During archeological research at the Heijendaalseweg in Nijmegen near the former monastery of the Fathers Sacramentines (klooster van de Paters Sacramentijnen) a particularly large World War II dugout was found, besides a lot of ammunition. It’s a 2 meter deep pit where the allied forces had made 4 rooms, with walls built from ammunition boxes.
From september 17, 1944 British and later Canadian soldiers used this dugout. With long-range guns, of which there were dozens in Nijmegen, grenades were fired at the Germans. They fired back of course. Nijmegen had been liberated but was far from safe. Hundreds of people died during this winter, including civilians. The archeological findings tell the story about the dugout and its soldiers. Various artefacts haven been found, such as tooth brushes, makeshift heaters and beer bottles.
The city of Nijmegen wanted to organise an exhibition in the Nijmegen House of History (Huis van de Nijmeegse Geschiedenis). They were looking at ways to make this exhibition more than just a showcase of the artefacts. They wanted and attractive, modern, exhibition.
Having seen previous projects that we developed, they approached VR Lab to see whether we could develop a VR simulation of the dugout. The goal being that visitors can visit and explore the dugout and get a feeling of how the soldiers must have lived in the dugout. An additional challenge was that we had approximately 8 weeks to develop this. The simulation would also need to be very user friendly as it would be used by many people with the assistance of volunteers of the Nijmegen House of History. We would also have to train those volunteers who where most likely not familiar with VR.
At VR Lab we sure like a challenge! During the months of June and July 2019 we developed a VR simulation of the dugout. Based on the information provided to us by the archeological team we developed a 3D model of the Dugout at the same size of the actual Dugout. We added various attributes in order to provide a realistic inventory of the dugout. During various reviews the 3D model of the dugout as well as the objects in the dugout were refined. We also added gameplay elements so that visitors can really interact with the various objects in the simulation. They get instructions via a military field telephone to find and collect various attributes.
The customer was so excited about the project that they soon decided to change the initial setup of the exhibition. The VR experience became the central element of the exhibition that took place in September 2019. Further information was provided to the visitors via various information panels, allowing visitors to either spend time while waiting for their turn in the VR experience or for further reading about what they had seen in VR.
Due to the nature of the VR application this application called for using a stand-alone VR headset. As we needed the capability to walk around freely in an area, with a size of 4 meters by 8 meters, we quickly decided to develop this solution for the Oculus Quest which had just become available. This was the first real project that we did for the Oculus Quest and of course we had to tackle numerous challenges, such as optimising the simulation and the assets in the simulation to provide a smooth experience. Another key challenge was the user friendliness of the system. Setting up and aligning the play area required the development of some advanced software components.
The result is a really cool VR simulation which turned out to be very popular with visitors of all ages. It runs smoothly and during the exhibition month the volunteers of the House of History were able to manage the system without much assistance by VR Lab. Of course we were standby during the exhibition period, but our assistance was hardly needed.
Why VR and why VR Lab?
Virtual Reality allows people to visit a place, a site, a location that no longer exists (or does not exist yet). Of course one can rebuild a physical replica of the place at a very high cost. Virtual Reality offers the next best experience, is way cheaper to realise and is location independent. Though the application was used in one place during the exhibition, it will also be used in schools and at other events. You just need some free space, ideally 8×4 meters, and you’re ready to explore a place that you cannot realistically and conveniently explore in any other way. And if you have a smaller free space available you can use a convenient teleport mechanism to move around. The Oculus Quest with its Touch controllers is an ideal tool for this type of simulation. And it won’t be long before we can actually use our hands as controllers with the Oculus Quest!
The customer had already seen a VR simulation of a a historical setting that was developed by VR Lab. This triggered them to talk to us. We took the challenge to develop the solution within the limited time available and within they budget that was available. And the result … really cool!