Recap of RTX 2016 – An exploration of the future of VR
Post by Peter Rembiszewski – Principal Product Dev Eng, APIs
AT&T – Developer Ecosystem
I recently made the trek from our Pacific Northwest offices to the Dallas Texas area. (Yes, I know, it’s hot in Dallas during the summer.) I was able to finally attend the RTX show in Austin, Texas, in July (And yes, I understand it’s hot in Austin in the summer, too, but the show was too good to miss.).
RTX 2016, is a show hosted by Rooster Teeth, an Austin-based, diverse media company that got its start in creating machinima videos back in 2003 using the popular Xbox game, Halo. This experience led to the creation of the series call Red Vs Blue, an example of what can be accomplished by a couple of people with a vision and a whole lot of tenacity. What they were able to produce in the limited environment was totally amazing for the time. From that point, the company continued to push the bounds of new media to the point of moving into the world of old media (TV, movies, radio) with the launch of the feature film, Lazer Team, fan-funded through Indiegogo and distributed nationally through Tugg.
This is a total reverse of the traditional model we see today with old media companies trying to make their way into streaming video, podcasts, and the web. The show in Austin covers a wide range of communities from gaming, anime, comedy, and so much more. Not only is the community entertaining, it pushes the boundaries of today’s media and technology.
Exploring Limitations and Opportunities for VR at RTX 2016
One of the panels I attended at the show, was Virtual Reality (VR) with Palmer Luckey (Inventor of the Occulus Rift) and Gus Sorola (Founding member of Rooster Teeth), which concerned the future of VR, specifically in the area of gaming. The panel covered many of the challenges of VR technology, and focused on the general direction that we’re headed towards in the future. It covered current technology limitations, discussed how real VR can be (and how real do we really want it to be), and the challenges we have moving the massive amount of information from one location to another. I am going to elaborate on some of the points covered during the discussion and hopefully balance the limitations with expectations.
As we push the boundaries of VR, we also have to deal with some of the realities of VR. (Don’t think on that last statement too hard, you may pull a virtual muscle.) We need to consider the way our brains and bodies work. VR has the ability to put us in situations that we would never normally. We can relive past events, visit fantasy realms that don’t exist, and even safely experience insanely hazardous situations. For example, a person may visit a haunted mansion featuring a man eating zombies or dive into a deep sea volcano from a first person perspective.
Some things don’t translate that well at the moment, such as the normal physical sensations we experience (and don’t even notice) touch, smell, pressure, temperature, sense of motion, and sense of up and down. There are so many sensations to consider, the task to replicate everything with present technology is not only impractical, it is nearly impossible, barring a direct shunt placed in your brain that enables neural input. I may be one of the few people that agree with Cypher in the first Matrix movie (plug me back into the Matrix), but most people are not ready to become a human battery just yet.
In some cases, the limitations imposed by VR equipment is preferable to reality (maybe we should call it virtual unreality?) For example, I am perfectly OK walking through a haunted house if I don’t feel that zombie gnawing on my leg. In other cases, the limitations can cause major issues. Your internal sense of motion will quickly cause problems when your eyes tell your brain you are moving and your body says that you are not. This leads to disorientation and motion sickness, which can lead to experiences that I personally can live without.
Another major limitation/issue with VR is movement and distance. Yes, VR tech does a great job of translating the real movements of our bodies and hands, but is this preferable? I would point back to the introduction of Wii or Xbox Kinect, for example. One of the great things about these technologies is that they allowed you to perform track movements with your hands and make things happen. On one side the realism is intuitive, but the drawback is that it could be tiring. There is a place for games that are equivalent to aerobic exercise programs, but after a few minutes the fun becomes exhausting. Imagine simulating a bike ride through the Alps, and being required to pedal for six days to complete. Sometimes we don’t want to experience total VR and partial or altered experiences are much more preferable.
VR requires an area that is free and clear of obstacles. Again, I remember the stories of people breaking TVs with their Wii remotes or smacking each other as they flailed wildly with games like Dance, Dance Revolution. This spoof on Assassin’s Creed for the Kinect would translate directly into the same issues experienced in VR. With VR, we have the opportunity to redefine the way we interact, but that will require we retrain our minds and develop new muscle memories. As someone who is familiar with the dynamics of using a gaming controller and can move from one system to the next and still function, we will have to create new movements that correlate into standard VR features, such as head flicks, winks, and hand movements. A decade from now, people will probably have a whole new set of ways to interact with virtual worlds. Currently, the motions are not uniform, so being good in one VR simulation may not help in another.
The final challenge is the amount of information required to build a realistic world. We have seen issues occur moving from standard definition to HD, then to 4K, 8K, and onto 3D video, but immersive video requires an exponential order of magnitude. When you move from fixed focal points on a single screen to a more open 360-degree view, and then add exploratory worlds to the mix, that is a lot of information. In order to make the experience unique for each person, VR has to have information on anything a user will potentially view or experience.
Rooster Teeth is an early adopter of VR, both from an entertainment aspect (they feature VR games in many of their Let’s Play videos) while trying to figure out how to take advantage of this medium as part of their core production portfolio.
Despite the limitations, the horizon for VR seems (like VR itself) open and endless. It will continue to grow and evolve because pioneers like Rooster Teeth are pushing the capabilities to places we have yet to see (and they are entertaining to watch while they do it).
For more articles on AR, VR, and all things video, see our new AT&T Video and VR site.