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From selling goggles at big box retailers to immersive experiences in theme parks and malls to practical use in medicine, virtual reality has become a quickly expanding technological frontier. Our professors, especially those involved with the Digital Entertainment Technology program, are making sure that ACU students are on the cutting edge of this technology. Our students are learning to simulate a virtual space while tracking real-life movements by using special goggles and sensors. Professors Rich Tanner and Brian Burton have opted to use SteamVR Home Environment, a resource associated with a streaming gaming service called Steam, to enable students to gain experience with creating virtual spaces and interacting with virtual reality in ways they otherwise could not. SteamVR Home allows the students to create virtual spaces that can be published and shared and is accessible to the general public by downloading their software.

Students work to perfect their virtual reality spaces simulating the ACU campus.

The Game Development (DET 350) class has given students the tools and opportunities to learn more about creating in the virtual reality space. The class was split into four teams and each team was assigned a space on the ACU campus to model in the virtual reality program. To create these, each room, as well as each object in the room, was measured in order to create an exact replica using 3D modeling. Once the physical space and objects were modeled, students added texture, colors and patterns, and other details so that each space looked as realistic as possible. After the modeling was completed, the 3D objects were imported and placed in the simulated environment.

Matthew Middlebrook, a sophomore DET major, is one of the students in Game Development and participated in the project. Matthew acknowledged that “while this VR project was a lot of work, it strengthened my love for 3D modeling and made me interested in the different applications that VR may have now and in the future.” Matthew’s favorite part of the project – and the part he is most proud of – was creating different textures, especially in the COBA Atrium. “I went into this project with almost no knowledge of textures,” he said. For example, when Matthew first attempted to import his models, the entire COBA Atrium came out white. “I was able to learn quickly and am sure that if I continued looking up tutorials, I could get even better.” This project also taught Matthew to not spend too much time working on little details that could lead to running out of time. “Being the perfectionist I am, it was difficult to not do everything and the way the project worked made it hard to see the progress of my other team members but ultimately it came together nicely.”Even though working on a team-based project like this one can be difficult, the students learned a lot. Nevan Simone, a senior computer science major, said: “I saw once again how valuable it is to have diverse skill-sets within a single team”.

The DET program is teaching students how to create virtual reality spaces because the technical skills learned fundamental for finishing the program and prepares them for the future. You can learn more about this project by watching this video. SteamVR allows students learn to create a large virtual reality project in a hands-on way. The work that ACU students have done has been viewed hundreds of times on the platform and the spaces they have created can be seen by clicking here. We encourage you to check out the awesome things our talented students are working so hard to create.