Short-Form, Low-Poly: Necessity as the Mother of Invention

In testing our apps with the general public, one thing has become abundantly clear: the bar for VR content is high. Extremely high, in fact.

Modern audiences have been primed for VR by two mainstream media: Hollywood Special FX blockbusters, and AAA videogames for consoles. Think the special effects from Avatar, or the Lord of the Rings, and Ex Machina; totally synthetic, computer-generated characters that are also totally believable… in fact, indistinguishable from human actors, apart from their extreme biological forms.

L to R Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) and Neytiri (Zoë Saldana).

Avatar by James Cameron  : Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) and Neytiri (Zoë Saldana).

On the videogame front, we have massive 40+ hour experiences with photorealistic graphics, huge free-to-explore environments; think Gears of War, Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto.

These high expectations are compounded by the fact that the essence of the VR experience encourages close inspection of elements. In other words, people just love to lean in and closely examine textures and objects. This means that all the graphical and modelling shortcuts used for far away objects are now null. We must model for close-ups.

First, lets look at some basic economics of content: 

  • MOVIES
  • a movie ticket costs $10, for 2 hours of play
  • a major hollywood movie costs about $200 million to make and market
  • there are more than 1 billion people who watch movies worldwide
  • a DVD player costs $30.
  • VIDEOGAMES
  • a videogame costs $50, for 40 hours of play
  • a major AAA videogame costs about $30 million to make and market
  • there are more than 300 million videogame consoles worldwide
  • a videogame console costs $300.

Now, for comparison, lets look at

  • VR in 2015
  • A premium VR experience retails for $3 to $12, for 5-20 minutes of play
  • A premium 5-minute VR experience takes about $1 million to create
  • There are currently less than 2 million VR viewers in the hands of consumers globally.
  • an entry level consumer VR rig costs $1,500.

Realistically, most of the VR content being created today is by either small motivated teams of 1-3 people, or by divisions of larger Special Effects firms who are dipping their toes into the new media. The videogame companies will be coming in strong soon. Hello EA, Blizzard, Epic.

To cut to the chase: consumers expect photorealism, yet there is no way to justify photo-realistic production budgets when the existing audience is effectively non-existent.

The solution : short-form, low-poly

The solution, as with most, relies on elegance, not brute force. Extremely low poly models, which perform well on almost any platform, and short-form content, i.e. playtimes less than 5 minutes, are the sweet spot that make modern VR production possible… perhaps even profitable.

Examples of doing low-poly right:

1. Darknet

2. See our earlier post on Synthesis Universe.

and…

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