The Night Cafe
Platform: Samsung Gear VR
Release Date: April 19, 2015
Expressionism in painting has existed for more than one hundred years. It was an artistic stepping stone in terms of expressing meaning and emotion in a scene. The art viewing process has been two dimensional and linear for a long time. VR enhances the experience by allowing you to focus on the art without the museum around you. Art museums lead you chronologically through an artist’s work. “The Night Cafe” VR environment fundamentally changes that process.
In “The Night Cafe” VR experience, you wake up in Van Gogh’s painting “The Night Cafe.” When you start there is no obvious path to take. The only direction you have is “tap to walk forward.” After a second you will notice that the painting is not just a painting. It’s alive and moving. It breathes. It's a 3D world that is meant for exploration. In “The Night Cafe” VR Experience, viewing Van Gogh’s most famous works no longer is a linear experience. The cafe is comprised of two rooms containing 3D recreations of several Van Gogh masterpieces. Walking through “The Night Cafe” to the back of the room would lead you to the chair from “Bedroom in Arles.” In the next room you would find “Vase with Fifteen Sunflowers” on top of a piano. A recreation of Van Gogh himself is across the room enjoying the view of the vase. In your view, he gets up and walks over to the window. If you follow him, you approach an open window. Outside the window is a recreation of Van Gogh’s inspiration for “The Starry Night”. The rooms are filled with these little surprises. It was a dream that you wouldn’t want to leave.
Even though the content was superb, the game dynamics could have been improved. Movement was sometimes clunky and unintuitive. Samsung Gear VR was the platform for this environment. To move forward you just need to tap the side of the headset. This can cause some uncomfortable experiences if you are sitting down and needing to turn around to get out of the corner of a room. An ambient experience should not require so much space and movement. Additionally, a way to move backwards would make it significantly easier to traverse the environment. It’s also not easy to change the angle with which you view the art since there is only a forward action. Moving your head, moving forward, and then looking back at a different angle is required. This is a lot of work for the user if they are in the VR environment for more than 15 minutes. However, I believe that these aspects of the game are easily fixed with adding a backward action, so it was a fantastic experience otherwise.
I personally enjoyed the experience of the nonlinear presentation of an artist’s work. It is not the case that everybody feels the same way I do. A common complaint is “what’s the point of me just walking around.” or “It’s boring.” Some believe VR shouldn’t be a static experience. Others find that it’s their favorite type of VR. Regardless, after the experience, the user is left to ponder the following questions: What draws, or repels you from static VR experiences? Also, if you don’t like static VR, what could be changed so that you would like it?