I went over to the SynTrend Building to attend a VR/AR “Show-n-tell” gathering hosted by the Taiwan Start-up Stadium. I’d been told about it by Holly Harrington, who works there, and she has been very busy lately. It was on the 11th floor, welcomely air-conditioned after a long hot day. Stylish people were milling around the snack bar and a few headset setups. I met a co-worker of mine who is soon being sent to New York; she didn’t know anything about VR/AR, but her future boss had told her to study up on it, which is interesting.
The conference room where the show-n-tell presentations were held was packed, standing-room only, though the adjacent room where the meeting was being broadcast on a large screen was empty. I stood for a while at the back of the room being bumped by the photographer, who was none too subtle about changing lenses and using flash, before retiring to the other room to sit down.
One of the VR teams had an idea about creating and manipulating music in VR, which was interesting. The other seven teams seemed to only be shoehorning VR into existing procedures such as interior design and online shopping. Also, the videos nearly never worked at first, which was troubling. Someone introduced a 360-degree camera. But these things have never interested me that much. Is it 3D? How could it be with only one lens? It’s all just wallpaper, not a world.
Afterwards I chatted a bit with Justin Hendrix, who heads up the NYC Media Lab, and he seemed to agree with my conjecture that we’re currently in a similar phase with VR that movies were when they were new, and all anyone did was plop a camera in front of a stage play and call it a movie. They didn’t realize the potential of the new technology yet, “movies” didn’t really come into their own until they decided to throw out all of their stage-play constrictions and work in the new medium. Justin then told me that he’d heard of people in the nascent VR world referring to traditional movies as “flatties”, which I find fascinating, in that they’re already ready to move on…but to what? He hinted that the next generation of VR devices would most likely not only improve on resolution, refresh rate and viewing angle, but they’d become untethered as well, which would be huge. “2018 is the year everything will come together,” he predicted.
As far as Taiwan’s participation goes, however, I have my doubts about the content side. It’s wonderful that we’re trying to grow a start-up culture, something that is sorely lacking in this Confucian nightmare of Office Politics, but we have a long way to go before a truly innovative employee can easily gain the attention he or she deserves. Valve made a wise choice in choosing HTC for their hardware, but I haven’t really seen anything on the software side that could be termed revolutionary.
Then again, what do I know? Mssr. Hendrix is immersed in this stuff 24/7, and has been for years. I’ve only sampled a few VR experiences, and everyone’s different. That said, I still think that the trick to immersion will be making the player feel like a part of the world, not just physically, but also mentally and interactively, which means strong predictive AI. As much as I’d just gush over being able to wander around Hogwarts castle or the Enterprise, it’s going to be the interaction with other people and the characters that will being people into the world. No forced framing or close-ups; the environment will have to accomodate an almost-infinite number of paths. Forcing film-like narratives into a VR experience seems counterintuitive, and Jason got me thinking when he suggested that perhaps going back to the idea of stage plays, where every performance was live and therefore different, could be one way of thinking about it.