Content is King: VR is pretty but looks ain’t everything

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2016 will be the year of VR. There’s little doubt about that, whether you view VR with dead-eyed cynicism or happen to be chomping at the bit to get a headset. If you happen to be one of those people looking forward to your first VR headset purchase, there’s not much longer to wait; HTC’s Vive is aiming for a late 2015 release whilst the rest of the players (Oculus Rift, Sony Mourpheus, et al.) will be unleashing themselves on us early 2016. Point is however, whether VR succeeds or fails, next year will be the biggest year VR has ever had.

The technology won’t fail the dream as it did before. You only have to look at Star VR’s upcoming headset to get a sense of how immersive things are getting – its dual screens boast an awesome 2560×1440 pixels per eye (which gives it a total resolution of 5,120 x 1,440). It also has a 210-degree FOV meaning that you won’t feel like you’re looking at things through a set of binoculars. Also consider that the current tech is also seized upon by hackers who come up with sexy stuff like this…

It’s quite satisfying then, to now read articles like this which seem to have taken some pleasure in the failing of VR in the 90’s. The technology wasn’t there, but the aspirations were. The predictions about when VR would rule the world weren’t wrong, just a bit early.

The success of VR as we currently know it will lie within the content that’s created. It seems an obvious thing to say but it’s easy to get swept up in the novelty of it all – the feeling of a full 360 environment, the nifty graphics and visuals – and rightly so, a lot of work has gone into getting to that stage, but if that’s all there is then it’s doomed.

When the Lumiere brothers debuted their moving images back in 1895, it was a world that wasn’t used to footage of workers leaving factories or steam trains passing by. No wonder people freaked out, they’d never seen such witchcraft before. But this was the birth of a new medium. Us humans, being what we are, chose this medium as a method for telling stories and imagining new worlds. Motion pictures were born and thus the language of cinema was spake (that likely makes no sense but it sure does have a sense of pathos). This language evolved; film-makers learned how to craft stories, characters, sets, special effects – a bunch of factory workers leaving their factory doesn’t have the same wow factor as it used to, we expect greater now. It’s just the same with VR. Sure, it is such a cool experience to dive into these worlds and see how things look but this won’t be enough. Over the last few months, I’ve been lucky enough to be developing some VR content with a studio in Belfast and they see things the same way. There has to be something that will compel someone to put on a headset and give themselves up for 10, 20, 30 minutes or more. It’s an amazing opportunity to invite people to be in a story. Technology has finally aligned to bring us VR the way it was envisaged, whatever technicalities are holding developers back now won’t be holding them back next year, next month, next week.

What we need to worry about is content. Telling a story in VR is a new thing. How we direct action in a 360 environment is a new challenge. How we place the viewer into the scene has deeper consequences now. All these considerations trigger emotional responses in the VR tourist but the rewards for both them and the developers are exceptional.

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Imagine watching the Avengers do battle around you in a 360 arena

Considering how a viewer will feel when positioned between certain things, how they’ll feel when addressed directly by a character, how they’ll feel if they look down and see a body will open the door to gains that will benefit everyone. Sure, some things might not work but they’ve got to be tried, tested and pushed. To me right now, it kind of feels like the world just before the internet swept across it and changed everything. If (and with each week, the “if”gets smaller) VR is the success many hope it is, it’ll change things beyond recognition. It won’t sit patiently on a shelf waiting for the next time you want plug it in to have a cheap scare, it’ll be there 24/7 waiting for you so it can take you to everywhere you want to go and everywhere you don’t have to imagine anymore.

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