Short version: earlier this year it became clear to me that virtual reality is now the near future of everything, so I found the best people (Andrea Hawksley and Emily Eifler) and we started a project called eleVR, where we do stuff like create an open source web video player compatible with the Oculus, produce the first VR vlog (for, not about, virtual reality), and figure out how to film and produce stereo spherical video, sharing our findings on our blog the entire way.
Long version: I’m somewhat involved with the game dev community, and at the beginning of the year I started to encounter game after game being developed for the Oculus rift. VR gaming in the Oculus was clunky, low-res, and unconvincing to me, but I did come away certain that VR was the future, not because the Oculus headset itself was all that impressive, but because of the passion of the many developers putting so much time into creating content for it.
It’s games that sell gaming platforms, and VR was getting the games. All those kickstarter backers were fully invested, making new sorts of experiences that the gaming genre desperately needs. VR hardware will get better, and better, and suddenly I looked at the limited little rectangle of my videos and saw something soon to be archaic, an arbitrary shape chosen by technological convenience rather than anything fundamentally meaningful to the human experience, and I saw VR as the platform for video, for social media, for the entire internet.
I’m not going to wait around until my medium is dead, then jump onto other people’s platforms after they’ve already made the rules. I decided to get in right away and create a VR video culture that is open, diverse, and in the hands of individual creators, just as the Oculus got its start as an open platform in the hands of independent game developers. I saw two possible futures: one where people sit around detached from the world all day every day, absorbed in vacuous AAA games and websites designed to addict you with algorithmic perfection, and then the other future, where virtual reality is developed and controlled by real people, the ultimate personal tool for communication and self-expression. In this second future, sure the addictive AAA experiences exist, but it is not only huge corporations that have control over the virtual world.
That was what I was thinking about before Facebook bought Oculus. Now that the creators of the rift no longer have ultimate control over how open it stays, I’m all the more determined to do what I can to make the virtual world be our world, created and experienced by anyone who wants. Hence the creative commons videos, tech posts, and open source video player.
eleVR is a project of the Communications Design Group, a research group supported by SAP, which means I get to spend lots of time having fun researching how to do VR video and sharing it all on eleVR in addition to making my usual videos. It’s pretty awesome having a job that lets you work on so many different things and then give it all away for free, unlike all the VR-related startups and kickstarters that have to worry about making money and having an actual product if they want to be able to do stuff, so I’m really lucky I can do this.
And the questions that come up in VR video research are surprisingly in line with some of my favourite things in math. In VR video, we have to deal with spherical projections, vector fields (see my post on the hairy ball theorem), and quaternions, and just wait until we get to the spherical audio stuff… so much fun!