Boise’s Historic Natatorium Goes Live in VR

Several months ago we told you about a project IVRC member Gordon Roberts was working on to bring Boise’s historic Natatorium to life in VR. Well, the finished project is now live on the Steam store here for HTC Vive. The experience takes the user on a twenty minute narrated tour through the facilities as they once appeared and is free to download.

The Boise Natatorium and White City Amusement Park were located on Warm Springs Avenue in Boise where the current Natatorium is located. The Natatorium (1892-1934) was a landmark health and bathing resort. In its prime it was called the Taj Mahal of the west and was the 2nd largest pool (125 ft) in the US and largest geothermal heated pool in the world. It boasted a dance hall, dining hall, bar, lounges plus billiard an card rooms. In 1934 the building was torn down after years of steam from the hot water weakened the wooden beams. The White City Amusement Park was built in 1910 right next to the Natatorium and featured a roller coaster, dance pavilion, band stand, joy wheel, fun house, shooting gallery, mini railway, moving picture theater and a carousel. It was torn down in 1940.

We asked Roberts for a little more information on the project and here’s what he had to say:

What inspired you to take on this project?
Roberts: I was at the Owyhee Tavern having dinner with friends and noticed a photo on the wall of a roller coaster in front of the old Natatorium. I couldn't believe it was Boise. I said to myself, I would love to be able to visit that place.

How long did it take you to complete the project?
Roberts: 6 months and about 400 hours of work

What was the biggest challenge you faced?
Roberts: Photos were rare back in 1892 and they were only taken of important events and places. All most no photos of small rooms, kitchens, bathrooms, etc were taken. With no blueprints I had to make educated guesses on about 30% of the interior layout.

Was there anything that surprised you while completing this project?
Today's game engines cannot handle large buildings in full 3d detail. Currently you need to be more of an artist than an engineer to get things to look great. Game artists have learned many tricks to get things to look right. Many of these tricks don't work for VR where the camera views are unlimited.

Anything else you'd like to share or advice to someone looking to get into creating VR experiences?
Roberts: I started with the intent to recreate a 10 acre park with many buildings and as high of detail as I had time to create. If I started over today, I would create 3-4 versions of each building with different levels of details(interior only high detail, interior only low detail, exterior high detail, exterior low detail, etc). I would also break the large buildings down into several pieces.

We were so excited to hear that Roberts was taking this project on and what a treat to see it completed. Make sure you check out this piece of Idaho’s history!

Gordon Roberts can be reached via LinkedIn.

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