Cool Stuff With VR

Cool Stuff With VR

Let me start out by showing you this video:

OK, that was pretty cool, wasn’t it? I mean, put aside your finely tuned cynicism regarding VR and just enjoy this for what it is: a really cool way to view stuff on your computer.

Many years ago, my friends and I were really into Windows Shell Replacements. It’s a kind of esoteric corner of PC modding that focused on sexing up your desktop by replacing the main Windows GUI executable (Explorer.exe) with a custom application that would handle the same everyday tasks differently, and most of them totally reworked the visuals so that you could make Windows look like other operating systems if you wanted. Unlike skinnable apps like Rainlender and (at the time) Winamp that would run as a common application should, shell replacements took over the whole Start Menu/Windows/Folders/Desktop paradigm and made changes to it, adding or removing functionality, and embedding it’s own apps as standard without having to worry about finding utilities to download on their own. It was a fun hobby, because a lot of those replacement shells were 100% non-intuitive when it came to configuration, making us realize how spoiled we were with Windows native menu-based configuration.

Watching that video above made me think of those days because it’s kind of like a shell replacement (it might actually be a shell replacement…I watched it the same way my brother watches Katy Perry videos: without the sound). Being able to turn your desktop into a home theater, for example, or to place your working desktop into a discreet location in a 3D environment so you can essentially look around a totally different environment (~5:50 mark for Rick and Morty fans). That’s cool stuff.

While watching the video and seeing the different backgrounds, two things occurred to me. The first was how cool it would be to have the 360 degree background be a live video feed from somewhere, allowing you to watch, say, Times Square or Balboa Park while you work on your TPS reports in a frameless, floating window?

The second was actually more of a question: Would Sony bring back Playstation Home for use with PSVR? If you’ve never tried, heard of, or understandably forgot about Home, here’s the tl;dr version. On the PS3, Sony created a “virtual reality” which was basically a series of linked social spaces which allowed you to create and dress an avatar, own an apartment, play games, and hang out with other guys and G.I.R.L.s (and some real women). As a concept, it was great: the fulfillment of what the furthest edge cases of VR had proposed back as far as the early days of cyberpunk. In practice, it was a nigh unusable and clunky (although some of the games were fun) gimmick that really had no purpose. It took forever to load anything, so moving from scene to scene was excruciating. Sony tried to get sponsored content in there, but most everything ended up pimping PS games and Sony Pictures movies, which was just preaching to the choir, I guess. They did have a fairly interesting popup E3 (?) pavilion one year, but mostly the app was dropped onto your HD and while it got several updates in the form of new “worlds” and some new games over time, there didn’t seem to be much of a point to it.


But hear me out here. Sony should totally resurrect the Home concept for PS4 or PS4.5 and PSVR and really commit the fuck out of it. Sadly, with SOE/Daybreak cut loose, Sony Mothership lost the best pool of virtual world talent they had at their disposal. The new Home 2.0 would have to be faster loading, but not necessarily more expansive. An apartment would be mandatory, but the open world(s) could include a social space, and then individual “game worlds” like, say, an Old West saloon for poker players, or a Formula One racetrack. I guess on paper it sounds rather anemic, and attempts at doing something similar (a la Home 1.0) were less than stellar, but what was really missing from the virtual reality was the ability to actually accomplish the level of immersion that the designers were attempting to do with just a 2D monitor. With the benefit of hindsight, Home was kind of ahead of its time, and if they had come  up with the idea and implemented it even in the 1.0 edition alongside PSVR, it might be a really interesting selling point.

I seriously doubt this would ever happen — I’m not even holding my breath that PS would even offer a virtual dashboard for use with PSVR — but I’d really like to see something like Home in PSVR, but done right this time. Meanwhile, I need to start saving pennies for a Vive. I suspect that by the time I actually have enough extra cash, we’ll be on to version 2.0, which is fine by me.

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