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Explore a Virtual Museum of Digital Water

Pippin Barr’s v r 3 examines one of the biggest challenges in game design: rendering water.

View of Pippin Barr’s v r 3 (courtesy Pippin Barr)

In Pippin Barr’s v r 3, you can explore digital representations of water. Some ripple violently, with edges as sharp as diamonds; others are the bright blue of a heavily chlorinated pool. All are specimens of the ongoing challenge to render water realistically in video games.

Barr often plays with the sense of place and space within games (as in his riff on Marina Abramović’s “The Artist Is Present”), and v r 3, which is free to download for Mac or PC, follows v r 1, a project about virtual architecture, and v r 2, on the unseen aspects of virtual worlds. In a release, Barr explains why he chose to focus on water this time:

Water is perhaps the archetypal technology we use to assess how “good” a game engine or game is in terms of realism, a kind of benchmark. I liked the idea of a speculative future in which, rather than playing a game with water in it, people would choose to simply contemplate the water itself as an activity. Thus v r 3 represents a museum/gallery experience where the audience pays attention to water.

View of Pippin Barr’s v r 3 (courtesy Pippin Barr)

In one of his development blog posts (where you can get a sense of why it’s “inanely difficult to put water in a bunch of plinths in a virtual gallery”), Barr notes that v r 3 could be an evolving “kind of gallery/museum space exhibiting … virtual stuff,” with this being its “first exhibition.” One whole area of the show features examples from the Unity game engine, which initially sparked Barr’s interest in water technology.

Rock Paper Shotgun, in a post about v r 3, points out that the exhibition is similar, in a way, to Roni Horn’s Library of Water, which houses capsules of water from Icelandic glaciers. Each of the pedestals in v r 3 is neatly marked with label text (e.g. Martin Reintges, “Water Shader Pack” (2017), shader, $10; G. E. TeamDev, “Water Flow FREE” (2017), shader, free), and their shimmering contents are more diverse than you might expect. One moodily reflects an unseen light, another is rocked by stormy waves.

Water has come a long way in games; compare, for instance, the believably moving water of 2015’s The Witcher 3 to the glassy surfaces in 1996’s Super Mario 64. Yet the art and design that goes into it remains complex. Maybe that’s why water seems more interesting as an interactive museum than, say, gaming bricks or blood spatters might be — although it would undoubtedly be exciting for Barr to curate a digital exhibition of any of those in the future.

View of Pippin Barr’s v r 3 (courtesy Pippin Barr)
View of Pippin Barr’s v r 3 (courtesy Pippin Barr)

Pippin Barr’s v r 3 is available to download for free for Mac and PC. 

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