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Virry VR Interview – How PSVR Brings The Real World Safari To Life

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In case you missed it when the news was announced late last month, Sudan, the last male northern white rhinoceros passed away on March 20 at the grand old age of 45 years old. It was a tragedy to be sure, not least because the world now feels just that little bit smaller in his absence. Cue then the appearance of Virry VR.

A series of PSVR edutainment applications that whisk players off to far flung, real-life safaris, Virry VR uses the power of Sony’s VR platform is used to foster new levels of stimulating and emotionally driven experiences quite unlike anything else to date.

With the release of Virry VR: Wild Encounters for PSVR just around the corner, we were lucky enough to have a sit down with Svetlana Dragayeva, the CEO of Fountain Digital Labs and creator of Virry VR, to quiz her on everything from the production of Virry VR to what we can expect in the future from this fresh and innovative development studio.

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The range of animals that you get to interact with in Virry VR is varied to say the least.

PSU: From the beginning, what was the impetus to get Virry VR onto the PSVR platform given the fact that the format is viewed very much as a gaming medium. In this sense, do you think Virry VR is a pioneer of sorts for educational VR experiences on PSVR?

Svetlana Dragayeva: We absolutely do and we are planning to further explore what we call ‘emotional-intellectual edutainment', i.e. products that give you both emotional and intellectual insights to entertain and educate the user through meaningful, gamified experiences! PSVR is an incredibly user-friendly and comfortable platform with over 2 million VR headsets sold. Its audience is interested, engaged, and loyal.

I am sure the PlayStation audience appreciates not only games but engagement they can find through different types of VR projects. Virry VR can be enjoyed by both men and women, a younger audience, and adults. Positive emotions have no gender or age limits after all!

Something that has always astounded me about the Virry VR series is the intimate camerawork that gives players the sort of up-close and personal experience with these fantastic creatures in a way that would not normally be possible. How have you achieved this?

Svetlana Dragayeva:
Our interactive director Martin Percy calls it ‘intimate drama space' and this is exactly what we needed to create a personal emotional bond with a distant wild animal. We didn't want to replicate the offline experience of going on a safari but rather to create an experience that would be real (like a documentary image) but impossible in the real life. You don't want a lioness licking you unless you are the famous Kevin Richardson, the Lion Whisperer.

We let the animals come as close to the cameras as they wished and explore if they felt like it (like the lioness, elephants, and especially baboons did). We had to be miles away from the filming set and often did not know whether we caught the right footage after hours of filming (you don't expect wi-fi in the middle of savannah). It was challenging and exciting and we tried to bring this excitement to our user.

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As much as Virry VR seeks to stimulate your emotions and senses, so too does it also look to educate.

Virry VR Interview: A Relaxing Experience Quite Unlike Any Other

PSU: Virry VR obviously has massive educational benefits – what inroads have been made into getting this app into schools and other educational institutes?

Svetlana Dragayeva:
Schools are usually very slow as far as technology adoption is concerned. Ken Robinson famously noted that schools kill creativity. We are trying to bring it back to both pupils and teachers but without simple high-quality headsets many teachers do not feel confident in using the technology.

Currently, we are prepping for research in schools with the University of Leeds and their outstanding team led by Professor Mark Mon-Williams. We aim at testing not only Virry VR but our ‘technological nature rooms' - rooms for emotional reboot and emotional balance for pupils.

Stanford's Virtual Human Interaction Lab (VHIL) is currently running a study in which hundreds of experimental participants are experiencing VR scenes via spherical video. The goal of the study is to create a database of VR experiences that induce particular emotions (i.e., high versus low arousal) and to better understand the link between head movement and emotional experiences in VR. Virry VR has provided essential videos that are being used as stimuli in the experiment, given they provide unique experiences that are emotionally charged.

We hope that schools will see all the benefits and credibility of Virry VR. Virry VR is also present on the headsets provided to schools in California by Oculus.

PSU: A particularly compelling part of the Virry VR offering has always been the trivia questions that are interspersed with the VR experience as they help to educate and get the player thinking about these magnificent animals and their habitat. In Wild Encounters, can we expect more trivia style questions, or, have you developed other ways to educate the player?

Svetlana Dragayeva:
In Virry VR: Wild Encounters you will be answering questions and shaking your controller as you do in Virry VR: Feel the Wild. But you will also need to call animals. For example, Nditu - a gorgeous giraffe won't come up to you to eat your apples unless you call her. She is a human-raised giraffe and we explain this to the user. We wouldn't want you to think that you can just go and feed any wild creature.

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Virry VR lets you get close to animals the likes of which you may never otherwise have the opportunity to do so.

PSU: One of the main benefits of Virry VR that I don't feel are really acknowledged by the media at large is just how relaxing these experiences can be. In your opinion, which of Wild Encounters new animal offerings is best for relaxing and just chilling out?

Svetlana Dragayeva:
Virry VR has not only interactive experiences but also special relaxation experiences with either nature sounds or creative visualization music (or you can even turn your Spotify on). In the new release, there will be a new relaxation experience like this. Also, our interactive experiences are quite relaxing, the whole point is that the user becomes emotionally balanced and can return to her/his everyday activities rebooted, happier, and calm.

My favorites in the new release are a family of elephants - magnificent creatures exploring you and getting unbelievably close. Speaking of relaxation, I must add that later in the year, we will be releasing Virry: Happy in Nature - a collection of relaxing and meditative nature experiences. No CGI, only real imagery, beautiful nature sounds, guided breathing. We believe that this product will help adults to be able to get a quick emotional detox at work and at home.

Of all the new animals that star in Wild Encounters, which one gave the team the most trouble when trying to film and do you have any funny stories to recount during the production of Wild Encounters?

Svetlana Dragayeva:
We've never had a camera stolen by baboons, but it was close 🙂 We thought it was steadily attached to the tree but of course they outwitted our director of photography and ran away with it. Luckily they dropped it when we started chasing them. I guess baboons were having great fun teasing us!

PSU: Has there been any consideration given to branching Virry out beyond Kenya and into other environments and habitats?

Svetlana Dragayeva:
We believe that Lewa Wildlife Conservancy is one of the most outstanding conservation places doing incredible job and we will do everything we can to tell the world about Lewa. We think it is also important to continue talking about our discoveries and so we are planning to work with Wild is Life - a family run conservancy elephant nursery in Zimbabwe.

Beyond Virry Safari: Wild Encounters, what's next for the Virry VR series on PSVR?

Svetlana Dragayeva:
Virry VR: Happy in Nature - your ultimate relaxation with nature experience. It will bring you a series of idyllic relaxation scenes set within the REAL natural world – not computer generated scenes. You’ll see real elephants, giraffes, and monkeys in the wild and open spaces of Africa. They’ll peacefully eat and play as they have done for millennia while you sit in their midst. You’ll relax on wide open plains, watching the clouds go by, the rivers flow, and the sun rise and set.

You’ll listen to the beautiful sounds of nature enhancing your visual experience.And to deepen your relaxation, there will be helpful visualisations of your breath going in and out, and of your body relaxing, filling you with much needed energy and stamina for the day. Integrating Virry VR into your daily routine will help you find emotional balance and peace through Mother Nature.

Many thanks to Svetlana Dragayeva and the kind folk at Fountain Digital Labs for arranging this interview opportunity.

You can buy Virry VR: Feel the Wild right now from the UK and North American PSN digital storefronts.