The room is broken

My friend Ken Birdwell at Valve Software told me the other day about the results of an experiment in which they mapped their VR system to the Valve offices. In VR, you could be in the same room you were actually in.

Which seems kind of pointless until you add the power-ups. For example, they added a zooming feature. Using this, you could zoom out, and the entire building would shrink around you. Then you could zoom into some other part of the building. This was also the basic mode of travel in our Pad zoomable user interface, a paradigm which has in recent years been borrowed by certain on-line maps.

Ken told me that he thought this was a neat effect, but that he didn’t give it much thought until sometime after he had emerged from the VR experience. He was sitting across the table from a colleague later that day, and they were discussing something that was happening elsewhere in the building.

Ken says that without really thinking about it, he tried to zoom out, so he could then zoom into the place they were talking about. When this did not work, his very first thought was “Oh no, the room is broken”.

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