Preview: The First Class VR – Edutainment That Shoots for the Stars yet Struggles to Take Flight
Educational in parts, confusing in others.
Entertainment is the mainstay of virtual reality (VR), whether that’s through videogames, immersive films, 360-degree video and more. Yet it can be used for far more than that, possessing the means to enthral users in virtual worlds that can educate and teach, from learning about the solar system, or the history of mankind, to the creatures that inhabit the earth or the plight of an ecosystem. Chinese developer Light & Digital Technology has chosen a seminal moment in the history of human technological evolution as its first VR experience, teaching viewers about mankind’s desire to fly and head out amongst the stars.
The First Class VR mixes interactive elements with narration and bold imagery to tell the tale of human flight, taking those first steps in balloons, through powered flight and then onto space exploration. And it’s in space where the experience begins, looking down on planet earth before activating a console that starts things off.
For the most part this is an experience where you watch and listen, taking in some of the intricate design work that makes up the undulating scenery as it whisks you from one innovation to the next. At one point you find yourself on a beach with the Wright Brothers plane as the narrator talks about the simple ideology of wanting to fly. Next you’re on a battlefield in WW2, bombers flying overhead, looking at how planes became a tool of war and destruction.
Whilst certainly impressive in areas, The First Class VR feels somewhat disjointed, like it’s trying too hard to cram lots of information in over a short period of time. There are sequences that step into the bizarre and almost surreal, giant statues looming in the distance, panels and floors that change and then disappear as you move to a new area, and caves twinkling with fireflies that are filled with different spacecraft like the Saturn V rocket or the Sputnik satellite, all whilst sat in a Huey helicopter.
The Huey section is particularly interesting though as you have to grab a rope that’s flung down to you, then you’re winched up. At which point The First Class VR tells you to sit on the edge so you’re feet are dangling out. So you’re left with a decision, continue standing as the experience requires prior and after this section, sit on the floor, or for the very dedicated grab a chair which will likely mean removal of the headset. As mentioned, disjointed in parts.
Then there are points where far more work seems to have been put in than others. Certain water sections just seem to be a slab of blue, with little texture or definition. While the interior of the helicopter is beautifully detailed.
At the end of the ‘ride’ you then find yourself in a museum of sorts. Where you can teleport around looking at the individual vehicles that appeared, alongside information points for further details. For kids looking to learn the basics about human flight The First Class VR does an admiral job. It’s not going to greatly appeal to gamers per se but it does showcase how engaging VR can be as a teaching instrument, even with the slightly ropey Chinese to English translation. VRFocus will be interested to see how Light & Digital Technology continue development on The First Class VR and expand upon the concept.