Virtual reality is perfect for immersing people in an entirely different, controlled experience. Sourabh Jain and Eddie Cranswick put their minds together and have been developing “Relax VR”, a VR experience that guides you through relaxation meditation with natural environments and soothing music. Sourabh was nice enough to take some time out to share the Relax VR team’s experience building for VR.

Sourabh Jain and Eddie Cranswick, alongside the Relax VR logo

The Relax VR masterminds, Sourabh Jain and Eddie Cranswick

Relax VR is a virtual reality app that literally is designed to do just that — help people relax! To do so, it immerses users into 360 videos of natural environments with soothing music and guides them through a proven meditation technique known as “Yoga Nidra”. Sourabh points out how they first got started,

“It started when Eddie and I went to a VR event together and were blown away by the potential of VR in the coming years. I already had a background in meditation, and we saw how well relaxation aligned with VR, so we decided to jump on the opportunity and see where it took us.”

That opportunity led to them building all sorts of platforms and experiences, including Relax VR for Google Cardboard on both Android and iOS, Relax VR for Gear VR and, very soon, they will be releasing a totally updated (and very very nice!) version of Relax VR for Google Daydream on Friday (Sydney time!). Throughout early 2016, VR was in a bit of an odd place, as Sourabh recounts,

“Early 2016 was an interesting period for VR in the development space. In the time leading up to the release of the Rift and Vive, VR still hadn’t been taken up in any significant way by the mainstream media. At this point, developers knew there was going to be demand for VR skills soon, but there weren’t a lot of projects around. This worked to our advantage in getting developer resources for developing our app, Once we had released our app though, we found our development team increasingly hard to pin down, as there were more lucrative projects for them to do around. This was unexpected and difficult!”

A screenshot from one session in Relax VR

A screenshot from one session in Relax VR

Getting started in VR

If you’re looking to get started with VR… where do you start? There are so many platforms out there and so much to cover! Sourabh suggests looking at the resources you have available and what your overall goal is — “I’d say as a new VR developer starting out, it depends on what resources you have on hand – what VR devices / headsets do you have access to? Google Cardboard is a great platform to start out on because a lot of the tutorials out there use it as the basis for teaching VR. The infrastructure around submission of apps is also familiar if you’ve developed other apps before. If you are looking to create a B2C app with monetization, I’d say Gear VR and Daydream are better medium-term bets.”

When it comes to which game engine to use, they recommend Unity as their engine of choice, but there’s more to it than that. Sourabh explains,

“I think Unreal has some advantages over Unity when targeting the higher end VR devices. It depends on what the developer intends on achieving and what areas of VR they see themselves moving into. I would say Unity is a pretty across the board preference for developers starting out though.”

When it comes to making a good VR application, the team point out one key factor (though they say there are many!) that you should hold in high regard — user experience. The user experience is key above all else. Ask yourself:

“Is this experience going to be one that is easily understood by the user? Is it comfortable? Is it safe?” — Sourabh Jain

A running Relax VR relaxation session

A running Relax VR relaxation session

Skills that’ll help you with 360 video

When it comes to getting into the field of VR with 360 video style applications, the Relax VR team say that both audio and video capturing and editing skills can be incredibly valuable to have. Sourabh points out that,

“If you know how to capture and edit audio well, you can take a nice VR experience, and make it amazing. Audio is almost as important as the visuals.” — Sourabh Jain

He continues, “If your app uses 360 video, then videography and video editing skills become super important too.”

Immersion and presence

Chatting with the guys at Relax VR, they believe that VR is different to the current mediums out there in two particular ways — immersion and presence.

“When the user feels like they are somewhere else, and no longer in their living room consuming content, the impact that content has on them is stronger and longer lasting. No other medium comes close to the level of immersion that VR provides.”

Mediation — not necessarily perfect for VR

One comment totally caught me off guard in the interview, when I asked about what makes meditation so well suited for VR. About meditation, Sourabh said,

“In general, I don’t think it is well suited for VR. Meditation is a broad term used for all kinds of different practices, each with its own aim, and I don’t think VR can help meditation practitioners in most of these aims. However, I do believe that VR can help in a small subset of these aims, one of which is relaxation.”

A screenshot from the Relax VR interface with three bubbles

I really like their bubble interface!

That subset of relaxation has a lot of potential which has been seen in a range of studies, thanks to the presence which VR can bring.

“Research has shown that VR-based interventions have more efficacy and more efficiency than traditional Cognitive-Behavioural Treatment (CBT) programs for overcoming stress and anxiety disorders. We found studies that demonstrated VR’s ability to induce positive emotions and relaxation, with positive results seen in patients with advanced cancer in hospital settings and in patients diagnosed with fibromyalgia. The key to this difference is the sense of presence enabled by VR, which other digital mediums do not provide.”

Finishing up

One final thought to leave everyone with was a key point that Sourabh mentioned for developers out there considering getting into VR:

“2017 is looking like it’s going to be a big year for VR and AR. Get your hands dirty with the tech now, so when Apple finally arrives on the scene and all hell breaks loose, you’ll be ready.” — Sourabh Jain

I’d like to say a huge thank you to Eddie and Sourabh for all that they’ve shared with the VR development community and for sharing their experience with me for this article. Check out their new Relax VR website and if you’ve got a Daydream-compatible phone, you should have access to their latest Relax VR app in about two days from now! Check it out!

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