Experience climbing Everest without supplemental oxygen in virtual reality

Melissa Arnot is an American mountaineer, and one of Microsoft’s people of action. She’s climbed Mount Everest 6 times, and in May 2016, she became the first American woman to successfully summit the world’s highest peak without supplemental oxygen.

Microsoft featured Melissa and her inspiring story in the Surface Pro 4 launch campaign. We collaborated with Microsoft to create Breathless, a VR experience for the campaign, which uses real-time 3D animation, biometric tracking and binaural audio to immerse you in Melissa’s world.

Experience Melissa's Story

Breathless VR brings Melissa’s story to life, putting you in the shoes of a mountaineer attempting to summit Mount Everest without supplemental oxygen.

The story is narrated by the expedition leader, who guides you on your ascent and talks you though the different stages on the mountain. Your journey begins at Basecamp for a predawn visit to the medical tent to get your heart rate checked before setting off. The next stop is Icefall, crossing a treacherous glacial ravine over an icy ladder. At Camp 2, a storm hits and fatigue sets in, and breathing becomes difficult. Then finally you’re above the clouds on Hillary Step approaching the summit.

The VR expedition lasts 8 minutes and provides a glimpse into the emotional and physical challenges of climbing at altitude. It was created in Unity for smartphones with a companion tablet app for biometric tracking.

Biometric Tracking

A tracking HUD features at the end of each stage displaying biometric data and your position on the mountain. Heart rate is monitored via a wearable Microsoft Band, and a ‘Focus Level’ score is calculated from the smartphone accelerometer activity. As the ascent progresses the display’s altimeter rises and the oxygen levels decrease. Depending on the results, your expedition leader advises on making adjustments to your breathing rate, and fine-tuning your awareness to watch out for the bad weather front.

We created male and female versions of the HUD, which are selected in the set-up preferences.

Surface App Screens

Binaural Audio

The VR experience was intensified by the use of binaural audio, immersing you in 3D sound as you move your head around the scene. The outdoor sound elements were recorded on location in Snowdonia National Park by fellow collaborators SoundNode.

A Microsoft creative collaboration with Radio Design, Lightfield Studio, Really Interactive and SoundNode.