The company behind the multiplayer plugin Normcore proves the viability of a virtual office and beyond.
The 2017 video from Normal VR started with an adorable, yellow, blob-like virtual avatar daintily standing in the middle of a real, physical office. Its arms waved freely through the air, painting three-dimensional flowers with an expression of pure serenity on its face. As the camera panned out, a person could be seen standing next to the avatar, wearing a VR headset and waving controllers through the air. It quickly became apparent that the avatar was mirroring this person’s movements, and was projected into the room by AR.
This is a moment that I’ll never forget, because it was the first time I considered writing about VR and AR. To me, this video was one of the most compelling examples of how immersive technologies could work together to enable social interactions across realities. It was a glimpse of the interconnected metaverse of the future. Just two years later, Normal VR is making that future a reality with an entirely remote team.
The concept of remote work isn’t a new one. Telecommuting, fax machines, email, and text messaging have all been progressive steps away from the traditional office model. More recently, VR companies have caught on to the idea of professional virtual environments, leveraging existing platforms or creating entirely new ones to accomplish this. I have fond memories of being a child and yelling, “It’s Texas!” whenever the fax machine would start printing.
Where Normal VR stands out, however, is that their remote team doesn’t use virtual conference rooms or presentation spaces to meet. Normcore, their multiplayer networking plugin for Unity, allows for the addition of voice chat-enabled multiplayer VR functionality for games and experiences in minutes. When the Normal VR team meets to discuss a new build or test a mechanic, they meet inside of that build, and can collaborate instantaneously.
Trying to explain what being in VR is like to someone who’s never tried it before will give you an appreciation of just how important this innovation is. Pictures, videos, and even in-headset recordings can’t convey the feeling of presence you get from being in VR yourself. This frustration can be compounded when working with others to create a VR product, forcing you to try and explain what you were doing and how it made you feel while moving in three dimensions with 6 degrees of freedom.
Conveying that information remotely is almost impossible, unless you can bring someone into the experience with you and show them directly. Equally important is that as a plugin, Normcore will continue to function even if the experience itself is in a very early and unpolished state. It also gives developers the toolset necessary to scale the shareability of the experience as it grows in complexity, allowing for early-stage integration that remains viable over the entire development cycle.
Normcore has also been a valuable tool for the Normal VR team when giving demos or gathering feedback from clients or colleagues. Sharing a build and hoping that someone unfamiliar with a product can run it smoothly on their own is never an ideal situation for a developer. Similarly, traveling with a complete VR setup and VR-ready computer isn’t a small task either, and that’s assuming the build you have with you continues to function once you arrive and get everything set up. But with the help of Normcore, demos can happen instantly, with others joining in from a VR headset or AR-enabled device, allowing the developer to provide a guided experience in a controlled setting.
Normcore, existing outside of a dedicated app and accessible to VR and AR developers as a plugin, is poised to redefine modern communication in a big way. But Normal VR isn’t stopping there. On September 8, Normal VR tweeted a video of four of their iconic Wanda avatars swimming together in a fish-filled ocean, captioned by the message, “5 days.” This teaser video officially began the countdown to today’s release of Half + Half, Normal VR’s virtual world.
Two more videos have been released in the days since, one with Wanda avatars navigating the sky with multicolored hang gliders, and the most recent one showing Wandas playing a game of hide-and-seek with a seeker being many times larger than the ones hiding. It’s clear that multiplayer will be at the core of these experiences, and I suspect we are going to be seeing a lot more of Normal VR’s unique voice and innovations in the near future.
Feature Image Credit: Normal VR