3-Minute VR: ‘Constitution Class Experience’

A view from inside a shuttlecraft in "The Constitution Class Experience" looking at NCC-1701-A.
VR Perspective: looking past the shuttlecraft controls at NCC-1701-A

Growing up, I was a giant Star Trek geek. Aside from Doctor Who, the original series was one of the only science fiction shows that came over the antenna to my house, and it was part of my Saturday morning cartoons routine along with The Smurfs and Kidd Video. (I’m thankful it was Star Trek that made the lasting impression.)

I didn’t just love watching the show, I dreamt of being in Starfleet, exploring the galaxy, living on a starship. Come high school, I was playing games like Star Fleet Battles and obsessing over starship technical specifications. But studying Mr. Scott’s Guide to the Enterprise couldn’t really give me a feel for the sense of scale. How big was the Enterprise? What would it feel like to see her up close?

Flash forward roughly 25 years and I can finally find out. Reddit user Avindair has used virtual reality to realize this dream for himself and created the Constitution Class Experience, an experience for the HTC Vive where you fly a shuttlecraft around a Constitution-class starship and land in its shuttle bay. While he didn’t make all of the assets himself, he has consulted various references, including the Franz Joseph blueprints, to ensure the ships you see in VR are correctly scaled.

I was so impressed by the simulation that I recorded a video in mixed-reality, showing the controls in use and beautiful views of the U.S.S. Victory as I traverse its length and negotiate docking. I made that recording in version 1.03; since then, Avindair has made significant improvements: better lighting, a more engaging galactic backdrop, planets, and even adding in the NCC-1701-A.

The shuttlecraft interior isn’t modeled like an actual Star Trek shuttlecraft. Avindair pursued this project both for his desire to see a life-sized starship as well as a user interface experiment; accuracy of the shuttlecraft was not his focus. Inside you’ll find three controls: one for pitch and roll, another for  yaw and vertical thrusters, and a throttle for forward and reverse thrust. They’re simple enough to use, but actually maneuvering the shuttlecraft is not as easy as you would think. This beast has a lot of inertia. While Avindair has added some drag to make controlling the ship at least possible, you have to use small movements, plan ahead, and try to move in only one axis at a time if you hope to dock successfully.

If you’re a Vive owner, chances are that you’ve been getting all of your content through the Steam store. But the Vive is just another piece of hardware; programmers are free to write applications that run on it outside of Steam. In this case, Avindair has put his program online; simply download it and run the executable with SteamVR in the background.

A view from inside the shuttle in the "Constitution Class Experience" looking at a NX class starship.
In addition to the Constitution class starships, an NX-class makes an appearance.

If you have ever been a Star Trek fan, you need to give this simulation a try. My video captures the experience to some extent, but you don’t really get just how cool it is to see these starships up close until you’re flying over the saucer section upside-down, catching the utility lights as they sweep across the registry. It really is breathtaking.

For more info, check out Avindair’s most recent post on Reddit. With more improvements in the works, including negotiating a landing through a starship battle, as well as a spin-off rescue shuttle mission, you should probably follow him on Twitter too. If you’re interested in his thoughts on why and how he made this simulation, check out his most recent video. I love what he’s done so far, and I’m looking forward to what he comes up with next!

Mike is a geek-of-all-trades in the Royal Canadian Air Force with particular interests in science, programming, and video gaming, and is now a VR proselytizer. Follow him for game reviews, dev interviews, PAX coverage, and everything VR. His son and daughter share a number of his passions, and his wife lovingly encourages them all.