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Home / Blog / Oculus Connect 2014 / Sept 20th, 2014 : Day 2

September 20th, 2014 (Saturday : Day 2 of the Oculus Connect Conference, Hollywood CA)

There is probably not much point talking about the keynotes, panel and lectures, as they are all available (or will be) online. It was however, pretty thrilling to be in that huge auditorium, having key people from Oculus (Brendan Iribe, Nate Mitchell, John Carmack, Michael Abrash, Palmer Luckey etc..) make their revelations (we would get to demo the latest internal prototype, some great surprise Unity announcements, and more stuff which no doubt will be discussed everywhere online for some time). Kudos to all the speakers for repeatedly reminding us (the developers) of how important our role was in the upcoming resurgence of VR (photo). In addition to all the information I received, I came away feeling more inspired and motivated than I have ever felt before about anything.

I have been wanting to try out some of the motion/input VR controllers I have read about for many months, and fortunately we wandered into the demo area, just in time to try out the STEM system, before they had to pack up and leave (video here). An overall really fun experience. And yes, I did notice a slight amount latency, I was expecting this, but I was pleasantly surprised at how insignificantly this impacted the experience, the brain is able to adjust. And although a similar degree of latency in an HMD would be render everything unusable, for arm movements it's not such a big problem. It really has got me thinking about developing for this, at least after I have finished my two current projects which are seated cockpit experiences.

Because of smartphone/wireless difficulties, Kevin and I were among the last people to register for our Crescent Bay prototype demos, which means we were in the second to last slot of 21:00. So we effectively had the entire day and early evening to build up the hype while simultaneously trying to avoid spoilers. We were asked to show up about 10 minutes before our allotted demo time, so we gathered with others who about to demo at about the same time. During this brief waiting period, for some explicable reason, I felt both excited and anxious, with a slightly rapid heartbeat, almost like feeling stressed, nervous and fidgety but somehow in a good way. I can't explain why I felt this way, and I can't remember feeling this exact mix of emotions before, but speaking to other people waiting, oddly enough, I wasn't the only one experiencing this.

Moments later, I am called though into the demo chambers, where I was greeted by the assistant who would be helping me with my session. Unfortunately we were not allowed to take pictures or videos, and although it would been nice to have them, the experience I had won't be forgotten anytime soon. The assistant helped me to put on the headset, ask me to look forward for a brief moment to calibrate, and then it happened...

Presence. For the next nine or so minutes, I was presented with various consecutive (mostly non-interactive), scenes ranging from an alien planet surface being greeted by a friendly ET-esque alien, the inside of a submarine, the edge of an urban rooftop overlooking a steampunk city, a cartoon forest campfire scene with some cute low poly animals, a menacing T-rex encounter in a museum, a futuristic bullet-time FPS type of scene in which yo take part in an armed assault on a giant mech etc... I have been working with VR for over a year, owning DK1 since summer 2013 and having recently recieved by DK2 about 6 weeks ago, I am at no stranger to VR. But this....nothing could prepare for this euphoric, surreal, and entirely jaw droppingly convincing experience. That magical switch in the back of my head was flipped, and my brain was truly and utterly convinced I was there, in the virtual world, as I experienced real "presence" for the first time. And not only did I experience the ellusive feeling of 'presence', but it was a sustained feeling, which lasted for pretty much the duration of the demo. I am not sure which of the specific recent advances was responsible for giving me 'presence', was it the 90 Hz tracking, the lack of a discernable SDE, 360 degrees of positional tracking, or was it a combination of all of these and more? Only on a couple of occasions, when I walked over the edge of the rubber mat, which was there to tell us we were approaching the "real life" wall, or one occasion I managed to get outside of the camera positional tracking box, was I briefly reminded that I was in fact in a conference demo room. The rest of the time, I was lost in these surreal artificial worlds, fighting the urge to walk/run/explore in random directions, so complelling was the experience. After the demo, removing the hmd, returning to the reality of the conference, I needed a few moments to regain my composure, and catch my breath. I spoke in a somewhat shakey voice, with the assistant, as my whole body pumped with adreneline. My mind was racing, trying to put into perspective what I had just experienced, my knees felt like they were trembling. All other iterations of the Rift had demonstrated to me what was possible and what it might mean in the very near future (maybe a year or two down the road). This demo proved to me that we are here now, VR is ready for the masses, and it re-affirmed my strong belief that this technology is quite literally going to change everyones lives.

Gathering with people in the main hallway after the demo, sharing our experiences/observations/opinions about the Crescent Bay demo, we were like a bunch of excited school boys laughing/shouting/screaming in a playground. The euphoria was quite palpable, our excitement was uncontainable. It was awesome to be here (photo by Mason Du), it was awesome to have just expereinced Crescent Bay, and it was awesome to think about what was just around the corner. Again, as developers and researchers, it was like getting a shot of adreneline right into your veins.

So we headed out to the poolside party to mix beer with adrelenine, and share our VR buzz with others. Now, back when I first saw John Carmack in the lobby before the conference, I promised my self that I would go all "fan boyish", knowing that I would be walking past these types of (inspirational) people all weekend. Amusingly enough, everytime I spotted Carmack, he was always either surrounded by or being followed by quite a large group, in scenes that almost seemed biblical. This time I spot him coming towards us from the pool party, and I dont know if it was the beer or the Crescent Bay demo buzz, but I just had to stop him, speak to him and ask for a photo : here is what was said :
John (speaking to a random group at the end of some conversation) : "I am really tired so I am heading up to my room for some rest"
Me : "I realize you are tired John, and I am sorry to stop you again, but would you mind posing for a quick photo?"
John : "You know what, I am so genuinely excited about what we have been showing to you guys this weekend, that I just can't stop smiling. Where is the camera?"

And his excitement was not only evident but contagious, and matched only by his approachableness and humble, down-to-earth nature. So the photo is taken and I spend the next 15 minutes or so bragging like a little kid, until we spot Palmer Luckey, near the pool. Serjie from Russia leads the way, charging forward fearlessly to meet and greet our VR hero, and a group of about nine of us follow suit, all in turn get pictures with Palmer. At the end of all of this, Palmer thanks us! (photo here and here).

At the end of the night, not wanting to accept that the conference has indeed officially ended, a few of us head downstairs to the hotel lobby bar, for more drinks and more VR chat, (photos here and here) and a few inevitable "goodbyes" and "see you next years". We meet a guy hastingly demoing a brightly colored hmd that seems to be made entirely of foam (yes you read that correctly), If I remember correctly, I think he was from mergevr.com . He doesnt seem to be part of the conference, I get the feeling he is hanging out in the hotel lobby demoing in some makeshift and unnoficial capacity. I quickly try it out, and feel almost instantly cross eyed, we probably needed to do some sort of IPD adjustment, but the demoer is in a hurry as someone has just arrived to collect him. Anyway, good luck to them, no matter what I try now at this point, how can anything compare to 'Crescent Bay'?

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