Explore the World with Friends in the ‘BRINK Traveler’ Summer Update

Oculus Blog
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July 29, 2022
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With summer in full swing, there’s never been a better time to explore the great outdoors—from the comfort of your living room, of course. Today, BRINK Traveler’s new free Summer Update from BRINK XR heats up the Quest Store with exciting new features like support for official Meta Avatars and multiplayer.

Ever since BRINK Travelerfirst released on the Quest Platform last year, it’s been helping people visit amazing locations across the globe. From the gorgeous vistas of Mount Morrison to the picturesque summits at Crystal Crag, BRINK Traveler is a cutting-edge way to tour the world.

And with the Summer Update, you’ll get access to two brand-new features: multiplayer support and Meta Avatar support. Now your field trips around the world don’t have to be solo vacations but can instead include your friends, family, and other explorers across the planet.

When embarking on your next adventure, you’ll be able to choose whether you want to travel solo, meet up with friends and family, or randomly encounter others on your journey in the new social-focused Public exploration mode. This new feature is powered by Meta Avatars on the Quest Platform, so you can fully express yourself however you want to be seen.

This update also includes text and audio localization in Japanese, Korean, and Chinese (both Simplified and Traditional) for all locations in BRINK Traveler in an effort to make these places more accessible to everyone.

For more insight into how the team at BRINK XR evolved their amazing virtual tourism platform, we spoke with Co-Founders Akin Bilgic, Brandon Riza, and Florian Bernard.

BRINK Traveler is one of the most visually impressive apps available on the Meta Quest Store. What’s it been like trying to sustain that level of quality on a mobile chipset?

Akin Bilgic: It’s a big challenge to scan and reconstruct these amazing places for VR in a way that feels natural and as realistic as possible. When we do our job right, people find themselves fully immersed in these locations with nothing to break that illusion of reality. Getting to that point is a huge technical undertaking—with lots of highly-efficient optimization we do behind the scenes to make these places run on mobile hardware like Quest, phones, and tablets. BRINK Traveler pushes the Quest hardware to its very limits, and as the technology advances, we’re eager to continue adding more detail and depth to these locations.

At the end of the day, everything we do is about evoking the feeling and emotion of traveling in the great outdoors. And while the technology is obviously very important to accomplishing that, we do everything we can to keep the tech as transparent and hidden from the user so they can focus on getting lost in the experience.

Brandon Riza: We’ve dedicated a lot of time and brainspace to building a photogrammetry processing pipeline that’s robust enough to handle whatever locations we throw at it. We constantly revise our tools with the ultimate goal of arriving at a complete toolkit that handles every type of location efficiently at a very high quality. We get closer to that goal with every new location we add to the experience.

Some of our most-requested locations like jungles or oceans unfortunately present a large technical hurdle for today’s headsets. Foliage is notoriously difficult for photogrammetry to accurately reconstruct, and water effects can be very processor-intensive. We try to find locations that feature these kinds of places while still remaining manageable on a mobile processor. For this Summer Update, we’ve also broadened realism by diving deeper into some atmospheric effects like snow and mist to better place people in these awe-inspiring locations with unique weather conditions. We’re still experimenting with more ways to fully immerse people, and we’re motivated to keep pushing the technology to recreate these amazing places as naturally and seamlessly as possible.

What has the reception to BRINK Traveler been like so far?

AB: Seeing the community response to the app has been incredible and rewarding. Virtual travel is still a relatively small and unique use case for VR, so before we launched we weren’t sure if there was a big enough market and demand for the type of experience we were building. Thankfully, the response has totally exceeded our expectations and definitely proven there’s a huge hunger for immersive virtual travel experiences. That really inspires and enables us to keep growing the app with new features like Multiplayer, Narrative Experiences, and lots more fantastic locations.

One of the best parts for me has been the stories we get from people who thank us for showing them places they thought they’d never be able to see due to health or financial reasons. Travel is such an important part of the human experience—we feel it broadens your understanding of the world, its people, and its cultures—and unfortunately it can be extremely inaccessible to people who don’t have time, money, or health. So it means a lot to us to hear these stories from people who appreciate the work we’re doing in making the amazing places of the world more accessible to everyone.

What was the process like to add multiplayer support to BRINK, which was previously designed as a solo-only experience?

Florian Bernard: When traveling, even on your own, you always get to meet people who share this passion for the great outdoors. Even if it’s for a short moment, these encounters obviously have a significant impact on your human experience overall. Can you imagine planet Earth all by yourself? It would be quite boring! Giving our users the option to meet random people or to explore with relatives was something we always had in mind. Also, it was one of the top-requested features since we launched.

The first step was to decide on a maximum number of simultaneous players. We didn’t want the space to feel too crowded and hectic. We always aim to have our user interface be as simple and frictionless as possible—so enabling multiplayer in public or private mode had to be only a couple button presses away. We also wanted our players to strongly feel the presence of others, so we added spatialized voices, a sense of touch (high fives), and the ability to hand over objects like rocks and other items from the environment. We also wanted users to really share the same experience, so we had things like bird flocks, airplane trails and shooting stars synced across devices. Taking photos is indeed a very popular hobby, so we added a selfie mode as well as a wide-angle camera option. This release is just the beginning, and we have so many more features we’re looking forward to implementing over the coming months!

BR: Multiplayer has really added a whole new dimension to the app. Throughout the development phase, we ended up having full meetings in VR, traveling around together while testing new features, and basically just having a great time sharing the experience! We found ourselves laughing hysterically while joking around—just like we would in real life, as if we all lived on the same continent or in the same city and worked in the same physical location. It’s also been really fun to bring friends and family into the app, show them around, and watch their reactions in real time. I’ve personally found it amazing how much human emotion the avatars can impart. We’re excited to release this update and hang out with other travelers in these cool places.

What was the most difficult part about adding multiplayer support? How did you overcome that obstacle?

FB: Our team didn’t have much experience with multiplayer development in the past. Converting our single-user app to a full social experience in about three or four months was a real challenge. I’d say the most difficult part was testing. We’re a remote team on different time zones, and I often found myself juggling two headsets and four controllers! The grabbing mechanic was especially difficult to implement. Something as simple as handing over a small rock to another person turned out to be quite a complicated thing when having to sync between multiple virtual reality instances. Another roadblock was to sync our custom hand models with the avatar hands seen by other players. It’s important for us that avatars clearly express a user's intent—for example, when taking a photo or pointing at something in the environment. We had to significantly revisit our previous hand animation system to fit the new Meta Avatar SDK requirements. We overcame these issues with countless hours of work fueled by a heavy motivation to deliver the best possible experience to our community.

Do you have plans to continue releasing new locations into the future?

BR: Absolutely! We envision BRINK Traveler eventually becoming filled with so many amazing locations that you’ll need a robust world map to see them all. To that end, we’re in the process of capturing locations from all over the world now. We scan all of the locations featured in the app ourselves, which obviously requires a significant cost and time investment—but the resulting quality makes it all worth it. As an avid climber/mountaineer, I’m looking forward to spending a lot more time in the French and Swiss Alps, shooting some of the mountains I love to climb. We have some really exciting New Zealand and Norway location scans in progress. We of course will add more beautiful US National Parks and monuments. We also have plans to eventually shoot underwater locations, caves, and some truly far-flung and amazing places that don’t even look real! Lots to look forward to, so stay tuned.

Now that you’ve got full Meta Avatar support and multiplayer, what are some features requested from fans that you’re considering for your product roadmap?

AB: We have a lot more features planned and in the works! What you see in the app today is really just the tip of the iceberg for what we have planned. Cross-platform multiplayer between standalone VR, PC VR, and our AR version for phones and tablets is in the works as we continue to grow the multiplayer experience. We’ve also been developing unique narrative experiences to take people on virtual tours centered around specific themes like National Parks and the night sky. We’re eager to implement more ease-of-use features like hand tracking, voice commands, and an accessibility mode for people who might not be able to fully utilize gestures and controllers. And as the technology improves, we’ll continue to expand and add details throughout the entire experience.

Finally, if you could add any one location that isn’t in there yet, what would it be and why?

BR: The Matterhorn, full stop! To me, there is no more iconic and globally-recognized alpine massif than the Matterhorn. Even the name itself inspires awe. I’ve spent some time in the Pennine Alps in Switzerland climbing various objectives, and the Matterhorn looms large from every vantage point. It’s just such an awesome edifice, in the literal sense of the word. I’m excited to bring it into the app soon, and I can’t wait for people to be able to climb it in our app!

FB: I would love to add locations where water plays a part like paradisiac beaches with waves, dynamic rivers, and reflective mountain lakes. My pick would be a dream beach in the Seychelles islands at sunset with palm trees swinging in the wind, crystal-clear seashore, and sea turtles.

AB:The world is filled with so many amazing places to experience—it’s impossible to choose just one! I’m really looking forward to more spectacular locations in Patagonia and Iceland. If I really have to choose just one, it’s probably going to be Torres Del Paine in Patagonia, Chile—partly because of how incredible of a location it is, featuring huge towering mountains over bright blue glacial lakes, but also because of the memories I associate with being there towards the end of a long South American road trip I had with two great friends that spanned from Cusco, Peru, all the way down to Ushuaia, Argentina—the southernmost city in the world. Evoking the memories and feelings of past and future adventures is what BRINK Traveler is all about for me, and I can’t wait to share that with everyone.

The new Summer Update is now live in BRINK Traveler on the Quest Platform as a free update for all existing users. If you don’t already own BRINK Traveler, you can grab it for just $9.99 USD and explore the world like never before.