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Last October, I was invited by our partner, Actrio Studio, to join them in Vienna to attend the AWE Conference and present together on Actrio’s ocean exploration Virtual Reality (VR) game The Great Ocean.

Although I had done a couple of Zoom and Teams presentations in the past, this was my first time presenting to a live audience, on a stage. Couple that with travelling to Vienna for the first time – to say I wasn’t nervous would be a lie!

 

Let me take you on a deep dive into my experience:

 

Meeting Michael

When Michael from Actrio Studio, a VR game developer based in Germany, approached WDC about a collaboration on The Great Ocean, I knew this was a wonderful opportunity to explore ocean conservation in the Virtual world. The Great Ocean is an immersive VR game that lets you take control of a deep-diving ROV and explore fascinating spots like the Galapagos or the Deep Sea, while solving issues like pollution and entangled whales, as well as learning about the ocean environment.

Michael and I had been chatting about how we could work together to bring elements of WDC’s real-world projects into the game, whilst also developing opportunities for players to make a real-world impact on ocean conservation. It’s super exciting to have these conversations with people who genuinely care about, and want to make an impact on, WDC’s work through their games, and after a few weeks we’d settled on a selection of themes to include in the game. This included encounters with whales and dolphins (most notably a pod of trapped belugas in a net that you must use the ROV tools to free, a reference to the infamous Russian ‘Whale Jail’), and an in-game dolphin ‘adoption’ function, enabling players to donate.

Fast forward a few weeks, and Michael contacts me with an invitation to join him at AWE to present on The Great Ocean and how we are collaborating to bring the Virtual and real-world ocean together. That was the start of my first visit to Vienna – it would be a whirlwind stop in Austria’s capital, and I was a mix of nervous but excited.

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Arrival in Vienna

Upon landing in home of the likes of Mozart and Beethoven, I was greeted with a surprisingly easy-to-navigate metro system as I headed to my Airbnb, right near the Danube.

The next morning, I made my way to the Austria Conference Centre. Knowing there was this massive conference on, I was quick to fall into the flow of other conference-goers and followed the crowd up the steps towards the building only to be stopped by a heavily armed guard asking me if I’m supposed to be there - eek! It turns out there was also a UN summit going on and I had followed the wrong crowd. After a quick chat he directed me to the OTHER conference building on the other site of the campus, and I was finally on my way.

Arriving, I grabbed my lanyard and headed to the speaker’s area to meet with Michael. The main Expo area was huge and filled with all manner of companies in the VR / AR space, including META and the Exit Suit – an exoskeleton that you actually wear, making VR even more immersive. I stumbled across a whole host of stalls showcasing VR games dedicated to education about environmental protection. This was so wonderful to see and I approached for a chat.

Another thing that I noticed was how environmentally conscious the venue and event organisers were. It was refreshing to see small changes, from the catering using recyclable materials (and no plastic), to the organisers encouraging public transport and walking and committing to carbon neutral initiatives.

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The Big Day

The next day, I woke up feeling nervous. I didn’t know what to expect and from the talks I had attended, the audience numbers seemed to vary a lot. I hoped our talk was popular but the thought ofspeaking to a full auditorium was scary. Michael and I met António Baía Reis who would be managing the audience and keeping time for the talk. He was so happy and calm he helped put our nerves at ease. Then came the big moment. Antonio announced our talk, introduced Michael and me, and we headed up onto the stage.

The talk went really well. What was most surprising, but absolutely wonderful, was the audience discussion at the end. We had a few technical questions directed at Michael about how he created his VR game, but a lot of questions were about ocean conservation which turned into a full-blown discussion among audience members – António was struggling to keep up with running to each attendee to hand over the microphone! We had some interesting questions about oil and gas drilling, noise pollution, entanglement and climate change, and it was wonderful to be able to raise awareness of the vital work WDC is doing to tackle these issues across the globe to such a captive audience.

I came away feeling optimistic. The conference showed me that there are people genuinely passionate and concerned about the health of our planet, who are looking at novel ways to raise awareness and take direct action to protect the ocean and the planet. I am excited to see what new and engaging experiences the AR and VR community come up with to highlight the climate and biodiversity crises we are facing. And something I thought I would never say – I’m looking forward to the next opportunity to speak at an event like this!

You can check out the full vlog of my trip on the Games for Waves YouTube now.

 

You can play The Great Ocean on META Quest store and wishlist on Steam. In-game dolphin adoptions donate directly to WDC.

AWE (Augmented World Expo) is a global conference bringing together professionals in the Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) spaces to network, showcase the latest developments in technology and share ideas.

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