Tag Archives: virtual reality

One Tool to Rule Them All

An important read about Tim Sweeney and Epic Games covering Unreal Engine, it’s use in interactive experiences from cinema to video games, the potential of VR and AR, and the state of free-to-play.

Chris Plante, The Verge:

When asked if Unreal Engine 4 will span the next 10 years, Sweeney says that it’s for the foreseeable future, that Unreal Engine will get to “the promised land,” a vision of the future Sweeney’s hinted at earlier in the day during his speech at the Game Developers Conference. “This is the word I was afraid to use earlier. This is the convergence of all these forms of media.”

Technologists, media theorists, and game designers spoke of the convergence ad nauseam in the 1990s, when film and video games came together in a garbage fire of media that could neither be called a good game nor a good film. In the 2000s, the convergence was replaced with the notion of transmedia, with entertainment spread across different mediums, connected through a shared universe or narrative. However Sweeney believes the convergence is making a comeback, that the graphics world is seeing humans and technology meeting at a unified point. Sweeney sees photorealistic 3D objects and lighting and virtual reality attracting game designers, sure, but also industrial designers, architects, and film makers to engines like Unreal Engine 4.

In this future, or present if you ask Sweeney, lessons learned from one field, say an architect designing a virtual building, can be applied to games or film, and likewise. Sweeney believes the potential application of the engine across all fields increases exponentially as information is shared.

All of this raises the question: does Epic Games identify purely as a games company? “We’re realizing now that Unreal Engine 4 is a common language between all these common fields.” Sweeney doesn’t see the industries as all that different. More interesting than Sweeney’s prediction of field-sharing information and experience is the speculation of the fields in some ways merging together. For their most recent demo, Epic Games partnered with Weta to create a VR demonstration featuring the dragon Smaug from the The Hobbit.

The separation between game and experience and art is becoming more defined. Under the guise of this piece, interactive experiences such as Journey and Dear Esther feel like the blossoms of Tim Sweeney’s greater vision, most recently demonstrated with Smaug.

Update: I failed to mention the main reason why this important. Not only does the diversity of Unreal Engine 4 practical uses help clarify the categories of computer generated media, there’s this:

… this year, Unreal Engine 4 is free — the company asks for a 5 percent royalty for any commercial product made with the engine that makes more than $3,000 a quarter.

Commercial product: a product that can make money (i.e. video games, VR/AR experiences, movies, TV shows, YouTube shorts, amateur animations, etc.).

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Fabian Giesen’s exit letter

Ex-Valve contractor Fabian Giesen’s exit letter:

Part of this has to do with the direction of the project. With AR, there’s a variety of information display/visualization applications, all of which are at the very least interesting and could turn out to be tremendously empowering in various ways. The endpoint of VR, on the other hand – all engineering practicalities of first aiming for a seemingly easier goal aside – seems to be fundamentally anti-social, completing the sad trajectory of entertainment moving further and further away from shared social experiences. (As I have mentioned multiple times, I find the limited, formalized, abstracted and ultimately alienated social interactions in most forms of online gaming to be immensely off-putting).

Later, offering context:

And having an immersive virtual environment – hey, MMORPGs even without VR get people to sink lots of time into them, and if anything that’s probably gonna be more pronounced in the VR version – that is set up to, ultimately, generate
ad revenue (and hence prioritize the needs of the advertisers over the desires of its users) is just an inherently gross concept to me.

All these trends have been there for a long time. I used to be hypothetically
antsy about a major ad-run operation going long in VR. Now that Facebook has bought Oculus, that’s not a hypothetical anymore.

Now, I’m writing this just as the kerfuffle about Facebook running psychological experiments on their users is ebbing. This is not surprising; if you’re trying to maximize engagement (and thus ultimately ad revenue), these are the kinds of
trials you run, because you want to know what to show to people.

I still find it fascinating that three major companies are investing heavily in a novelty space.

Regarding social network involvement: Within the past few months, the increased rate of social networking notifications and ads has become more apparent. I don’t need to know if a friend just posted a status update, I don’t need to know that two games journalists I follow are discussing the WWE, and I don’t need to be asked if I know somebody with a random notification.

Don’t get me wrong. There will certainly be stellar avenues for VR in the forms of education, sports, and accessibility. Relinking my thoughts on VR piggybacked on Andrew House’s comments about Sony’s plans for the space.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Ready Player One. I am not ready to live it.

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Tipping Point

Andrew House, Sony Computer Entertainment president, as quoted by IGN:

Then the third one is virtual reality. There’s just a sense that we have that the technology is again reaching that tipping point, it’s on the cusp of being something that really delivers you true presence, of feeling like you’re in another world. When that’s delivered it’s really magical and I think that how far, how large, how quickly that’s going to become a major part of what we do remains to be seen, but we definitely think the magic of that experience leads you wanting to pursue it.

Admittedly, I have not tried Oculus Rift or Project Morpheus. Call me a naysayer but I just don’t see something as isolating as VR taking off. I don’t think the audience will be as small as to call it niche, but I think the mainstream will find that strapping goggles to one’s face in a group setting is a bit sickening. We are already seeing a slight backlash to smartphone usage in group settings.

This statement comes on the heels of a Samsung’s ‘Gear VR’ headset leak. Three major companies are now investing in VR without a crystal clear vision of the future of this tech. At least not a vision we’ve been shown. Maybe I’m wrong but I don’t think abundant ’80s dreams of wearables and VR are an indication of “where the puck is headed.” At least not in any capacity advertised thus far.

Update: I should point out that I speak solely from the perspective of gaming; though, I have been reminded that PC gaming is primarily enjoyed in solitary environments. This is likely to be the heaviest hitting market for gaming VR. To add, the implications on accessibly experience (be it gaming, simulation, or otherwise) and real world simulations seem promising. Take a look at Chris Kluwe’s TED Talk on augmented reality and empathy.

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