By Justin Agrell
[Editor’s note: The following interview was culled from conversations between the reporter and Sean Souva, owner of Chino Valley-based Virtual Odysseys, a new virtual reality company. The interview took place in virtual reality using HTC Vive headsets.] Why launch a virtual reality company? It's the new thing and I see a lot of potential in terms of business opportunities that are available. It's something that people are extremely interested in. A lot of attention is being made towards it, and it's growing as an industry. It's kind of in the same place where the iPhone was when it first came out — people recognized that there was an amazing amount of potential there and that people were going to do incredible things with it. No one really knew which direction it was going to go. … Virtual reality is in that place right now where people are looking at it and going "What are we going to use it for?" or "How are we going to use it?" and I see an opportunity to do the same thing and, looking at it from my perspective, I see a lot of different ways it can be used and I can immediately fulfill the need, or maybe even a need that people don't know they have yet. And it's fun. It's something I've been waiting 30 years for. What does Virtual Odysseys offer in terms of services? Quite a variety. We do straight entertainment. If you have a party for a child or an adult, we can set up as an arcade literally anywhere with one to four seats — more with some planning. People can just play and have fun. We have multi-player games and single-player games. We're also interested in doing off-site company team building and off-site meetings. … A lot of the time, a company will hire someone to come and have fun and play games and, at the same time, it helps the team learn to work together in an unusual environment. We can offer something similar with virtual reality and even take it one step further. Take, for example, “Star Trek: Bridge Crew,” which is a very popular VR game right now. With up to four friends you can play as if you were an officer on the bridge of a Federation starship. So just like in that, using a VR tool or game would make a team-building type of fun exercise. We can also be a professional chaperone service for a company at a trade show that, for example, wants to show off a new VR product they are working on. In house, they may not have experience to handle a large number of people trying out virtual reality for the first time. So we can step in and tell them, “Hey, we'll take care of the hardware, we'll take care of handling the people, and you can just talk your product with the customers.” There's so much potential with real estate. ... Honestly that could be a whole business in and of itself — just catering to the needs of real estate agents and real estate companies. There's new hardware that allows you to, almost instantly, create a virtual model … just by taking a bunch of photos and video using a special 360 degree camera. You can present that to a real estate agent and say, "Here ya go," so when someone comes into your office you can show them all of your properties without ever leaving the office. Or better yet, someone who has the equipment at home can go to your website and download the virtual environment from the website and experience it directly. The potential is absolutely insane and more and more people are going to get into it. The hardware is getting less expensive, and there's a lot of phone-based VR that's gotten quite effective. It would be ideal for web use, and you're going to see more and more people taking advantage of that. What do you think we'll see from VR in the next 20 years? There's this popular movie that came out a few months ago called “Ready Player One” based on a book of the same name by Ernest Cline. I think the potential (shown in the film) is realistic. They show, for example, a body suit that, if you want to go all the way into it, you would wear and would actually transmit tactile feelings to you in virtual reality. If a virtual reality character or another person in VR were to touch you, you would literally feel it with your body. … What I hope to see is much better quality headsets, and I think that's a given. The tipping point for VR to become a real phenomenon has already happened. A lot of companies have really started to take notice and are saying, "You know what, we thought this was a niche thing but it's definitely not. It's going to only keep getting bigger." We're going to see development happening pretty rapidly over the next five to ten years, and the hardware is going to get to the point where you can exist, or you're convinced you are in another world. It's going to be quite difficult to tell the VR world from the real one. … But, who knows, the potential is just so open it's probably harder to figure out what it won't do. It's going to change everything. What's your current favorite VR game or experience? That's an easy one. It's a new one that came out a few months ago called “Moss.” It's what they call an action/puzzler/platform-er. You don't play as the character, which is typical in most VR games. You're actually sitting in front of what looks like a diorama and you control a little heroine mouse called Quill. Your role is the reader of her story, via a book, except that you actually end up falling into it and experiencing her life in real time. … One of the unique aspects of the game that's especially endearing is that she communicated in American Sign Language. If you know how to read it, she can give you hints and clues and simply greet you by making signs with her paws. Absolutely wonderful game and challenging. It shows off VR in a very good way. The visuals and scenery are just stunning, it's a beautiful world, and it's fun.
Visit Virtual Odysseys at VirtualOdysseys.Com.
Justin Agrell has been a certified IT technician since 2005. He loves Linux, adventure motorcycling, and computer gaming. To get in touch, just email him at Justin@U4E.US.