I’ve always had an interest in aquatic life, likely born from my dad being a keen fisherman and my uncle owning a tackle shop when I was young. These days I have a large aquarium in my house full of Amazon Discus fish. I’ve also enjoyed swimming with Turtles here in the UAE (read a blog about that on iPad Educators here) and hand feeding Stingrays (that one is here.)
My fascination in the underwater world has been well-catered for in virtual reality, with the obvious experience to reference being The Blu (often the first thing I let newbies try on the Vive as the blue whale encounter never fails to get across the power of VR.) Whilst The Blu is undoubtedly awesome, it’s very brief and quite a passive experience in that you have no way to interact with the sea life. So when I first caught word about Operation Apex a few months ago, I was excited.
Developers Curiscope are probably best known for their fantastic augmented reality t-shirt The VirtualiTee, which allows students to feel like they have x-ray vision and see inside the human body. However the piece of content they have produced that the most people have interacted with is the 4K 360 shark short on their YouTube channel which has accrued over 6 million views!
This video serves as somewhat of a trailer for Operation Apex, produced in association with Vive Studios. Split across three chapters, after a short prelude, the app takes you deep under the ocean for a full room-scale experience that is definitely not passive. In fact it’s a lot more hands-on than I expected…
The first section both introduces you to the control interface and sets the scene for the investigation overall – with a clear narrative linking the findings right through to the inevitable great white encounter at the end. The control system is very effective, with two-speed locomotion approach using the triggers and then two core tools to use in conjunction with the movement –
The radar/scanner on your left hand to guide you and then scan objects and creatures of interest. (I really like the “connect the dots” approach to scanning – a nice touch.)
The lure on your right hand to select appropriate holographic bait to lure in specific sea life you are investigating.
As one clue leads to the next, it becomes apparent that something is affecting the wildlife and the mystery evolves into the second chapter, Folly Wall. Now you are harnessing the tools more readily, the app opens up further and it was here that I really started to explore independently a little more.
After a climactic encounter with a whale shark, the final section leads you back to the location of the prologue and the hunt for a rogue great white shark. I should point out that this is not a scary experience - we’re not in Jaws territory here – and you always feel safe. This is a definite plus for an educational app as students would potentially be distracted if it was.
I must admit that Apex surprised me a great deal and not just because it’s about much more than sharks. This app offers a genuinely powerful way for students to learn about underwater ecology, food chains and the threat of pollution to our oceans.
The narration is fantastic throughout and helps to drive home the learning content with both clarity and poignancy. Apex teaches students a great deal about the interconnectivity of life and the way a food chain can become dangerously imbalanced. The gamified approach is definitely engaging and the fact that there are many hidden treasures and secrets to discover beyond those of the central mission are also a great touch. I actually found some gold and learned that there are vast reserves of gold unmined in the depth of the oceans!
So how could you harness this amazing experience in the classroom? In terms of length, it last for around 30-45 minutes, depending on how broadly you explore. It’s also Vive exclusive so the number of Vives you have at your disposal would affect the logistics of how you let students use Apex.
My recommendation would be to harness it as a collaborative experience with groups of 2-3 students interacting with the experience as a team. They would take turns actually using the Vive and when not inside the experience, would act in a support role at the PC. They can provide suggestions to the “diver” and record notes based on the findings. To that end, I have produced a little record sheet that could be used alongside the app. To download a PDF of the sheet, click the image below:
Teams can record information that they learn across each section of the experience and then reflect on the process as a mini-plenary. You could of course take the PDF and embed it in a digital platform like OneNote to allow students to record multimedia notes. Another idea would be to have the Vive user to act as a photo-journalist and snap screenshots from within the HMD to record key discoveries.
You can download Operation Apex from Steam here.
You can also learn more about Curiscope’s projects via their website.