Have you dreamed of what it would be ...

... to soar like an eagle?

Aquila Bird Flight Simulator lets you experience soaring bird flight using virtual reality.  It was originally designed for the Oculus Rift, but has now been modified for OpenVR.  You embody one of three species of eagle flying over either Northwest Scotland, a part of Columbia, or Graham Island in British Columbia. This is designed as a relaxing soaring flight simulation, and is not arcade-style flight, and as such you can make use of ridge lift and thermals.  If you want a work out try flapping with motion controllers!

 

Aquila is currently in development on the PC platform using the Unity Engine.  There is an Early Access version on the Oculus Rift store, and I anticipate the OpenVR version on Steam soon.

 

Aquila began as an dream more years ago than I care to think about, and I never thought that technology would progress to bring it in to reach of amature programmers such as me.  With the discovery of the Unity engine, and the Oculus Rift VR headset, I realised that I could begin to give the dream wings.

Using Unity and C#, much time, tutorials, experimenting and tinkering, Aquila began to take form.  Using a customised flight engine, a day/night system, terrain analysis, and lots of sleepless nights, the possibilities of Aquila became apparent and the simulator was advanced enough to demonstrate.  It has been demonstrated at the Hawk Conservancy Trust Wings event 2016, The National Centre for Birds of Prey Helmsley, and finally as part of the IET stand at Fairford Royal International Air Tattoo 2016.  The long term aim is to pair this simulation with the amazing Somniacs Birdly platform SDK, or whatever platform proves the most flexible, in order to facilitate fund raising for bird of prey conservation.  It is also capable of control with the head only, to enable differently abled individuals to experience flying like a bird in a safe environment.  Finally Oculus Touch motion controllers are supported, with Vive support on the way, so you can fly using your arms as wings.  The complete set-up will be available for hire for your own event, with everything above expenses going towards raptor conservation.

 

 

So, what is there right now?

 

- Featuring three species of eagle:
    - White tailed sea eagle
    - Bald eagle
    - and the Harpy eagle.


- Simulates an 8kg bird with a 2.5m wingspan. (cosmetic difference only at present).


- Steer your bird using:
    - An Xbox360/One controller
    - Your VR headset
    - or Motion controllers (experimental).


- Satellite photography scenery for:
    - 13km x 13km for Northwest Scotland (included in the demo)
    - Columbia and British Columbia, of equivalent size.


- Day/Night cycle using UniStorm.
- You have thermals and ridge lift to make flying easier.
- Configurable wind direction and speed, shown as 'dandelion seeds' in-game.
- Free looking in VR, along with selectable views on the birds back and a chase view.
- You can land and take off, and walk around on the ground.
- Options to start in the air or on the ground.
- Tutorials for gamepad control and motion controllers. (headset steering tutorial to come)
- Comfort mode:  This levels the camera, and limits your pitch and roll to produce a more comfortable experience.  It is on by default, but can be turned off.
- Some relaxing music to go with the flying.
- Observer mode: The in-flight menu allows you to select a view that is displayed on your main pc screen while you play in VR.  This can impact performance, but allows people not playing to watch your flight.  The videos below show a variety of things you can find in the demo, including the observer function.
- Non-VR ... the game will run without a VR headset connected, and defaults to a chase view, but it's just not the same as VR!

What bugs and issues are there?

 

- Satellite photography is best experienced with a bit of height.  The illusion will not work when you're near the ground.
- Currently ugly if you look behind you, if you don't move your own head up, as you'll look through yourself!
- If you fly too fast, you pitch down. With comfort mode on, it is rare as your pitch is limited.
- You can't currently 'trim' in pitch, although you can fly just fine without.
- The white tailed sea eagle does not have a ground walking animation, but has more flexible animation in the air.  The other two eagles use normal Unity animations.
- Observer mode does not output sound to your normal pc speakers, if you are using the Oculus Rift headphones.

 

 

Tools used:

 

- Unity personal edition 5.6.0b3, with Oculus SDK 1.10.
- World Composer, and Terrain Composer.
- Aircraft Flight Physics Toolkit. Awesome piece of kit.
- UniStorm for the day/night cycle.
- the eagle model is under Birds_Eagle_Anim on the asset store. Very flexible and tweakable model.
- 3D Animated Clouds by MPixels. Brilliant.

 

 

Planned features:

 

- (PARTWAY THERE) More dynamic landscape with things to do of course (challenges).
- Trophy/achievement support.
- (PARTWAY THERE) Maybe one large landscape, or many smaller ones. I'd love to be able to add trees!
- (Plan in motion!) I am looking at supporting the Next Level V3 motion platform.
- Possible survival simulation including weather, defending your territory, nest provider, etc.
- Expanding the tutorial to be narrated, perhaps from another bird flying with you nearby.
- special needs access (head steering is the start of this).

 

 

Videos:

 

These videos show the simulator in action.  The first one is like the current demo, and contains all the same features.  The second one is an example flight using ridge and thermal lift with a full day cycle from an observer view on a second pc that has joined the game.  After that, we have another showing the beginning of the day, from purely a first-person view.

 

The last two show the harpy eagle flying in the Columbia landscape, and finally the bald eagle flying in the British Columbia landscape.

 

 

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© Graeme Scott 2016