Solar Power: Behind the Scenes of ‘Titans of Space PLUS’ with DrashVR

Oculus Blog
|
January 21, 2020
|
Share

Originally released for Oculus Go, Titans of Space takes you on a ride through a miniature Solar System with over 40 celestial bodies. Indie developer DrashVR recently released a new and improved version, Titans of Space PLUS, for both Oculus Quest and the Rift Platform—adding new content and features to satisfy your interstellar curiosity.

We sat down with DrashVR Chief Engineer Steve Doornbos to learn more about this unique educational experience.

What was the inspiration behind Titans of Space?

Steve Doornbos: There are several bits that all came together at once. During the months that I was impatiently waiting for my Kickstarter Rift DK1 delivery, I drove my wife and her friends a long way up to Canada, and they were all conversing in a language that I don't know, so I had plenty of time to think about what I wanted to see in VR. One thing that I'd been enjoying were all the infographics being shared online comparing the sizes of planets and our Sun and the much larger stars, so I decided I would learn Unity in order to put together a VR version of that, and just roughly planned it out in my head as I was driving. Additionally, the pace of space exploration had been picking up, fresh maps of planets and moons were becoming available, amazing new things being discovered, and I just wanted to share my excitement with everyone.

How does Titans of Space PLUS differ from the original?

SD: The PLUS version introduces a Tour Guide character, which some have dubbed the “Flying Professor Alien.” He’s excited to share everything he’s learned about our Solar System in about two hours of additional content. The PLUS version also includes a Zero-Gravity EVA mode that lets you get out of your cockpit using thrusters on your hands and float around the area—it’s a great way to see planets and moons from new angles or to explore the names of surface features. This version also brings a side-by-side comparison mode that lets you compare any two Solar System bodies to satisfy any size-related curiosity. And thanks to Quest’s processing power, the PLUS version has been overall polished and upgraded in nearly every way.

How long was Titans of Space PLUS in development? Any interesting anecdotes to share?

SD: Far too long! I have a regular job and a family, so this has all been done in little bits and pieces in my spare time. However, I’m proud of myself for staying on it, and I’m now fancying the idea of a career change because of it. The PLUS version started out as “2.0” for PC VR headsets and grew into what it is today as I gathered enormous piles of valuable feedback from multiple rounds of video playtesting and from consumers, parents, and educators.

Did you encounter any obstacles optimizing Titans of Space PLUS for a mobile chipset? If so, how did you overcome those challenges?

SD: I was lucky enough to get my hands on an early Quest dev kit, and while testing out its capabilities, I had a serious a-ha moment when I realized that instead of porting my Oculus Go title to Quest, I should port the Rift version and use my experience with building for Go to make it run smoothly. However, the Tour Guide and all the newest things I had just built for the Rift version presented an issue of memory management, so I had to rewrite a few subsystems to smoothly support loading and unloading these things on-the-fly at each tour stop. Also, I had been wary of upgrading the game engine to the newest version since newer versions tend to be less stable, but after some research I made an exception here in order to take advantage of multiview and being able to disable garbage collection in certain situations. Lots of work went into eliminating allocations and, combined with the above, this produced a very smooth experience.

What’s your favorite part of Titans of Space PLUS and why?

SD: That would probably be the Tour Guide. It's basically a mo-capped and voice-acted version of me, speaking off of scripts that I researched and wrote, and then I created subtitles for all two hours of it. This is my favorite part because all of that was a lot of work, involving lots of reading and condensing what I learned into interesting topics and a script that flows. The point wasn’t to be flowery and say a little, but to simply be myself and pass on what I learned. I made subtitles a priority in this and older versions of Titans of Space because I am deaf in one ear, and I have long wished that everything in the whole world was subtitled. The future of VR and AR points to this dream becoming a reality, so I wanted to do my part in that.

What’s the best reaction you’ve seen while demoing the title?

SD: Upon trying the DK1 prototype, my mother said: “My baby finally made an app!” In the early days after first releasing Titans, the sentiment from those that tried it was a mix of wonder at the content itself and hope for the future of VR, and apparently lots of people would demo Titans in pubs, schools, and to their families. Educators reach out to me for permission to use Titans with their students. Multiple people have told me they changed careers (!) or started VR-related businesses (!) because of Titans. I simply can’t express how happy it makes me to feel like I did something meaningful and impactful.

These days, now that the future of VR is all but guaranteed, the reactions are more about the content and are still very positive. Cherry-picking a bit from recent reviews of the PLUS version, one user declared it to be “a wealth of information,” while another stated that it is “the best money I have spent on a VR experience by a long way. ... If this isn’t the blueprint for the education of the next generation of kids then I’ll be shocked and humanity will be the worse for it.” It’s hard to top a statement like that.

If people take one thing away from Titans of Space PLUS, what do you hope it would be and why?

SD: I would hope that people come away feeling like space is a big place, that humanity’s reach and understanding is growing at an impressive rate, and that the future is ours, if we can hold onto it.

How do you think VR and AR will continue to impact the field of education moving forward?

SD: I'm no prophet, but here are my thoughts: As headsets get lighter, easier, and more affordable, classrooms will likely be inundated by VR and AR, all tied together with well-built teaching frameworks. The last bit is key, because then at some point the whole thing will be a well-oiled machine, and teachers and students will start feeling like the physical classroom is unnecessary, and then it will all start taking place remotely. Many students will still need a place to go to focus and properly participate, so I imagine there will be a business model or public service made out of providing spaces for that. But in general, education should cost less in the long run, use fewer resources while being more impactful, and hopefully this all results in better-paid teachers, less reliance on physical proximity, and therefore a better society.

What’s next for you? Any exciting updates in the works?

SD: Well, although Titans of Space certainly can be compared with taking a trip to the planetarium, which is generally regarded as a once-in-a-while activity, I’m considering ways to improve its replayability. I’m also focusing on getting Titans into schools and weighing my options for my next project. There’s plenty of underlying tech in Titans that I can re-use for another educational title, but I’ve also wanted to further develop one of my many game prototypes. Time will tell!

Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

SD: One common misconception I run into a lot is that I still work on Apollo 11 or other titles from Immersive VR Education. I was only the lead developer for the original PC version, and I had no hand in all the great work they've done after that. Other than that, thank you very much to everyone who’s supported me over the years with donations, feedback, taking a chance on purchasing recent versions, and encouragement. I sound like a broken record by now, but I greatly appreciate all of it!

Tour the Solar System in Titans of Space PLUS on Oculus Quest and the Rift Platform today.