Jeroen Van den Bosch is a long time game designer and developer. Though his background is in internet gaming, he describes himself as a lifelong VR freak. After demoing a duct taped Oculus Rift back in 2012, he could think of nothing else. The crafty Belgian decided to take his 20 years of experience and transition to a development for virtual reality. JVDB, as he is known by nobody (to my knowledge), was nice enough to give us a peek inside the walls of his new company.
Back in 2013, after experimenting with the Oculus Rift for a year, Jeroen was convinced that a singular focus on gaming was incomplete. He felt an immersive sweet spot existed somewhere between movies and games. That the objective nature of gameplay was a hinderance to pure experience. So he set out to create the kinds of virtual reality experiences people seek in real life. Places they would want to visit and spend time. Familiar landscapes that are never exactly the same. A reliable sense of adventure, wonder, or serenity. The kind of escapes people would speak about with their friends as they would a weekend away.
That’s how Immersive Entertainment came to be. When you ask what the company does, Jeroen will tell you they create “living worlds.” But not through real-space videography. No, he sees 360 video as a mere replay. A recording that never changes. He holds very strong opinions on the matter. So he and his team design and develop their environments from scratch. They build in procedurally generated fauna, flora, and basic animal AI behavior. The team is now 12 deep, half of whom are building virtual reality experiences. The other half are focused on building the business. Most work full time out of the company’s headquarters in Irvine, CA.
When I asked how hard it was to find good designers and developers for VR, I was surprised to hear that it wasn’t much of a challenge. Jeroen said he found a lot of game developers were tired of building weapons and soldiers, and more weapons and soldiers. Designers were fed up with seeing their creations sprinted through and ignored. Many of them jumped at the opportunity to design environments they love and really tap into the beautiful capabilities of Unreal Engine 4, the company’s engine of choice.
The Grand Canyon
I tried Immersive Entertainment’s Grand Canyon Experience at the VRLA Spring Expo and witnessed all of these things firsthand. When I strapped on their Oculus Rift DK2, I was sitting in a kayak floating slowly down an anonymous stream flowing into the Colorado River. I heard birds chirping and wind blowing. Sun reflected off the red rocks of the canyon walls. With all the commotion at an event like that, it was pretty nice to go to a peaceful place for a minute. I watched a Deer munch on grass in a thicket, not even thinking about the fact that he was programmed find a patch of grass, spin, and look for more food. Schools of fish would swim under my boat and follow each other downstream.
Check out a flattened version of it below or sign up for their beta program here if you have your own Oculus Rift.
The experience is still in its early stages. The team is working out some kinks and adding more flora, fauna and animals. Overall the experience had its intended effect, but I did notice little things like some of the fish growing abnormally large as they neared the surface. Jeroen said Immersive Entertainment will have the Grand Canyon Experience finished by the end of the year, so I’m excited to get back in the boat when it’s complete.
Immersive Entertainment is working on a few more experiences, including a faster paced white water rafting adventure and a magic carpet ride through space. Expect to see those roll out in 2016. After that, they have plans for a bigger project they’re keeping completely under wraps. We’ll be checking in with Jeroen and the Immersive Entertainment team in Orange County, so stay tuned.