Virtual Insanity at QuakeCon

I should have posted this sooner, but it’s been a little crazy. It was a blast getting up on the stage with John and Palmer and talking about VR, but it was more as well. As I said during the panel, it felt like this might be one of those seminal moments when the world changes, the point at which a new technology that will change our lives started down the runway for takeoff. Of course, it’s entirely possible that that won’t happen, but it feels like the pieces are falling into place: affordable, wide-field-of-view, lightweight HMDs that can deliver a great experience; inexpensive tracking (cameras, gyros, accelerometers, magnetometers); and, critically, an existing software ecosystem – first-person shooters – that can readily move to VR (although that’s just a start; many other experiences more uniquely suited to VR will emerge once VR is established as a viable consumer technology). VR can only take off if all three pieces are working well, and we’re getting close on all three fronts. I don’t think we’re quite there yet, but the remaining issues seem solvable with time and attention, and once they’re solved, we may be off on a long, transformative journey. Where that ends, I have no idea, but I’m looking forward to the ride – and I think it might have started at QuakeCon.

23 Responses to Virtual Insanity at QuakeCon

  1. Cheeseness says:

    and, critically, an existing software ecosystem – first-person shooters – that can readily move to VR (although that’s just a start; many other experiences more uniquely suited to VR will emerge once VR is established as a viable consumer technology)

    Do you think that first person shooters specifically will be the genre that helps HMDs get a foothold? My first HMD/headtracking experience was with Descent 2, and I can’t imagine any non-6DOF FPS coming close to that.

    Flight sims seem like the best match to me (so far as existing genres/interfaces go). In some ways I’m hopeful that there are enough developers who feel the same – flight sims seem to have been awfully neglected over the past decade.

    Chese

  2. Tuco says:

    Everyone keeps pointing at first-person shooters as the perfect gaming field to test VR, and yet I would argue that flight/space simulators, removing the necessity to handle leg movements, would be a better genre in many ways, at least in the infancy of this tech.

    • MAbrash says:

      Could well be. Obviously I tend to think of FPSes because that’s what I’ve worked on. Any particular ones that you think would be particularly well suited to VR?

      • MAbrash says:

        Oh, one other thought: I’d be concerned about simulator sickness with flight/space sims, given the huge discrepancy between the visual and haptic/positional feedback. At least some simulator sickness seems to stem from mismatch between VOR (effectively your built-in IMU) and OKR (vision-based orientation and position), and there’s a big mismatch there with flight/space sims. Of course, there’s also a mismatch in first person shooters – simulator sickness will be one of the key things to figure out in order for VR to take off.

        • Cheeseness says:

          Hmm, nausea isn’t something I’d really put much thought into. I’m guessing that though HMDs would probably be more likely to give people (or people already prone to motion sickness?) trouble, it might be as “overcomeable” as similar issues with traditional monitors seem to be. For example, I recall a lot of people reporting having problems with nausea when Portal came out, but the sequel didn’t seem to be accompanied by similar issues (in spite of its broader player base).

          I’m assuming that people generally “got used to” the kind of movement that Portal’s gameplay provides, but I’m also keen to know if you guys did specific work to try to counter that?

          • MAbrash says:

            I don’t know whether anything was done to counter motion sickness with Portal 2.

            With HMDs, I’ve heard that people acclimate and get less motion sickness over time, and I’ve heard that they sensitize and get worse. Personally, I’m prone to motion sickness; when we were developing Quake, I was motion sick every day – and it didn’t get better with time. So I guess I’ll be a good data point for HMDs :)

          • Cheeseness says:

            Personally, I’m prone to motion sickness; when we were developing Quake, I was motion sick every day – and it didn’t get better with time. So I guess I’ll be a good data point for HMDs :)

            Fascinaging :D
            Do you feel that this has hindered you or caused you to become more driven with regards to chasing/developing renderers for simulated environments, etc.?

          • MAbrash says:

            I don’t think it’s really had any effect. Other than making me feel motion sick, that is.

      • Tuco says:

        Sorry, i never realized that my cooment was published or read the reply until now.
        Well, any particular one, you ask… I would probably see a X-Wing/Tie Fighter clone as a killer application that would sell me one of these VR prototypes in a heartbeat.

    • Mark says:

      Any first-person game where you spend most of the time moving forward can be easily adapted. No mention of racing games yet but those have been pretty common in arcades for a long time.

      When you consider that VR doesn’t necessarily have to be used to provide a more immersive experience it opens up a number of other genres as well. RTS’s or top-down action games would benefit from a much larger, flexible field of view. Puzzle games could add all sorts of new mechanics not previously possible.

      On the other hand, 3rd person action games I think will be the most challenging. For example it might be akward when looking behind your character or when covering behind some boxes.

  3. Caleb says:

    The gaming potential is apparent, but the passing comment Carmack made about reducing eye strain was actually more exciting to me, because it made me realize the potential for a VR system as a replacement for multi-monitor setups, particularly for software developmeng. The idea of replacing 4 monitors with a single VR headset appeals to me mightily. I could save a considerable amount of physical space, and there’s lots of interesting possibilities for windows management. For instance, it seems quite possible to determine window focus based on head movement.

    Not a great option for people who hunt-and-peck, though.

    • MAbrash says:

      I agree; in fact, if you check, you’ll find that I made more than a passing comment. However, this is one of those things that’s not in the immediate future. In order to do a virtual screen that’s viewable at any angle, and do it well enough so that you’d rather use it than real monitors, it has to have a lot of resolution – considerably more than the monitor. And right now, HMD resolutions are lower than your monitor’s. So it’ll be a while. Nonetheless, I expect it to happen eventually, and when it does, it will be a very productive working environment – one I badly want for myself.

      In fact, this is one of the reasons I came to the conclusion that VR was important in and of itself, not just as a step on the way to AR. When you have the magic do-everything AR glasses, say 20 years in the future, you’ll be able to variably opaque them. And the majority of the time, you’ll make them fully or nearly fully opaque, because the things you do with with majority of your time – program, search, browse, watch TV, watch a movie, Skype – are really VR activities, and will rarely benefit from true AR. AR will be more transformative, I think, in terms of how it changes your life, but VR will be how you spend more of your time. So both sorts of experiences are important, and VR hardware and experiences are closer to being product-ready.

      • Wai Ho says:

        VR as personal display technology is certainly interesting, especially considering that modern ARM platforms can easily drive such displays (and may have GPUs that can help with the unwarping). Vuzix and other consumer HMD manufacturers have been pushing mobile phone VR displays but the wide angle aspect of Oculus and future HMDs could make everything work for games and video chat with wide-angle cameras (or catadioptric camera fixtures).

  4. STRESS says:

    Sorry to be the negative voice in this euphoria post. But I highly doubt this is going to take off. Experience tells me it won’t. Simply because there is no great interest in VR from a larger audience outside a small “elite” group. Just go back to 1997/1998 where the last time VR came up in the gaming world and yes it was still the early days in first person shooters. Or another example should I mention Nintendo’s Virtual Boy (a total disaster). There simply was and if you listen to a lot of gamers there simply still is no consumer interest in this type of technology. It is too bulky, glumsy and doesn’t add much to the game.

    You could bring up and say okay maybe the technology wasn’t ready yet back then. Sure that is partially right but having looked at the videos from John Carmack showing up his latest prototype honestly I can’t see things having progressed that much to early HMDs back in the 90s of last century. Definitely resolution hasn’t increased much. Response time looks still the same. What is more concerning though is that everyone in the “serious” VR research field has long moved away from HMD simply because they are lousy in terms of giving a good immersive impression without all the major drawbacks. Projector based system with stereo goggles are the norm there. That should make you think!

    • MAbrash says:

      Of course you could be right. On the other hand, your reference to Virtual Boy and the like would be kind of like saying iPhone wouldn’t take off because Newton had bombed. Response times are in fact better now, and costs are vastly lower. So you could be right – or you could be wrong. I’m looking forward to finding out which :)

      • STRESS says:

        I see your points. But considering that slightly after the Newton there was a whole series of successful PDAs launched by other companies before the iPhone even was considered by Apple I am not sure if that comparison holds up very well. While on the VR front I can’t even see one successful mass market product since roughly 25 years of VR research. But I am happy to hear otherwise.

        The reason is down to the fact there is a larger barrier when it comes to wearing goggle-type devices. The majority of people don’t even like them that much for stereoscopic displays like TV and cinema. (As you can see from many 3D TV surveys). What makes you think they are likely to accept an even chunkier, heavier wearable device?

        • MAbrash says:

          The majority of people don’t even play games, but there’s still a healthy game market, so I don’t think that’s the right criterion. They’ll wear HMDs if HMDs provide enough value to them, something that it’s pretty arguable 3D TV and movies don’t do. Certainly it’s a good question whether HMDs will in fact provide enough value, and once they exist it comes down to what software does with the new capabilities – and that’s what I most interested in finding out.

          • STRESS says:

            My guts feeling is and from my personal experience HMD really don’t add much. As it doesn’t add too much more on top than stereoscopic vision already does. While at least on the stereoscopic consumer devices there is a clear path to non wearable solution.

  5. mday says:

    I loved your articles back in Game Developer on 3D texture mapping. I still have those magazines.

    I was wondering about this hardware research your company is doing. If you guys have access to materials that are generally hard to get:
    - inks for displays and circuits ( like the Dupont ones )
    - <10 micron retro reflective glass beads
    - other crazy cool stuff
    would you ever consider selling samples at prices an individual could afford ?

    I am looking at this from a PR perspective, you maybe cultivating a slightly different demographic following by doing this. It show you are innovators by helping people innovate, and potential to make a little money at the same time. More important, maybe adding to the the overall mystique and credibility of the company. Not that it needs it.

    • MAbrash says:

      I loved them too – but Chris Hecker wrote them :) They were definitely the gold standard of texture mapping; every 5 years or so I refer back to them again, and they’re as crystal-clear as ever.

      Selling hardware samples just isn’t in our line of business, and would come with complications (sales tax, order tracking, and inventory management, for example). I would think that these days most things could be purchased on the Internet; I’m surprised to find that isn’t the case.

  6. Any stance about Steve Mann’s assault by Mc Donald’s employees for wearing his cyborg glasses? http://eyetap.blogspot.it/2012/07/physical-assault-by-mcdonalds-for.html

    I think this would be a good time to help him have justice, otherwise it would be kind of pointless to press for technologically advances, if people actually wearing them can be abused at will…

  7. Lithos says:

    Why is it when everyone mentions VR, they only talk about HMDs?

    Why have we abandon the sort of 3D, HRTF-based audio that CMSS-3D and Aureal used to give us, instead focusing on cruder Dolby-like multispeaker setups?

    It’s funny, we’ve had the sort of technology for decades in audio decades – the audio equivalent of all this wearable 3D HMD visuals stuff that is still but a pipe dream, yet game companies have willingly reneged on it and neutered it. Actually, a lot of gaming sound has taken a step backwards, from the gamer (as opposed to the developer) side of things.

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