Duringer: Sometimes, you’re really going to benefit by creating abstract graphics. For one, it makes your application stand out from the crowd. A very stylized look can also have less texture frequency, which is a total shortcut way to reduce nausea if you don’t have a lot of high-frequency textures in your game.
To the question of how you convince someone to try VR, you can look back at movies. If you watch a movie from the ‘80s now, it’s just cheese city. It looks so bad. But if you watched it at the time, it looked great. As game-makers and as a consumer audience, we’re going to grow with the technology. We’ll look back at some of these early VR projects, and they’re going to be super cringey. But we’ll become savvier as the tech develops.
Falstein: That reminds me of a story from the early days of filmmaking. D. W. Griffith had this idea of cutting in close and just showing the face of an actress. He did that and showed it to movie executives to show how some things could change. One of the executives was really outraged, though. He said, “I paid for the whole actress, and you’re only giving me her head!”
One thing I find that’s emotionally involving about VR is when characters are in your physical proximity. It feels like you can reach out and touch them. We have a whole bunch of neurons that only activate when people are really close to us. We’re always hyper aware of people who could be within arm’s reach or even closer.
I’d love to see researchers look into this kind of thing, do comparisons to see if the same parts of your brain are lighting up when you’re physically close to someone compared to when you’re in VR with someone. There are reports of immersion that people are talking about, and I think part of it is the feeling, for the first time — if there’s just a picture up here that’s meant to trick you into thinking I’m closer to you, it doesn’t really work. If we were in VR and I looked like I was really just three feet in front of you, you’d feel more of that sense of being right in the virtual space with someone. The potential for storytelling and emotional involvement is amazing.
Wallace: This has huge ethical implications down the line. There were studies early on around people’s attachments to Warcraft characters and other game avatars. We’re seeing that same transference of empathy. This isn’t a panel about robots, but I was recently at Softbank Robotics interacting with Pepper, and I went there immediately. It took me about 10 seconds to empathize and feel for this robot.
GamesBeat: It seems like we’re in agreement that we don’t have to have perfect graphics in VR, but the platform should still move forward in some way. A lot of other people have been here talking about how it should go wireless. We don’t want to be hooked up to a PC. What else do you see that the platform should have going forward?
Akmal: The major ones are weight, wireless, a wider field of view. For more commercial-grade VR enterprise, that’ll be needed for applications like construction sites. Durability is important. The hardware right now is so fragile. That’s our biggest challenge to overcome, making headsets more durable but still comfortable to use.
Duringer: From the software side, we need faster Wi-Fi, so we can stream wirelessly at higher speeds. We need standards. We need to be able to rely on a gesture API, on open SDKs and open engines, so developers don’t have to keep reinventing the wheel.
Falstein: In the early ‘80s, I did some work on Atari VCS games. Back then, the processors were so slow that you couldn’t have a frame buffer. You had to refresh the same frame. The beam was just past that point. We’re starting to do that with VR now because even though we have much faster processors, there are so many more pixels and so many more colors. Not just processing speed but the whole pipeline — with Daydream, we had to revamp a lot of what was going on in the operating system as well as in the hardware itself to get all the latency that we could out of the system.
We still have a ways to go. We’ve gotten sloppy with computer games because the computer games have gotten so fast that we don’t have to worry about a lot of that stuff — certainly not on the same level that we used to. With VR, we do have to worry, and so, we need to figure out ways to make it faster and faster.
Duringer: In particular, we need more CPU power, so we can do voice blending and animation blending, which is what we’re all running up against in mobile VR.
Wallace: Wireless is definitely a huge barrier. I also look forward to seeing further improvements to firmware technology. A lot of those updates are super significant. I’m looking forward to seeing improvements in technology that help mixed reality become more of a reality. And because I work so much in a healthcare setting — honestly, that’s what I care about the most — I look forward to having opportunities for structured events that let you explore what the current technology can do, rather than just waiting for the hardware platforms to improve the devices and firmware.
GamesBeat: I wonder where some of the interesting dividing points are going to be between generations of VR hardware — 2.0, 3.0, 4.0. Some of the things that bug me a little are these incremental improvements that create problems in other areas and end up requiring more improvements.
The Vive Tracker is coming out this year at $100 each for each device. You can put a Tracker on each foot and on your back, and then, all of a sudden, you have the ability to track a human body’s movement. But maybe you’ll need a hundred of these things to do it really well. The Leap Motion has very good finger tracking, so you can get rid of touch controls entirely, but when you try to grab something, you can’t because you don’t know exactly where it is in space. You don’t feel yourself touching it. Now, we need haptics. One improvement causes you to need another, and the expense just keeps rising.
Akmal: Everyone’s cobbling stuff together because we want it all to work. We want these amazing experiences and applications. But let’s take off the rose-tinted glasses and look at the reality of what hardware does well right now and work within those constraints. It’s painful, but for anyone in the space, you have to be aspirational about it. Yes, it would be great if we had haptics and touch and nobody ever got sick. But then, there’s the reality of 20 wires and five batteries that have to be charged for a 20-minute experience.
Duringer: The real solution in the long term, I think, is going to be infrared or optical. It’s going to use your hands and your body. Everyone has that. We already have a standard. We just don’t have the tech there at scale yet, so we’ll have to build all these expensive hardware solutions in the meantime.
Question: What’s your favorite VR experience so far, for each of the panelists? You’ve all seen a great deal, so I’m curious about what you see as the best direction VR has shown so far.
Akmal: For us, it’s Robo Recall from Epic Games, which just came out. We’ve been playing it at the office nonstop. It’s polished. It’s what everyone says it is.
Falstein: Virtual Virtual Reality. I just played that, and it’s very funny. It’s a kind of VR take on the Portal experience. It’s been the most enjoyable game I’ve tried so far in VR.
Duringer: I’m in love with Medium. I love the creativity, the sculpting in an analog way.
Wallace: I’m a huge Mr. Robot fan, so here’s where narrative takes over for me. I love the Mr. Robot experience. I also like Robo Recall. The quality there can’t be beat.
GamesBeat: I liked Dead and Buried on Oculus. It’s a two-on-two Wild West shootout game.
Question: Asking about the work you did for Stanford, has anybody talked about going beyond that? Things like experiencing crime in the body of the victim?
Akmal: There’s a history of people doing research like this on all different hardware. It’s emboldening people to do more. There’s all kinds of combinations of putting different people in different situations. It’s certainly testable.
Wallace: My understanding, from being on a few NIH grants — I’m sure things like that are happening. They have pretty strict human subject criteria you have to pass, though.
Falstein: Chris Milk got a lot of press for doing a 360 video tour of some of the camps in Syria. There was an interesting serendipity in that everyone there is staring at this weird 360-camera rig. When you experience walking through this relocation camp, you see everyone looking at you in this really uncomfortable way. It feels like they’re staring at you as an intruder. They showed it to a bunch of people from the UN, and they all had a very empathic response.
Akmal: The Santa Monica police department and a couple of other police departments have seen the work we did. Running up to the election, implicit bias was a big topic, a national debate. There was a lot of interest from police departments asking if this was something they could use in both their communities, to help regular folks have an appreciation for cops, and vice versa, putting cops in the position of regular people. What was interesting about those discussions — police officers experience a lot of pressure and feelings of bias toward them. The thought was that this might be helpful for them to cope with perceptions of what the community thinks of them. I’m not sure where the business is for that, but it’s certainly a subject for research.
Question: We hear a lot of talk about killer apps, but what do you think is going to be the killer pricing model for VR, what’s most favorable to both developers and consumers?
Akmal: The way I think about our business and how we price things — we’re not selling VR. What we’re trying to sell is an entertainment experience. What would you be willing to pay to go to a theme park and have an amazing experience that might happen to involve VR? We model our business around — it’s not VR; it’s a theme park. Everybody could look at their business in that way and find a pricing model that makes sense for their particular vision.
Falstein: I hesitate to guess what will win, but it’s clear that we have a sort of Cambrian explosion of experiments. Everything is being tried. All the different pricing models that have worked before are being tried, and I’m sure new ones will be invented. As usually happens, whatever seems to work, people will start copying. But we don’t know exactly what it is.
Duringer: The era of the inevitability of freemium — a lot of people are not seeing tons of freemium content, but they’re worried about that. How is that going to work in VR? That could be very invasive if a product is asking you to fork over money, or if a kid is in there, and you don’t have access to what they’re experiencing.
Wallace: That’s one reason, once again, why I’m super excited about the applications of VR in healthcare and clinical settings versus having to go direct to consumers only. That’s still kind of dry as yet.