Having been invited to check out the latest work for car brand Nissan by AKQA, The Drum finds itself slightly surprised to be feeling its head spin as it dives downwards at the front of a rollercoaster cart at 120 miles per hour, veering left and right and unable to take its eyes from the water 100 feet below.
That this reporter is actually sitting on a stool in the WPP-owned digital agency's headquarters in Farringdon London, despite the feeling of perhaps riding the Big Dipper at Blackpool, is definitely not what was expected on the agenda. AKQA has just completed an eight-week project to develop a new digital format that will help it engage with visitors to this year's Tokyo Motor Show, which gave the agency the opportunity to include the use of the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset that it invested in while a mooted project on Kickstarter. The 3D gaming device is reminiscent of a cross between the 80's Tomytronic 3D Shark Attack headset and Google Glass, only with a smoother functioning operating system and graphics reminiscent of the Wii at full capacity. Think the Ecto Goggles from Ghostbusters and you're pretty much there, only the latest version no longer includes any padding in order to satisfy Eastern culture and its high standards when it comes to hygiene - they have now been fully 3D printed, and are fully plastic.
To introduce the power of the headset, the team at AKQA use the accompanying 'game' which is a rollercoaster ride through a ruin castle. With the goggles and headphones blocking out the user's immediate environment, they are then entirely immersed within the virtual world, able to turn their head to see what is above, below and behind them in the 360 degree environment, while awaiting with fear the sharp drop that is ahead of the ride. The device does manage to fool the sense to feel the same experiences of riding a rollercoaster. It's dizzying. Having completed this introduction, the main purpose of the visit has arrived, an opportunity to test the car creation 'game' that was being used during the Motor Show to offer Nissan designers a better understanding of what potential car owners want from their future models.
Entitled the 'Nissan IDx', the VR environments within this programme are used to help the user decide on the design or the ideal Nissan vehicle that they would like to one day own. In order to design the car, the players' point of view is necessary. They use their vision to direct a target icon that appears directly in front of them. That target is then then moved by the user moving their head and placing it within a specific area above their choice to clarify when a decision has been made. There are five environments for the user to traverse. This begins with the user seemingly standing on a podium with water and kayaks below and balloonists overhead, with the user asked to look either up or down to decide which experience they would like - a more leisurely vehicle (up) or on that offers excitement (down). The programme then has 300 varying options that the user might come across before their car is complete. In order to create the animation within the environments, AKQA partnered with a team of 18 animators, as well as San Francisco firm West Studios, to create the surrounding graphics.The engagement factor of the headset and VR environments is fantastic, and offer a number of possibilities away from gamifying the design of someone’s perfect car and while it’s hard to know for sure how Nissan will use the data collected from those who embark on the 3D journey, it’s unlikely they will be worried that it will invade their privacy. The headset is not uncomfortable either, although this reporter only wore them for a period of around 10 minutes, so any longer may tell a different story. The headset is expected for release in 2014, and is expected to initially be released with a games bundle, however the work of AKQA here shows the potential power that such technology can have for brands and their consumer research - with the agency speaking to other brands about it's potential use, it is understood.