Well, we did it. We all managed to survive the first part of this fortnight of virtual reality (VR) mayhem and Oculus Connect is over for another year. Being the VR industry, which apparently moves at the speed of light, we’ve got to forget about all that now and move on rapidly to the next event on our calendar: PlayStation VR’s launch. A major topic indeed.
For once I actually have a number of topics I could write about which is something of a first for me on VR vs. I have however talked about PlayStation VR extensively in recent months and precious little has changed to alter my thoughts on the matter. We will get onto those other items soon but for this week I would like to touch on last week’s predictions/suggestions/hopes that I voiced. (Be sure to check out our ‘Best of PlayStation VR Launch’ series incidentally.)
Oculus Comes Out Swinging
At Oculus Connect 3 (OC3) I challenged Oculus to at the very least fight, and they needed to. Badly. Really badly. Let’s not forget that prior to OC3 the company was in a bit of a mess internally and, as I said, a perceived third to a company that hadn’t ever released their product yet.
Continuing my boxing analogy of the last fortnight whilst Oculus have been a VR fan’s favourite punching bag what we got after a month which saw them get knocked for a loop was a Rocky-style comeback. (“I ain’t goin’ down no more!”) Oculus addressed things, sometimes indirectly but tactfully and sometimes pretty directly indeed. There was a slight feeling of defiance during the opening. ‘Look at what we’ve done. Look at what we’re doing. We’re doing more – and we’re doing this, and this and this. Can you imagine this? It’s here today. We’re taking you to this future and that’s the end of the matter!’. They almost dared the VR community to disagree. Challenged everyone to say something bad about what they shown.
Room scale? – Oculus Rift can do it thank you very much.
VR is too expensive? – A VR spec PC is now available for $499 and we’re continuing to work with more and more partners to make it cheaper. “PC VR is more afordable than ever.”
Games are all that matters? – Well here’s what we’re doing with VR and education.
VR needs investment? – We’ve put in $250 million and we’re doubling that.
Publishing is hard – We’ll pay the fees if you use Unreal Engine 4.
Wires suck? – We agree. Let’s do something about that.
Software and programming needs to be better – Here’s how we’re making it better.
They were even very honest, brutally so. John Carmack at one point noting VR was “coasting on novelty” and needed to do more. A wince inducing statement of honesty and also of intent.
So. Content? Check.
There was plenty of content announced during the event. New media partnerships, including a potentially juicy one with Disney. New games, like Epic’ Bullet Train follow-up Robo Recall and Arktika.1 that look really good – although the latter is a bit disappointing judging by Kevin Joyce’s hands-on, which is a bit of a bummer. Games from ‘Oculus Studios’ were also included, which was good to see.
Santa Cruz (You’re Not That Far)
I did mention that I wanted to see a hint at the future, a CV2, but not the future in practice. Well move aside Crescent Bay, there’s a new prototype in town and it’s names is the Santa Cruz. We got a video package and members of the press got a hands-on with the tech which showed off a MacGyver’d Oculus Rift as a standalone headset. We might not have gotten the console connection, the ‘universal VR platform’ as I wanted. But Oculus did set its brand out to be ‘VR for All’.
You can read our hands-on with the Santa Cruz here.
Punished Palmer, Zuckerberg Rising
Please mentally insert a picture of an eye-patch wearing Palmer Luckey here for the purposes of subtitle continuity.
Where was Palmer Luckey? At home. Exactly where he needed to be for Oculus this time around. As Jason Rubin later addressed Luckey didn’t want to be a distraction and he surely would have been. It still took people by surprise and that he was not in any video packages either was surprising as well. All of this set the stage for someone to step up as the person to do the demonstrations live, but I didn’t think it would be Mark Zuckerberg. Someone who’s had his own share of issues in the last couple of months. However Zuckerberg took to the stage and whilst he hammered the idea that VR is the ‘new computing platform’ into the ground so hard I’m surprised it didn’t annihilate half the pipes under the building he was an engaging presence on stage. The demonstrations he did were really good and showed off some mind bending uses of VR technology.
In fact let me just write this down so we’re all clear:
Mark Zuckerberg, whilst in VR as an avatar, took a video call (as his avatar) with his wife (who was not an avatar) and they then proceeded to take a selfie of the two of them ‘together’ in their home with their dog who was a part of the 360 degree footage of their home that Zuckerberg was in… and then he posted it to Facebook from within the same app.
That’s just… crazy.
He did a really good job at showing just how amazing the technology we’re all using is, emphasised Facebook’s commitment to making VR the best it can be and came across as relatable and sincere in his excitement of it all.
I also mentioned it was time to start shining the spotlight a bit more wisely. Start making some other ‘faces’ of the company. We got more Iribe and John Carmack had his keynote, which I quickly gave up trying to take notes for. Dear God, does the man even breathe? You’d need to create a shorthand for your shorthand. Carmack did howver provide my favorite moment at OC3 by telling people who are snobbish about 360 video not being “true VR” to essentially get off their high horse and reminding everyone just how much that’s viewed compared to everyone else.
Here’s an appropriate internet friendly summary:
And here’s my immediate reaction:
WOOO! TELL IT LIKE IT IS CARMACK! #360video
— Kevin Eva (@thekevineva) October 7, 2016
(You can now follow me on Twitter and tell me what a terrible person I am.)
One person I forgot to mention last week, and who wasn’t even mentioned to me in the discussions I had in the run up to OC3 was Michael Abrash. We see so much of Luckey, Carmack, Iribe and Zuckerberg we tend to forget about Abrash. Which based on his performance at OC3 is a real shame. I’ve mentioned many times on here that I’m not the most technical person and whilst Carmack in full technobabble flow had my brains dribbling out of my ears by the end of it Abrash was relatable, commanded the stage (despite being ill) and was everything you could ask of making how VR works entertaining and understandable.
I was in the big Reddit discussion thread during the keynote and noted a lot of praise for his performance. One member complained Abrash wasn’t “hardcore” enough as a programmer anymore for them to care what he said. (What does that even mean??) Regardless of what they thought let’s hear more regularly from Abrash in the future please Oculus. I was genuinely entertained and informed by his delivery.
And deliver Oculus did.
Price details (though no across the board realignment as I wanted), dates, info, even things that might have passed you by in the flurry of news. Things like Oculus opening up aspects the headset design so people can design custom additions. The only way Oculus could have staked a louder claim for reestablishing themselves as the leaders of VR’s new age would have been if Iribe marched on stage with an Oculus flag jammed it into the floor and just yelled at everyone. Looking back I’m almost surprised he didn’t. Oculus didn’t ask people to acknowledge what they were doing, they straight up demanded it.
Next stop: the future, and Oculus are going to drag you there by the lapels.