We won’t question your patriotism if you’re apprehensive about battling big crowds to take in a fireworks show this Fourth of July weekend. But instead of missing the party altogether, what if you could watch bombs bursting in air in virtual reality?
A new fireworks app for the Samsung Gear VR launched this week and the creator is calling it the world’s first mobile VR Fourth of July fireworks show. That creator is well known in Seattle startup circles. Greg Enell is the founder and former CEO of Seattle-based Double Down Interactive, the makers of online casino-style games that sold to casino game giant IGT for $500 million in 2012.
Enell is now running a stealthy new Seattle startup in the VR space called Presence Labs. The first offering from Presence was GrooVR, an animated virtual experience tied to music, that was released in December.
Now, in time for Monday’s holiday, Presence Labs is launching “Fireworks Lady Liberty,” a free virtual reality experience that is available exclusively on Gear VR.
Enell recalled the early days at Double Down, when the company built a Fourth of July fireworks virtual slot machine that “ended up being one of the real catalysts for Double Down to rocket us forward.”
“That slot was extremely popular. We realized that the fireworks and seasonal content in general can do a lot of good for a young business,” Enell said. “We decided we wanted to do a Fourth of July fireworks show in VR. No one had really done it before, especially on mobile.”
DoubleDown also stepped up in 2013 to help sponsor the fireworks show, which was in jeopardy of being canceled.
The new “Lady Liberty” virtual reality show is about 7 minutes long and puts the user in New York Harbor, watching a broad range of fireworks explode over the back of the Statue of Liberty. Enell said it’s 360 video-game-like experience, not 360 video, that was all produced at Presence with the app development tool Unity.
Enell thinks “Lady Liberty” does a good job of establishing presence and making the user feel like they’re there.
Picture starting out high above the ground and water, floating near the iconic landmark’s head. You get a good look at her face, crown, arm and torch flame. As the show is going, you start to work your way down onto the base of Liberty Island.
Enell said users watch the grand finale from the foot of the statue, head cocked back, fireworks exploding in the sky.
The company licensed four underlying, patriotic songs for the app and created one original, thanks to a Presence Labs employee who could manage a “Star Spangled Banner” riff on guitar. “He did a really great job — it sounds awesome,” Enell said.
Enell said he was expecting good store positioning from the folks at Gear and Samsung and indeed, on Thursday morning, “Lady Liberty’ was one of three Gear experiences featured in the top level of the New & Noteworthy section on the Oculus site. Enell is hopeful the hard work will pay off with lots of traffic into the app.
“It’s challenging to do it on the phone,” Enell said. “Fireworks are tough on mobile because fireworks are graphics processing intensive. But we’ve done a lot of good, smart work to produce what we think is a pretty high quality experience for mobile.”