REVIEW | Film Tech Expo ‘17

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Fast Web Media was lucky enough to be invited to the Film Tech Expo ‘17, hosted by Manchester company Dreamscope TV last week. The exclusive event was designed to showcase a range of innovative film technology, but also boasted talks from various keynote speakers and organisations, a six-hole mini golf course and, perhaps most importantly, a free bar.

Eight of us from Fast Web Media attended the event, which took place at the Old Granada Studios on Wednesday afternoon. We arrived a little early, so it was quite nice to have a chance to scope out the event before the crowds arrived. After a quick look round and a check inside the goodie bags we were given on the way in, we took to the various stands.

One of the most exciting things on offer was a video game that you could control with your mind. Yes, you read that right. Wearing a headset that reads signals from your brain, you start by completing some training while the game learns what patterns to look for in your brain activity when you think about lifting an object. After the training stage was completed, you then get to lift up a mountain using your thoughts alone. I struggled to find the mindset that would lift the mock mountain at first, but once I had it I could hold it there and put it down when I chose to. It’s initially very weird, but quickly felt surprisingly natural.

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An image from Dreamscope TV Twitter, @DreamscopeTV

The people demonstrating this went on to explain that the game is really just a showpiece to lure onlookers in. The real-world applications of such a headset go beyond basic tasks in video games. I didn’t hear all of the examples because I had to concentrate on lifting toppled stone pillars with my brainwaves, but one that I did catch was the prospect of using the headset to know in advance how people will respond to an ad campaign - preempting the success of marketing campaigns. Once you think about using this technology in that way, you can imagine its potential reaching far and wide.

Moving on, we didn’t exactly cover ourselves in glory at the mini golf. We initially got the three best scores of the day (being the first three people to play it). I went back later only to see that two of us, naming no names, were at the bottom of the leaderboard. So I gave it another go along with someone else from our team... let’s just say that at the time we left we had the four worst scores of the day between us. Well done to Stephen though, who scored a hole-in-one and held a decent place on the leaderboard with a respectable +2.

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Virtual Reality

Other highlights included a stop-motion studio manned by its animator, a Donkey Kong arcade machine powered by Raspberry Pi, a 360-degree viewing dome and a collection of old cameras from various eras. My personal favourite though, was the opportunity to play a game in virtual reality.

VR is something I first got a taste of many years ago. I absolutely loved it, but I haven’t had the chance to use it since then, and I’m waiting until it’s a little more affordable before investing in a setup of my own. Seeing that VR was on offer at the expo was the biggest draw for me and the main reason I put my name down. The strangest thing about it, for those who haven’t tried it yet, is the way your field of view moves with your head. It sounds obvious, but the first time you put on a headset and turn your head left or right the level of immersion is breathtaking.

What I got to play last week was a demo of a Star Wars game. With a headset on and a motion-sensitive controller in each hand, I was stood in a desert next to a spaceship. After pressing a few buttons by physically (and very naturally) reaching out my hand to them, R2D2 passed me a lightsaber. I turned around to see a group of stormtroopers firing at me, and deflected shot after shot (well, probably more like one in every three shots) back at them. The whole thing was incredibly responsive and didn’t require a single button press on the controller. It was about as close to actually being there as you could get and was hands down more immersive than any gaming experience I’ve had at home.

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VR in Gaming

It’s so easy after using VR to envision it becoming a big part of the future of gaming, particularly in esports, where the potentially convoluted hardware setups will be easier to install and manage than they would be in the homes of regular gamers. One simple difference that could change esports significantly is the need to pay attention to your peripheral vision. When under fire from the stormtroopers, I handled the situation just as I would on a standard screen - I was focussing on the centre of the action, and with all of the enemies in my vision I could monitor each of them. Except that I couldn’t, because even though I could see all of the stormtroopers, there was one on my left whose shots I just kept missing. This isn’t about turning your view to multiple threats, as you often have to in video games, it’s about reacting to the increased number of threats within your view. It’s a skill that I’ve never had to employ while playing video games before, and personally I can see it having the potential to shake up who the best players are.

The next thing I want to try is multiplayer VR, and again this would play right into the hands of the esports industry. Fighting the stormtroopers was immensely fun, but can you imagine how much better it would be if my opponent was another person with their own VR headset, experiencing the same immersion that I was? I can see sports sims especially benefiting greatly from this, putting all players into the same playing field and giving each of them the perspective they would have if they were actually there.

Whilst I don’t think VR will ever fully replace gaming on a standard screen, it’s certainly a legitimate branch to the industry, and as the technology behind it gets cheaper and smaller its uptake is only going to become more widespread.

Everything at the expo was interesting and it was a great chance to see some pieces of technology that you don’t ordinarily get to. On behalf of Fast Web Media, I’d like to thank Dreamscope TV for hosting the event and giving us the opportunity to attend.

Tweet us @FastWebMedia if you have any other questions about the technology we tried out - or if you were at the event too, say hi!

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