Virtual reality nostalgia

A few days ago I got a plush JobBot in the mail. It sits on my cubicle desk, looking at me with that screwed up expression on its face and delighting me. When I make eye contact with him my mind fills with thoughts about virtual reality. Today he has me thinking about the early days of new gaming systems. I got my start with an Atari 2600, followed by a ColecoVision, Commodore 64, and first gen Nintendo Entertainment System. I have fond memories of games on each system, from Pitfall and Adventure to Legend of Zelda and Super Mario Bros. It seems like every console has those games that people play at launch and then later develop nostalgia for them. Job Simulator has already hit that spot for me, as well as a few others. Early in 2016, before any headsets were shipping to the public, there were titles that people working in VR discussed. They cranked up my desire to try VR and to try those titles in particular; as headsets started shipping I had a list of experiences that I sought to try. I did my best to get to them all. Here in the middle of 2017 some of the titles from a year ago already sound outdated. In the space of a year they’ve already developed an “early days” vibe akin to 8-bit graphics. I haven’t even had a chance to try all the titles on my list and I’ve started striking some because they’re too aged to interest me anymore. Nevertheless I think titles like AltspaceVR, INVASION!, theBlu, and The Brookhaven Experiment are destined for whatever future hall of fame is developed for virtual reality. Fantastic Contraption, Job Simulator, and The Climb are modern day classics. In ten years’ time I’ll be quipping that, “in my day all we had was Temple Run VR and we liked it.” I did like it. I still do. I’m enjoying these games, bonding with them. In twenty years’ time I’ll be running a Gear VR emulator to try and re-live these experiences under the goggles.

I like some isolation in virtual reality

I’m not really a gamer. When I was a wee tot I got my first gaming console. I played it into the ground. Every couple of years I’d get the next gen console and do the same. Somewhere along the line I got my first home computer and I gamed on it until it was obsolete. Then rather abruptly, in my late teen years, I was done with video games. I didn’t know it at the time, though. It wasn’t a conscious choice. It’s taken years of hindsight to see the pattern and to stop identifying myself as a gamer. The entirety of my early video gaming life was done before the internet was a thing. When I needed an opponent it was a friend sitting next to me or it was the lying, cheating computer opponent. It wasn’t until my first MMO that I got used to playing with people I’ve never met. I remember joining a guild and they all spoke with microphones while I had to enter text through my keyboard. I didn’t last long with them. I wasn’t social enough to take it to the level of voice communication. I wasn’t gamer enough to take it to the level of voice communication. Continue reading “I like some isolation in virtual reality”

Choosing to spend on Samsung or Sony

My wife and I used to frequent San Diego Comic-Con but a couple of years ago she stopped coming with me. It went from being something we expensed from our shared accounts to one that I expense out of my own. The convention is a pricey affair and one of the impacts of paying for it from my personal funds is that I have less money to spend on virtual reality and other tech. Last month there was a new Gear 360 camera that I really desire. There was also a new Gear VR (which didn’t interest me) and a Gear VR controller (which did). This week is the Sony Aim Wireless VR Controller for PSVR. Those are the three goodies that have my attention. I made myself wait until all three were released and reviewed before deciding which one to get. Last night I visited Best Buy and made my purchase. Continue reading “Choosing to spend on Samsung or Sony”

YouTube needs a better VR presence

I routinely access YouTube on my phone and tablet and I Chromecast it to my TV. Less often, but still periodically, I pull on my VR goggles and watch YouTube in 360°. I do this with Gear VR, PSVR, and Cardboard headsets. Of those three YouTube is best viewed on Cardboard. Maybe I’m being naïve, since I know that Google owns both YouTube and Cardboard, but I really expect the better headsets to deliver the better experience. Continue reading “YouTube needs a better VR presence”

Exit Reality brings virtual reality to the people

As I first walked into the Exhibition Hall at last weekend’s VRLA Expo I scanned left to right to take in the sights. One of the first things that caught my eye was the shiny metal stepvan of Exit Reality. At first glance I wasn’t sure what these guys were all about so I approached them for a better look. Even up close I wasn’t entirely sure what I was seeing. They had the van with a line of people queued to enter it and they had a metal pod with a line of people queued to enter it as well. It was clear that both the van and the pod had Vive headsets, so I got why people were in line, but I didn’t really understand what Exit Reality was hawking. It was about an hour long wait in line until I was able to enter the van. My friend and I put the time to good use by getting to know the people of Exit Reality. Continue reading “Exit Reality brings virtual reality to the people”

Anticipation of VRLA

VRLA is about a week and a half away. It’s the biggest virtual reality expo in Los Angeles. It started a few years ago when a couple of college kids realized the lack of a coherent VR scene in town and set about creating one. It’s gone from 150 attendees in 2014 to 6000 last summer and I imagine it might double this year. I’m reading and hearing about people buying badges like it’s just a fun weekend thing to do and not because they’re gonzo about VR like I am. Next year I might have to bite the bullet and buy a pro pass just to deal with a smaller crowd in the exhibition hall. At this point VRLA has become a must attend for me. My experience last year was so good that I don’t want to miss one. I’ve been looking forward to it for so many months that my anticipation is becoming dramatic.

I’ve attended a few years’ worth of San Diego Comic-Cons. Last year’s VRLA was about a month after SDCC. I went into the Los Angeles Convention Center with the same mindset as I take to SDCC: I expected too long of lines, bumping through crowds, and overly packed rooms. I also allow myself to be an embarrassing fanboy at Comic-Con. VRLA is a bunch of industry professionals mixing with the general public. I don’t think most of the industry folks are recognized by the general public folks. I went into VRLA telling myself not to be a fanboy, but I slipped and geeked out on Cosmo Sharf (one of the founders of VRLA). He wasn’t prepared for that and it got awkward. This year I need to approach the expo with a bit more tact and a modified mindset. The expo isn’t overly crowded and bumpy. Yeah, there are lines in the exhibit hall and they can take a while because queues for VR experiences take a while. It’s not okay to become a goofy fanboy in front of Maureen Fan or Bryn Mooser or Kent Bye, even though I’m an appreciative fan of their works (CEO of Baobab Studios, co-founder of RYOT media company, and host of Voices of VR podcast, respectively). I’m attending enough local VR events that I’ll likely encounter these people again and shouldn’t carry the reputation as being “that guy”. Keep it together, Hembree.

The VR I’m sharing this holiday

Most of my family has tried virtual reality at this point. I’ve owned a Gear VR for well over a year and it’s been brought out at family gatherings for all to try. Oddly, none of my friends have tried VR because it never seems to come out at friend gatherings. This weekend we’ll be hosting plenty of family and friends at our home. I’m eager to show off my shiny, new PlayStation VR. I’ve worked out a strategy for what I’m showing to whom. Continue reading “The VR I’m sharing this holiday”

A look back at the Year of VR

Google kicked off the current wave of consumer-level virtual reality in 2014 when it released Cardboard during their annual developers conference that year. It was supposed to be a quirky little side project but techies were hungry for VR and so Cardboard became a much bigger thing. Late in the year and early in the next, Samsung released two Gear VR headsets aimed at developers and early adopters. They released a proper consumer model into retail stores in time for 2015 holiday shopping. There were a few 360° consumer cameras on the market, too. Facebook and YouTube added support for their video output in 2015, which treated people to a glimpse of “VR video”. Virtual reality was very niche in 2015, more for enthusiasts and less for average consumers, but then 2016 happened. It was billed as “The Year of Virtual Reality” even before it began and it certainly lived up to the title. Continue reading “A look back at the Year of VR”

Fostering advancement in 360 video techniques

In the early days of moving pictures it took a special sort of enthusiast to assemble a camera, acquire the film, and complete all of the necessary steps to make something that could be projected. The first films were all less than a minute in duration and recorded without sound. They had simple subject matter: workers leaving a factory, a strongman flexing his muscles, a group of people playing cards, and similar occurrences. This early work was often simple explorations of the equipment and subjects, but it laid the groundwork for artistic techniques to be developed as creators became comfortable with the tools. I’ve heard it said that 360° video is in the “Edison days” or the “Méliès days”. Those titles get followed up with the call to filmmakers to just start shooting 360° videos. Virtual reality needs volunteers to do the early work of making videos and possibly cementing their names as pioneers or visionaries. Continue reading “Fostering advancement in 360 video techniques”