In Lyon, in the room specially dedicated to virtual reality game trials – no furniture, and space to test the titles. WILLIAM AUDUREAU / “THE WORLD”
“Try to imagine yourself in the Cretaceous. You take your first look at this big turkey when you come out into a clearing. She moves forward like a bird, nodding her head. And you don’t move anymore, because you tell yourself that maybe his visual acuity is based on movement, like the tyrannosaurus, and that he will forget you if you don’t move, but no: not the velociraptor. »
The quote is from one of the most famous films of the 1990s: it is pronounced by Professor Grant in Jurassic Park (1993), by Steven Spielberg. And twenty-four years later, it inspired the name of “Raptor Lab”, a young Swiss startup born in January 2017 and located in Lyon, in the popular district of La Guillotière. “Like us, the raptors are sensitive to movement! We wanted to look a little nice and funny, not to be called Futur VR or another generic name,” explains Samuel Auzols, an interior designer by training and co-founder of the company, enthusiastically.
Virtual stick planting
The movement, Raptor Lab has made it the heart of its activity. In a world where virtual reality is still very constrained by wires, small game spaces and bulky headsets that obstruct vision, the studio has implemented a system that now allows the player to move (in virtual space) without moving a meter (in reality).
The trick? Use the joysticks like ski poles, to propel yourself with the strength of the arms, rather than by moving the legs. The system, presented to the public during the Videogame Economics Forum in Angoulême on May 9 and 10, already equips a VR title (Virtual Reality – “virtual reality” in French), The Art of Fight, a team-based Counter-Strike shooter released in February.
This one has some ten thousand players, according to the estimates of the Steam Spy website, a figure to be reported to the still very small installed fleet of virtual reality headsets on computers. The Art of Fight liked enough, in any case, for some mouse athletes to put online the acrobatic movements that they learned to perform, device screwed on the skull, thanks to the ingenious system of the Lyon start-up.
Highlighted by a video of the game viewed almost a million times, the technology has given ideas to industrialists far removed from the world of video games, and in particular to Velour International, a French group specialized in safety and risk management. He has clients in the defense industry, which has long been fond of virtual reality. “In a classic VR simulation, you can’t really move around, you have to teleport. We then lose the perception of space. On the contrary, our technique makes it possible to memorize the places better; that’s what interested them,” says Samuel Auzols. The system is to be used in particular for hostage-taking simulations in the city of Dubai, which is preparing to host the 2020 World Expo.
The players, luxury guinea pigs
However, the video game remains the backbone of Raptor Lab’s activity. “We realized that playing games in virtual reality was essential, confirms Samuel Auzols. It is thanks to the feedback from the players that we were able to improve our technology, without it it was not ready. “Kevin Tanoh, a Lausanne polytechnic and associate of La boîte, even believes that the small circle of VR video game enthusiasts – less than two million worldwide – is an asset for them :
“The level of requirement of the players is extremely high, they want the game to be perfect. »
All are in their twenties, and Samuel and Kevin, the two co-founders, have known each other for eight years, through the Internet. They have already tinkered with several amateur video games together, and are preparing another one for the beginning of June, an armed duel game in an antique or medieval atmosphere.
Raptor Lab’s next virtual reality game features knife duels. RAPTOR LAB
Developed in just two months, still in virtual reality, but with more important visual work, this time it seeks to solve another problem: how to synchronize the representation of weapons when two players compete in VR and they collide in the game, but obviously not in reality? The players will be the first judges, before a possible exploitation of this new technology in another setting.
The possible futures of VR
The emerging success of Raptor Lab has also allowed them to be approached by several companies also specialized in virtual reality. One of them is developing mats specifically designed to mimic movement, like gym mats, but surrounded by a railing so as not to fall into play. Another sent them a prototype of a force feedback vest, in order to physically transcribe the virtual impacts.
Kevin Taroh, from Raptor Lab, is trying out an experimental device for restitution of virtual impacts. RAPTOR LAB
So many possible futures for a technology to which everyone promises a bright future, but which still remains very marginal and not always up to date. “It’s true that virtual reality poses a lot of questions,” admits Samuel Auzols. His associates themselves are not sure that most of the helmet buyers are not professionals like them, rather than real customers.
Never mind, they want to believe it. After all, “between events, the arcade and the Asian market, it’s still buzzing”. In addition to video games and defense, Raptor Lab already sells advertising services in virtual reality to the city of Lyon, or even contributes to the transformation of old arcade terminals into VR gaming devices. Far, far away, from the Mesozoic.