“We always talked about virtual reality. Movies like The Matrix had us dreaming. Now it’s here.”
Sean O’Connell is one of the co-founders of Paperticket Studios, an independent video game company specialising in the development of educational virtual reality software. I’m interviewing him and his team and they’re bursting at the seams to tell me more about it.
The romanticism of VR has always triggered our imagination in ways that would seemingly not be made real for centuries, and has certainly inspired the likes of O’Connell. While speaking to him on virtual reality, it was clear that he couldn’t wait to tell me all about it.
During the 90’s movies like The Matrix proposed that the gap between humans and technology would someday be closed. O’Connell, as well as co-founder Sean Ogden and their team are looking to bridge the former.
“We wanted to know what it would be like to go to Mars and walk around. What it would be like to walk alongside dinosaurs,” said O’Connell. “It’s an area that hasn’t yet been explored in great detail. We’re on the ground floor.”
Paperticket’s focus is the creation of not only VR software, but educational software that transports the student to any part of the world or even the universe. Utilising a piece of hardware called the Oculus Rift—a headset that creates a fully immersive 3D experience—users can walk around, interact with the environment and explore places they’ve never been.
On trialing the hardware I was instantly gobsmacked. The sheer simplicity of the click of a button to transport one from here to there was baffling. One moment I was in the workspace of a team of indie game developer, the next I was walking through the streets of a medieval town with the ability to explore and get a feel for what it would be like to exist in such a place.
As well as these exciting opportunities the Rift will be surprisingly affordable for the average gamer, providing a high end VR experience without the high-end price tag one might expect. While not yet being available in retail stores, the headset will retail for around $450 AU within the next couple of years.
Paperticket works in close partnership with KIOSC, a science-based learning centre that gives year seven to ten students the chance to engage with technology outside of the classroom in a world of creativity and innovation. Hailing from Melbourne, interactive robots, computer simulations and 3-D printers are among the everyday staples of KIOSC.
Experiencing some of this technology first-hand was simply jaw-dropping and has even got me excited about these new prospects.
“Their goal is to get kids interested in the innovation coming from humans and the opportunities that provides them with,” O’Connell said. “KIOSC also educates students on sustainability and how we as a society can live within our means on the one planet.”
Paperticket develop content for the institute that students can learn from in ways that have previously been seen as impossible. Their most recent work for KIOSC is a game that teaches students the way food is digested and how the human body absorbs nutrients from it.
O’Connell and his team are firm believers that in order to progress further into the unknown virtual world developers need to let go of their inhibitions and break the boundaries of what they perceive as VR.
“During my time studying video game design, my tutors told me that to advance we need to ‘kill our babies’ so to speak. That is, let go of our pre-dispositions. Let go of any notion of how we think our dream game ‘should be’,” said O’Connell. “It’s something I employ in my work every day.”
Another piece of hardware currently being developed by a start-up company is called Perception Neuron, a portable device designed to track human movement and to work in conjunction with the Oculus Rift.
“We want to find out what happens when you add the Oculus to full motion body-tracking software,” said O’Connell. “We’re looking into motion platforms, pressure sensors and even medical things like galvanic response and heart-rate monitors. We want to know how these can fit into VR.”
The Perception Neuron when used with the Oculus simultaneously will allow users the ability to touch, feel and walk around a 3-D virtual environment. As well as this, the team will also be able to use the movements tracked by the Neuron as animations in the development of their games.
As well as being keen advocates of everything VR, another aspect of Paperticket is the creation of your everyday games with formats we are all familiar with. Currently being worked on is their game Princess Boy, a side-scrolling role-playing game made by the company for charity looking to raise awareness for the social equality of transgender persons.
In the game players take control of a character who was designated as a boy at birth who can transform into Princess Boy, using special powers to fend off their inner demons. The completion of the full game is expected later this year.
Regarding future plans Paperticket Studios would in a perfect world continue their work with KIOSC, O’Connell and his team placing the educational institute on the highest of pedestals in terms of innovation and forward thinking.
“KIOSC provides us with an avenue to look at how VR and other technologies will be accepted by a new generation of users. I feel like that’s the future market,” said O’Connell. “From what we have seen educational games suck. We subscribe to the term playful learning where the player’s actions are what they’re learning, rather than giving players cheap rewards for completing mundane tasks. We feel as though this is often something that traditional educational games aim to do and it’s ineffective.”
In moving toward this progressive method of education and steering clear of what Paperticket co-founders O’Connell and Ogden have coined as edutainment, Paperticket and KIOSC working in conjunction with one another is a recipe set for success in the form of gripping and innovative technology.
While digging for more information, O’Connell was reluctant to reveal the company’s grand plans (due to not wanting to have their great ideas stolen). This left me with a stirring combination of excitement and inspiration.
In light of the interview, I feel that as a species we should be embracing these new and wonderful advancements, rather than attempting to stifle and halt their progress by sticking to the traditional methods of education we have grown accustomed to over the course of centuries.
Paperticket Studios are forerunners in the world of VR looking to develop a new way of teaching our children, a method that we have dreamed of. It’s here, it’s finally here, a virtual world made reality.