He says Solfar Studios didn’t just set out to create a 3D space that users could look around in, as this is more than just turning one’s head. Users can grab supplies, use their hands to secure themselves to ropes, and wave to their guides when they’re ready to move on to the next part of the mountain. Gunnarsson explains that he and his team, “really wanted to perfect the sense of presence and high-immersion that VR does so well.” As users walk through the various base camps, or tremble on ladders and narrow pathways, the sense of tactile interactivity is strong. The mountain is lovingly rendered with astounding video game technology. “There is a point to being here, there’s something I can do in this environment. We wanted EVEREST to be the first project from Solfar where we demonstrate that you can do something that’s absolutely visually stunning and beautiful, but also feels like a respectful interpretation of the experience.”Does this new experience signify a new era of travel and virtual globe-trotting? “I think it’s a really fascinating application for VR,” says Gunnarsson. “Being able to transport people to places they would never imagine visiting is a really powerful way of using the technology. It is, after all, a simulation that we’re creating. I think this is just the first of many experiences like this that we’ll see. Personally I think there will be a land grab of teams going around the world capturing and scanning locations and hopefully creating scenes like this that actually allow people to visit places like Everest. I think what we’ll see is flagship projects like EVEREST, where people set out to create something that is a respectful and solid treatment of a real world environment.” Gunnarsson says his team will continue to support EVEREST VR with updates (they’re currently working on a “God Mode” where players can zoom to any point on the mountain, and zoom out so far that the highest peak just about reaches their waist). He believes experiences like this are meant to last, “We’ll see people coming to the game after a long time, showing it to friends, eventually showing it to their children.” So what’s on the horizon? What amazing adventures are Gunnarsson and his team most eager to explore in the future? “We’re super excited about capturing the oceans. Actually finding interesting dive sites, sunken wrecks, places where you can do very accurate capture and create a real shipwreck. It’s almost tailor-made to do VR, this type of exploration. Again, going to a place that ninety-nine percent of people wouldn’t be able to visit. This is absolutely not a game. It’s something new, we call it generically a VR experience, but it’s a new form of destination tourism in virtual reality.”
The wind whips as an ice ladder spans a yawning crevice. It creaks and groans under each tentative step, wobbling over darkness below. This terrifying experience, traditionally reserved for rich and foolhardy adventurers hoping to ascend Mt. Everest, can now be experienced from the comfort of a living room thanks to virtual reality. With EVEREST VR, a new Virtual Reality experience available on the HTC Vive, Solfar Studios puts users into snow boots. From the first basecamp where users gear up, to the final daunting ascent to Everest’s highest peak, EVEREST VR focuses on immersion. But does this VR experience signal a new future in virtual tourism? Thor Gunnarsson, Solfar Studios' Co-Founder and Business Development Director, flew in from Iceland to talk building the app, immersive experiences, and the future of adventure tourism.