nausea – that pushes the limits of how VR can manipulate your mind.
This entry in our series is a video, rather than demo. However, that doesn’t mean it’s any less virtual, as it’s a 360 degree video. Anyone with a smartphone can get a feel for what this is like, or if you have Google cardboard or equivalent, you can have a true VR experience from wherever you are.
However that’s not what makes this a strange one. What does, is that it’s all about ASMR. For those that don’t experience the Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, it’s a tingling sensation that some people feel while listening to certain soft sounds. Like those in this video.
What sets this one apart, is that with the creator’s interest in virtual reality, they’ve brought this relaxation technique to a virtual world. On top of that, they’ve made a story, with background, characters and even political unrest, all within the context of a video designed to help you get to sleep.
It’s very strange – even more so we would imagine, for those that do not experience ASMR – but that doesn’t mean it’s any less effective. Give me a moment. I need a nap.
This demo is less disorientating than something It’s Just a Ride, but it does show off some of the interesting capabilities of virtual reality, whilst providing a solidly strange experience.
This demo has you walking around a small museum, with two open plan floors featuring a number of optical illusions. Some of these are dual images, some are magic eye pictures and others are more three dimensional. There are concave statues and cutouts that appear to be convex and impossible shapes and structures – all of which trick your brain just as well as as they do in the real world.
Though relatively new, this experience runs on an older Oculus Runtime, and is definitely a bit nausea inducing at points. Be careful if you decide to have a go at your self — otherwise, you may lose your lunch!
Neuro is probably the best looking demo on this list, which is no surprise as it comes from Kite and Lightning, the developer behind most of the top visually stunning VR experiences from the past couple of years. It’s produced everything from Sensa Peso, to The CAVE and the official INSURGENT VR experience.
While it can be pretty though, Neuro is probably the most “normal” game on this list. However, it plays with the concept of scale very well, having the viewer shrink to a fraction of their size in a matter of seconds, which can take your brain a second to adjust to. From there, you’re off inside the mind of another human being, looking at a representation of that person’s imagination and creativity.
While that is more metaphorical, you then proceed to look at their neurons firing, which as well as being quite awe inspiring in its beauty, is an interesting educational tool as well.
This free roaming demonstration lets you wander around a café rendered in Van Gogh’s post impressionism style, with broad strokes and bright colors. The man himself can even be found in one corner of the building, and there’s a secret room hidden down below for those willing to look for it.
As strange as walking around in a painting is, this one didn’t quite make the cut as it was just too well done. Painted floors and ceilings are weird, but when they’re so well rendered, your brain really doesn’t have much of a problem believing you’re there.
A strange one certainly, but more eye candy than mind-boggling.
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