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VR Today and Tomorrow: My Takeaways from Oculus Connect 2

I recently had the privilege to attend Oculus Connect 2, Oculus' second VR conference. In addition to the best swag ever (an autographed copy of Ready Player One and a free Samsung GearVR!), I took so much useful information away and I left the conference feeling totally inspired and excited about the future of VR.

I attended sessions about everything from UI/UX design to VR storytelling to streaming technologies... The information covered was everything from broad, high level concepts about what works in VR and how VR will evolve to very nitty gritty, complex technical details. Here I will summarize what I see as the most important takeaways.

1. Nobody knows what they hell they're doing. And that's ok. VR is in such an early stage and the technology is changing every day, so everything everyone is doing is to some extent experimental. "We're talking about the birth of an artform here," said Felix Lajeunesse. Even the Oculus employees openly acknowledged this and repeated, throughout the conference, "We need your help to figure these things out." Essentially, the more people working to solve a problem, the better. And, at least right now, we're all in this together. There were a lot of addages repeated throughout such as "Success is moving from one failure to the next with great enthusiasm," and, "Every experiment we do, we learn something." 

2. There are many obstacles to reaching "true" VR (you can walk freely and smell, taste, and touch things). We may not see "true" VR in our lifetime, particularly when it comes to taste, smell, and touch. But that doesn't mean that VR is going to fail or that there won't be really cool experiences just because we can't activate all the senses. It's silly to expect VR to achieve that right out of the gate, as some critics seem to expect it to. Look at how much film has evolved since it was first created.

3. Current technology is extremely limiting, so sacrifices must be made. The technology both to create and to view VR content is still in its infancy, so even the best ideas are going to be limited by that. And of course that's obvious in a lot of ways but there are smaller technical things you might not think of that limit your creative freedom. For example, Story Studio did an interesting talk about Henry and how there is a maximum of 11 milliseconds to render each frame, and certain things like textures, shading, and shadows were more "expensive" (took more render time), so some artistic sacrifices had to be made.

4. "VR really is its own medium, and should be treated as such." -Rob Bredow Right now people are sort of looking at VR experiences as somewhere on the spectrum between games and movies. But VR is different than either games or movies on a traditional flat screen because of the sense of presence and the many rules that sort of come along with that. Plus creating it is a whole different ball game. Max Planck of Story Studio said, "When people ask me what the difference is between film and VR, I tell them basically everything." There is so much more you have to take into account in VR than you do with a traditional screen. As people experiment with the medium more, it will set itself apart more, but people really do need to start thinking of it as a separate medium now. I forget who posited it but someone at the conference said, "instead of 'immersive games,' or 'immersive movies,' maybe we'll just call them 'Immsersives' in the future.

5. It's not a composition of frame, it's a composition of presence." -Chris Milk I attended a VR storytelling panel with many of the big names in VR (sadly not a single woman was on the panel though) and they talked a lot about presence. Saschka Unself of Oculus Story Studio said, "A screen is a symbol for something that exists, while in VR it exists." Felix Lajeunesse followed with, "It's not just a camera you're putting in the room, it's a person you're bringing into that environment." You get the gist. It's what makes VR so complicated but so exciting. You are putting people in new worlds, and even if it's a passive experience, it feels more realistic and more active because you have a sense of presence. Or as Ted Schilowitz said, "We see it as a new way to visualize entertainment that is potentially much more powerful than anything that has come before it."

6. VR really is the future. Despite all the challenges, VR is the future and it's pretty damn exciting to be a part of it from the ground up. Mark Zuckerberg made a brief appearance to help us pat ourselves on the back: "All of you are inventing the next major platform" he said. And Oculus' Chief Scientist said, "Once you've experienced it, it's obvious that VR is going to change the world in a big way." And later he added that it's maybe once or twice in a lifetime that the opportunity comes around to be a part of something that is going to change the world, so I left the conference feeling really excited that I chose this path.


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