This year, I went to PAX East in Boston. At least one exhibit I saw on the show floor contained at least one VR (virtual reality) device to try. During the event, I had the chance to try the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive.
On Friday, the first VR project I got to see was an Oculus Rift story told by a WPI graduate. “The Piper” tells the ancient story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin in a first-person perspective. Although the sequence through the Oculus Rift headset was accurate, I found some bugs. For example, several of the virtual children kept passing through me as if I wasn’t there. This was something I could expect from an early use of VR.
I never got the chance to try any VR related projects on Saturday, as I was focused on other independent video games. Although on Sunday, another opportunity to try VR arose with another project from an independent Chicago-based developer. Titled “We Are Chicago”, the game tells the true story of a family the southside of Chicago, historically a part of the city where most gang violence has happened. In the demo, the family, the subject of the game, goes through their normal evening routine when gunshots are heard. It is then the player’s choice to take the story in their own direction. The booth displayed an HTC Vive setup, allowing the player to control the character using the headset and the two handheld motion controllers. During a brief interview with Lead Designer Cindy Miller, she told me that the game was not meant for VR and “because you’re in a Virtual Reality setting, you are expected to have unexpected things happen, like going through a table or a counter.” This had happened to me many times in my experience with the demo, though they didn’t give me any problems as I was able to fix my position easily with a combination of moving myself and the use of the motion controllers.
After the event, I looked back at a panel that was in progress while I tried We Are Chicago. The panel, “The Cutting Edge of PC Gaming with Newegg,” centered around the future of VR as well as the relationship between hardware and competitive gamers, a concept collectively known as eSports. The entire panel focused on a hardware developer’s perspective on how VR is affecting the consumer base. Several key points were made about VR, including its impact and whether it was here to stay. When asked about impact, and using education as an example, Robert Hallock, Head of Global Technical Marketing at AMD, stated that VR “redefines the way [anyone] can sense and understand learning,” supporting his case with examples such as the ride of Paul Revere and a child’s perspective of a blue whale swimming over their head.
In my perspective, I think VR has a place in the software development environment for many reasons. One of them is the many opportunities it brings, such as the point about education that Hallock described in the panel. In the same panel, when asked whether VR was here to stay, Hallock stated “versus 3DTV…everyone [he] talked to has tried or wants to try VR.” Chris Pate, Senior Product Manager at Logitech, described the evolution of VR before Hallock, stating, “as [VR] becomes more immersive [and] more compelling…that’s where it drives the interest…of the technology and…the accessibility and affordability of it is a large part of it.” These statements have helped me push my stance towards the inclusion of VR in the software development field, and, taking in a quote from Chris Geiser, Head of US SSD Sales at Samsung, I “certainly think that [VR] is a technology that is here to stay.”
You may watch a recording of the hour-long panel on VR here: