It’s true that most virtual reality experiences require headsets and most headsets do cost hundreds of dollars. However, some virtual reality experiences can be experienced in more conventional 2D formats, such as through your computer browser. These experiences can serve as an introduction to, or trial of, other more immersive experiences.
What Is AltspaceVR?
AltspaceVR is a virtual space where you can attend live events, meetups, and more with people from around the world. You can use it with a number of virtual reality headsets, or use the 2D mode on PC to get a feel for a social VR experience without a headset.
How to Install AltspaceVR on Your Device
The completely free AltspaceVR is available as an app download through parent company Microsoft, as well as through the online marketplace, Steam.
Download: AltspaceVR for Windows 10 (Free)
In the event that you do decide to invest in more serious kit later, AltspaceVR is also compatible with major headsets, VIVE and Oculus. However, for this article, we’ll assume that you don’t have a VR headset (yet).
The experience is rated Teen but all interactions are interactions with other users. These can vary based on the kind of virtual events that you attend within the platform but we’ll get back to that later.
Once you have downloaded AltspaceVR, it can work using your computer’s built-in microphone and audio. However, AltspaceVR does recommend that you use a dedicated headset (the best home office headsets). This improves your own audio quality but it also helps to ensure that background noise from your environment doesn’t bother others.
Because AltspaceVR requires audio, you’ll have some permissions to accept when you initially launch it. However, unlike more advanced VR experiences, AltspaceVR doesn’t require your camera for anything.
The game is compatible with various third-party controllers, though the controls are simple enough that you can get by just fine with just your keyboard and mouse or touchpad with what are essentially your standard WASD controls.
The experience uses two main interfaces for other commands and options.
Navigating the Main Menu Options
A larger “main menu” is accessed by pressing Escape on the keyboard. This is how you exit events and close the program, as well as how you access avatar customization menus, events, and more.
These features will be described below, but this actual interface is user-friendly enough that it doesn’t require a lot of explanation.
Navigating the In-Game Menu Options
The smaller “in-game” menu is used for your actual interactions with other characters and with the environment when possible. This menu can’t be “closed” but collapsed and expanded views can be toggled with the right mouse button. Through this menu, you can mute and unmute your microphone, take photos, and toggle your “bubble” on and off.
How and Why to Mute Your Mic
The top-center icon in the in-game menu mutes your mic. It doesn’t mute your audio—that can really only be conveniently done using your keyboard controls. Speaking of keyboard controls, you can also mute and unmute the mic by pressing the spacebar.
Because most AltspaceVR events are essentially lectures, this is a handy switch to have. That’s one of the reasons that it’s one of the only two controls that are present in the collapsed menu. The other is the Camera.
Using the Camera and Taking Selfies
The Camera Icon in the above-left position in the in-game menu is for taking photos of things that are happening around you. In the collapsed version of the menu, this command is directly below the Mic icon.
In addition to taking photos, you can also take “selfies” with the bottom-left icon. These capture the user from the front, as well as any avatars, action, or scenery that is behind them. Some custom events have dedicated “selfie-stations” with backdrops and props just as you might see at a physical-world wedding or awards event.
NB: When Burning Man took place in AltspaceVR, event organizers said on Twitter that, “Filming in VR is the same as doing it in real life.” AltspaceVR avatars aren’t photorealistic representations of the user, but they can be fairly identifiable, and some users can be fairly protective about this.
Using the “Space Bubble”
“The Space Bubble” is located in the bottom-right of the in-game menu. It lets you creates a zone around your avatar that other avatars cannot enter into. As AltspaceVR execs explained in a post on the AltspaceVR Blog announcing the 2016 launch of the tool:
VR makes it possible to feel incredibly present with other people, and we have seen the need for the ability to choose how closely others can approach you.
Even if you aren’t a private person, this tool makes for clearer selfies by preventing other users from crowding your shot.
Expressing Yourself with Emojis
The final icon in the in-game menu in the top-right position shares emojis in response to the words or actions of those around you. Just like a Zoom call, event organizers sometimes choose to mute the crowd (or just request that the crowd be silent during a presentation) and emojis become a valuable form of expression similar to applause.
Different Ways to Enter AltspaceVR
What you can do and how you interact with AltspaceVR change based on how you actually enter the experience.
Through Your AltspaceVR Account
No matter how you get into AltspaceVR—through the app or through Steam—you will get an AltspaceVR account. Theoretically, you can never log into this account and still use the experience.
The only thing that you ever really need your account for is retrieving photos and selfies that you take in AltspaceVR. You can’t export photos directly from within AltspaceVR, but they can be managed from your account.
Your account also gives you access to some virtual locations that you can’t access otherwise, so if you get bored of the venues provided through the app you can find more through your account.
Finally, if you decide to engage with AltspaceVR on a higher level (like by hosting your own events) the AltspaceVR site is the best way to learn about all of the features.
Through Steam or the App
The AltspaceVR experience is identical whether you enter it through the App directly installed on your computer or whether you get it through Steam.
If you already have Steam and don’t intend on using AltspaceVR very much, getting AltspaceVR through Steam can help to keep things a little more organized in your Start menu.
If you really want to explore AltspaceVR, having the app and using it with your AltspaceVR account gives you access to virtual locations that you can’t access through the Steam version.
What to Do in AltspaceVR
So, what can you actually do in AltspaceVR?
As mentioned above, there are sometimes objects in the environment that you can interact with, but there aren’t really games, per se. Really, AltspaceVR is an event platform.
Customizing Your Avatar
For the first few years that AltspaceVR was around, it’s avatar customization options were laughably basic. In the summer of 2020, however, the platform completely revamped the menus.
Many of the options are in the name of increasing inclusivity. These include more skin color options and opening up access to all clothing items regardless of the gender selected by the user.
The company also added more clothing items, facial hair styles, and a more in-depth color customization system.
Discovering and Attending Events
Most people interact with AltspaceVR by attending events that are hosted by other people or organizations. As a result, what you get out of AltspaceVR will largely depend on the events that you choose to attend.
Many of the events that take place in AltspaceVR are regularly scheduled meetings of various social groups or representation advocates. Though, there are also “talk shows,” lectures, and even live musical performances.
Sometimes, fans of the site will also host events to celebrate updates to the platform. And there are always opportunities (like that pictured in the image above) to learn more about AltspaceVR from experts and other community members.
Hosting Your Own Public or Private Events
Your experiences in AltspaceVR are not limited to other people’s events. You can also host your own. You can make these events public to anybody or make them private to choose your own guests.
When you host your own event, you also get access to special tools that allow you to mute guests, amplify your own voice, or send messages to all attendees.
The menu for creating events sorts available locations based on the kind of event that you want to have. Different locations have different interaction options, like basketballs in the gaming worlds.
AltspaceVR as Virtual Reality
While it’s true that the 2D interface isn’t as immersive as the optimal VR solution, this version of AltspaceVR offers an introduction to the fun and immersion of social VR experiences.