“The Rise and Fall and Rise of Virtual Reality”

Multiple Contributors* | The Verge

This isn’t actually an article but rather nine very nicely styled pages of various topics related to virtual reality. It was originally published online for The Verge, and, probably due to its complexity, has not really been republished in its entirety. I’m writing a little bit for each page, probably an intro and summary, but some pages deserve more coverage than others.

There is no mention of a release date anywhere.

*Katie Drummond, Ellis Hamburger, Thomas Houston, Ted Irvine, Uy Tieu, Rebecca Lai, Dylan Lathrop, Christian Mazza, Casey Newton, Adi Robertson, Matthew Schnipper, Melissa Smith, Sam Thonis, and Michael Zelenko. Some are authors of the articles ahead. Others are not mentioned again.


Cover Page

Looks very nice, and moves with your mouse. Neat.

1 – Seeing is Believing: The State of Virtual Reality | Matthew Schnipper

Matthew Schnipper is The Verge‘s deputy managing editor, with a specialty in pop culture and stylized coverage. In 2014, he was named GQ’s Senior Writer, and from 2011 – 2014 he was Fader’s editor-in-chief as well. Fader was a three-time National Magazine Awards finalist during his tenure.

Page 1 is simply a summary of the ideas presented in the eight pages to come. It provides a brief history of the rise and fall and rise of virtual reality. It seems to end with a high and optimistic note: “Imagine 10 years ago trying to envision the way we use cellphones today. It’s impossible. That’s the promise VR has today…The Verge investigated its past, present, and future to offer a glimpse of what we feel is enormous possibility”.

There is obviously no argument, but a very hopeful tone. This revolves around the question that I’m asking; whether or not the VR hype is too much and overblown.

2 – Voices From a Virtual Past | Compiled by Adi Robertson and Michael Zelenko

Adi Robertson and Michael Zelenko are both writers for The Verge. Adi has been part of the team since November 2011, and has made over 3000 posts so far. Her recent posts are all about virtual reality. Michael Zelenko has on for a much shorter period, since June 2014, and has made only 27 posts so far. Maybe he’s busy.

Page 2 tells the history of virtual reality from the perspective of 18 different innovators, who each had played a big role in VR’s rise back then. They are individually interviewed, little snippets are taken out, but through their words, which tell of their lives from the ’60s to now, the rise and fall and rise of VR is pieced together.

First of all, interesting format. I like it.

Again, no argument made by the compilers, but the interviewed make their own little arguments. Really interesting to see how the roots of VR sprung up, originally beginning with ideas like air guitars that could play music (with the help of a glove) and flight simulations for the military. Also neat: the stories of the specific companies that rose up with VR are gradually revealed. Most of those companies are done with, by the way.

I learned that early VR was given significant mainstream coverage by the ’90s. I did not know or expect that. It just goes to show how much the hype died out before rising twenty years later.

The most striking part of the piece was some of the innovators’ responses to the revived hype. Ben Delaney has been “really, really getting a chuckle out of reading the hype about the Oculus…like they’re recycling the same old press releases and nonsense that people were talking about 20 years ago”. It seems witnessing the previous fall of VR has made him a bit more skeptical. Jaron Lenier, one of the most important pioneers, adds, “…many of the little tropes and stories and controversies and press reports and little weird clichés of the saga of the Oculus company are so similar to the ones that happened for [my company] so many years earlier”. This assumes that events will repeat themselves. Which they can, but I’ll look more into the context of the last fall of VR.

And here we go: Skip Rizzo notes: “And what else happened in 1995? The internet. Suddenly…virtual reality was this ugly little brother lagging behind. It was the butt of jokes from uninformed fucking idiots”. One tech advancement pushed another one down. So maybe that previous skepticism isn’t as justified as it can be. Maybe the 90s was the time for the internet, but by now, the Internet’s already risen. Maybe now, it’s time for VR?

Something to think about.

3 – Imminent Reality | No authors or compilers named

Three artists/illustrators are asked to draw a future saturated with VR. Andrew Archer imagined a “human” falling through the various levels. Jim Stolen painted a futuristic world. Maiko Gubler was more abstract, and predicted that our notions of “real” would be challenged in the material world.

4 – An Oculus Rift in Every Home | Ellis Hamburger

Ellis is a former reporter for The Verge who covered apps, Facebook, Spotify, and other unique objects of interest. He joined The Verge in February 2012, and left at some later unclear time.

An interview with Cory Ondrejka, VP of engineering at Facebook, talking about Facebook’s visions for VR and the future, and why Facebook bought Oculus. He commends the Oculus Rift for being truly immersive: “…it was able to cross that threshold into presence where your brain is saying “Well, this is real,” and that difference is fundamentally the difference between VR that’s a promise and VR that’s actually here”. He talks about future possibilities and gives concrete examples, such as “having a friend getting married and you can’t be there…what if you could put a 360 video camera in the audience? Then…look around and see what’s going on in a way that’s making an incredible connection”, or sharing a vacation through social media with friends by having them VR their way into your destination. Ondrejka finally talks about how FB, which is a huge company, has the real potential to make VR broadly known and available.

Strong case here. Facebook is incredibly popular and connects a massive online audience. I had never actually thought about using VR for a social media purpose, I was more geared towards video games and training simulations and physical rehab benefits and such. But now, looking at it, the social media aspect could be attractive to many, many consumers. I see a much bigger audience than I have seen before.

Oh boy.

5- The Virtual Reel | Christian Mazza and Sam Thonis

Christian Mazza is a director / DP with a specialty in creative non-fiction for digital-native audiences. He currently leads a growing video unit at Mic.com, where they develop everything from original series to one-off documentaries. Sam Thonis was a former lead director at Verge as well, and is also working at Mic. Mic has been taking a lot of video employees away from the Verge.

These are two documentaries about real-world problems solved by virtual reality. It would’ve been fantastic if the videos had actually loaded. The first one would’ve been about earth geologists who use VR to conduct field research. The second one is about a man who suffers from diplopia (“lazy eye”), which affects depth perception, and how he’s using VR to strengthen the eye.

Again, a showcase of VR’s many practical applications. This indicates promise for VR in the realm of businesses and occupations, but doesn’t say much about it’s potential in the mass consumer market for entertainment purposes.

6 – Digital Matters | Casey Newton

Casey Newton is a senior editor for the Verge. His previous jobs include a stint for the San Francisco Chronicle and being a senior writer for CNET. He’s been part of the Verge since 2013, and currently lives in San Francisco.

This is a conversation between Kevin Kelly, a writer, and Jaron Lanier, VR pioneer, about VR’s rise and fall and rise. Highlights between the two cover various topics. An explanation for tech hype is offered: “Everything is kind of taking so long…we keep on cycling through the same tech hope stories because there’s an impatience and frustration”. But Lanier also talks about how the technology has changed, which could potentially make VR making and manufacturing easier. The part about the hype basically says, “This hype is normal and doesn’t really mean anything”, an observation of human nature, yet his message seems to bring us closer to the possibility of VR as well. Assuming that cheaper manufacturing will be enough to avoid a repeat of events.

7 – Step into Sony’s Virtual World | Ellis Hamburger

Ellis has been mentioned previously.

This is an interview with Shuhei Yoshida, president of Worldwide Studios for Sony Computer Entertainment, and someone who was on the team for the original Playstation, and they’re talking about Sony’s recent Morpheus VR headset, and its implications for the future, and cool features.

When asked how Sony will actually get Morpheus into peoples’ homes, Yoshida responded,  “We want to make the technology before we bring it to market…there are many areas we can improve on to bring it to an even higher level…[also,] it needs strong content… if the games or apps are designed poorly, it makes people sick, which is a really, really bad thing to have as an introduction”.

It seems Sony is focused on making the product as clean-cut as possible for the consumers, which is definitely a big help in getting virtual reality into the mass market. Sony seems to be focused on an entertainment aspect of VR, rather than from a practical standpoint, which is not as enlightening, I suppose, but will probably make more money. And isn’t money how we define the success of anything?

8 – Virtual Insanity | No authors mentioned

This is a timeline of the various ways pop culture has depicted virtual reality, or anything similar to virtual reality. The writer is appropriately sarcastic and it’s an interesting read. The Matrix is on the list.

9 – How to Build Your Own VR Headset | Text by Michael Zelenko, Photography by Sean O’Kane

Zelenko has been mentioned before. Sean O’Kane is a photographer for The Verge.

This page is what it sounds like. The author uses his local UPS’s 3D printer to make the parts to construct a simple VR headset, meant for compatible videos on a smartphone. It is similar to Google’s cardboard VR goggles, but with more solidity and flair.

Could simple and/or homemade VR googles help the average consumer become familiar with the industry as a whole? That is a chance.

Whew! A big source.


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