Brave new world: Games, gadgets and virtual reality at FuturePlay

Brave new world: Games, gadgets and virtual reality at FuturePlay

A round-up of what to look out for at the new festival which celebrates the crossover between entertainment and technology

Last year saw the inaugural Edinburgh Digital Entertainment Festival take up residence in the Assembly Rooms. Returning in 2017, it's been rechristened as the much simpler FuturePlay, offering interactive exhibitions and games in its new home outside the Assembly Rooms on George Street.

The Tech Zone features around a dozen indie games and gadgets. Some of the games are multiplayer only, although singleplayer visitors need not worry as there are plenty of staff eager to join in the fun and explain the ropes. The games include platformers, simple RPGS and more experimental affairs, while the gadgets include a music-making box and a game constructed simply of a wobbly stick controller and a single strip of LEDs as the game screen.

Over in the Virtual Reality Studio, a series of experimental and narrative-based VR experiences await. Abstraction is a curious blend of art and dance featuring giant characters swirling around while you fly higher and higher above them through a surrealistic world. Henry is a delightful story about a hedgehog who has trouble making friends. Created by some of the talent behind Brave and Toy Story 3, it places you in the middle of Henry's delightful little home which is full of whimsical detail. Lost is a short story set in an intimidating forest which really showcases how impressive VR can be at tricking the brain into believing gigantic robots are towering above you.

However, the highlight of the exhibition is undoubtedly Munduruku: The Fight to Defend the Heart of the Amazon, a multi-sensory journey into the lives of a tribe of indigenous people in the Amazonian rainforest. Enveloped by a cylindrical curtain, a VR headset and headphones, the experience is further enhanced by vibrations, scents and weather effects (generated by a set of fans and heaters). It's an extraordinarily relaxing sensation as you coast along the river with the rainforest heat on your face. Alas, due to its 20-minute run-time, it's only available for up to three people to experience per session.

Jeffrey Lewis, Ariel Sharratt & Mathias Kom

Mr Clandestine
The Immersive Gallery takes residence in a container which houses two HTC Vive VR headsets. The Vive differs from other virtual reality systems because it uses special laser technology to track the user's movements around a small space in the real world (the limits of which are visible through the viewfinder should you wander too close to a wall). Combining this with Google's Tilt Brush software enables budding artists to paint in a 3D area the size of a small room, where the brushstrokes magically hang in the air. Artworks are more widely housed within an enormous space which you can navigate around using simple 'teleportation' controls. Gamers will most likely feel right at home with the Vive's controls (using two wands to paint and navigate), but it's intuitive enough that most people should get the hang of it, thanks to the chaperones on hand.

There are also two interactive artworks to explore. Handria by artist Handiedan comprises a series of three-dimensional collages which you can walk around explore, while Dustin Lewis (aka Mr Clandestine) has created an exhibit called Queen Alala, best described as an audio-reactive temple. By using the Tilt Brush scaling tool, it's possible to observe the work as if it's the size of a human head which you can simply walk around, before you resize it until it towers above you like a mountain. In conjunction with the reactive soundscape, it's this unique ability to explore space, scale and time that marks the Immersive Gallery as a fascinating use of this burgeoning technology.

Assembly Rooms, until 28 Aug, times vary, prices vary.

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