In the virtual reality industry, creating an incredibly realistic and immersive experience is vital to the success of the technology. Even the slightest issues, the smallest glitches can lead to a lack of immersion, and thus the VR experience not living up to its potential.
To that end, ambiance and atmosphere are key, perhaps even more so than in other entertainment media like film or video games.
To achieve this, the virtual environment must adjust itself in real time, in order to continuously immerse the user. With audio for example, it must be of a high enough quality, and orient itself in a natural way, to convince the user of the reality of the virtual world.
The wind will sound different when the user is surrounded by trees, for example, than when they are in a clearing. And the sonic transition must happen fluidly enough to create a deep sense of involvement in the simulated environment.
The other key concern for VR developers, when it comes to ambience and atmosphere, is latency.
Latency describes the time difference between a user completing an action, and the virtual world responding to said action. Clearly it needs to be as small as possible, otherwise the user’s immersion will break incredibly quickly, and the world will no longer feel natural.
Humans can detect latency of more than 50 milliseconds, so, for example, if it takes longer than that after turning one’s head, for the environment to reorient itself to match the user’s new perspective, the immersion will be totally destroyed.
In the end, developers are trying to convince us that the virtual world is real. Once we get so lost in the experience that we forget that there even is a computer, we have become totally immersed. And to do this, creating ambience and atmosphere, which can develop and change in real time, is vital.