Dreaming an Entirely New UI

Virtual reality is entering an exciting time. In early days experimentation largely revolved around how to make the platform functional — innovation focused on reducing nausea, increasing pixel density, and combating latency. Transitions were verboten, traditional means of “cutting” between scenes were discouraged, and your best bet for moving between realities was an abrupt teleportation effect.

That is all beginning to change. Now that the platform is growing more stable, developers can embark on truly unique avenues of experimentation. Most of the entries into this year’s Sundance, for instance, broke the “established” rules of VR storytelling, allowing for cutting, moving without the user, and even lengthening the runtime. One company is taking advantage of this open playing field to showcase a truly innovative user design, and they’re called dreamscapes.

Inspired by literal dreaming, dreamscapes are a kind of VR experience that let users transition smoothly from one location to another – while their gaze is turned away. Imagine standing in your living room and seeing motion out of the corner of your eye. You turn, and see a princess. When you glance back towards the couch it’s gone, replaced by a forest; you look back to the princess and she’s now standing in front of an ancient stone tower. This is the kind of logic that pervades dreams, but it’s also an incredibly smart trick for changing locations in VR without cognitive dissonance – that lurch you feel when teleporting around a game or experience.

It’s also a great trick to eliminate nausea. Viewers most often experience simulator sickness when their surroundings are moving but their body isn’t. Just like being in a car, the disconnect between what your eyes see and what your inner ear feels doesn’t align, and that makes you queasy.  Dreamscaping allows you to transition seamlessly between locations, so there’s no mind/body disagreement on velocity.

The first experience to use dreamscaping is called The Dream Cube. Part game, part story, it’s the work of Potential Synergy, a New York-based husband and wife startup duo. They created a demo version of Dream Cube which was a finalist in Samsung’s Killer App Contest, and now they’re kickstarting a full version. Being a small team has certain advantages, though it also brings unique challenges. “The challenge of scale for us will be finding the balance between our work life and family life. More moving pieces will mean more to manage and less hands-on creation,” Anja Smith explains.

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Dreamscaping is the convergence of tools and techniques that allow a user to seamlessly transition between settings without breaking cognitive flow. Identifying the right mix of tools and techniques for the transition is one of the biggest challenges of this new tool. Transitioning from small locations to large ones, for instance, requires a mindful understanding of how the two locations will overlap. And while there are certainly challenges ahead, the rewards are obvious.

“VR experiences are already a hard thing to explain, so trying to explain dreamscaping on top of it tends to return a lot of blank stares. This is why we made our demo available free for anyone who owns a Gear VR. Because once you see it for yourself, it’s hard not to imagine the possibilities.”

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Written by Wren Handman

Wren Handman is the author of three novels, a multitude of short stories, and one television show. She is the driving force behind creative content for Hammer & Tusk, a VR product studio and global community.

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