ParkVR: Re-Imaging the Park Experience for Virtual Reality

Project Description

With virtual reality (VR) headsets entering the mainstream, the need for a broad variety of experiences also rises. However, looking at popular VR app stores, fast-paced, sports, or violent games aimed at fully abled users dominate the marketplace for interactive VR experiences. These experiences exclude differently-abled customers and ignore the need for other kinds of experiences: As in everyday life, inclusive and calming spaces are also needed in VR.

This research project investigates how existing parks can be re-imagined and brought into VR using state-of-the-art immersive technologies, interactive storytelling, and spatial audio. Thanks to an EPSRC Impact Acceleration Account grant and funding from XR Stories, we have developed a proof of concept for an interactive, virtual park experience for standalone VR headsets such as the Meta Quest 2 and Pico 4. The virtual park is conceptually linked to an existing park in York, capturing and translating the latter’s essence multisensorial. This link can help raise awareness of the place found in the real world.

By applying the research done at the Audiolab in spatial audio and immersive, interactive storytelling, we can adapt real-world activities to VR while embracing the medium's opportunities. These activities are then tailored to improve the user’s mental well-being while being accessible to a broad target audience. For example, the experience allows users to:

  • Grow plants, leaves, and stones
  • Explore the sounds of the environment by throwing stones
  • Feed rubber ducks
  • Or watch the leaves fly through the wind, grow or bounce them on the user's virtual controllers

Gameplay Trailer

Credits

Project management, experiment design and data analysis: Dan Johnston
Project design, implementation and audio: Constantin Popp
3D models, environment and graphic design: Quinn McMahon
Source audio recordings: Soundly AS
Additional 3D models: Synty Studios, Polyperfect, Omabuarts Studio

Additional sounds of a magpie and woodpeckers are extracted from the field recordings “Stour Wood Late Winter Soundscape” (622187) and “Eurasian Magpie Calling” (555096), recorded by Nature Notes UK hosted at freesound.org. The first field recording is available for use under the license CC BY 4.0, and the second one under CC0 1.0.
Made using FMOD Studio by Firelight Technologies Pty Ltd.
Made using Unity, Unity Technologies
Funding provided by EPSRC IAA and XR Stories
We thank Friends of Rowntree Park and Make It York for their support in the development of this experience.
Special thanks to Damian Murphy, Rosalia Soria Luz and David Gochfeld.

University of York, 2023