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VR and Steam days (3delement.com)
114 points by Vermeulen on Jan 22, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 61 comments

As someone who has used similar tech, I can vouch for the fact that the immersion really is on a completely different level. Vertigo can be especially unsettling. In my demo there was a large hole in the floor and I found myself physically unable to walk over it, despite knowing that it wasn't real.

Edit: on reflection, the sensation was remarkably similar to how it feels when dreaming. Signals from the real world can intrude on your experience (e.g. running into physical objects can cause pain in dreams), but it doesn't break the feeling of immersion. There's that strange mental transition point in a dream where you get dunked under water but realize that you can still breathe; the same thing happens in VR.

I had the same impression after reading the post, when he talks about the brain having difficulties knowing if the memory was from solething that really happend or not.

I often wondered whether you could truely resent someone after having dreamed of him doing something horrible for example.

It seems you're not the only one who compared it to a dream:


Seems like some of the smartest people I know about are now working on VR or AR tech: John Carmack at Oculus, Jeri Ellsworth at CastAR, Steve Mann at Meta, Michael Abrash at Valve, and even the Google X team working on Glass (if you consider that AR). If VR or AR tech doesn't catch on this decade, it certainly won't be due to the effort put into making it happen.

I wonder if the world of VR circa 2018 will be a bit like the state of mobile dev in 2008. It makes me think there will be a huge demand for 3D artists and programmers as companies suddenly decide they need their own VR experience, as they did with mobile apps 6 or 7 years ago. If so, now might be a good time to start getting some experience with 3D design and development.

Not sure about 3D artists, 3D scanning should be quite good by then.

Well, that's unless you're looking for something that doesn't exist in the real world...

You can always take a trip back in time, and make scale models out of clay & Styrofoam. Then maybe do a little smoothing in CAD. It's going to take a while for creation tools to make computer-assisted-creation of realistic texture & coloring as easy as painting some clay.

Direct link to post, rather than home page of blog: http://www.3delement.com/?p=332

The future is crazy. It's hard for me to underestimate the debate and the philosophical implications of this type of VR going mainstream. I can't believe its so close. The world doesn't even see it coming.

> understood that the demo was over, but it was if a lower level part of my mind couldn’t exactly be sure. It give me a very weird existential dread of my entire situation, and the only way I could get rid of that feeling was to walk around or touch things around me (or sit down, basically just get in a situation where I wasn’t just standing still like I was in the VR demo).

required viewing: existenz

It reminded me of the techno-thriller book Daemon. A virus takes over the world, infects every major company, and creates a darknet reality based on a popular MMORPG. Everyone who is a part of the darknet wears VR glasses to tag and control physical objects as well as see new layers of virtual reality like interacting with AI beings.

Indeed, I think that one and The Thirteenth Floor are much better explorations of virtual (simulated) reality than, say, the superficial zen & mainstream action of The Matrix.

Michael Abrash's post about his talk at Steam Developer's Day, which includes a link to his slides: http://blogs.valvesoftware.com/abrash/my-steam-developers-da...

It's so great to see people working on this tech as the real world gets shittier!

For a second there, we may have actually had to worry about revolt.

I grew up during the 80s knowing that the Cold War could turn hot and end the world at any moment. Half of Europe lived in oppression. China was barely able to feed its people. Communism was still attempted by countries and defended by some intellectuals despite a 0% success rate at actually improving lives.

Yesterday, the Gates Foundation annual report was linked to from HN. It explained how the world is getting better fast and that extreme poverty could be a thing of the past in a few decades.

So please, go ahead explain and try to justify your claim that the world just gets worse!

We're almost done putting in the final pieces of a global surveillance network and security apparatus which, once turned on, will be near impossible to dismantle peacefully. The income and wealth inequality has never been worse.

The only way this could be resolved is with the middle and lower classes doing something, and these VR things are probably going to be the most effective bread and circuses we're ever going to see.

The oppression is either there or coming, soon.

A timely comment to read, as I'm simultaneously watching live video of the Ukrainian revolution in another window.



Ready player one!

(comedy answer: It's like Payday!)

> this isn’t a consumer ready product, so it isn’t surprising it isn’t designed for everyone’s face yet

As far as I know, Valve does not currently plan to make it into a product (though they leave the door open if they feel it becomes necessary, as with steam machines). From what they've said so far, Valve's intention is to work with Oculus for consumer VR products.

It definitely is entirely R&D tech - considering each HMD cost around 20k, and requires the walls plastered with codes for head tracking. The HMD they currently have actually have ripped out Samsung Galaxy S4 screens (for each eye) - so that obviously can't scale in manufacturing

> Valve's intention is to work with Oculus for consumer VR products.

That is a interesting topic because from the interviews with Palmer that I have read there seems to be a big disconnect between Oculus and Valve. It would make sense though because Oculus's success would help line Valve's pockets.

For extra retro fun, tack on "ML" to "VR" in the title and imagine all the comments are dated 1996. :)

When I was about 13 (around that time frame) I got a book about VRML. I remember spending literally hundreds of hours making worthless VRML worlds. I wonder whatever happened to that language...

I intend to purchase one of these VR sets as soon as possible, but I'll take extreme care to which games play on them. Either real life habits come to games and mindless killing FPS becomes less popular, or game habits come to real life and you risk acquiring bad traits.

Interesting times ahead.

Oh, I expect game habits will absolutely come to real life. After playing Half Life 2 for the first time, I had a powerful urge to duck into every service tunnel and lose access grate I saw. I can only imagine if I had played it in VR.

I'd love to see a martial arts training/game with full body feedback, but it's going to take a while longer for the latter part to develop. I've been wanting that since I saw an old VR movie as a kid, about people fighting in VR with characters and experiencing the feedback in real life.

If you're itching for VR, you can order an Oculus Rift dev kit right now (https://www.oculusvr.com/order/). The consumer version with significant improvements should be available in about a year.

I don't recommend purchasing the current dev kit unless you actually plan to do development. The quality isn't high enough for prolonged use; motion sickness is virtually certain. There aren't any AAA quality made-for-VR games released yet; only demos and ports exist so far.

On the other hand, if you do actually plan to do development then by all means get a dev kit right now; don't wait for the next release. You need to try it as soon as possible because it's going to take a lot of time and experience to figure out how to convert your ideas into usable VR games and interfaces. Any development done now will transfer directly to the final consumer product.

If I know a bit of C++ and a lot of Web Languages, where would be the best place to get more information about VR Programming? For these games they are developing what language are they written in? What kind of software are they using to create 3D models ? Are they all using Unity?

You can use whatever language you like. There's really not much special about VR from the programming point of view. The Oculus Rift is really just a display that gets recognized as an additional monitor plus a USB device for head tracking. Oculus provides a library that you can use that takes care of interfacing with the USB device and some other gimmicks.

The main difference to non-VR 3D programming work is that getting latency down is much more important, so your priorities shift a bit. The real difference is in thinking of whether you can do cool new user interface stuff.

So in that sense, your question is a bit misplaced. You need to know about 3D development in general. Once you know that, the delta of what you need on top of that is very small, and everything you need can be found on the Oculus developer site.

Are you comparing it with the new or old version of the Oculus dev kit? The new one has addressed both resolution and latency. The difference between the versions is huge and I definitely think the consumer version later this year will step it up even further.

I haven't tried the new Crystal Cove version - but I spoke to a number of devs who've tried both (the new Oculus and Valve's tech), and they said also it in no way compares. Crystal Cove is an incremental update, but I from what I've heard it won't have the sort of presence of Valve's current tech. I imagine just because they are limited to what they can actually manfacture

Eagerly awaiting OASIS...

Now, what decade is Gabe Newell obsessed with?

I'm trying to figure out if James Halliday will end up being personified by Gabe Newell, Palmer Luckey, John Carmack or Michael Abrash...

Ha! I can't wait, however I think it might be some years yet to get the full immersion rig going

Can't stop thinking about how they will ultimately solve the movement problem. The Omni looks pretty silly and limited.

Maybe a dedicated-room version like an Omni with curved tracks and padded walls. You buy a 4x4m base and install it in a room in your house?

Colleague suggested a frame that suspends you off the ground, then mechanical boots or splints on your leg that give your feet feedback and convince you that you're running and jumping.

End game is a direct feed to the brain to convince your limbs that they're moving?

Or maybe Thalmic Myos on each limb to track the intent of your limbs? That would lack feedback unless you wore a tactile suit.

I can imagine this being extended into entertainment in general. Watching a scary movie (i.e. Blair Witch Project) from the point of the victim would be terrifying! Being one of the luge runners in the olympics would be thrilling! Not to mention the adult entertainment industry; now you don't have to just watch things happen, you can actually participate.

I think like any technology it has multiple uses, good & evil; its up to us to decide how we use it.

A little bit tangential, but... if anyone has gotten the Oculus Rift working with TF2 on Ubuntu, we could use some help troubleshooting over here: http://steamcommunity.com/app/440/discussions/2/648817378061...

It's strange; I have not yet found an actually useful support forum for this stuff.

I'm curious whether 3d models extracted from an array of cameras (maybe with a lidar as well) would be satisfying enough to watch movies like this.

Even watching currently available 3d imax movies(using occulus) is really fun according to people some around the web,

For some reason the OP linked to the blog's front page and not the actual article in question. Here it is for the benefit of anyone stumbling across this in the future:


VR is undeniably going to take immersiveness a step forward, but user agency is still the true king of addiction.

Real life is obviously the benchmark for immsersiveness, but we don't consider it possible to be addicted to living in the real world. We might consider some to be "adrenaline junkies" for pursuing dangerous aspects of real life, but we say they are addicted to a certain chemical the body produces rather than life.

Books are one of the least immersive forms of entertainment widely consumed in that the interface is through abstract symbols. Still, they allow us to experience things that we are unlikely to encounter in our own lives. They engage our imagination and are indeed addictive. A good book lets you almost live another life.

Theater and film are, in most ways, more immersive than books. Instead of forcing us to construct everything in our own minds, much of what we experience is constructed externally, just as in real life. An actor's performance may be completely different from how we might imagine a character to be, just from reading his or her lines, and this really fools our minds into thinking characters are more real. However, as in books, we are almost always passive observers. We have no agency.

Video games are now capable of offering everything that film does, but while granting the audience agency. We can perform tasks, affect the outcome of the story, etc.. As with film, technical limitations mean that suspension of disbelief is necessary for us to buy into a video game world, but when a game does make us buy-in it can be a place we'll live in for many hours before exhausting the content. It can be grueling to sit through a 180 minute film, but a 180 minute game would be considered far too brief. We also respond very differently to challenge when we have agency. Many films that challenge the viewer too much are considered "confusing", and rapidly tire audiences. A game that doesn't offer challenge is unlikely to be fun at all! Many of us enjoy conquering games where challenge crosses the line into frustration!

Many video games made today are modeled after books and film. You play a truly exceptional protagonist who is easily capable of things beyond anyone else in the universe. The game-world pivots and changes around this character, even if the user doesn't have a lot of control over it. These are highly entertaining, but probably the least immersive. Other games take a much more realistic approach, most notably MMO's. Users, by technical necessity, cannot change the world radically because other players share the world. Users become just one more player in the crowd. MMO characters have little power in the simulated universe, but users have complete agency over their own characters. The unpredictable nature of interacting with real humans, the necessarily insurmountable challenges of the game (in terms of time required to "beat" the game, if nothing else), and total user agency make MMO's the most addictive form of video game known.

If you're with me this far, kudos for being patient! VR is a means to interact with both pre-recorded films (think google-street-view cam on a snow-boarder) and video games that has been largely neglected to date due to technical barriers. Oculus and Valve are clearly on the verge of shattering those barriers. We're probably going to see media running the gamut from pre-recorded VR videos offering no user agency (other than turning your head) to MMO's where humans can interact with each other in simulated environments with complete agency. The level of addiction posed by these different recordings and games is going to vary wildly, just as the addictiveness of current games and media varies. VR is an exciting step forward for immersiveness, but we shouldn't expect anything VR to be an addiction problem!

It's interesting to think of this from your perspective and I fully agree that agency will remain what people want.

I don't think its far off to consider a world in the not-so-distant future in which VR expands the possibilities of the universe, and therefore our agency.

Think of the limitations we have now in reality. There is one currently livable planet, clogged highways, limited resources, way too many people, the inability to jump up and fly across the world, etc. I can see VR shattering the boundaries of our current agency in reality, just like Oculus and Valve are certainly on their way to doing with technology.

And with such a highly immersive environment and increasingly interconnected world, I imagine it might even be nice to just plug-in and exist almost entirely in a virtual world. I don't think it is as much a matter of addiction as just, what might be better in the future.

As for the worry over 'addiction' and escapism, just let us go. The moment it becomes physically possible to get the hell out of this reality and take my chances in another one, I'm gone. Just stick an IV in me, store me in a coffin-sized apartment, and start the show.

I always thought this would be a much more interesting backstory for the Matrix than "the robots went to war with us."

I even kind of hoped that in the sequels, Neo would uncover that as the truth, and that Morpheus would be the one struggling to accept that his prior existence was a lie.

Not saying your story wouldn't be interesting, but it wouldn't really be workable without serious surgery to the whole concept. If you remember the machines had several prototype worlds fail before the 'current' one. Humans didn't like utopia, so they gave them a world at the peak of their civilization.

If humans really just got fed up with the general awfulness of life, and made their own Matrix, surely they'd have come up with a better one.

Not necessarily. Imagine being alive for a million years, you might just be bored enough to create this kind of simulation, where you believed it all to be real. Complete with twisted robot overlords, last ditch battles, and awesome fight sequences...

Ahh, I get it now. Pretty clever.

I wonder how many other civilisations in the universe turned their gaze inwards into nested self-created realities rather than try the difficult job of voyaging outwards into "real" space. It could be a well trodden path ...

SMBC did a comic on this. Kind of makes you think..


Neat concept for a strip. One nitpick though, harnessing solar energy would make energy cheap and abundant enough to keep everyone in VR forever. As soon as the tech exists, you wouldn't need an exchange economy for energy anymore, any more than one exists for air.

What wouldn't be possible is slowing the perception of time down so much as to create immortality. The sheer amount of processing necessary would put a theoretical limit on how slow you can make time, while still providing a fine-grained enough experience to be seamless.

It does make me wonder what happens once we gain the ability to do two things:

1) VR by direct neural input, instead of by enveloping the senses (think more Johnny Mnemonic than the Star Trek holodeck)

2) Manipulating perception of time, which we already know is pretty mutable.

First I would wonder how a civilization could develop to such a technologically advanced point without having enough variability in their population to have at least one group of people voyage out.

I think what will eventually happen is people will "get over" VR. Might take a long time, and a large portion might still spend most of their lives in VR, but I think solving real world problems will become attractive enough in its own right that a lot of people will forego the VR wonderland for the opportunity.

I wonder if this will have an effect on the airplane travel industry and tourism in general. Why go through the trouble of paying hundreds if not thousands of dollars visiting a place on the other side of the planet, when you can experience 90 percent of it in VR?

Why even dream about going to Mars? For one, it's probably not going to happen to us in our lifetime anyway, and second, we could do it much faster and cheaper, by using some remote-controlled robot and experiencing it through VR, Avatar-style.

I believe that VR is less strong environment for social encounters. Once somebody cracks this , VR will not only disrupt tourism but also areas of the economy which sell experiences which is a large part of our economy.

Exactly! It's incredible how much money and resources are spent of moving slabs of meat around.

At first I thought people trying to escape reality would be a negative, then a few moments after, I had a similar reaction to you... why not?

I mean, if someone isn't enjoying their real-life, and they can spend all their free time living their dreams, going on VR adventures exploring vast landscapes and caves, sky diving, looking like adonis, being a superstar singing infront of millions of VR fans, racing through the streets of italy, etc, then why shouldn't they?


Wouldn't it be interesting to just jump into VR and spend your evenings exploring alien worlds like the above, with a handful of friends online? You might even bond closer than your friends in real-life, because you're experiencing a lot of new things together.

Also, as you grow older, this could be a great way to improve your quality of life. If you're 70, you can jump in the VR world, and you look 20 again, and your VR double can run and jump like an Olympian. Meanwhile, you might be in a wheelchair, but you get a sense of youth and adventure.

Only downside, how do you motivate people to return to the real world? They need to make money, they need to pay the bills, they need to form real relationships with their spouse and children. I think a lot of people would see it like a drug, they just want to get their next fix of VR. Don't interrupt Grandma, she's at the VR home now, and doesn't want to come back to reality. I think it has the potential to make life much more entertaining, but I think it also has the ability to destroy people. Like the poster above me, if people just want to be born, have an IV and live in VR, what do they contribute to the world? Or is that the future, 1% of people work and balance life, 99% live and breathe VR?

Anyway, big business, exciting as hell, and coming soon. I'm all for pushing technology, let's see where this goes, good or bad.

Speaking of VR escapism I think a cautionary read about the implications of truly advanced VR would be Iain Banks' Culture novel "Surface Detail". An IV, a coffin-sized apartment and... a virtual hell? Who decides when you wake up? If you wake up?

On the same blog I actually wrote a short story with this same idea: http://www.3delement.com/?p=177

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