Opening the virtual doors to The Great Gatsby

“And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies, I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer. ” (The Great Gatsby, Chapter 1) – Nick Caraway’s summer cottage, Explore the Great Gatsby

In December 2014, I wrote about a new venture in educational outreach and public engagement through the use of virtual worlds when I took an early peek at Seanchai Library’s upcoming Explore: The Great Gatsby, the first instalment in their new Explore the Stories Behind the Art series.

Coinciding with a production of Simon Levy’s stage adaptation of The Great Gatsby, which will be in performance from January 23rd through February 8th at the Tacoma Little Theatre (TLT), Tacoma Washington State, Explore the Great Gatsby is a collaborative project undertaken by TLT and Seanchai Library, and forms a part of the latter’s extensive facilities in the virtual world of Kitely.

Officially opened on Thursday, January 15th at 12:00 midday, Explore: The Great Gatsby allows visitors the opportunity to visit key locations from the novel and play, and by doing so learn more about the era in which the story is set, explore Fitzgerald’s life and writings, and discover more about the theatre in which the play is being performed. It is open to users of virtual worlds and, as a part of the collaborative nature of the project will be presented to audiences attending performances at TLT as a place they can visit.

"But above the grey land and the spasms of bleak dust which drift endlessly over it, you perceive, after a moment, the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg" (The Great Gatsby, Chapter 2)- The "Valley of Ashes", an iconic part of the novel and home to the tragic Wilsons (that's their garage you can see being built in the background), forms one of Explore The Great Gatsby locations
“But above the grey land and the spasms of bleak dust which drift endlessly over it, you perceive, after a moment, the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg” (The Great Gatsby, Chapter 2)- The “Valley of Ashes”, an iconic part of the novel and home to the tragic Wilsons, forms one of Explore: The Great Gatsby locations

“We have information available in our programme and via our website,” TLT’s Managing Artistic Director Chris Serface said in reply to my question about how audience will be made aware of the project. “I will also mention it in my curtain speeches that I give each night,  and in addition local media outlets have been alerted about the project and we will hopefully get some coverage in that respect.”

Chris and Explore: The Great Gatsby’s creative director and powerhouse behind the partnership, Caledonia Skytower, had kindly offered to allow me a preview tour of the in-world facilities ahead of the opening, and while construction was very much still under way. “We’re also producing a short video on Explore,” Cale added, “TLT will be able to show that looped on their lobby screen.”

To assist those unfamiliar with using virtual worlds, the TLT website links to a special Explore website created by Seanchai Library, which provides basic guidance to visitor on downloading and installing a viewer, and a guide to using an avatar.

Seanchai Library’s Explore website is supported by the Explore: The Great Gatsby welcome centre,  where users new to virtual worlds can receive guidance on the basic mechanics of in-world activities: walking / navigation, interacting with objects, using media and voice, and so on. The Welcome Centre also acts as a social hub for the Explore experience

As well as providing the opportunity to explore the locations of the novel and learn more about Fitzgerald and his writings on their own, Explore:The Great Gatsby will feature a range of events both before and during the play’s run at Tacoma Little Theatre.

The first of these will launch on Friday, January 16th at 19:00 SLT / PST with the opening reading from the novel, which will take place in a small park specifically created for such readings. Part two will then follow at noon SLT / PST on Saturday January 17th, with the developing schedule of events available at the Explore website.

To encourage repeat visits to the installation, elements will be rolled-out over the course of the the next few weeks, such as the arrival of Jay Gatsby’s mansion. This is likely to initially appear in full party regalia representative of Nick Carraway’s first major encounter with Gatsby; later the mansion will be redressed, again to encourage further re-visits.

The Fitzgerald Gallery, located close to the facade of the Buchananan's mansion (and which houses a replica of the Tacoma Little Theatre), provides information to vistors on F Scott Fitzgerald's life and times and his writings
The Fitzgerald Gallery, located close to the façade of the Buchanan’s mansion (seen just on the left edge of this sketch. and which houses a replica of the Tacoma Little Theatre), provides information to visitors on F Scott Fitzgerald’s life and times and his writings

As a part of its service to the community in Tacoma, TLT present daytime performances of the plays they stage for local schools to attend. Thus, through the Explore: The Great Gatsby partnership with Seanchai Library TLT is presented with a dramatic – no pun intended – new way to engage with teachers, educators and school children in an immersive manner which links the performance of the play directly with classroom learning opportunities. In preparation for this, Chris Serface has been meeting with local teachers and explaining the environment to them – and has been getting very positive feedback.

Explore: The Great Gatsby is the ideal début for Seanchai Library’s Explore series, being something of a labour of love for Caledonia Skytower, who has been closely involved with the Tacoma Little Theatre both professionally and artistically for a number of years.

A look inside Explore the Great Gatsby's Welcome Centre
A look inside Explore the Great Gatsby’s Welcome Centre

Residents of virtual worlds can visit Explore: The Great Gatsby at any time simply by logging-in to the Seanchai Library homeworld on Kitely, or teleporting / hypergriding to it. Anyone with a love of The Great Gatsby and / or Fitzgerald’s work, or indeed, interested in learning about one of the oldest community theatres in the United States, and the oldest on the U.S. west coast, with a rich heritage going back to 1918, is warmly encouraged to pay Explore the Great Gatsby at least one visit.

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OSVR: the Swiss Army Knife for VR?

OSVR logo-2January always bring with it the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES). At the time the show was running, I looked at the “public début” (as Brendan Iribe, the Oculus VR CEO called it) of the company’s latest prototype headset, Crescent Bay, and some of the recent news coming out of Oculus VR.

However, while Oculus were getting a lot of air-time at CES, perhaps the most interesting announcement regarding VR came not from Oculus VR, but from gaming equipment manufacturer Razer and high-end VR specialist firm Sensics. who together announced a new development ecosystem for VR: the Open Source Virtual Reality (OSVR).

OSVR aims to create an infrastructure for common VR development work
OSVR aims to create an infrastructure for common VR development work (image:

While many companies are developing VR capabilities – head tracking systems, camera systems, gesture-based and other controllers, games and entertainment packages around the Oculus Rift, the fact is that the consumer market is liable to see a lot of HMDs and peripherals with a VR focus emerging over the next few years, to say nothing of applications and suchlike.

In terms of HMDs Zeiss have already launchedHMDs for various purposes, notably and most recently their sub- US$100 Zeiss VR One for smartphones at the same time Samsung launched their “Oculus inside” Gear VR, both of which I wrote about in December. Sony is working on the Morpheus, Sensics is working on its own consumer-focused headset for the Playstation, while Vrvana and GameFace are working on HMDs while ANTVR used CS to announce their forthcoming headset will be compatible with the PlayStation 4  in addition to PCs, the Xbox 360 and other devices.

With so many different systems on the horizon, the creation of content and peripherals is becoming something of a minefield for developers in terms of ensuring their games, experiences and hardware has the largest possible reach within the new marketplace.

The intention behind OSVR, therefore, is to provide an environment for cross-platform / hardware development for VR, with different development engine plug-ins anyone can use  covering different headset, controller, tracking systems and so on. All of which is aimed at helping developers ensure their game or experience or controller or whatever works with the widest possible choice of VR options.

In this, it’s important to recognise that OSVR is not some kind of rival to Oculus Rift, although the acronym is emblazoned across the front of Razer’s own forthcoming VR headset, previewed as a part of the OSVR announcement, and may have given some the impression that it is; something Razer’s Min-Liang Tan has been keen to clarify.

Razer CEO Min-Liang Tan: leading the OSVR charge. His company is often seen as the Apple of the gaming world, with Min himself as a latter-day Steve Jobs (image:
Razer CEO Min-Liang Tan: leading the OSVR charge (image:

“It’s not a competitor to guys like Oculus,” Tan said in an interview with the International Business Times. “This works with Oculus. The software is completely open-sourced. This is a set of standards. A couple of knee-jerk reactions is that people think this is competing with Oculus. Absolutely not. It’s an open platform.”

In the original OSVR announcement, Sensics CEO Yuval Boger also referenced OSVR being he development environment, saying, “OSVR’s open-platform approach accelerates innovation and provides consumers the freedom of choosing the best combination of hardware and software components. We are excited to partner with Razer and other industry leaders to build OSVR together.”

The list of companies on-board with OSVR is small but growing. In terms of HMD makers, the aforementioned Sensics, Vrnana and GameFace. It is also gaining a lot of support from input device manufacturers including Sixense STEM, Virtuix Omni, PrioVR and Leap Motion.

And what of Oculus VR? When asked about the move by journalist Matthew Terndrup, Oculus VR founder Palmer Luckey referred to it as a “good thing“, pointing to the fact that the Oculus Rift DK1 was also open-source. That’s as maybe, but Oculus VR were the first company to walk away from earlier discussions on VR standards shortly before it was announced they’d be acquired by Facebook. Not that they perhaps need to be directly involved in something like OSVR – as the tech media note, most companies are developing with Oculus in mind already, so it might be argued standards for development are more about allowing everyone else a better slice of the pie.

The OSVR website places great emphasis on games being its primary focus, and Tan himself points to games developer Gearbox Software being one of the founder partners in OSVR. However, the wider potential for VR across vertical markets is perhaps reflected in the fact that “OSVR supporters” are being sought from both from both industry and academia, with no apparent preference towards games development. Successful applicants being offered a prototype Razer Hacker Kit.

The Razer Hacker Development Kit - US$199.00 from June 2015
The Razer Hacker Development Kit – US$199.00 from June 2015 (image:

It is this Hacker Development Kit (HDK) that perhaps gave rise to initial confusion about OSVR being a “competitor” to Oculus Rift in some quarters, having been announced at the same time as OSVR.

However, the HDK is actually intended as a low-cost development test rig for VR developers (although it is probable that Razer will eventually market their own HMD), designed to meet current VR standards and to be somewhat modular, offering hardware developers the ability to more readily use it in the development of their own hardware (e.g.tracking systems, cameras, etc.). It will be available from June 2015 at a price of US$199.00.

Developers can already register their interest in the headset (see the HDK link above), and in keeping with the open source nature of the project, the full specifications for the headset, together with a set of schematics for the major components suitable for 3D printing, can also be downloaded from the site for those wishing to DIY their own HMD.

Basic specifications for the HDK (source:
Basic specifications for the HDK (source:

In discussing the HDK and OSVR with International business Times, Tan suggested people think of the two like this,”Think about it like Android for VR. It’s not the kit. It’s a platform, completely open-sourced. All the software is on Android, it’s on Apache 2.0. All the hardware, we’ve uploaded it on the Internet, anyone can print it out at home.”

All told, and in terms of it being intended as a development ecosystem, OSVR + the HDK almost sound like consumer focused VR’s very own Swiss Army knife. It’ll be interesting to see how it fares.


OSVR will be participating in a Reddit Ask Me Anything (AMA) session on Thursday, January 15th, at 15:00 PST URL: