Sky Walk 2

Sky Walk 2 is a mobile application for iOS and Android, that enables you to explore the sky. It works by pointing your device at the sky and you will see a real-time interactive sky-map containing stars, planets, constellations and more. This app is perfect for anyone who wants to learn more about the night sky, by locating and identifying celestial objects.

Sky Walk 2 works by using your location and the built-in compass of the device to show you the stars you can see in real life above you and display more information about these stars. When you hover the device around the night sky, the app will follow your movements. Sky Walk 2 has an AR mode and a non-AR that can be switched on and off. With the non-AR mode, the app will show a virtual night sky that aligns with the real one. With the AR mode, the application will use the camera to show the real night sky and then add a layer on top of that with the different objects in the sky and information about these. The user is able to turn the visibility of this AR layer up and down to find the perfect mix of real-life and AR.

Why they are engaging? 

Most people have properly been sitting outside and looking up in the night sky at some point in their life. With Sky Walk 2, it is now possible to know exactly what you are looking at. With the AR mode, you can point your camera at any point in the sky and the app will tell which sky objects are visible to you from your location. Sky Walk 2 can also help you identify the best time for observation and notify you when special astronomy events are happening. 

What features are well done? 

The graphical overlay is very well designed, as well as the animations. When you locate a star constellation, an animation will be displayed, connecting the stars in that constellation. At the same time, a graphical representation of the symbol of that constellation is also represented. 

What features can be improved and how?

Sometimes the AR overlay of the application doesn’t align perfectly with the real-life stars. If something were to be improved, the automatic calibration of the AR overlay with the real-life stars could be it. Luckily, you are able to manually align the overlay with the real-life stars.

To summarize, Star Walk 2 is a cool and easy-to-use app if you ever find yourself looking up in the sky and wonder what you actually are looking at.

Sound Design in VR: Phasmophobia

Adi Kamaraj

Sound design in VR is a staple of what makes a deep and immersive environment able of captivating an audience and also for that environment to express emotion and spatialization relevant to the scene it describes. In providing entertainment in VR, often the senses that are able to be utilised are limited to sight and hearing and therefore audio design is important in providing the end user a great experience.

There are many forms of audio design that can be used to effectively used to convey genre and emotion. One VR game that does this well is a game called “Phasmophobia”. The general idea of the game is that of an investigative horror game played from a first person perspective where the player works alone or in a group to complete a contract in which they must identify the type of ghost haunting the specified site. Players can use various basic equipment such as spirit boxes, video cameras and UV flashlights for example in order to complete this goal.

Phasmophobia, although not next generation in it’s visuals, graphics or narrative, is elite in conveying fear and horror using it’s well designed audio soundscape and the developers have not overlooked audio as element that is essential in delivering that heightened sense of immersion.

One technique they utilise well is the implementation of wide spectrum sources and a borad spectrum of sounds including wind sounds and high frequencies to spatialize effectively and provide a lot of frequences for the HRTF (Head Related Transfer Function) to work with, also helping mask audible glitches resulting from pan and attenuation. The high frequencies are heavily used by humans for sound localization.

The developers have also leveraged 3D audio spatialization which provides much more accurate spatial cues, including height, and with this improved accuracy, in addition to volumetric sources, these audio techniques truly create a terrifying space when you are in the game. With the environment emanating such eery noises that lock you into the immersion of your surroundings and aware of the genre/emotions the game is trying to express, the developers also add ghosts with their own immersive sound design. The use of the doppler effect that changes a sound’s pitch as the source approaches or recedes makes the movement of the ghost (when heard) keep you always attentive.

The influence of an ambient nature soundscape and movement-triggered step sounds are also used to further drive that feeling of presence. Using the ambience as an auditory stimuli is great in influencing presence and creates a virtual environment that feels alive and immersive. The sounds of walking interact with the environments in their sounds and tempo giving the user a feeling of direct interaction with the surroundings. As these audio cues and implementations get better, we move towards even greater presence where the user is under a more believable impression that they are in a virtual environment with less awareness of a mediating technology, such as a game.

As mentioned before, interactive sound is one of the most important things in audio design when trying to deliver a feeling of presence. The game does this really well with its constant reminders that you are in the environment as all interactions with the surroundings provide responsive dynamic audio, such as footsteps and opening doors for example.

In VR, hearing is the only sense able to provide full spatial information going beyond our field of view, including elevation, 360 degrees and depth, allowing us to guide our decisions and behaviors as well as understanding our virtual surroundings. Not only is audio unique in being able to provide spatial information for the brain to analyze but also tell a narrative.

For me, playing this game really highlighted the importance of audio in immersion in the virtual realty space. However much a visual experience can paint a narrative, the sound design is what really adds the dimension that makes you believe you are living that experience. It can create tension, emotion and a sense of spatialization that is an important channel for information about their environment and creating presence. It is not going unnoticed as realistic and responsive spatial audio is quickly become a cornerstone for investment and key to the development of the so called metaverse by big tech companies. I for one am curious about the future of audio in VR and hope many new immersive audio technologies are used to create a deeper more believable virtual reality.

Overcome public speaking anxiety with training in VR

Have you ever felt discomfort when it is your turn to speak in a group discussion or when you have to give a speech in school elocution competition? Before giving a speech in front of a large audience, few people practice in-front of a mirror or find a friend to get some feedback in a practice session. Training in virtual reality is likely to be the solution to public speaking anxiety. Studies were done on virtual reality exposure therapy and companies are using VR applications for employee training on public speaking.

Cross reality (XR) which includes virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR) provide immersive digital experiences. VR actively uses human sensory capabilities (like sight and sound) to provide understanding and general relations of an experience. This can be used to improve public speaking using immersive and realistic simulations. A study published in Cognitive Behaviour Therapy suggests that VR can be used as a therapeutic tool for public speaking anxiety. [1]

There are multiple VR applications that help with overcoming the fear of public speaking. VIRTUALSPEECH [2] is a company that specialises in professional development training with courses for mastering public speaking. The training contains a wide range of self-paced VR scenarios.

TEDx theatre as VirtualSpeech training scenario

VirtualSpeech application is available on VR headsets like Oculus Quest, VIVE Focus 3 and Pico Neo3. Besides the variety of VR scenarios, the features from VirtualSpeech that stand aside are Real-time feedback, display notes in the room on an autocue, and audio & visual distractions from the avatars to simulate real world experience. The Real-time feedback is given while the speech is being delivered; feedback is provided on eye contact, pace of the speech and volume of delivery.

One feature allows speaker to record and upload questions in advance. These questions are then asked by the virtual audience during the speech. Conversational AI can be used to further enhance this feature to allow real time communication between the speaker and the audience.

Real-time feedback in VirtualSpeech

Ovation [3] is another application in VR that helps overcome public speaking anxiety. It also provides real-time training tools and feedback as one speaks to a realistic, simulated audience. Training is provided for Gaze, Voice and Hands. The category, Gaze refers to where the speaker is looking while delivering a speech. This is detected by the movement of the VR headset. If the headset includes eye tracking, it can determine the exact location in the virtual scenario where the speaker is looking. VR motion controllers can be used for training on mic distance. If the mic is too far from speaker’s mouth, a red pulse is displayed and speaker will experience vibration. The motion controllers can also be used to determine the movement of speaker’s hands.

Ovation Public Speaking training in VR

The recommended VR headsets from Ovation are HP Reverb G2 Omnicept and HTC Vive Pro Eye. Sensors in Omnicept can detect cognitive load in real time, it captures the brain power needed to remember and properly deliver the speech. Both Vive Pro Eye and Omnicept detect the exact location where the speaker’s eyes are looking, this is used by Ovation to provide more accurate analytics and better insights.

The study published in Cognitive Behaviour Therapy [1] concluded that one-session virtual reality therapy can be an effective treatment of public speaking anxiety. In future, we can expect to see more VR applications in public speaking training with enhanced features like automatically generated questions and emotional responses from virtual audience based on sentiment of speaker’s speech.

[1] Philip Lindner, Jesper Dagöö, William Hamilton, Alexander Miloff, Gerhard Andersson, Andreas Schill, and Per Carlbring (Sep 2020). Virtual Reality exposure therapy for public speaking anxiety in routine care: a single-subject effectiveness trial. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy.

VR and Fantasy: A Match Made in Heaven

Skyrim VR

When I laid hands on the first fantasy game that I had ever played, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, I was immediately hooked. The open-world game was rich with lore and diverse regions to explore. Coupled with great soundtracks and well-designed ambience, Skyrim was able to draw players in with its deep immersion – only limited by its technological interfaces at that time. After all, despite its best efforts, players could only interact with the game through a mouse and keyboard, and see the expansive world only through a 2D screen. However, all this changes with the introduction of virtual reality.

For the first time, players were able to truly walk around and explore this world with new eyes. They could stand in the middle of a wide open plain and “look around” at the scenic views the game had become well known for.

Combat in Skyrim VR

Combat was enhanced in particular through the use of VR. Gone were the days of button mashing and remembering the keyboard shortcuts for combat. Now, players get to hold weapons and shields in their hands, or actually wield magic should they choose to. They now come face to face with their enemies and feel as though they are truly in battle – presented with a level of immersion impossible without VR.

However, intense immersion may come with a few drawbacks in such an immersive combat fantasy game. Experiences that were once far removed, may now actually feel “lived” by the player.


Draugr depicted in the image above, are zombie like creatures in the game. Imagine the scare players may experience when they feel like they are actually placed in the world. They go about minding their business and find themselves stumbling right into such a creature. Such experiences may feel much more vivid in VR, and game designers will have to take this into account.

Blade and Sorcery VR

Another VR game that I really like is Blade and Sorcery. Unlike the story and immersion centred Skyrim, Blade and Sorcery is a multi-player combat game that allows players to duke it out in an arena. While realistic combat is difficult to come by in games, Blade and Sorcery is at the top of its class in providing it. Combat and magic are realistic, and allows players to relive their childhood fantasies with its wide array of mods. Players can battle with lightsabers, or in medieval gear and with magic. The game also allows players to perform “trickshots” in combat, and have become an increasingly popular sub-goal in playing the game.

Despite its ability to bring realistic combat to the player, its visuals do seem clunky, and movement may not always be very natural. Players have complained of weird perspectives in game regarding their in-game limbs, which do break immersion for some players. Overall, it is an enjoyable game to play and sets the foundation for VR games of the future.

SkyView – Locates Stars, Planets, and Nebulae

About the APP

SkyView is a lightweight stargazing app available on iOS and Android devices. The augmented reality technology allows users explore different constellations, planets, star clusters, stars and other celestial bodies in the night sky through their smartphone’s camera. Simply pointing the smartphone to the sky, then SkyView will identify the stars and other objects in the view.

SkyView® Lite - Apps on Google Play

Why do I like it & Why it is engaging?

Have you ever imagined a date with your boyfriend or girlfriend, you guys take a walk along the beach, and then she or he points to the sky and tells you what constellation that is? Romantic, isn’t it?

I never imagined that until I met a boy who loves boys, we walked on the west coast park and identified all the constellations we could see. Still romantic. Hence, I find I can have such romantic experience without a boyfriend or girlfriend. I can do this by myself, with SkyView.

I downloaded the App months ago, and I found it is easy to set up and use. It brings a fascinating view of night sky to users with the stylish UI and the well designed graphics. The main function and interaction of the application are quite simple, so that many parents also use this as the stargazing education for their kids.

Orion constellation shown on SkyView

What features are well done & What can be improved?

The main function of the app, the AR stargazing camera, has simply interactions. A short description of the star or other objects will be shown on the side of the screen when you click on the object. This helps users connect the star on the screen and the star they see in the sky quickly.

Users are also allowed to increase and decrease the magnitude visibility of planets and stars, this make it easier to see the stars and the brightness of them for users who are in a region of high light pollution.

Night mode

However, the night mode is not clear as the usual mode. The filter is not very user friendly and covers some views in the camera. The same planet and star size settings lead to the less brightness of stars. The color of the filter can be changed to green or other light colors instead of red. The size setting of objects could be larger so that it will be clearer in the dark.

Overall, SkyView is a fascinating and romantic AR stargazing application which is easy to start and use.

Google Earth VR

There are so many amazing places that one would like to visit during one’s lifetime. With a bit of luck and resources, one may be able to travel to a few of them. However, to travel to all of them would be impossible… or would it?

With Google Earth VR this could be possible.

The industry of Virtual Reality (VR) is growing at a fast pace. Its many different applications are not only recreational but may also be educational and be more than just a distraction. The Google Earth VR application allows the user to strap on a VR headset and start exploring all the wonders of the world from the comfort of one’s room.

Why they are engaging?

During the rough times of COVID-19, the possibilities of travelling have been severely limited. With the use of VR technology, the world is opened up again without the risk of transmitting the virus. Google Earth VR uses the 3D model of Google Earth, which has mapped 98% of the World. However, it is not just Google Earth ported to VR, it is a completely new experience. All the interactions have been redesigned and the VR application allows flight as the mode of travel, both at different locations but also in-between them.

Flying over New York in Google Earth VR.

This allows a very engaging experience for the user. The application is fast-paced and allows for many different amazing sights in just a couple of minutes. But it is not only that the user gets to tick off locations from their bucket lists at a pace not possible without this technology. While travelling in VR, the user also gets to experience the location in a brand new way, from many different perspectives which would not be possible if physically present.

With the application, one can fly over any city and experience them in impressive VR, stand at the highest mountain peaks of the world and appreciate the view in all directions, walk along streets in remote destinations you never thought you would get to visit, and much more.

What features are well done?

The Google Earth VR application is impressive in many ways. The sheer scale of the project is unimaginable, as Google Earth covers almost all parts of the world on a real-life scale. The controls and the straightforwardness of the application allow the user to effortlessly explore the world in an immersive way as if one was there in person.

What features can be improved and how?

However, the features of Google Earth VR are not all perfect. Due to the scale of the project, Google has been required to do a lot of optimization for the experience to be enjoyable. The 3D models are procured from combining enormous amounts of 2D images and layering everything onto 3D space. As a consequence of this, the detailing is not very accurate and sometimes certain graphics appear as blocky smudges of colours.

The Eiffel Tower in Paris with lacking details.

Improving this while still maintaining the scale of the project is hard. For the user, going to ground level (which activates Google Street View’s POV) results in much more details than the approximations in the bird’s view. As for what Google could do, this seems to be a project that does not get that much care anymore. However, with the use of Artificial Intelligence, Google could aim to do some photogrammetry repairs of textures, for example by combining the detailed Street Views with the textures in the Google Earth view.

To summarize, Google Earth VR allows the user to travel to incredible places across the world. At its current state, it may not be detailed enough in order to replace real traveling. It does however offer an immersive sandbox experience with new sights to explore anytime.

SketchAR: A new way to learn drawing

SketchAR is a mobile app developed in 2017 which revolutionised the way we learn how to draw. It projects AR stencils on the user’s drawing paper, and all the user has to do is to follow the stencils and draw accordingly. I like this app because it is very beginner-friendly. Users with no background in drawing can pick up a pencil and paper and draw right away. It removes the technicality of drawing and allows beginners to quickly immerse themselves into drawing. While this app is targeted to novices, experienced artists can also use the app and try a new method of drawing with AR technology.

Step-by-step instructions with AR stencils

The main feature of this app are the drawing lessons, which are broken down into smaller steps – each consisting of an AR stencil. Upon completing the stencil for the current step, the user presses ‘Next’ and the stencil changes into the one in the next step. There are many lessons offered on the app, such as animals, food, vehicles, anime, and architecture, to suit the different interests of its users. Users are also given the option to disable the AR stencils and follow the steps from their phone instead. Here is a video review of the app by an artist:

Video review by Jazza, an artist on YouTube

However, a major drawback of using the app is that users are recommended to attach their phones to a tripod while drawing. Otherwise, it will be tiring for the user to hold up his phone with one hand and draw with the other. Perhaps the use of goggles could be used to solve this problem. The user will wear goggles to view the stencils and free both of his hands, which could help him to concentrate on his drawing better.

Users are recommended to use a tripod when drawing

Furthermore, the AR stencils restricts the area on the paper which the user’s hand can occupy. If the user places too much of his hand on the paper, the AR stencils will become distorted. A possible solution is for the app to continue projecting parts of the stencil that is covered by the user’s hands. In that way, the user can continue to follow the stencil without having to worry about touching the paper.

Before distortion
After distortion

Another concern expressed by artists with regards to using AR stencils to learn drawing is that it hinders one’s creativity. Budding artists may become used to strictly following instructions such that they do not engage their own imagination. They will also lack drawing fundamentals which is crucial in developing and refining their drawing skills.

However, for the average user who wishes to draw for their own entertainment, this app is great for helping them to dive right in. When users sign up for an account, they can choose categories which they are interested in, and their drawing lessons will be personalised according to their interests.

Besides the AR stencils, this app boasts other cool secondary features as well, such as sketching from stencils designed by other users, sketching photographs from the phone’s gallery, and even a colour-matching game that trains users to recognise colours of different shades.

Colour-matching game

All in all, I would say that SketchAR is a great app which allows anyone to start drawing almost immediately, without any prior experience in drawing. Although it does have some setbacks, I believe that they can be rectified quickly since the technology is already there (goggles etc). SketchAR utilises AR technology in a fun and innovative manner that can transform anyone into an artist!

VR Game “Bogo”

One of my favourite VR applications is called “Bogo”, because it seems like a very active game where users can interact with a virtual pet, which is a very expressive character with many different emotions. It is very engaging because users are free to pet or touch the virtual character anytime, and the character will respond accordingly with clear expressions on its face.

There are features which were well done. Besides the character itself, there are many other things occuring in the background, which includes preparing food to feed the character and throwing sticks or balls to play games with the pet character.

  • Despite the fact that the little alien pet character was evidently artificial, as it could feed on the food even if the user chooses not to give it directly to the pet but throws it on the ground instead, it seemed to have a mind of its own, which builds onto the level of subjective reality in the game.
  • The character has many ways of communicating with the user. For example, feeding the character also causes the character to change its own colour and sometimes, new architectures will evolve in the environment, which is fascinating and evokes positive emotions in the user, and elevates a sense of immersion and presence.
  • A good point is that the pet character is always close to the user and responds immediately to the user’s actions accordingly, which is a key and shining feature of the game as it has the potential to make users feel appreciated.
  • This feature where the pet character changes its colour also allows the user to see traits of the character that are unique to it, and helps to build a sense of personal bond between the user and the character.
  • Another element which I found was good, was that the character comes to the user, instead of the user having to walk over to the character, which can be an important feature in the game as it has the potential to be built on with some other traits of the character, to provide emotional support to the user and make the user feel much closer to the game character.

“Bogo” is an application that uses Oculus Quest Headset, along with Oculus Rift. It is developed by Oculus.

There were also some features which could be further improved to make the experience to the user much more pleasurable by further elevating the sense of presence of the user.

  • I thought it could be improved by elevating the aspect of social communication. Since it is an application involving virtual pets, it could be more fun to include more opportunities for users to communicate with other humans in the VR game who could be taking their virtual pets on a camp or a walk in the environment.
  • Alternatively, there could instead be a storyline on the virtual pet embarking on a quest to fulfil some missions, to help users immerse in the nature of the virtual pet in its natural environment and be able to see more facets of the traits of the virtual character, in order to build a much more immersive experience.