A metal construct dominates the room. Poles lacquered to look less intimidating still bear the essence of a construction site and the resin coated speaker wire does not remove the illusion of a model not fit for public use. This creation is puzzling in it’s design and uninviting in it’s appearance. It’s also home to one of the most awe inspiring virtual reality (VR) experiences the world has yet seen.
Californian development studio Kite & Lightning has quickly developed a reputation for creating unique high-quality VR experiences. Their original work on a DC property without the licence and thus the man himself, The Cave, set a high bar that The Station capitalised on with an eccentric sense of humour keenly liberated from The Fifth Element. Following that came the inspired journey that is Senza Peso, but even this couldn’t prepare you for the groundbreaking experience that is Genesis.
Genesis is, by design, intentionally obfuscating. You will not get to experience Genesis at home on your own Oculus Rift. In fact, if you haven’t already, it’s possible that you’ll never get to experience Genesis as it was intended, as the mount upon which the user lies was merely borrowed by Kite & Lightning; in itself is a mark of pride. A studio which invests so heavily in creating an experience which will not only be open to a limited audience but also available for a very short period of time on hardware they don’t have permanent access to is a studio which creates not for wealth and fame, but out of passion for the medium.
Within the metal and wire the user lies upon a padded plate facing towards the ceiling. An Oculus Rift is required as are a rather unusual set of headphones designed for use with the device. The machine is primarily intended for audio use with binaural output as standard, but there’s much more to it than that. External speakers are also mounted upon the device and while resting upon the plate the player will feel the vibrations of the audio. Of course, what this means is that a clever software engineer can pinpoint key moments in the experience when the vibrations the user feels are much more intense. This is exactly what Kite & Lightning have done.
Genesis is a few short minutes of rendered water and rock, and yet it feels like a decade has passed. It’s an experience unlike any other as you begin within a virtual recreation of Kite & Lightning’s own office, where the machine is housed. The walls break away and you’re free floating, yet stationary in the real-world. The user cruises across the surface of the ocean surrounded by a comforting orange glow and the slow cascading of light particles that fill your vision. It’s a moment in time so distant from everyday life and yet it feels so real. Then, only seconds later, you find yourself deep within the water you were so casually surfing upon, and everything has changed.
You hold your breath just for a moment before correcting yourself with the realisation that the virtual water will not fill your lungs; the holy grail of immersion. The jellyfish the surround you are unlikely to draw your attention away from the light dancing ahead. What it is will never be explained, but this is unimportant. It doesn’t need to be anything more than the chaotic, beautiful light show that it offers at this moment. In the time it takes you to refill your lungs after that missed breath the world has changed once again. A rock formation appears under your feet and you’re no longer under water, but on a journey high above it. The wind howls and a light shower of snow trickles across your field of vision. In less than two minutes you’ve travelled a long way from the comforting orange glow above the sea to the cold, stark whiteness of a mountain ravine.
Of course, this also only lasts a moment. The journey is short but will stay with you for a lifetime, as the cold rock falls away to reveal that warm, calming ocean on which your journey began. No sooner than you have settled back into the cool waves and pleasant orange glow that the walls confine you within an office space once again. It’s been less than five minutes but it will take much longer for the experience to leave you. Genesis is the start of something special: it’s a step that VR had to take, and it’s Kite & Lightning’s pioneering spirit that made it possible.