Speaker Q&A: Adam Orth discusses the importance of creating believable VR spaces

Adam Orth is the Creative Strategist at First Contact Entertainment and will be at VRDC 2017 to present the talk “Use Your Illusion: Creating Immersive Virtual Reality Worldsalongside Chris Pruett of Oculus VR, Will Smith of FOO show, and Dirk Van Welden of Space Pirate Trainer. The talk will discuss the importance of creating believable and immersive VR worlds through 4 unique experience lenses, products and platforms. Here, Orth gives us information about himself and how to effectively create an immersive space inside VR.

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Tell us about yourself and your work in VR/AR:

My name is Adam Orth and I’m the Creative Strategist at First Contact Entertainment. First Contact is a high-end virtual reality game developer focused on creating AAA-quality game experiences using virtual, mixed and augmented reality technology and hardware. 

My role as Creative Strategist is to guide the creative vision of our internal and external products, ensure our company vision and strategy for building VR/AR/MR experiences is aligned with the evolving marketplace, and the creation of new internal IP for the studio.

Currently, we are supporting our 1st arcade VR title ROM: Extraction (HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, PSVR) and developing an unannounced multiplayer VR game experience. Previously, I was the Founder/Creative Director of Three One Zero and the creator of the virtual reality title ADR1FT (Oculus Rift, HTC Vive). For the last 5 years I’ve been exclusively working in VR and as a game developer for 18 years.

Without spoiling it too much, tell us what you’ll be talking about at VRDC:

I’ll be moderating a session entitled: Use your Illusion: Creating Immersive Virtual reality Worlds. In this session Will Smith (Foo Show), Dirk Van Welden (Space Pirate Trainer) and Chris Pruett (Oculus VR/Robot Invader) will be sharing our experiences and learnings as early-wave VR adopters/pioneers creating new, believable and immersive environments in VR. The format for the session will consist of four micro-talks and an open discussion followed by Q&A.

What makes this session and group interesting and unique is how each of the four panelists have approached and created virtual environments from four very different experience perspectives: talk show, arcade game, narrative experience and hardware platform.

What excites you most about VR/AR?

As a game and experience creator, I’m always looking for new ways to tell a story, new worlds to explore and new ways to interact with and within them. For me, VR is the perfect expression of those goals. This technology and hardware has really enabled me and the teams I work with to finally realize some of the interactive dreams we’ve had as developers for decades but were unable to achieve. Speaking for myself, traditional game development had grown stale and I was bored with the cycle of minimal improvements and advancements of the medium between long game development cycles.

VR/AR technology and hardware is a new canvas where the experience and knowledge of traditional game development can be utilized in new ways to create brand new things without being exactly sure of the outcome. This, to me, is the magic of the technology. Fumbling around in the dark trying to solve hard problems and realizing unique experiences. It’s exciting and fresh. You have a target and it’s an adventure getting there. Then, once you are there, you are able to experience games or entertainment in ways not possible before now. You can finally, really be there. It’s amazing.

What do you think is the biggest challenge to realizing VR/AR’s potential?

Unquestionably, it is the intersection of technology advancement, affordable hardware and transformative experiences. Until there is a way for consumers to circle around an experience (or multiple experiences) en masse through an affordable device that is visually stunning, VR/AR will remain niche, enthusiast and an early-adopter technology.

There is no question that this will happen, but it will take time. Both VR and AR are on different trajectories to be very different and important elements of the next computing platform. It will likely be Apple that ushers the world into AR via the iPhone with an app like Instagram where social, expression and connectivity combine into something that everyone needs rather than something many are interested in.

What are some of the elements of virtual environments that increase the immersiveness of an experience?

Transporting someone to a place where they can’t ever actually go to do something they’ll never be able to do and be someone they’ve only been able to dream about being is the core of all interactive game experiences. Virtual reality now allows us to experience worlds and tell stories in ways that we were previously unable to. In my opinion, the single-most important element in VR is a believable and aspirational environment that tells a story from simply inhabiting and moving through it, which is inherently different from the experience of a traditional game world due to the presence and immersion of VR.

The magic and sense of awe someone can experience simply from floating in space and looking down at the Earth, for example, is transformative. It touches your primal core. It’s something we all know and have our own ideas about, but none of us will ever be able to do that. VR lets you experience that in a very real, very powerful way.

What should VR developers consider when designing an immersive space?

My advice would be to deeply consider the aspiration of the space and experience. VR is famous for users experiencing awe and presence within it. It’s critical to harness this when you are creating. What is unique about this place? How can I take you somewhere you can’t go? What are you doing that is both familiar to human nature, but maybe out of reach as human beings?

Through experimentation, I’ve found that virtually recreating a place that you can actually inhabit normally in real life instantly removes the sense of awe and presence. It’s not special anymore, because it exists and is attainable. Arguably, what you are doing and what story you are telling plays a large role in this, but if the space is not instantly and magically transporting you to someplace that drops your jaw on the floor by simply turning your head and rotating your body, that’s not the best use of the technology, platform and medium. Take me away and blow my mind.

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