Virtual reality (VR) already has its selected champions amongst the community. They consist of indie sensations that have supported the technology from day one, and larger studios that have been brave enough to tackle the challenges of VR development long before a consumer product is in place. But while fans may praise the likes of Frontier Developments and E McNeill for their early work with the tech, one name is almost criminally always forgotten; Gaijin Entertainment.
The Moscow-based team has always been a keen supporter of new technologies; its popular World War 2-era online combat title, War Thunder, supported TrackIR head-tracking and stereoscopic 3D, as well as being one of the first titles to launch on PlayStation 4 back in 2013. That’s made for a smooth transition to VR, as War Thunder currently supports the Oculus Rift head-mounted display (HMD) on PC and integration for the Project Morpheus HMD on PlayStation 4 is on the way. But, despite being one of the few developers with an AAA VR videogame already on the market, Gaijin Entertainment is a name rarely brought up on the various subreddits and Oculus forums that populate the internet.
And that’s a real shame, because this is a fascinating brain to pick when it comes to VR.
Take CEO Anton Yudintsev, for example. This is a man with grand ambitions for VR technology within the videogame sector, predicting the birth of entire new genres. But, unlike other developers, here’s someone that seems is just as excited about VR outside the world of play. In fact, Yudintsev is equally as enthusiastic about its use in the workplace.
“Initially [VR] will be like a toy, not a real software revolution, for example,” Yudintsev tells VRFocus in a chat that’s sandwiched between the bustling booths of Gamescom 2015. “But, sooner or later, there will be some utility apps and software, some creativity software. It’s already starting to appear but it’s yet to be proven useful. But we’ll see it eventually and that means people will buy that generation of virtual reality.”
It’s well known that the first consumer Oculus Rift will be far from the last, and no doubt SteamVR will continue to be integrated across HMDs far superior to the HTC Vive. It’s these future kits that Yudintsev believes are necessary for VR to catch on and make some truly revolutionary changes: “And as soon as we get twice bigger framerates and twice bigger resolutions and twice bigger persistency and improved tracking, both positional and rotational, we’ll be able to replace – well let’s say we get four times the resolution, we’ll be able to replace real monitors and real TVs in your living room with a virtual one.
“And that’s really, really a huge change. That means that for a single person – and most hardcore gamers play alone – for a single person there won’t be need to play anywhere else other than virtual reality because as a worst case scenario you can just put a TV in front of you and play on a virtual TV instead of a real TV.”
Getting down to the core of it, however, the CEO identifies three main areas that he expects VR to have a big impact; communications, traveling and information processing.
The former is something that strikes a particular chord for Yudintsev: “There’s so many—Skype, Whatsapp, everything. It’s not only messenger but also a platform and it’s not good enough,” he confidently states. “It cannot replace the real communication with people. And even real communication with people sucks. You cannot put all of your family in one room, you need to arrange meetings all the time, even if they are in different rooms. So real communication is not good enough but messengers are even worse than that communication. Some would say it’s better because they can instantly approach someone but you cannot replace the real communication.”
But VR, in this developer’s mind, could. We’re already seeing the first glimpses of this; Oculus VR’s Toybox demo for the Oculus Rift and Oculus Touch controllers offer just a taste of what VR communication can be like, with player-controlled avatars mirroring movements that are so natural in appearance that you can’t help but respond to them as you would in real life. The immediacy and intimacy of this new way of connecting is a huge breakthrough, but it also means big things for traveling for work.
“So the same goes for the need to travel and traffic jams and we wake up in the morning and we need to go to work by car or by train,” Yudintsev continues. “It’s not particularly reasonable for IT developers. It doesn’t make much sense to go to the office. The only reason is to communicate with people and, again, that means that there’s a potential of huge change in the productivity. Not even in gaming productivity.”
Information processing, then? That seems to be the area that Yudintsev is most excited about, noting that humans are currently “not very good” with 3D information and multitasking. VR could be the key to solving this, giving users a full 360 degree world from which to operate within, rather than a flat 2D monitor that, the developer believes, is starting to become archaic.
“We think in 2D,” he explains. “So a surgeon drawing on something on a whiteboard is not as good as looking at a 3D illustration. And the only way you can really do a good 3D illustration is to have virtual reality as showing something 3D on a 2D monitor is almost the same as showing a 2D illustration. It can be even worse. So virtual reality, again not the current generation of virtual reality but sooner or later, can improve productivity and creativity a lot.”
But, as we all know, there are elements that are still holding VR back. In Yudintsev’s eyes, input is still a major issue for productivity within VR, even with recent advances such as Oculus Touch and the SteamVR controllers.
“Let’s say you create virtual reality with a world of Skype boxes and browsers,” the CEO says, setting the scene. “A good keyboard should be somewhere and either you should see it in virtual reality, which is not right now possible because the resolution’s not good enough, even if you locate it correctly in a virtual space. Some people can type blindly but most of them don’t. A virtual keyboard doesn’t give you feedback, which is important. There’s no good answer at the moment. It’s going to be something new,” he even references the advent of a Matrix-like brain plug for such solutions, though admits this is some way off.
“Touch screens once were not good enough for typing because there was no feedback. Right now people are typing more on touch screens than keyboards. So maybe it’s going to be solved somehow. We’re going to see. It’s not that easy to predict but I think that’s one of the next challenges in virtual reality, maybe the biggest challenge.”
Predicting this bold future for VR is all very well, but where does Gaijin Entertainment itself fit into all of that? “We in Gaijin explore these opportunities,” Yudintsev confirms. “We have made some productivity apps for VR but not published or released them. There’s no virtual reality device that can handle them, basically, so we cannot release them. Some of our devices look like a Kinect attached to your head with an Oculus Rift and a laptop on your backpack. It’s not plausible, it’s a prototype just to make some experiences.”
But while these experiments are ongoing, VR’s infancy is preventing the studio from fully committing to them as releasable products. In fact, there’s an underlying hope that someone may even beat them to it for all our sake’s. “So I cannot tell you our exact plans because there are a lot of things going on and maybe none of them will be on the market ever and maybe all of them will be. I cannot tell because it’s a really early stage. What I hope people, even if not in Gaijin, some people will make enough things out of even current generation of virtual reality and mixed reality devices.
This is a far flung future, however. VR may nearly be here but Yudintsev knows that the hardware capable of handling what we speaks of isn’t. But that also isn’t stopping him from getting looking forward to what’s to come: “All-in-all I think the world is changing in that area and it’s going to be the biggest change in the gaming and in, well, everything basically. Bigger than, I don’t know, smartphone production, this will be next.”
And let’s not forget that Gaijin Entertainment is indeed first and foremost a videogame development studio. Yudintsev certainly isn’t: “VR is, for me, providing a better gameplay experience, which is a good thing.”