Is it a videogame? Is it a map service? Is it an exploration piece? In truth, Valve’s interpretation of Google Maps using the recently revealed HTC Vive hardware is all of these and yet none; it’s something completely original. Videogames with no defined objective are nothing new, but videogames with no direct interactivity? That’s a whole different story.
Google Maps is a service that should be familiar to near enough everybody in the western world who regularly makes use of the internet. It’s simple and immediate: type in the address and get a satellite view of a location. Google Earth does the same thing, but allows you to come down to street level and look at real photography of locations in your browser. The HTC Vive take on this service doesn’t just give you a standard 2D view, it actually places you in a digitised version of that location.
A full 360 degree view of San Francisco was presented in the demonstration version of the technology, with a direct feed featuring moving traffic and skyscrapers bustling with activity. The Valve developer on-hand insisted that the video footage was being live streamed in real-time, however there is no way to clarify that this was the situation. Even if that proved not to be the case, the demonstration was most certainly impressive.
The twist? Opposed to being yourself in this world, walking the streets in the digital San Francisco just as you would in the real world, the player is a giant. Able to march across the city in a few strides (especially handy given the Lighthouse technology’s 15’x15′ limit) the technology strikes a few chords that virtual reality (VR) has been aiming at for a number of years now. It’s not just immersion; it’s presence. Despite the fact that the player is essentially an ethereal being here – there’s no interaction with any part of the city – there’s still an intrinsic moment of judgement versus perception. You are seeing this real city – believing it’s real – and so there is the worry that placing feet or moving arms could cause damage. Stepping over buildings cautiously, avoiding standing in the middle of the road. You could try and cause malice, but the fact that these look like real people opposed to polygons or sprites makes you believe that the reactions would not be binary; that you would cause harm to real objects and people.
It’s unlikely that anything more will be made of this software – indeed, it didn’t even have a name beyond the basic statement that it is ‘Google Maps on HTC Vive’ – however the potential for further development based on it’s principles simply cannot be overlooked. VRFocus would love for a version of this technical demonstration to be included as standard with every HTC Vive purchase, or at least as a free download even in just its current form.