Blending boundaries between virtual and physical spaces is an emerging way to enhance interactive experiences. My goal with this project was to use this intersection to explore how our experiences are directed by interactive technology, as well as how virtual spaces can react to physical surroundings. In this project, I designed a virtual environment in Unity and I used a Leap Motion controller in order to track users' hand movements and gestures which they could use to interact with various objects in the virtual space. The interactive objects have physical properties that allow participants to push, pull, and grab objects and make them react to other assets in the space. Since the users don't need to touch anything physically in order to trigger changes to virtual objects, this produces a sense of the objects being weightless as they require little effort to manipulate, but the experience still encourages exploration through the discovery of which items are responsive and what they can be used for.
This project was in part inspired by the Immersive Fashion environment I designed a few months earlier, and I decided to expand upon the aesthetics I built in that project through the use of digital cloth materials here as functional components of the environment. When speaking to users who engaged with the Immersive Fashion project, a lot of them said that they wish they could interact with unusual materials in the space such as water and fabrics, which inspired me to enable those interactions here with the use of the Leap Motion controller. This project is designed as an exploration of translating physical and material tactility into a digital experience and creating an understanding of objects without touch. In most recent iterations, I decided to include more representational interactive objects and larger 'boxes' that participants can choose to use in constructing and assembling their own compositions and spatial arrangements. The goal of this step was to increase the sense of presence and agency in this environment.
Find out more about the early development phase of the project in this short interview video by Grace Gerber:
Another aspect I explored in this project was the placement of text in a 3D virtual space. During the Autumn of 2022, I started to explore the hermit crab essay format for writing about my research as a travel guide and imagining my research topic as a place itself, since it is heavily concentrated on virtual environments and the intersection of virtual and physical entities. As I embraced this nontraditional form of thinking about my research, it seemed natural to also explore the spatial placement of writing and language. This is why I decided to scatter the short sections of some of my writing around this environment and make those text snippets interactive as well. I wanted to explore how the ability to move and touch the text in the 3D space affects our understanding and impression of the content. I was also interested in giving myself and the users the ability to look at the text through different perspectives in the space, as I thought that this tridimensional format and placement embodied the travel guide writing format in terms of conveying different distances and milestones, discoveries, and order of events.
Showing the early stage of the project during the ACCAD 2022 Playtest Day: