The Drax Files Radio Hour 11: on the road to VR

radio-hourThe Drax Files Radio Hour 11 heads (back) along the VR road, covering the arrival (in July) of the Oculus SDK-2, which can be pre-ordered now and features an updated headset with low-latency positional head tracking, a price-tag of $350.00 (+ tax and shipping, I presume), and comes with a suggestion from OculusVR that those just wanting to try one out should really wait for the consumer version.

VR is an interesting subject, don’t get me wrong on that score, my doubts about it having quite the impact on SL as is perhaps hoped notwithstanding. But I have to say that two back-to-back episodes of TDFRH on the same subject coming on top of all the other flag-waving on the subject going on just about everywhere, did pushed me towards VR overload. Yes, I appreciate that the main reason for this was the Game Developer’s Conference, which itself was pumped full of VR from Oculus VR, Sony and others,  but VR fatigue is starting to take its toll hereabouts.

Nevertheless, I’ll include the video from Oculus CEO Palmer Luckey, who has some interesting things to say on the Rift and the upcoming SDK 2.

As well as the Rift, there’s mention of Sony’s Morpheus headset for the PS4, and just after the podcast came further news that Microsoft is definitely looking at the VR bandwagon as well, most likely in respect of the Xbox (and the obvious link with Kinect) and which may well be connected with their Project Fortaleza.

Outside of VR, a few other items are touched upon briefly in the show, such as the recent uptick in SL region numbers. While it is far to early to say whether we’re seeing a new trend or merely the usual March uptick is too soon to say.

The SL bikini banner ad campaign (if I can call it that) is poked at as well. It’s proving controversial on a range of blogs and social media. Some have said it’s simply following in the footsteps of IMVU’s advertising, others that it is simply celebrating spring and the approach of summer, while others have called it tacky. To me, and aside from saying, “all of the above”, it again demonstrates a couple of things. The first of these being that LL is again trying to reach a very narrow audience with this style of campaign and in doing so, it is just liable to turn people away from SL as much as attract them. Kudos to Drax for his observation on the lack of diversity evident as well.

My second thought is that it again leads me to the conclusion that the Lab are still utterly failing to harness the potential of the platform to tell its own story. I’ve long argued for the Lab taking a more narrative marketing approach to promoting the platform, and seeing ads like this one just leave me wanting to pull out my soapbox and start over again on the subject. The Lab has an enormous resource at their disposal by which narrative marketing could really work for them (witness Drax’s TDF video series), yet they persist in remaining blind and deaf to the idea.

Maybe I should get the soapbox and drum out again…

This segment of TDFRH was supposed to have included an interview with Richard Goldberg, but this has been pushed back a week, much to my disappointment. I’ve been working alongside Richard since September 2013, and have found him to be insightful and balanced in his views. I was therefore looking forward to him discuss the August ToS changes from a content creator and businessman’s standpoint, particularly as I know he and I very much share the same views.

Emily Short – via UC Santa Cruz IF Storytelling Symposium, 2013

Emily Short also declined to being interviewed specifically about Versu and LL. While this was another interview I was looking forward to, I can’t blame Emily for saying no. She has very eloquently and graciously said all that needs to be said on the matter via her blog and in an interview with Gamasutra. Nevertheless, I do hope she accepts a future invitation to join the show and talk about Interactive Fiction in general; it’s a fascinating genre.

With Richard and Emily absent this episode, and in keeping with the theme of the podcast, Ben Lang from The Road to VR took centre-seat for the main interview, and it’s here that the feeling of VR fatigue really started to kick-in – which is not to say I didn’t listen. Indeed, I found the interview somewhat fascinating, but perhaps not for the reasons one might expect.

Ben makes some interesting points on VR’s potential, should something like the Rift really enter mainstream consumer consciousness, and I certainly don’t nay-say his points, and it was good to hear him precede his comments with “if” a lot of the time – too many commentators seem to think it’s a done deal where the Rift is concerned, and that may not be true, even if VR itself does go on to achieve popular consumer success, which would seem a given over time and as headsets become more ergonomic and portable.

His comments on AR, however, left me feeling that he’s could be seen as an example of someone getting so close to a subject, it warps their perception somewhat. He boldly states the AR has been around for ten years as a novelty and has yet to find its “killer app”.

Ben Lang (image via The Road to VR)

Yet it could be argued that until very recently, and in terms of the home market the Rift is trying to address, VR was in precisely the same boat as he describes for AR: a decade (plus) old technology considered a novelty outside of the lab and specialist applications. It is still less than two years since the Rift started to seep into the public consciousness as a viable opportunity to help VR go mainstream (or at least, the technical consciousness).

In this respect, and when one looks at something like the castAR, it might be argued that it now occupies the same position as did Oculus Rift as little as 18 months ago. Like the Oculus, it has passed proof-of-concept, it has run a successful kickstarter and is now on the road to releasing prototype development units. Of course, there’s absolutely no guarantee of success or that it’ll attract a windfall investor like Marc Andreessen, but given where it is, I’d perhaps wouldn’t be so quick to seemingly marginalise AR’s potential as a consumer product when comparing it to VR’s current position.

castAR (complete with a VR "add-on"): allowing AR to sit in the development space occupied by Oculus Rift 18 months ago?
castAR (complete with a VR “add-on”): allowing AR to sit in the development space occupied by Oculus Rift 18 months ago?

The conversation did segue a couple of times, and I confess that in doing so, it did pique my interest a lot more. The first of these came in discussing the differences between what I would call emotional immersion (and he calls “investment”) and physical immersion. While I fully agree that coupling the former with the latter undoubtedly brings a person to a much deeper level of immersion than when seen of a screen alone, I do think Ben undersells the power of emotional immersion somewhat. I’d also venture to say it is something Linden Lab have recognised – hence the inclusion of the “first person” view in their Oculus implementation alongside of the familiar 3rd-person and Mouselook views.

The other point at which my interest was particularly piqued came when the discussion turned to Second Life’s power as a blank creative canvas also being its Achilles heel. I found it interesting that Lang, as a “non-SL” user immediately pointed to this as an issue and then went on to touch upon the way modern education practices perhaps stifle creativity in youngsters. This is a point made by Robin Woods back in episode 10 of The Drax Files, and it was interesting hearing someone ostensibly from “outside” SL make the same point. Sadly (for me at least), this line of discussion quickly switched back to speculative VR hardware, and my interest diminished.

For the VR enthusiast, this is doubtless be an interesting segment. While I found it to be broadly interesting. However, as mentioned at the top of this piece, I struggled with it in places, largely because that feeling of VR fatigue, and there has certainly been a lot of focus on the subject in TDFRH since it launched. As it is,  the reason this review is lagging behind the podcast is that I had to wait a good day or so before I could actually sit down and listen to it again in order to put coherent thoughts to virtual paper.

But, despite my VR fatigue, I can’t leave without mentioning a video I came across from Gamespot. They  were also at GDC, and in the video, the reality of the virtual is debated from two sides of the gaming coin.

Congratulations to Cinnamon Mistwood on winning the Leap Motion. Don’t forget there’s another chance to win a device on the draxfiles SL feed.

2 thoughts on “The Drax Files Radio Hour 11: on the road to VR

  1. Yup, there’s already been an overload of VR coverage. Here we see a tendency for the show to drift away from its aim, i.e. a comprehensive coverage of SL and virtual world news due to a fascination with the Rift.

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    1. I played the whole episode, but tuned out for most of it.

      It’s their show… if they want to cover Rift and VR, glad they’re doing what they enjoy.
      (Did they share the show with 35 of their friends?)

      Maybe next week will be on Linden Lab’s new Welcome Island that uses a Bikini Bimbo Beach Party theme, complete with Tango-equipped starter avatars.

      -ls/cm

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