Michael Gschwandtner, creator of VRWorkout, is focused on building community and creating an experience that appeals to consumers who can benefit from a regular fitness routine. VRWorkout uses hand tracking so it’s possible exercise in VR without touch controllers and Gschwandtner has added many features for players who might find traditional fitness routines or VR games inaccessible.
Like many others who grew up in the 1980s and 90s, Gschwandtner became fascinated with the possibilities of game development after receiving his first Commodore 64 as a child. This interest continued into his teens, when he was fascinated with Doom style 2.5D engines, but rather than pursue game development at that time, he pursued an education in classical computer science.
A native of Vöcklabruck, Austria, Gschwandtner moved to Vienna in 2013 when he received a job as a Junior Scientist at the Austrian Institute of Technology (AIT). A year or so later he tried Durovis Dive, a VR headset without a processor or any other electronic components. It was similar to the concept of Google Cardboard and you simply inserted your smartphone for a VR experience.
It was underwhelming, but Gschwandtner remained interested in the technology and he pre-ordered a Vive following HTC’s Mobile World Congress in March 2015. Development kits were sent late that summer and access to the headset provided him an opportunity for more thorough contact with VR, but he found set up of the hardware to be cumbersome.
Finally in mid-2019, following the May release of the Oculus Quest, Gschwandtner began to discover his own path in the industry.
“A person can build something tangible,” he explained when asked why he VR game development appealed to him. “Even if we are not at an immersion level that would actually let us feel the objects, we created something that feels much more real than viewing through some 2D window into your creation.”
“It’s kind of like 3D printing,” he elaborated, “You can be a really good artist and print wonderful pictures, but being able to design and then create a physical object out of thin air is a completely different thing. … It’s basically magic.”
With his Oculus Quest, Gschwandtner was playing games like Box VR, Creed Rise to Glory, and a bit of Pistol Whip for fitness. Although he says it felt really great and he tried to engage as many muscles as possible, his body adjusted to the workouts and he became less motivated.
“I am someone who regularly starts and subsequently ends his exercise streaks,” he stated, explaining that self-awareness and the need to stay physically fit keeps him motivated so he’ll start an activity such as running, calisthenics, swimming, etc., only to feel like it has become a chore after a few weeks.
During this time, Gschwandtner began to think about other exercises that could be done in VR aside from the most common ones that involved punching, shooting, boxing, etc.
His first project involved push-ups, but that proved to be too cumbersome with the controllers. In September 2019, Oculus introduced something that would solve this problem and once again set a path for Gschwandtner.
At Oculus Connect 6, Facebook’s annual AR/VR event (changed to Facebook Connect in 2020), Oculus announced that hand tracking would be introduced in early 2020. At that time hand tracking could be seen as a natural evolution of the available technology and VR was becoming more accessible while consumers were steadily becoming more aware of immersive technology. It was fantastic, but optional.
Of course no one knew a pandemic would begin to ravage the earth only a few months later and over the course of the next year people would be scrambling to find ways to collaborate on work projects from home, educate children, provide therapy for patients, and even connect with loved ones as the world went into social isolation.
Business and school closings not only affected our ability to work and learn, but there was an impact on access to normal fitness and social activities.
“The lockdowns and stay at home orders convinced me that there is a need for people to have as many exercise options at home as possible,” stated Gschwandtner, who had a bit of luck because he had been using GodotEngine for development and it was one of the first to support hand tracking. “Then the whole thing started to develop a life on its own and started growing.”
From the beginning, Gschwandtner says his goal was to build a community where people who have a difficult time sticking to an exercise routine could come for support that would encourage them to use the game for fitness. This meant focusing on individual needs of users.
VRWorkout released on July 5, 2020 as a fitness rhythm game with full body engagement that enabled users to transform their living room into a personal gym. The game includes jumping, squatting, pushups, side planks, crunches, running, burpees, and sprinting.
“The first thing that came to light [in the VRWorkout community] was that some players were unable to do the deep squats,” states Gschwandtner, who then added a “knee saver option to make the squats less deep.”
He then became aware that a player with Parkinson’s wasn’t able to switch positions quickly enough so he added an “easy transition” option that increases the amount of time a player has to move into a different position.
VRWorkout also accommodates players with color-blindness, he’s trying to determine how to make it possible for someone in a wheelchair to use the game, and he recently saw a message from a player who was wondering why games aren’t adding the output of continuous glucose monitors (CGMs). Like anyone who struggles with hypoglycemia from diabetes or other issues, he has to be sure his glucose level doesn’t drop too low during exercise.
Recently Gschwandtner joined developers Robert Bragg of RealFit VR and Robert Collins of VZFit to chat about accessibility options in their games as well as how people are using their games for health and wellness.
“I want people to use the game to improve their health and not harm it, which is why I thought it would be important to not leave behind people with problems.” states Gschwandtner, who points out that developers of paid apps must focus on an overall target audience, but he can cater more to accessibility requests of individual players. “My goal is to build a great community around the game so I want the players to have all the options to use the game in the best way possible.”
It’s impressive that Gschwandtner develops this game in his spare time. The 39-year-old software developer works for a vacation rental company, spends time with his family and pets, and recently began learning music theory basics.
Connect with the Community
VRWorkout is available on Steam or through the Quest App Lab.
We encourage you to download this excellent fitness game and engage with the community.