Grzegorz (Greg) Dziemidowicz developed a passion for computers and the outdoors while he was still a young boy growing up in Rybnik, Poland. These days he combines those interests as he develops immersive VR sailing experiences.
“I got into sailing just before high school through Sea Scouts in my hometown,” states Dziemidowicz. “In scouts, every Saturday we would either sail, work on repairing boats, or learn some theory. Each summer, we would go for a sailing adventure on the Baltic Sea.”
For the past several years 33-year-old Dziemidowicz has worked as a software engineer at a big tech company in Melbourne, Australia, a popular sailing location on Australia’s largest bay. In 2014, he heard some commotion one day at the office and when he went to see what was going on, he discovered someone demoing a roller coaster experience on the DK2. Despite the fact that his first experience on the early prototype made him nauseous, it made a positive overall impression about the possibilities for immersive reality.
“I got more seriously into VR development a year later,” says Dziemidowicz. “I was looking for a little bit of a challenge in a tech frontier [and] once I learned a little bit of Unity and realized I could be immersed in my own programming creations, I was hooked. It really is like magic.”
Unity is the world’s most widely used VR development platform that can be used to create games and experiences for a variety of consoles and headsets.
In late 2015, just as he was becoming more involved with VR development, his wife booked a short sailing session through Royal Brighton Yacht Club’s “Discover Sailing” day. Although he had taken a break from sailing for a while, this renewed his love for the sport. A few weeks later he happened to be in Hobart during the world-renowned Rolex Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race. Dziemidowicz and his wife witnessed the American yacht Comanche, representing the New York Yacht Club, take line honors after completing the 628 nautical mile race in two days, eight hours, 58 minutes and 30 seconds.
“Later that week I finally joined the dots. I love sailing and I’m into VR. I should work on a virtual sailing project!”
A few months later, in February 2016, says he had been listening to Kent Bye’s Voices of VR podcasts and he learned about the Unity Vision Summit that would take place a week later. After making an impulse decision to buy plane and conference tickets, soon he was flying over the Pacific Ocean for the one night, two-day event.
“The conference blew my mind,” he recalls. He had been developing and experimenting with Google Cardboard for a while and at the conference he was able to try experiences such as Tilt Brush, Budget Cuts, and The London Heist.
His love for VR was cemented at the summit and all his ideas began to come together.
In June 2016, Dziemidowicz and the team at MarineVerse released VR Regatta in early access. It’s now the leading virtual reality sailing game and has received very positive reviews.
Virtual sailors need no prior experience to hop into the game and learn some basic skills such as steering and speed management. Since even short sailing instruction courses can cost hundreds of dollars, VR Regatta can also serve as a training program for people who want to master the basics of sailing.
Currently the MarineVerse team is developing MarineVerse Cup, a VR yacht racing game that allows sailors to trim the sheets, handle the helm, and use their muscles on the winches as if they were navigating their own yacht in physical reality. They have to make split second decisions against other racers and have the opportunity to battle for higher positions on the leaderboards.
The MarineVerse Cup features daily and weekly yacht races with varying wind conditions and courses. The game is still in early access, but players can join the community and compete while it’s in development. There is also a private alpha available for Quest users.
“Yacht racing is actually something we can do best in the current generation of standalone headsets,” Dziemidowicz points out.
“Doing something for standalone headsets is really important, as we want to democratize sailing through use of VR,” he continues. “To do that, we need to ship our sailing software on a platform that is easy to use and accessible to everyone.”
“Oculus Quest is that platform. It’s cheap, it’s portable and it’s easy to use. It’s great for sailing clubs and for people who are interested in VR only because they want to learn how to sail … and practice at home what they are learning on the water.”
He points out that while standalone headsets can’t yet deliver the beautiful open-world islands quite like the archipelago surrounded by ocean water like the graphics seen in VR Regatta, in racing graphics don’t matter that much anyway.
“What’s important is a realistic yacht racing simulation and an active community,” he says. “This is something standalone headsets can deliver well now and that’s why we’re focusing on developing MarineVerse Cup."
"Apart from that," he adds, "daily racing in VR is just fun."