There is nothing safe about using a chainsaw. It's not exactly the kind of tool you'd play around with for fun while drinking beers with friends and seeing who can cut limbs off of a tree the fastest. (After all, not only are you always a blade a way from a lost limb—you're always a tree limb away from lost life.)
However, in virtual reality, everything is possible.
Just in time for this weekend's World Logging Championships in Poland, Swedish chainsaw brand Husqvarna worked with DigitasLBi Nordics to create a virtual reality chainsaw game to give wannabe lumberjacks a look at what it might be like to unleash their inner Paul Bunyan. They named it "Limberjack."
Limberjack, which just debuted on the HTC Vive virtual reality platform, lets players strip 24 branches from the trunk of an already felled tree as they race the clock. And it all happens on the coast of a pristine lake surrounded by mountains.
So how did Digitas pull off replicating the Husqvarna 369 chainsaw in virtual reality? According to Peder Sandqvist, head of VR and AR for DigitasLBi Nordics, the team spent time with some of the best Swedish loggers to learn the craft of limbing—the art of sawing limbs off of a tree. As the game progressed, they also brought in some of those limbers to try the game to see whether it felt realistic or not. (Sandqvist said that so far he's logged more than 400 hours in virtual reality.)
"What I feel is that this medium is so new and unexplored," Sandqvist said in an interview. "We need to work in it very hands-on, make mistakes, try things, try again and work in it every day to explore."
It's not the easiest thing to do, considering the HTC Vive controllers weigh a whole lot less, and cutting through air doesn't require the same pressure as cutting through a tree. And while most gamers will be stuck with just the controls, those at this weekend's championship will be able to try a slightly more realistic version. For demos at the event, Digitas attached HTC Vive controls to actual chainsaws. That way, when a user picks it up, they are feeling the real one even if all the chopping is happening only virtually.
So far during the first week since launch, around five percent of Vive's user base has tried the game, Sandqvist said. That amounts to thousands of people using the virtual chainsaw. He said the experiment of attaching a control to the saw could later on lead to other iterations such as adding sensors for soccer shoes, tennis rackets and other objects for virtual use.
This is one of many VR projects created by the Nordics office of Digitas. A few months ago, it launched a VR store for OnePlus, a Chinese smartphone startup. The company has also done VR for brands like Audi and Volvo, with more in the works.