“People always ask why I added the wings to the physical dragon since they don’t really do anything. However for me the experience begins way before the user even puts on the headset.”
We’ve all wanted to ride on the back of a dragon. If someone tells you otherwise then they’re either lying or had an incredibly unimaginative childhood. Unfortunately though, and I apologize in advance to those who are unaware, dragons do not actually exist. This hasn’t stopped Abhishek Singh, an independent VR developer dedicated to training you on the finer points of piloting the infamous medieval creatures. However what makes this virtual reality game so interesting isn’t the software, it’s the 20 foot replica dragon with controllable reigns that you’re sitting on.
The How To Fly Your Dragon experience features a mountable dragon structure coated in sensors that link it in real time to the virtual beast you ride in the simulation. Using actual reins attached to the structure, players are able to navigate their flight in-game as they explore mysterious floating islands in search of hidden easter eggs. It’s an experience that’s just as amazing as it is ridiculous. That’s why it’s probably best to get the information directly from the mastermind. VRScout was able sit with the man himself and get the low-down on how this fantastical project came to be. Fantastical is a real word right?
Can you share how long it took you to build the dragon?
Abhishek: It took a little over three sleepless weeks to create the entire experience from initial concept to rideable dragon. The entire fabrication of the physical dragon and the sensors was completed in about a week. The rest of the time was spent in modeling the virtual dragon and the entire virtual world, coding the experience in Unity and fine tuning it so the movements and manipulations of the physical dragon synced up perfectly with those happening in the headset.
What is the object of the game?
Abhishek: I titled the piece ‘How To Ride Your Dragon’ after a similarly titled Dreamworks movie because I just thought it would be seriously cool to actually see what it feels like to ride a dragon. From Avatar to Game of Thrones, I’m sure we’ve all wished at least once that we could actually experience this. So in its current form the game is all about exploration, where you are seated atop this magnificent beast soaring through a magical and mythical land of floating islands, canyons, volcanoes and strange landscapes.
Is the VR experience only for Gear VR, is it available yet for the public?
Abhishek: It works both in Gear VR and cardboard. It’s a smoother experience on the GearVR and since the headset sits snugly on your head, your hands are free to control the reins. I’m currently working on releasing a version for both stores that won’t require you to install a 20 foot dragon in your home.
Where did you have the physical dragon setup? Was it for an event?
Abhishek: Yes this particular setup(in the video) was at the DCN Summit but I’ve also set it up at the World Science Festival and the ITP Show. It always attracts attention from people of all ages and it’s fun to see an adult begrudgingly give up his slot in the line because a kid wants to get on first. It’s always a huge hit with kids.
What are your future plans for the experience and the dragon contraption? Any modifications you would make to improve the experience?
Abhishek: I’ve built the entire dragon contraption so it can easily be dismantled and reassembled when needed so I would like to demo it in more places so people can experience it. I always thought some version of this would make a really cool addition to a VR theme park. I want to add a multiplayer aspect to it as well so you can fly through the world along with other riders as a dragon fleet of sorts, which of course will require more dragons to be built. I’ve been experimenting with using a fan to recreate the sensation of wind blowing in your face and would be making that a permanent addition. As an exploration game, there are already several easter eggs sprinkled through the environment – hidden tunnels, canyons, caves, waterfalls and the next step would be to add a storyline – give the rider a purpose and mission.
Are you working solo or working with a team?
Abhishek: Yes this was entirely a solo project but I’m always open to working with more people. Specially to take this forward in the way I envision, working in a team would definitely help.
Anything else about the project you’d like people to know about?
Abhishek: People always ask why I added the wings to the physical dragon since they don’t really do anything. However for me the experience begins way before the user even puts on the headset. When they enter the room and see this dragon throne waiting for them it’s immediately empowering, magical and exciting and those are emotions that I want users to carry with them into the virtual world as well. I also paid close attention to ensuring the virtual dragon and the physical dragon had the same appearance.The entire experience is about linking the physical with the virtual and then using the virtual to augment your senses. I could have perhaps provided similar control with a hand held controller but that would not have been nearly as exciting or as fun.
So there you have it! One man on a mission to bring fantasies greatest flying creature to life. With such an ambitious project you’d think Abhishek would be focused solely on this project. Guess again. The ambitious developer also recently cofounded svrround.com, a brand new digital platform to create and share 360 degree video content.
Abhishek has big plans for the upcoming platform and if there half as cool as they sound, we’re in for some pretty amazing experiences. “The entire focus with Svrround (pronounced surround) is to augment and utilize the 360 space to help improve both audience retention and engagement. So we’ve built an entire toolkit that allows you to manipulate the stream on the fly and at the same time track detailed analytics to see how the audience is engaging with the content. We’re also making a big push in creating and putting out regular live 360 programming that would give users a reason to pick up their headsets on a regular basis.”