There’s a difference between having an admiration for something and loving it. A big and important difference; and for those that have moved from the first state to the second its often difficult to pinpoint the moment the transition occurred. For Kristoffer Benjaminsson, CTO and Co-Founder of recently founded virtual reality (VR) games studio Fast Travel Games he knows the moment. And that is today’s entry to VR Moments.
I’ve had an interest in VR for a very long time, and in the beginning I was happy to try on any VR- device I came across. Unfortunately, I quickly realized that most, if not all, turned out to be flickering headache machines rather than devices transporting me to new worlds as I’d hoped. With every new demo, my scepticism increased, and I began to question whether the next new headset would even be worth trying.
Until one glorious day, the previous hope that I’d once had for VR was restored.
This article is the story of three jaw-dropping moments that led to my love for VR and how I eventually chose to be part of co-founding a VR game studio.
The story begins in 2013. I was working at EA/Frostbite, and our team received an invite to see a demo of the new Oculus VR headset, which had just recently had a successful Kickstarter campaign. Sceptical as I was, convinced that I was going to see yet another flickering machine, I went anyway since the demo was conveniently in our office. The presentation was interesting, and I liked what I heard around cheap mobile components since I was working with the mobile Frostbite project, but I was still sceptical that the actual demo would be impressive.
As I waited for my turn and listened to the people before me go “wow” and exclaim “this is awesome,” I actually started to get a bit excited. When it was my turn, I sat down, put on the headset and got an intro to what I was about to see.
When the screen turned on, my jaw dropped. I was inside a mech looking out. Not looking at a screen showing a first person view, I WAS INSIDE A MECH! I can still remember that giggly happy feeling and the marvel that my brain bought the illusion. Having been previously jaded in the past by disappointing VR tools, I had been so wrong to assume the same out of this newer technology, and I was so happy I had taken the demo. Despite all the flaws in the early technology, I could easily envision what future versions could bring: an immersion to games that traditional screens cannot deliver.
After the demo,my colleague – who was equally thrilled – and I ran over to our computers and insta-booked an Oculus DK1. When the kits were delivered, the next thrill of taking worlds you’ve created and being able to transport myself into them was realized. I felt like Atrius in the Myst books.
Even though the technology was cool, I (unfortunately) discovered that I was very sensitive to motion sickness. Since I got sick practically every time on put on the device, I decided to take a break, and the DK1 ended up in its box in the closet.
Time passed and the DK2 made its way on to the scene. However, I was fully focused on mobile at the time at work and made the mistake of thinking the DK2 wouldn’t be a huge improvement over the DK1. And considering my DK1 was still collecting dust, I didn’t order a DK2. I decided to wait for a future kit instead. The result was that I slipped even further away from experimenting with VR at home.
Time passed again as it does, and one day I heard that Oculus, now acquired by Facebook, is coming to visit our office once again. This time with their new kit: Crescent Bay. After waiting in a long demo line yet again, was in for jaw drop number two!
If the first demo was awesome, stepping into the Showdown demo was mind boggling! I couldn’t believe the increase in resolution and the accuracy of the positional tracking, allowing me to dodge bullets Matrix-style. And most importantly for me: I felt no motion sickness whatsoever! I knew that was a huge step for me, and just as with the DK1, I was again dying to buy a kit. Too bad the Crescent Bay wasn’t for sale and the DK2 was sold out, but even though I couldn’t get my hands on one,at least now I knew how good the technology could be.
At least so I thought.
One day the HTC Vive devkit shows up in the office. One of the few demo options we had was Portal, and since that is one of my absolute favorite games, I jumped at the opportunity to do that demo. Time for jaw drop number three!
OMG OMG OMG! I’m inside Portal. I’m moving physically inside VR. I’m interacting with my hands in VR!
I forget about the real world until I try to walk beyond the boundaries of the play area, and the headset cable reminds me I’m tethered to a computer. It was by far the best VR demo I had experienced at the time. I was particularly impressed with being able to interact with my hands as it took the experience to a new level. I can still remember the the feeling of disappointment when I removed the headset and found myself back in the real world.
And this was the true turning point for me. The thought of being able to transport players fully immersed into worlds I’ve created and having them forget they are in a virtual world is what I was meant to do. And so I set out to make virtual reality my reality, and to build awesome VR gameplay experiences!
Filled with excitement, good timing and a bit of luck, a number of months later I found myself co-founding a VR games studio in Stockholm, because there is no doubt in my mind that VR will take off and eventually become mainstream. At what pace and on what platforms and devices is a separate discussion. Many of the factors controlling this are at stake right now as commercial VR has just begun and I can’t wait to see what VR will be in the future. But, this is where much of the excitement resides — discovering which best practices will spur VR’s evolution. Will it be mastering the integration of social within VR? Or, will storytelling spawn greater retention and interest overall? And for me, answering these questions and being a part of the VR journey from the start, releasing games that hopefully have an impact on the medium, is very important. And, what better way than through a small independent studio designed from the ground up to create games for VR!
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