This month, Bristol-based Opposable Games hosted the first ever South West Virtual Reality Conference (SWVR). Over 200 virtual reality developers, film-makers, animators, gamers, enthusiasts and more came to the At-Bristol Science Centre for demonstrations from the South West’s brightest VR developers.

Demonstrating the SouthWest tech scene’s accommodating atmosphere, SouthWest VR attracted both leading figures within the industry and smaller, more local developers and researchers.

“Virtual and augmented reality games, experiences and applications are about to explode like the web, social and mobile before them”


Ben Trewhella, managing director at award-winning Opposable Games, said:

“The Bristol and Bath region is already becoming a global centre for virtual reality – the region hosts a growing number of experimental games and interactive developers, established TV, film and animation producers, a thriving developer scene with some of the UK’s brightest mobile app developers, and a background of engineering and entrepreneurism in chip design and product design – all the skills needed to create the next generation of consumer VR experiences and applications.

“We’re at the start of a hugely exciting time in technology – virtual reality and augmented reality games, experiences and applications are about to explode like the web, social and mobile before them.”

Invisible forcefield: Attendees queue for a go on Ultrahaptics’ tactile sensors, which allow you to feel without touching.

Small players, big ideas

Bristol-based startup Ultrahaptics – who are working on ways to provide tactile feedback during virtual reality experiences – were a big hit at the conference.

Despite having been on the virtual reality scene for just a year, Ultrahaptics brought in big queues of attendees keen to out their invisible forcefield – a device which uses motion sensors and ultrasound to create the sensation of touch when, in reality, there’s nothing there.

Also exhibiting at the conference was Joe Ryan who launched his newest innovation, the VRgo chair, which he developed from his base at the Pervasive Media Studio in Bristol. The VRgo chair is a hands-free, wireless chair offering an improved VR experience, with huge potential to shake up the gaming market and beyond.

Ryan developed the VRgo chair based on natural human movements to give the user a ‘presence’ in virtual reality – effectively making the experience far more immersive. VRgo have a Kickstarter coming soon, and you can watch a trial of the chair being used to play Minecraft below.

Vloggers and Virtual Reality

Amongst the innovators and thought-leaders were some big Youtube names in virtual reality and gaming, including members of the Yogscast – who have over 20 million subscribers across 20 Youtube channels.

Playing a big part in the growth of virtual reality in gaming, Youtube channels often provide an pivotal  platform for developers to shout out about their newest games and developments.

A one-time pie maker who sold her car and gave up her job in Brazil to learn game design, Indie-game developer and speaker at the conference Ana Ribeiro spoke animatedly about the help she received from the Vlogging community. Talking about support from Vloggers, Ribeiro told the crowd about getting virtual reality game Pixel Rift greenlighted on Steam.

Ghosts ‘n’ stuff: Yogscast member Martyn tries out several VR experiences, including an immersive version of the arcade classic Pacman

A second showcase?

SouthWest VR could well become become a major event in the industry calendar, with the debut attracting an impressive line-up including Sony Computer Entertainment, Bossa Studios, Atlantic Productions’ Alchemy VR, Unity 3D, nDreams and Innerspace.

Responses were certainly positive, and highlight the South West’s potential to become a hotbed of VR development.

Although the conference has ended, SouthWest VR keep their Twitter up to date with loads of interesting VR news. You can also keep up to date with both VRgo and Ultrahaptics on the social network.

Pic credit: Tom Sparey Photography