Our solar system and the universe beyond is a fascinating subject that has inspired countless individuals to look up to the stars and seek answers. In this day and age humanity seems to know more about the cosmos than the deepest reaches of the ocean, so there’s been a number of virtual reality (VR) experiences dedicated to space exploration. The latest comes from Orbital Views, a part educational, part interactive title called Overview.
Created using scientific data from NASA and the European Space Agency, Overview aims to be the most accurate representation for our solar system and the universe yet for VR headsets. And it certainly looks to be an impressive feat, with some beautiful imagery of the planets and the Milky Way.
The main part of the title is a 30 minute, narrated educational tour, starting with Earth before heading further out towards Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, and beyond. Enjoyed either sat or standing, this is a very basic introduction to the solar system, so if you already have an interest in the subject you’re not really going to learn much. Whilst the educational side is a little light – for adults at least – those 30 minutes do flyby quite quickly as the level of detail is stunning, especially when it gets to Saturn and its rings.
After enjoying that it’s time to get interactive in the ‘Explore Mode’. This is split into two categories, Sagan, named after American astronomer, cosmologist, astrophysicist, Carl Edward Sagan, and Newton, named after famed English mathematician and astronomer Sir Isaac Newton. In the Sagan mode, you have the option to zoom in or out from Earth, being able to go beyond the Milky Way, whist switching info on and off with the HTC Vive’s grip buttons (this just turns the planets names on and off).
In the Newton mode there’s a little more. You can zoom (just not out as far as Sagan), plus there’s a Timescale option and a move forward option. Timescale seems to speed up the planets rotation around the sun, while forward simply allows you to move around the solar system. Novel in their design, the controls are somewhat haphazard. At times zooming all the way in would then lock so reversing the process was no longer an option. Whilst the Timescale effect really didn’t seem to do anything majorly noticeable.
The main disappointment was the inability to get a closer look at each of the planets themselves. Earth wasn’t a problem, but after seeing them in the Story mode, it would’ve been nice to look at the planets in closer detail at leisure. No amount of fiddling with the controls would allow this, which was a shame for such a technically impressive educational experience.
There are more modes listed as ‘coming soon’ in Explore so maybe these will address those concerns. Either way the ‘interactive’ side of Overview feels muted and restrained – like trying to open a jar with one hand. Orbital Views has definitely put that scientific data to good use, making Overview a feast for the eyes. It’s just a shame that there’s not more educational information or scope to explore.