Facebook acquires Oculus. Oculus acquires Michael Abrash. It’s the circle of virtual life.
Just days after Facebook purchased Oculus VR for its groundbreaking Oculus Rift virtual-reality headset, the startup picked up one of the biggest brains in the field: Valve Software‘s virtual-reality guru Michael Abrash. The long-time developer, whoch has previously worked at Microsoft and Quake developer id, is now the chief scientist at Oculus VR. He has spent the last several years developing VR technologies at Valve.
“We’re on the cusp of what I think is not ‘The Next Big Platform,’ but rather simply ‘The Final Platform’ — the platform to end all platforms,” Abrash wrote in a blog post on the Oculus website. “And the path here has been so improbable that I can only shake my head.”
Abrash reteams with his former id partner John Carmack, who joined Oculus VR last year as its chief technology officer. Abrash will continue the research that he performed at Valve now that he is at Oculus. In making his decision, he called Facebook’s $2 billion acquisition of Oculus the “final piece of the puzzle.”
“A lot of what it will take to make VR great is well understood at this point, so it’s engineering, not research: hard engineering, to be sure, but clearly within reach,” he wrote. “For example, there are half a dozen things that could be done to display panels that would make them better for VR, none of them pie in the sky. However, it’s expensive engineering. And, of course, there’s also a huge amount of research to do once we reach the limits of current technology, and that’s not only expensive, it also requires time and patience – fully tapping the potential of VR will take decades.
“Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus means that VR is going to happen in all its glory. The resources and long-term commitment that Facebook brings gives Oculus the runway it needs to solve the hard problems of VR – and some of them are hard indeed.”
Abrash most recently spoke about the potential near- and long-term future of VR in a talk he gave during Valve’s Steam Dev Days conference in January. Check it out below:
Valve is likely not feeling too sore about Abrash leaving. The company, which develops games and operates the Steam digital-distribution platform, has no plans to release commercial VR technology. It has instead always planned to use its research to help other companies solve the engineering problem of virtual reality.
Finally, Abrash says that he believes he will now spend the rest of his career working to solve the problems of VR. That doesn’t just mean making a headset work — it also includes the problems of smell, touch, and motion.
After he left id Software, Abrash had an interesting career. During 2000 and 2001, Abrash was a key part of the making of the Microsoft Xbox as well. He was part of Seamus Blackley’s Advanced Technology Group, whose mission was to teach developers how to take advantage of the power of the Microsoft video game console.
After the Xbox shipped in November 2001, Microsoft tapped Abrash to help define the architecture of what would become the Xbox 360. He was one of the rare game designers who also had a deep understanding of hardware and what would be ideal to put into a game console. But as soon as that work got underway, Abrash left Microsoft to work on some game tools at Rad Game Tools. He still collaborated with Microsoft, but as a consultant who offered advice on how to design the graphics for the Xbox 360. Abrash’s philosophy was to create simple hardware and smart tools to enable game developers to get the most of out of game hardware. That philosophy lived on as Microsoft’s XNA game development tools long after Abrash left Microsoft.
GamesBeat lead reporter Dean Takahashi contributed to this report.