Day 1: Oculus Connect 2 Reflections

Blog Posts ,Conferences ,Events ,Tech News ,Virtual Reality
September 24, 2015

Yesterday was the first day of general sessions for Oculus Connect 2, and while I sleepily made a video recapping the highlights, I realized when I went to upload it to YouTube that I made the mistake of vertical video, and decided three minutes of me rambling wasn’t worth it. So you get a blog post instead!

I started out my day at Oculus Connect collecting my badge and swag at registration, which was impressingly organized and took much less time than I was anticipating, leaving about an hour to wander around the developer lounge areas before my first demo. I knew that the first demo I wanted to try was Henry’s Birthday Party, which did not disappoint. 

A few weeks ago, Oculus Story Studio announced their short about Henry, a hedgehog who loves giving hugs, and I’d been waiting for a chance to see the little guy find a friend who could handle his prickly hugs! Henry is rendered in Unreal Engine in real-time, and the lighting and particle effects were absolutely gorgeous. I struggled to get the headset to sit properly, and the lens wasn’t well cleaned prior to my demo, which was unfortunate, but I absolutely loved being able to experience the emotion of the animated hedgehog looking for a friend – it’s amazing how much empathy you can get from an animated short with so little speaking. 

After trying out the Henry demo, I headed to a Leadership in Diversity lunch that Oculus hosted and met some really inspiring women working in the industry – I loved hearing about the initiatives that are being started around the country to help get more people involved with VR development! 

My session track kicked off with ‘VR Lessons Learned from Making “I Expect You To Die”’, a talk by Jesse Schell of Schell Games on making the award-winning VR spy experience. Schell talked about how the studio spent their time prototyping various experiences for VR, and why they chose to break away from some previous assumptions on input. Among the top considerations were the importance of maintaining presence, designing for the new medium, focusing on a single platform, and the need to iterate on applications constantly. 

Next up was ‘Game Design Un-Rules’ with Patrick Harris, the developer behind Time Machine VR, talking about common game mechanics and how they broke when moving into developing for VR. Some of these were things that I had experienced building KittenVR, so it was nice to get the validation that hey: I’m not the only one having these problems! The common pain points? Raycasting with stereoscopic vision, not being able to see the input device with an HMD on, adjusting for learning patterns of VR users, and guiding the user’s attention to specific spots without forcing player movement. 

If the lines were any indicator, ILM and Lucasfilm’s ‘The Force of Virtual Reality” was the star of the day one talks – I was fortunate enough to snag a spot in the theatre and hear about the innovations coming out of ILM for using VR to help design and build the latest Star Wars experiences. It was my first time hearing about V-Scout, a tool used to render experiences in real-time streaming into an iPad and VR headsets, and they showed some pretty impressive clips of how they were using the real-time rendering for blocking and scaling scenes in a fraction of the time when compared to traditional tool sets. 

I had another demo to get to in the evening, so my last talk of the day was Kristoffer Brady and Richard Emms discussing design for UX and UI in virtual reality. They outlined the processes they used for iterating on design, and exploring how different user interfaces worked in VR. There was a significant amount of design inspiration being pulled from traditional experiences (think web scrolling) and they talked about the tooling they used and the lessons they learned from their early explorations in building VR interfaces that were comfortable and intuitive. 

Since Toybox with Oculus Touch was only scheduled for the first day, I went up to try out the social experience using Oculus’ hand tracking controllers. Despite scheduling time slots to try demos in the OC2 app, I waited in line for about 45 minutes before getting a chance to get hands-on. The experience was a lot of fun, though the interaction with the controllers wasn’t as intuitive as everyone had seemed to say, and I found myself struggling a bit with catching and grabbing things in a natural way. Still, I found myself giggling at a lot of the toys that were available to play with, and loved throwing around boomerangs and shooting laser guns to break things. 

With Oculus Connect 2 off to a great start and well on its way, I know the announcements coming out for Day 2 will be just as exciting! 

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