Virtual reality (VR) already has a lot of applications outside of videogames but developers are still finding unique ways to utilize the technology. One such developer is Greg Miller, who released a fascinating fan project this week, named Jerry’s Place VR. The free to download project recreates the apartment of the star of TV’s Seinfield, and allows users to tour the setting with an Oculus Rift VR headset.
VRFocus recently spoke to Miller about what inspired him to work on this project, and what VR brings to the table for fans of TV shows, movies and more. He also talks about the possibility of moving into full videogame development as well as the challenges of developing for VR.
VRFocus: What was it about Jerry’s Place that inspired you to remake it in virtual reality (VR)?
Greg Miller: I had just finished watching the show in it’s entirety a couple months earlier. I was looking for a project and realized I had something awesome right in front of me: a fictional place that many people are intimately familiar with. I just had to do it, as a fan, for the fans. I could have chosen any fictional place I suppose, but Jerry’s place just seemed so cozy.
VRFocus: What does VR add to the project?
Greg Miller: By recreating a famous set in Virtual Reality it allows fans to almost “stand” in the same room as the characters. I didn’t just make it a set with lights, camera’s, and an audience. I wished to continue the suspension-of-disbelief by modeling it as if it were a real place – not just a set with actors, but a real place with real characters.
VRFocus: How do you think recreating a show’s environment like this enhances the experience for fans?
Greg Miller: There’s something strange about video games I noticed many years ago, long before the Oculus Rift. I have distinct memories of specific places and events in Grand Theft Auto. I can’t tell you when or where I was, or who I was with in the real world when I created those memories. I just have memories that I’ll never forget. I’d like to think my demo will do the same for some fans – they’ll have virtual memories. Once you know what it’s like to walk into Jerry’s kitchen and see it from a new angle, or maybe check out his bathroom or bedroom close up it will stick with you. Later, when watching the show you might recall your memories of what it was like to be there. I think it will definitely let fans build a deeper relationship to the show.
VRFocus: How long did the project take from the idea through to its current state?
Greg Miller: I think it took about two months but I took a break in the middle to do some other stuff. So probably closer to 1 month of continuous effort. The first two weeks I’d say about 70% was done, when the project was still in the “Honeymoon Phase.” After the initial excitement wore off, modeling a lot of the details became a lot more tiresome than I had expected. It’s funny, most of the projects I attempt are almost more than I can chew, and maybe I wouldn’t have started them if I knew what was involved ahead of time.
VRFocus: Did you encounter any challenges translating it to VR?
Greg Miller: The biggest challenge was to figure out which objects the set had in the background. I was able to find most of the posters for high quality textures, but some of the textures I had to snag from screen captures so they came out blurry. I have no idea what the picture above his bed is supposed to be. I was able to discover all but two of the VHS / NES games on the main shelf. Some fun facts: in addition to Nintendo games, his shelf also has a Magic the Gathering gift set (probably 2nd or 3rd edition I think), a Super Nintendo game: Sim City, and lots of board games like Monopoly NYC edition and Jenga first (I think) edition.
I also had trouble planning out his bedroom. I could only find one episode that shows part of it – just his bed, the poster above it, and the night stands. I think I remember there being at least one more episode, but I couldn’t find it. The problem is, the way the set was designed it makes it impossible for his bedroom to actually be located where it’s portrayed. If you look out the windows by the computer desk, you will see a brick wall in my demo that’s not there in the show. That brick wall was necessary to make his bedroom fit. Even with that addition, there still wasn’t enough room to fit a proper closet.
VRFocus: Do you see a big future for projects such as this, perhaps developed by the companies themselves?
Greg Miller: I definitely think fan tributes will be a part of VR, and it would be even better if there were official licensed ones. Though I suspect fans might obsess over details a little more than the original content creates if they’re constrained by a budget or something.
VRFocus: Are there any other TV, film or video game settings you’d like to recreate in VR?
Greg Miller: I was thinking it would be fun to make the I Love Lucy set, with a toggle button to switch it from black & white to color. Reminds me of the classic Calvin and Hobbes comic about the world previously being in black & white. I might also like to do The Office.
VRFocus: Do you see yourself going on to create any full videogames with VR?
Greg Miller: I’d definitely like to. So far I really enjoyed working with the Unity engine, with this being my first project. The biggest hurdle will be affording a license for it though. I can’t really make money from demos like this one because … you know … copyright law and all.
VRFocus: What do you think Oculus Rift’s chances of success are given that it’s in the hands of smaller developers rather than big budget developers?
Greg Miller: I think that’s great. Apple’s app-store model revolutionized the gaming market primarily through it’s indie developers. If those passionate people are making demos and games for the rift, it will only be a good thing. Right now the rift needs content, and anything that helps it win market will hopefully get major developers on board sooner.