It’s raining. Cats and dogs as the saying goes. I am outside, enjoying the sun. Before you think I have gone mental, this is not a contradiction. In the real world it is raining, yes, but in virtual reality in a world called Somnium Space, the sky is a fresh April blue. It’s 3pm and I am standing in what is called the “Plaza”, a central public square in this VR environment. Several buildings border it, with one of them – a tall black structure – towering above all others. Judging by the logo above the entrance, it is Somnium Space’s headquarters.
Why am I here? A guy I had been talking to on a community platform called Discord – someone with the funny name Snakebite – had offered to show me around. I recently got a VR headset, am intrigued by immersive VR experiences and heard about Somnium. So I signed up on their website, joined their community channel and before I knew it one of their ‘community managers’, Snakebite, reached out to me and offered me a tour. That was exactly what I was looking for, so we quickly arranged a date and time for us to meet.
So here I am. Waiting for him. In awe, as if I have discovered fire. I just stand there looking left, right, up, down, while several different emotions are trying to get the upper hand. They wash over me like a flood. I had tried various VR experiences after the ‘unboxing’ of my headset and they were all great fun, but the experience here in this square in Somnium, is smashing all other experiences like a sledgehammer smashes a coconut. I see trees casting moving shadows. And when I look right at what I thought was another person or avatar, I quickly realize i am staring at my reflection in a glass window.
‘Hi there!’ An avatar dressed in a shirt and tie combo with grey trousers approaches me. A small sign hovering above his head reveals that this is Snakebite, my guide for today.
‘Are you ready to have your ideas about VR and VR worlds blown completely out of the water?’, I hear him say. The audio coming from my headset speakers is crystal clear.
I am ready.
Snakey – as he insists I call him – starts off with a run down of Somnium’s history and that it is the brainchild of Artur Sychov, founder and CEO of Somnium Space.
‘Don’t be surprised if we run into him today’, he says. ‘He’s not sitting in some office on the top floor of headquarters. He is a great guy, mingles with us every single day to have fun and listen to the community’.
That’s actually really cool. A CEO you can meet every day. That doesn’t happen in real life, at least not in mine.
‘What you see around you here’, Snakey continues, ‘is a set of buildings that he and his team have created as a place of welcome. The Plaza, as we call it, has this huge building over there’. He points at the black tower I already identified as Somnium Space’s headquarters.
‘Somnium Space headquarters will host events and rooftop meetings. As the floors are becoming occupied, external elevators will allow accessing them and give users a spectacular view of Somnium as they ascend or descend the building.’
Okay that’s cool. External elevators are so much more fun than ordinary ones. And way less awkward when cramped with people as you actually have something to look at.
‘Come this way’. Snakey walks towards one of the buildings bordering the square and I follow him.
‘This is our Somnium Mall. People and companies will be able to rent these areas to promote their goods and services to our members. It was also here that the first TESLA car was purchased from within a VR world’.
I kind of knew this, but now it fully dawns upon me that a VR world like this is not just for fun or socializing. If TESLA can market their cars and sell them from within here, then Somnium is a great platform for business as well. I have some skills in creating art and wonder if I would be able to open an art gallery in Somnium. I’ll park that question for later, but the possible use cases seem endless. Excitement trickles up my spine like fire on a lit match. And even better, I feel creativity welling up in me. Something that has been locked away, hidden behind my somewhat routine stricken real life.
Everything in this world is virtual, yet it looks so real. My emotions right now are definitely real. I have been here for only a few minutes, but I already know it. This VR world is unique.
Snakey leads me over to another building.
‘Here’, he says, ‘we can have movie meetups, watch promotional films, movie producer days and evenings. There are loads of possibilities’.
Everything Snakey mentions triggers new thoughts in me. I can see it. People gathering, talking, laughing and watching movies together. After weeks of lock down due to COVID-19, the idea of enjoying the presence of other people and gather around a common interest, sounds extremely appealing. I figure that social distancing is not a thing in Somnium.
‘Our next venue’, Snakey didn’t beat around the bush, ‘is the Somnium Amphitheater’.
We have a short walk and arrive at a giant, modern looking building. After entering it via a sloping tunnel entrance I see a raised stage and on that stage a microphone, place inside a circle.
‘In this circle’, Snakey states, ‘close to the microphone, your voice is amplified. You won’t hear it but all others in here will.’ He walks up to the microphone and sings a few words from a Lionel Ritchie song. His voice is suddenly all around me. It’s like I am in a concert hall and the sound waves are bouncing off walls before they enter my ears. The effect is amazing.
‘This is where we have daily meetups with Artur’. Snakey points at the rows of seats encircling the stage. ‘We’re usually all on stage and discuss whatever we want to discuss. And Artur keeps us informed about developments and plans so we are always informed about what is coming’.
I can’t wait to meet this Artur.
Our next venue? The Planetarium. I had heard about it on Somnium’s discord channel and this was an experience I was really looking forward to exploring.
‘We have a special treat for you here’, Snakey started. ‘Not only are there some great displays, but actually a full blown 20 minute show about the cosmos’. We climb the steps leading us inside the building. Its walls are covered with images of space. Nebulas, star clusters, planets and more. I am a freelance photographer. Again, could I open a place in Somnium and put some of my best shots on display? A little museum perhaps? A gallery?
‘Several members have opened galleries and started to display and sell their art’. Snakey had read my mind. So this was totally possible. To create your own place and sell your work. In virtual reality.
I felt enlightened, gaining new insights as we walked from building to building. I had been fascinated by the immersive qualities of Somnium, which actually exceed my expectations. But in the last 10 minutes with Snakey my fascination had gone up several notches. Not only is Somnium an insanely beautiful and well made world, it is going to be a thriving world with people meeting, sharing and doing business.
Snakey led me into the Planetarium area and it wasn’t long before the program started.
‘Please mute your microphones….’, a voice began.
Wait, wasn’t that the voice of Morgan Freeman??
To be continued…