The problem with hats.

A look at making HMDs fashionable.

70 minutes in heaven with the HTC Vive

Where the HTC Vive taking us?

The Myth of Virtual Reality

Let me give you a few examples of making common technology instantly dissatisfying by renaming it to something that contains lofty promise...

AKIRA in VR. (aka, working with large illustrated novels in VR.)

Spent a little time on working with a large collection of comics / illustrations in VR and this was the results. My primary interest is working with large bodies of materials and quickly being able to find a particular point of interest by visually looking for it in a 3D space.

Marketing VR in the year 2016 - Beyond Imagination

I've been thinking about VR's commercial launch. Not cardboard. Not a developer kit, no. I mean the honest to God, real deal, commercial release.

Ballroom Dancing

You build a beautiful VR ballroom and invite everyone to come. Everyone does, they wander around the ballroom, dance a few waltzes and exclaim that "Why, this is simply splendid! Isn't it dear?"

The Oculus Rift and Swimming Pools.

"I believe that VR won't play nice with our existing entertainment, it is a ravenous platform that will consume and utterly replace huge chunks of our current media and technology."

The hollow face illusion in VR.

VR strongly supports the exact same visual illusions that trick us in the real world. So, it is well worth studying these types of phenomena and seeing where they might be leveraged in VR.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014


I almost didn't go to Oculus Connect.  It was a busy time for me and I was undecided right up until just about the last minute. Leading up to the show I was having some low level worries about VR's current implementation that had me in a bit of a crisis.

Part of these worries concerned Oculus as a company.  They've grown so big, so fast.  How could a group as small as the original core Oculus team possibly survive the ministrations of Facebook and Samsung?  I also wasn't convinced that the show would be terribly successful.  It was the first time that Oculus was hosting something along those lines.   I met up with Blair Renaud (@anticleric) at the airport by chance and grumbled a bit to him about how I wasn't sure how well the developer demos would be run.  Part of me was worried we'd be thrown into a room with some power outlets and told "Great to see you!  Thanks for coming.  Go to it!!  We'll be back at 8pm to see you out."

Gear VR looked like a tough promise to deliver on.  DK2 has had issues right out of the gate and it seemed pretty tough for Oculus to pull off something halfway decent out of the gate on mobile.

What made me decide to go despite these concerns was a need to see for myself what was what.  The internet can be a great source for opinion and a terrible source for information,

You absolutely need to leave your office sometimes and reassess.  So I did.

Here are some brief thoughts:

  • Oculus Connect was a tremendous success.  Very tightly run.  Not only was it a chance to rub shoulders with people across a wide set of industries, the crew at Oculus made themselves extremely accessible.  If you wanted to talk to Brenden Iribe, John Carmack or Michael Abrash to get a question answered you simply needed to walk over to them and introduce yourself.  I know this was greatly appreciated by the developers on hand.

  • Gear VR exceeded expectations.  I learned going into the show that my worries about Gear VR were shared by a number of developers.  It was easy to get a chance to try Gear VR at the show and everyone that I spoke to had nothing but extremely positive things to say about it.

  • The event is aptly named, it is rare to see such a broad range of interests and talents come together in a single place.  Everyone was very friendly and eager to talk about VR and their own projects.  If you want to network and be on the bleeding edge of the current state of the industry, you need to be there.

  • There are a lot of great write ups out there describing the event if you want to learn more, I recommend you head over to Anarchist VR and read Bobby Boyd's post on the event.  I had the good fortune of sharing a drink or two with the crew from Anarchist VR, they are right in the thick of it and full of some very interesting ideas about practical applications for VR.
Give me a shout at @ID_R_McGregor on twitter, or send me an email at

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Running Oculus and possibly losing your mind in the process.

I imagine that those who find themselves at the top of the chain at Oculus have their good days and their bad days.

On a good day, it is easy to think that they must live a pretty thrilling existence.  They are leading a team and running a company that is currently in a dazzling spotlight, working on technology that hold the promise to change a great deal in the way we interact with computers and the world itself.  Sitting down to be interviewed by Wired, you must undoubtedly know that you've "arrived".  There must be joy in that.

That would be on a good day.

The good days are likely accompanied by some rather bad days.  Sleepless mornings at 3AM, unable to sleep and filled with worry.

Since 2007 and Apple's yearly hardware refresh cycle, a new expectation has been created of hardware companies.  You aren't just expected to incrementally improve anymore, there is an expectation that a "hot" hardware company can deliver earth shattering innovation like clockwork.  You aren't just expected to improve.  You need to surprise and delight.  Over and over again.

How often?  Once a year, at the very least.  If you are Samsung, you're pushing for a 6 month cycle. Sustainable?  No.  Not a chance in hell, but that's where we are at right now in the industry.

So again, back to bed and imagine you are running Oculus and wake up one day to find yourself bound to this heavy train of expectation.  Hurtling down the track as your "year of innovation grace period" speeds on by.  You look over your prototypes, all very reasonable devices made of glass, plastic, code sweat and ingenuity.  Is it enough?

Of course not.  It never will.

Somehow, God help you, you need to give the public what they've been told to expect from virtual reality.  I'd use Snowcrash, Star Trek and the Matrix as the low hanging, popular culture examples.  All of them offer a VR experience that is every bit as good as reality in terms of fidelity and freedom.  No matter what Oculus comes up with, there will always be a long list of gotcha's surrounding each iteration:

  • I can look around but it doesn't look real
  • Ok, it looks real but I can't touch anything
  • Ok, I can touch thing but everything feels the same
  • Ok, things feel real but nothing can touch me
  • Ok, things look real, I can touch things fine and be touched which is great, but what about smell and taste?  When's the update?

I imagine over time and trial, Oculus will be less and less likely to say very much about anything out of fear of fueling expectations.  Who could blame them for trying to protect their sanity?

VR development shares a resemblance to the exploration of outer space.  A challenge that threatens to humble even the most formidable minds among us.  You are faced with a task of unlimited scope and as much complexity as you are willing to bite off and chew.

So how do you fall back asleep?  How do you rest comfortably when burdened by such an undertaking?

Perhaps it could be in the thought that this is a long, immense and shared journey that we've embarked on.  One that will certainly be filled with a litter of failed experiments, dead ends and endless delay.  It also will be filled with some exceedingly beautiful, awe filled moments that will constantly remind us all of why we are doing this despite the struggle and stress.

If God built the earth in 7 days, can we not afford to give Oculus a few years to build a universe?

If anyone wants to say hi, I can been reached on Twitter at @ID_R_McGregor, or you link to me via Google+. 

If you are heading to Oculus Connect, I want to meet you!  Drop me a line here or Twitter!  Email also works:

Monday, 8 September 2014

Lunch at the bottom of the sea.

"If your simulation is trying to deal with an unrestrained, tracked humanoid you are going to lose, each and every time."

When I was very young, I read a story by Willard Price that featured a scene in which the main characters try to eat lunch while sitting at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean.  They learn how difficult even simple tasks are to perform when your operating in an alien environment:

"Hal and Skink followed his example, and the process was repeated until all the sausages were gone. But there still remained the puzzling problem of how to drink a bottle of Coca-Cola ten fathoms beneath the sea.


When Dr Bake prised off the cap of his bottle a strange thing happened. Since the pressure outside was so much greater than that inside the bottle, sea water immediately entered and compressed the contents. But a little sea water did no harm, and Dr Blake pressed the mouth of the bottle to his lips.

By breathing out into the bottle he displaced the contents which thereupon flowed into his mouth. He drained the bottle. When he took it from his lips the sea water filled it with a sudden thud. Hal and Skink faithfully followed the same procedure."

I am often reminded of this recently when reviewing the current state of VR development.  What a tremendous challenge we've chosen to pursue .  It makes an underwater meal look very easy in comparison.

Thanks to John Carmack,. Michel Abrash, Palmer Luckey, Valve, Oculus and a great many others, I feel that we are well on our way at this point at getting where we need to go on the visual side of the equation.  We've gathered the steel and forged a sword that cuts - now all that remains is to sharpen the blade.

Meanwhile many are turning their attention to attempting to give us our hands and feet in the virtual space.  I'm a little less optimistic on this side of things at the moment.

Here's the simple problem:  If you developed an excellent 1:1, low latency tracking system for hands, imagine how potentially unsatisfying it would be to interact with a 1x1 foot virtual cube.  Your real hands, unrestrained by the rules of the virtual world cannot be kept one foot apart stay apart while clutching the sides of the box.  This means that your simulated hands will:

  • Pass through the box.  Unpleasant.
  • Stop being simulated and appear to stop while your real hand moves.  Most unpleasant.
  • Be subjected to some kind of trickery perhaps, you could attempt to simulate the offending hand passing over or under the box as a compromise between the virtual world simulation violation and the real world movement.  Perhaps borrowing an idea or two from here, but on a such smaller scale.

I don't feel that any of these options hold a lot of promise, nothing that would feel particularly satisfying at any rate.  You also need to resign yourself to the knowledge that the end user will purposely try to poke holes in your simulation, they won't work with you, they will pick your world apart given the chance.

If your simulation is trying to deal with an unrestrained, tracked humanoid you are going to lose, each and every time.

So, what to do?

Let's go back to the example of having lunch under the sea for a moment.  Humans underwater face a number of challenges:
  • They must carry and use breathing apparatus to stay underwater.  Heavy compressed tanks on their back and a regulator in their mouth.  This means they cannot talk.
  • Human eyes see poorly when exposed directly to water.  They must wear a face mask at all times in order to focus on the world around them.  They view the world through glass.
  • The human body is buoyant in the water, they feel like they weigh less than we do on land.  They cannot readily stand without a weighted belt, They cannot readily walk due to the water surrounding them.  They use flippers to help them move at a decent pace from place to place.       
and so on...

Each one of these tools represent a compromise that we've made when operating underwater, we accept that you can't take a stroll underwater, so we adapted, learned from the fish and adopted fins.  Fins are great, they make a lot of sense underwater and allow us to move in a way that works with, not against, our surroundings.

I think, for the present, a similar tact needs to be considered for VR.  Lean heavily on its strengths (of which there are many...) and choose your battles wisely in terms of what aspects of reality you are trying to simulate.

As the DK2 have rolled in, we've seen a wave of users equipping their workstations with flight sticks and steering wheels.  This is interesting.  Last time I saw joysticks this popular was about 20 years ago.

There's a good reason for this though, these devices can be represented 1:1 in the VR world.  You turn the wheel, the wheel in VR moves, you pull back on the throttle, your virtual throttle responds in kind and so much the better if these virtual controls are attached to your virtual hands.  There's no cheating here, the wheel feels solid in you hands and it moves as it should in VR.  This is inherently very satisfying to the user.  

Which of course, very quickly brings me to this:

This is the Powerloader from Aliens as I expect any visitor to the blog to know, and I think it makes a very good target for a credible VR experience if you absolutely insist on attempting to track limbs.  Use 3-axis motion sensing to track arm and leg movement but DON'T attempt to simulate the user's limbs directly interacting with the environment.  You need a layer of abstraction between your world and the user's movements.

If they try to move their arm through the floor, they are met with a solid CLANG of the metal arm colliding with the floor.  The user will understand and they won't feel cheated, it will feel very real.  They are retrained by the limits of the device they are simulated as controlling.  You could still feel VERY free as a user while using this simulation, but the designer has a "sanity check" when trying to constrain the limits of what the user can do with their limbs.

The user can still work out plenty of ways to attempt to violate the position of their arms with the what they are seeing in the simulation, but in the user's mind, the reason why it does not work is because of a limit of the machine they are controlling rather than a fault in the reality of the simulated world that the are trying to believe in.  You might want to reread that last awkwardly written sentence, because it really sums up what I'm trying to get across here:

  As a developer, give yourself a break and build in some constraints into your world that fit with the narrative of the environment.  One of the last things you want to try to do is simulate unbridled reality.  Aim to simulate a tiny slice and then do it very, very well.

VR users always need a layer of abstraction between them and the environment.  Allow them to manipulate a mechanism, be it a car, tank or exoskeleton  but don't dare let them actually try to interact with the world 1:1 with their own limbs without some kind mechanism between them and the world.

You are no longer developers, you are magicians, you need to get your audience to suspend their disbelief and like any good magician, you do this by carefully limiting what they can see and do at all times.

If anyone wants to say hi, I can been reached on Twitter at @ID_R_McGregor, or you link to me in Google+ if you happen to actually have a Google+ account that you surprisingly use for Google+ things.

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

DK2 CONFIGURATION DEMO: Now with a splash of color.

[ Note:  Had an issue with the original texture file being altered by Blogger (should have seen that coming!)  New link to full file available below.)!a5QnATYS!CR1J-2MYeYmQdnzwaruaIwRtW5I0V5vC17iBcdlSLjA

Great week so far.  DK2 is better than anticipated in many ways.  I would expect that the average VR immersion time per session will be going sharply up over the next short while.  The device works and it works very well.  Great work by Oculus on the engineering and on the current (very smooth) roll out.

I've been quite engaged by the included demo scene with the Oculus Configuration Utility.  It works well as a demonstration of positional tracking and I enjoy the concept of a virtual desk.  I spend most of my reality sitting at a desk, I might as well spend my virtual time at one as well.

With that in mind, I was somewhat surprised at how bare a desk we've been given to stare at, so I took it upon myself take it a bit further this evening.  I'm very pleased by how well the DK2 handles text!

[ UPDATE:  5ess was kind enough to create a video this morning, to show this in action.  Thank you 5ess!  (Spanish) ]

Here are a few awkwardly taken pictures to give you an idea:

If you want to try this out on your own machine, it will take you about only a minute to get setup.  Here are the steps:

1.  Download the modified texture file (please the the end of this post.  18mb!)

2.  Change the write permissions on the following folder:
      C://Program Files (x86)/Oculus/Tools/Resources/DeskScene

This folder should be read only, you must set it to WRITE (right click it and view properties.  You will want to use the Security tab to change permissions.  You may need to be running Windows explorer as Administrator in order to make this change. [right click windows explorer, choose "Run as Administrator.")

3.  Make a backup of "ConfigUtilDeskScene.png" so that you can restore it later.

4.  Overwrite "ConfigUtilDeskScene.png" with the new texture file you downloaded in step one.

5.  Run the demo!  Enjoy!

 ( I hope you like xkcd.  Keep a sharp look out and use the positional tracking to your advantage:  there are a number of hidden things in the scene to be found! )

(if you have any problems getting this to work, please let me know in the comments below and I will try to help you out.  I can also be reached on Twitter at most hours of the day and night at:  @ID_R_McGregor)

All images and photos used here are for entertainment purposes only and belong to their respective and highly talented creators - of which there are many.

Texture file link:!a5QnATYS!CR1J-2MYeYmQdnzwaruaIwRtW5I0V5vC17iBcdlSLjA

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

VR is a concept that exists independently of the efforts or controls of any one company.

It is the first decade of the 20th century.  Orville and Wilbur head out to Kitty Hawk and fly over one hundred feet.  The flight is filmed that day and the footage is widely distributed.  Shortly after, Orville and Wilbur are tragically struck down and die from the flu.  Newspapers run the story:  "First men to fly, die of flu." and are terrifically proud of their cleverness.

Now, let me ask you:  Given that the Kitty Hawk footage had been released to the world, proving that manned, powered flight was possible and with the original inventors dead, would mankind have still flown?

I expect that anyone reading this post would instantly answer:  "Yes, of course."

Mankind, has a funny quirk.  If we are shown that something can be done, we will expend boundless energy and time towards it.

The same is true today, at the start of the 21st century as we look towards VR; we've seen something.  We've seen a glimmer and know now what is possible and are hardwired to keep pushing for it.

Oculus and Facebook have no meaningful significance in the face of this.  "The big one" could hit California tomorrow and both companies, personnel and prototypes could be swallowed up by the earth.  The work would continue and VR would continue to grow just fine ( and Sony stock would rise sharply. )

In my interactions with the VR community, there has been unbridled optimism and enthusiasm, but there has also always been an undercurrent of fear.  If I had to describe the average VR enthusiast with one word, it just might be: fearful.  Long before today's news, everyone has been terribly afraid of something going "wrong".  The fear that VR would not work, that this was going to go the same way as Dactyl Nightmare.  It would be "neat" for a little while and then abandoned, or that people simply won't "get it".  People were afraid that Sony would come in prematurely and "screw everything up".  Fear that a teenager, somewhere, would spend 72 hours curled to a headset, die of thrombosis.  


This is the fear that comes from love.  When you really love something, you end up spending a lot of time worrying about losing it.

So, of course - today, people are simply losing their minds.

Oculus isn't VR, Oculus is a company has made some initial innovations in the VR space.  If they disappear tomorrow, we will still get to where we are going.  We can't help ourselves.

VR is a specification, a recipe for tricking the human senses into buying into a virtual space.  Valve will likely go down in history as the company that first started mapping out these requirements and for sharing them with the world.  These basic requirements don't fall under any one company's ownership - the world as a whole will continue to refine the process and bring new solutions to market.

When Xerox invented the mouse, it was Apple that recognized it for what it was and commercialized it.  It should be noted that neither of these companies ultimately controlled or dictated how we interact with our PCs today or how mice evolved.  Mouse input was an idea, a clever new way to interact with a computer something bigger than any one company to monopolize or control.  VR headsets will quickly transition to the role of a peripheral device similar to mice.  They will soon reach a level where they all basically work pretty well and then they will start to need to differentiate themselves with gimmicks and racing stripes.

I listened to the Rev-VR-Podcast last night during and it contains a great quote:

"Don't think in terms of how Facebook will chance Oculus; think about how Oculus will change Facebook." 

Take heart.  I have a feeling this could be right on the money.  

If anyone wants to say hi, I can been reached on Twitter at @ID_R_McGregor, or you link to me in Google+ if you happen to be one of the 300 million remarkably quiet people using the service.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

One of the greatest gifts of VR will be in the value of the space it creates around things.

Does anyone remember the concept of web rings?  Before Google was a thing and search was still a disorganized child, web sites that shared common interests would form rings with other like sites.  If you found yourself on a website about medieval armor engraved with fractal patterns and wanted to go to OTHER websites on the same topic, you might use a webring at the bottom of the page to travel to the next site in a "ring" of sites catering to this specific interest.  Website creators would reach out to each other and build these little doors between their sites.

"I believe flip-flops will rule the day in VR."

Google, of course, killed this completely. Google is like having an Learjet at your front door instead of a pair of flip-flops.  You fly to specific destinations using Google search, you don't wander between things anymore.

I believe flip-flops will rule the day in VR.

We will wander.  ( Google will no longer be a Learjet, Google is rapidly evolving into a companion. )

          "The modern web has no horizon." 

One of the greatest gifts of VR will be in the value of the space it creates around things.

The discovery of valued things you were NOT searching for is something VR will provide us.

The modern web has no horizon.  We are in the forest with our face pressed up against a tree so hard it hurts.  We go from site to site with a complete lack of situational awareness.  Here's a few things you rarely know, ever know while travelling the modern web:

- Who's looking at the same content as me, at this very moment?
- What are most people looking at right now on this site?
- Where do people go once they've finished with this site?  Where did they come from?
- What kind of people are they?
- Do I know any of them?
- Why isn't anyone here today?  Where are they?

Some of the most successful sites on the internet are the ones that even begin to provide answers to these questions.  We are social animals that spend most of our time looking fixedly in the direction of other members of our troop.

You might argue that the modern internet has done far more to isolate us than to bring us together and you might even win that argument.

We spend vast amounts of time on the internet, we live there for part of our day and that portion is only getting bigger and more intertwined with time.  Right now, we scrawl notes to each other in 2D space, sometimes in real time, often not.  We share video and express ourselves in monologues.  It is pitiful substitute for real contact (and yet worlds better than no contact - don't get me wrong.)

"Persistence, Paths, Proximity, and People."

We will explain how things are now on the net to the generations to come, how it used to be in our 2D world, and they won't understand.  It will be as big a shift as trying to explain to a 10 year old today, what it was like before the internet.  They simply won't get it and we will soon forget ourselves.

I believe there will be four P's that will be be cornerstones of VR over the next decade and define the value of this technology.

Persistence, Paths, Proximity, and People.

Humans place value on persistence, we've rather come to expect it of the universe we live in.  While we claim to be explorers, we are mostly creatures that of habit that live and die in our own small corners of the world.  We have our home, our work and then about a dozen places that we regularly visit.  Most of our time is spent in these places or making our way between them.  We could choose to visit a different restaurant each weekend, or drive a different route to work each day, but we generally don't.  The genetic alarms that warn us of the danger of predation, accident and lousy food service makes us want to revisit places we have been before.  Places we know to be safe.  On a more fundamental level, humans gravitate towards persistence because it gives our worlds order, consistency.  If I place my keys in a bowl by the door, I expect they will be there when I come back for them.  I'm disappointed if they aren't where I expect them to be when I return; and I'll be extremely disappointed if my entire house disappears overnight or changes color while I'm sleeping.  Humans will place value on a consistent, virtual world, when we find places that we like, we will want to be able to return to them.  VR environments and services that provide persistence to us will be valued and provide comfort to our brains.  A little at first and then, later, I firmly believe some virtual properties will far outstrip the value of many real world locations.  We will grow very attached to these places that are not yet built, they will mean a lot to us and we will form strong associations between virtual spaces and real emotion / memories.

"Our brains seem to actually experience a form of agony when the perceived VR world breaks."

Let's take a moment to talk about a funny quirk of the Oculus Rift and presence.  The goal of VR is to trick our senses into believing what we are seeing and hearing has as much importance as what we perceive in the real world.  During a VR session, if you suddenly turn off head tracking while immersed in presence, the illusion is shattered and the resulting feeling has been described by some as "jarring mental pain".  Our brains seem to actually experience a form of agony when the perceived VR world breaks.  Our brain feels revulsion to this kind of disturbance, we really don't like it.  This means that the favored VR experience will be one that provides a seamless, continuous world.  Yes, you could push a button and be transported to a new area instantly but I believe we will prefer to  travel between places as we do in the real world.  Doorways instead of hyperlinks.  Very clever doors I expect.  This means we are likely going to be driven towards building seamless, coherence world experiences.

"The concept of social media will melt away and simply be replaced by undoctored social interaction and the world will utter a collective sigh of relief."

This then brings me to paths.  If travel is part of VR (and I believe it will be an essential part), then the real action will likely be on the street and along the paths you take to go places.  Advertising will live here and it will be a spectacle beyond all imagining.  You will be able to look into the distance and see where people are going, where the crowds have gathered and what's "hot" today.  The concept of social media will melt away and simply be replaced by undoctored social interaction and the world will utter a collective sigh of relief.

Proximity.  Accepting a model of a persistent world means that then you also agree to place limits on your landscape.  Two places cannot occupy the same space at the same time.  So when we start to build this world, it will be necessary to start building things in relation to each other.  Some areas will have more value than others, some property will be immensely valuable.

You can be sure that any organization that looks to place limits on the world in VR is looking to generate money.  It will be a simple equation.

Proximity means that I can overhear music.
Proximity means that I can overhear a conversation.
Proximity means that there will be areas that I know of where I can immerse myself in people that I find interesting and share a space and time with them.

People are the real resource in VR and the driving force behind why we will return to it and need it.  We will no longer be restricted to our homes, neighborhoods, cities and countries.  Just as the telephone allows you the option of calling anyone, VR will give you a tool to get a chance to meet them.  I think the simplest description is this:

VR will give people the chance to meet, who would never have had the opportunity otherwise.

 I don't think I can think of a greater mechanism for changing the world than this.  The implications are profound.

I look forward to what is to come.

I can be reached at @ID_R_McGregor on twitter, or give a shout out below.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Oculus Rift, a Steam Engine for the modern age.

I walk around these days and feel like I have a secret to share with the people I pass on the street.  At my workstation at home an Oculus Rift dev kit sits, and increasingly, I feel a bit odd about the owning the device.  I imagine myself as a man born at the turn of the 17th century who just happens to have a working steam engine in his home.  Something few people have heard about, far less have seen and none yet fully appreciate for the change it is about to bring to the world.

"One of the most important technologies 
in the history of man kind."

Palmer Luckey is widely quoted for his recent Dice talk and the moment towards the end where he exclaimed that the Oculus Rift / VR was "one of the most important technologies in the history of man kind."  Depending on who you talk to, he's either grossly naive or a visionary.  I've wondered about those words since his talk and I'd entourage you to dig up the video once Dice is kind enough to put it online.  It's important to watch the video, because I feel his body language is important.  Approaching the end of his talk, he pauses a moment then gathers himself up and makes this proclamation.  While I can't claim to know what he was thinking, I imagine he's feeling a bit like a 17th century man himself, standing in a town square, pointing an early steam engine and screaming at the agrarian society around him:  "Do you see!?  This, this here, will change everything!"

We don't see it yet.  We can't yet.  We can't imagine the vast cities that will rise or how far this engine will enable us to travel, but we can start to look around and see some of the early signs of what's to come.

I've recently had the good fortune to be in touch with a seemingly great bunch of Japanese guys in Tokyo.  Rift and hardware enthusiasts all.  They are part of a very avid and growing community of Rift developers in Japan and are working together with the drive and love for technology that all Japanese (God love them) seem to be born with.

Language is a problem, but it is amazing how far you can get with Google Translate churning away on your incoming net traffic.
"If there's a group that will end up grafting motion tracking chips into their hands, my money is on these guys to do it first."
@GOROman is rumoured to own 20 Oculus dev kits and wanders the streets of Tokyo wearing a custom painted white Rift.  I don't know him well yet, but he's high on my radar in terms of "very interesting people to keep a close eye on".  These guys are are rapidly hacking together tech at a fantastic pace and founding new companies to distribute their inventions.  If there's a group that will end up grafting motion tracking chips into their bodies, my money is on these guys to do it first.

will meet them and soon.

I've been thinking that I'd really like to meet up with them the next time I get to Japan.  I want to share in their inventions, meet the personalities and listen to what they have to say.  I have the good fortune of regularly traveling to Japan every 4 years or so, but given how fast things are moving, I was fretting that it might be too long to wait.... and then it hit me.  Hard.

I will meet them and soon.

VR will soon give us a common space to meet face to face, I know they will be in there, I just need to seek them out (and hope they'll be willing to set aside some time to humor me.)

Oculus Rift / VR will make this possible for me and better still, Google Translate or an equivalent service will be quietly running in the background during this meeting and helping me along in the conversation.

More thoughts on this tomorrow!

If anyone wants to say hi, I can been reached on Twitter at @ID_R_McGregor, or you link to me in Google+ if you happen to be one of the 300 million people using the service.  Or you could leave a message below.  You could just leave one word like "first", that way everyone will know that you were first, on this post... forever. - an appearance carried out personally in someone else's physical presence; "he carried out the negotiations in person"; "a personal appearance is an appearance by a person in the flesh"

Note: @ Gamesonytablet has translated this article to Japanese and posted it here.  This is wonderful, thank you very much!

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Here's something for the speculators out there to ponder a bit.  If you are interested in reserving the the domain name "" and decide that you'll settle for adding extra o's to the name for your site.  As of today, this means you'll need to reserve:


That's a Google with 58 o's in it.  58.

This means that a Google with 57 o's is worth the the 5-10 dollar domain name registration fee to someone out there and 56, and 55 and so forth.  You can verify this for yourself using any handy domain registration tool, just as

If this is the kind of value that unique words represent to us on the common web, we can start to think of this as a starting place for some of the future value that will be placed on locations in VR space.  I can't imagine the sort of land grab is ahead of us when a major organization opens the doors to a credible virtual space.  I hope everyone has their wagons ready.

If you want to say hi, I can be reached on Twitter:  @ID_R_McGregor.  Interested in VR / Oculus Rift?  Let me know below!

Sunday, 9 February 2014

I "know" how big a pig is - Oculus Rift / Minecrift

I now know how big a pig is in Minecraft.  Minecrift allows you to experience Minecraft via the Oculus Rift, and delivers an experience that is currently riding high on the list of things you can try that present a high level of immersion, or the feeling of "being there".

So far, I'm glad that my trials with the Oculus Rift have been private.  Anyone watching me would get very bored, very quickly.  I find myself spending long, long periods of time just looking hard at things.  The corners of rooms, the side of a table, behavior that they'd lock you up for in the real world.Unless you've tried it and were moved by it, it is hard to convey the feeling it gives you, but I'll try here:

Even though this is a first generation prototype of this new generation of VR, as reported, the Oculus Rift's effect on the mind is startling.  Before actually trying the Rift, like many people likely reading this, I've read several dozen extensive "first hand" accounts of what using the rift is like, that and watched a similar number of online videos, documenting people trying out.

While my anticipation was very high, I had tried to sober myself a bit to the realities that "hype" and early enthusiasm often lead to something that misses the high bar set by imagination. After reading the gushing previews of Valve's VR work and the best of show reception that Oculus's "Crystal Cove" prototype received at CES2013, and hearing how much "better" it was than the first gen developer kid, I had expected something that would be compelling but still fell very short of immersion.

And..... I... was.. wrong.

It is little wonder that this little device has garnered such attention.  It is truly a wonder of our age.  I feel like I stare into it with the same kind of awe that early man must have had when looking at firelight.

Despite what you may have read, the screen quality on the current DK1 rift is not terrible.  This might be a generational thing.  If you've spent thousands of hours playing Mode 13h / 320 X 200, games, you might still have a good frame of reference for how good we've got it now and how far we've come.  I've heard many complaints about the field of view, which I find very odd, as I stare at this 27" monitor from 2 feet away, I can tell you that the rift occupies a space that probably the equivalent of replacing this screen with something about 37 inches, meaning - it well fills out most of the visual space in front of me.

The screen door effect is there (this is the ability to see lines between the individual elements that make up the screen.)  I was surprised how little this bothered me.  I have an affinity for things digital and pixel representations, so this almost has an attractive quality to it for me.  In some ways, I'm glad to have the reminder that this is a simulation, and here's why:

The first demo I tried was Redframe.  I had heard that it was well done and very immersive, I also heard that it demanded nothing more from the user than to slowly walk around a living room. Sounded perfect for what would likely be a clumsy first Rift session.  I clicked the batch file and saw a flicker on the lenses of the nearby waiting Rift.  I lifted the rift to my head an held it there.

My breath caught and simply stopped.  If you've experienced Redframe, you'll know that there's a model ship sitting in a corner of the room on a table.  This happened to be the first thing I saw in VR. (the symbolism of the moment wasn't lost on me...) 

Something that seems to be taken for granted in a lot of articles on the Rift is just how compelling the effect of stereopsis is with this new device.  We've been playing fluid 3D first person games since the mid 90's and while the 3D has gotten better and better, it simply cannot compare to how compelling the visuals are when viewing a scene through the Oculus Rift.

My first few LONG minutes in Redframe, didn't involve any movement.  It was far enough to simply rotate my head and survey the scene.  The nearby model ship was fascinating, the sails an the rigging all so solidly "real" and in sync with my attempts to observe it different angles. 

You are very aware of your position in space, for the first time, I had a very good sense of exactly how tall I was in comparison to the other objects in the room.  The ship came up to about my waist, the bookshelf close by was about 3 feet away.

Anyone who is a graphic artist is about to have a wonderful new way to have their work freshly appreciated.  There is something about the Rift Experience that makes you want to carefully observe things that you would have otherwise blown past (or blown up) without a second thought in traditional first person game experiences.  When you see books on the shelf, because they are so close to being part of the "real", it becomes important to know what the books are about.  You want to get up close and attempt to read the spines, you want to discover if any of the books that your own might also be sitting on this stranger's shelf.

I had three very big "wow" moments during the first session of the demo.

The first was when I traversed the room and made in to the far corner.  There is a rubbing of some kind on the wall, something that could be from the fourteen hundreds, and a night table with a lamp by the bed.  When I made it into the corner, I was struck by the fact that as I approached the wall, I could make out make out the space BEHIND the night table, and see that the lamp was plugged in, tracing the cord with my vision until I could see where it connected to the wall.  This had a huge impact on me.  Prior to the Rift, players would be very hard pressed to be able to view this "secret" space behind objects.  You might be able to position your character close the wall and crouch, but it would be far more trouble than it would be worth.  Here, it was natural - the Oculus Rift allows you to get closer and more intimate with the details of a room, you can observe the subtle relationships between objects in space, and mundane places like the back of a night table are suddenly very inexplicably compelling.  Hidden object games are going to have a strong place in this world.

My second "wow" moment followed shortly after.  On my way out of that corner, I managed to move myself RIGHT face first into the curtains.  If you were to stand up now in real life and walk to wall, close to the point where your nose was almost touching it, if you share the same sensibilities as me, you will get a bit of an odd feeling, something slightly akin to claustrophobia.  We don't like to be face to face with large surfaces, it obscures our vision and you start to feel a bit uncomfortable, you get strong urge to take a step back.  This exact feeling was strongly present while using the Rift.  You feel like the wall (or curtains in this case) is right in front of you, and you can almost feel your lungs constricting a bit as you try to move yourself away to make more room.  I imagine that there will be compelling simulations of cave exploring / ventilation shaft crawling that will feel distinctly uncomfortable.

My third "wow" moment was when I realized that the Redframe demo had another room available through the doorway and around the corner.  I've explored hundreds of FPS games with thousands of rooms, made my way through castles and starships, and yet here, in this living room, I was suddenly floored by the idea that, right around that corner, there was a whole other room that I might explore and that there could be anything in there.  I am VERY grateful that the Redframe demo does not have any personalities or creatures within it, I'm not sure if I was quite prepared to deal with any surprises at that point.

Shortly after Redframe, I was lucky enough to read up about how compelling the "Blocked In".  This demo is incredible.  It places you at a work table, and presents you with a cluttered room to observe and an astonishing visual out the window of the city you find yourself in.  The whole thing is very odd, surreal and compelling.  The window view is especially well done.  I find myself visiting this room on a daily basis now and just staring out the window.  Despite the apocalyptic destruction depicted outside, it is very soothing and has started to feel oddly like a personal space that I "know" and like.  The creator Daniel Ernst is from the Netherlands, which according the crew at Oculus VR, is the leading nation for interest in VR ( a very curious bit of trivia. )  If Daniel is any indication, we will be given some great gifts from this nation.  (hopefully Canada will be able to make our mark as well!)

I've noticed that this early type of VR experience seems to generate a kind of hunger in a person.  Having been given a taste, you are eager to seek out new, similar or better experiences.

Minecrift was next.  I'm familiar with the game and the creatures within it and was blown away by how the Rift allows you to gain a sense of scale that was missing before.  Pigs litter the landscape in the game, and prior to the Rift I'd perceived them as being quite small.  Wearing the rift, I now know that they actually come up to a little lower than mid-torso.  These are some pretty serious pigs and I give them a bit more space than I did previously.  If anyone gets the chance to try Mindcrift, I'd recommend you take a few moments and disable the HUD, just turn it all off for a bit.  It gives you a nice immersive moment and allows you to really connect with your surroundings.  I'd also recommend that you be prepared to take the rift on and off a lot when you are first setting up your game.  Don't force yourself to do all the menu navigation via the Rift unless you enjoy having your senses punished.

Right now I'm most eager to see Daniel Ernst's next creation, but beyond this, I'm most interested in knowing more about the various projects everyone is working on, especially those that are designed to convey a sense of immersive space.  Feel free to drop me a line on twitter @id_r_mcgregor or in the comments here, I will do my best to get back to you.