Monday, May 26, 2014

The First SVVR - It will never be this small again ...

I wrote about my first GDC back in April, how it felt like there was still frontier left in the gaming space and this fueled an excitement I no longer found at Siggraph.  Well just recently, I attended the Silicon Valley Virtual Reality conference.  It took place this past May 19th and 20th at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View and in total, only had 400 attendees.  All of the panels, talks took place in one large room and the entire exhibit hall felt like it had the footprint of maybe two Autodesk booths at Siggraph.  It may have felt small, but the wide open frontier in front of us felt massive.

Organized by Karl Krantz, the conference was professional, well run and well attended by VR hardware and content enthusiasts from all over the world.  What I loved was the feeling that in only two days time, I felt like I could connect with the entire die-hard community.  We could all tell that this was probably the last time this conference would feel so small.

One praise worthy highlight was the quick pitch session at which Bert “Cymatic Bruce” Wooden ran the timer as a brutal and yet charismatic tyrant, keeping each presenter under 60 seconds.  When some late comers were trying to tack on to the end, they were each given 10 seconds.  Bruce would unashamedly count the seconds off with his fingers and then say "Get off the stage!" when the last thumb fell.  It was fun watching some presenters take in the gravity that these weren't the soft time constraints we've grown used to at nerd conferences.

Over all, the vendors at the community were largely hardware solutions, peripherals and alternative head mounted displays to the Oculus Rift (Oculus was in attendance too).  The coolest hardware experience wasn't even an exhibit, but an impromptu pitch from John Houston of Coactive Drive.  His company has developed a novel momentum generating motor called the Gemini Drive that can impart anisotropic, instantaneous impulses whose force can be modulated in frequency and amplitude independently.  Imagine how this could be used to provide impact to a head mounted display - lumbering dinosaurs, embattled space ships, a jeep rolling down a rocky terrain.

Most content creators were just setting up at empty tables and showing WIP demos of what they've been making.  The most notable content I got to view was "Strangers" by Felix & Paul's Once studio and "Hello Again" by Chris Milk.  Both pieces were exceptionally well crafted experiments in the VR space and I can tell these two content creators are going to be inspirational leaders in this new medium.

The most notable panel was the first one of the conference, with VR founders and VCs talking about the next 5 years for VR.  Now it's not hyperbole to say that Palmer Lucky and Oculus is largely responsible for sparking this new VR movement.  One could argue that VR was imminent, with the smart phone market making it easier and easier to find high quality, inexpensive sensor and display solutions.  But it was awesome to watch Palmer, who had just beat out every other 21 year old in the world to the largest check of the year, speak with a passion that made it clear why he's the heart and champion of this new era.  He didn't make Oculus to make money, he made it because no one else was doing it for him, and he wanted his goddamn holodeck like all of us other nerds.

After the panel, I watched from a far as Palmer went around to every single content creator at the exhibit.  He would give excited remarks about what was working and what wasn't.  He'd talk with his arms flying and his eyes wide with ideas.  It's like he was immediate friends with anyone who had gotten how cool VR is and spent the time to make something with his Rift.

It is my hope that as Oculus enters into this next chapter of its now Facebook backed venture, they don't lose Palmer's inspiring vision and the heart that drives it.

Looking forward to next year.