Since 2014 gamelab.berlin has been experimenting intensively with Virtual Reality (VR) and various related technologies. A very special application of the technology was conceived for the Construction Site Open Day in the newly constructed Berlin Castle and Humboldt Forum in March 2015. The aim should be to invite visitors to an extraordinary experience that should address various questions about space and perception as well as reality and virtuality. Five Oculus Rift Virtual Reality headsets – at that time the Developer Kit 2 – were purchased and supplemented with the special stereo camera superstructures ovrVision. Both devices were connected to a powerful notebook that could be carried in a backpack on the back. This enabled users to move around freely and without any obstructive cables.
The stereo cameras projected their image signal directly onto the screens of the VR headset. This made it possible to create an Augmented Reality experience, as the wearers of the headset could orientate, grip and walk over the cameras in their environment. Whenever a special marker came into view, a virtual, three-dimensional object was displayed at the corresponding point. Virtual objects are seamlessly integrated into the physical space. The special technology also made it possible to jump from this perception into a pure VR sequence that abducted the user from physical space. Student assistants were assigned to all five headsets that could be used in parallel, helping the users*inside, securing them if necessary and answering questions.
Four different objects or experiences were created, each of which was linked to an optical marking on a mobile Plexiglas plate. After putting on the VR headset, the users*first experienced their environment and their own body anew: the representation of their own gaze in the VR headset produced an alienating effect, but also described by many as fascinating. With the camera position a few centimetres further forward in relation to the eyes, there was also an unusual hand-eye distance that had to be learned anew for gripping movements. With the grip on the first Plexiglas plate and the view of it, a virtual model of the lock slowly emerged, which unfolded step by step and component by component. By gripping, turning and tilting the plexiglass plate, users*inside could view the model freely from all perspectives – like a physical object. This raised the first question about the space conditions: The users*were on the construction site of the castle, the model showed the finished building from the outside at the same time and yet, as a three-dimensional architectural plan, it was the prerequisite for the construction itself. In addition, users*inside also see the virtual model in the physical environment as if it were part of it. In this way the question is raised and made tangible to what extent virtuality really represents reality, or rather cannot become its model. After a few steps through the room the next record was found and recorded. Here a longer and more complex animation relaxes. It addressed various forms of space, such as geometric space, information space, media space, space and relational space. First, a geodesic dome rises out of the plate and slowly fills its surfaces until it looks like a white-covered radar dome from which impulses begin to emanate. The dome then rises out of the plate and floats above it as a sphere. This slowly changes its surface and becomes a globe that begins to rotate. Slowly it becomes night on this earth, it darkens and shows only the shining cities. Berlin as the current location is highlighted with a luminous dot and light lines slowly relax from this centre in all directions and connect to the 20 largest cities in the world to form a global network. With this final sequence, the intended global networking of the Humboldt Forum, which is intended to become an open space for networking for all cultures. After this space journey and corresponding questions and answers with the accompanying person, the users*went further around the room until they found the last panel on the floor. The view of the plate now suddenly caused a fierce fire to develop, which roars up to the height of the people. The users* were now asked to overcome their fear of the virtual fire and to kick it out with one foot. This actually worked, because the foot breaks through the optical structure of the marking on the disk for the camera and the fire disappears. Here, perception and knowledge as well as intention and consequence mix in an unusual way. Finally, the student supervisors* drew out a special map after information and at the explicit request of the users*inside: however, the view of the marking on it no longer showed a virtual object faded into the physical world, but catapulted the users completely into a virtual world. The model, previously reduced in size and depicted from the outside, was now built around the users*inside in original size so that they could stand in one of the inner courtyards. They are then lifted up and take a scenic flight around the castle. This concludes the VR experience.
Afterwards, users were asked to complete a short questionnaire to evaluate their impressions. A total of around 1500 people took part in the VR experience over two days, and around 300 completed the questionnaire. The feedback was very positive with regard to the entertainment factor and many potentials of the technology for the future were seen and desired. The project was shown again at the Humboldt Forum stand at the International Tourism Fair in 2018.
Stiftung Humboldt Forum im Berliner Schloss