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Mobile VR Is 'Coasting On Novelty', Says John Carmack (cnet.com) 51

John Carmack, chief technology officer at Oculus, says mobile VR is currently "coasting on novelty." Speaking during the Oculus Connect event, Carmack urged developers to "be harder" on themselves and create experiences on par with non-VR applications and games. "We are coasting on novelty, and the initial wonder of being something people have never seen before," he said. From a CNET report:"But we need to start judging ourselves. Not on a curve, but in an absolute sense. Can you do something in VR that has the same value, or more value, than what these other [non-VR] things have done?" During his speech, Carmack highlighted loading times in mobile VR games as a key area in need of improvement, saying that making users sit through 30-seconds of loading is too long, given the brevity of most currently available VR experiences. "That's acceptable if you're going to sit down and play for an hour ... but [in VR] initial startup time really is poisonous. An analogy I like to say is, imagine if your phone took 30 seconds to unlock every time you wanted to use it. You'd use it a lot less." He continued: "There are apps that I wanted to play, that I thought looked great, that I stopped playing because they had too long of a load time. I would say 20 seconds should be an absolute limit on load times, and even then I'm pushing people to get it much, much lower."
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Mobile VR Is 'Coasting On Novelty', Says John Carmack

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  • by Anubis IV ( 1279820 ) on Tuesday October 11, 2016 @04:26PM (#53058069)

    Carmack's comments about "coasting on novelty" weren't related to mobile VR. They were about VR in general, including the Oculus (after all, he was addressing an Oculus Connect audience). The original article [gamesindustry.biz] that CNET cites gets that fact right. How CNET got it so wrong is beyond me, but the /. headline should be corrected, since otherwise his comments come across as a pithy no-brainer that mobile VR sucks (which is no surprise), rather than a stinging exhortation for improvement in the general space of VR.

  • To improve load times, remove all graphics, sound, and leave a simple text prompt.

    C:\ is a fine example.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Can you do something in VR that has the same value, or more value, than what these other [non-VR] things have done?

    WRT porn, I'm pretty sure the answer is a resounding HELL YES. It takes very, very little imagination to anticipate that.

    It's entirely possible that most people born after 2010 may never have sex with an actuall person and I doubt they'll care either.

  • ...just a really inconvenient way to play Quake. Super cool for 10 minutes though.

  • My experience with the DK II SDK is that there's a relationship between novelty interest and nausea. The more of the latter, the less of the former. It was a deal-breaker for me. I managed to spend quite a few hours in Elite Dangerous though but mostly because space is black. Flying inside a space station made me want to heave.

    Otherwise I think VR would be greatly improved with some mocap gloves and arm sleeves (or something similar to a Microsoft Kinect), to at least come close to doing something usef
    • by lgw ( 121541 )

      Otherwise I think VR would be greatly improved with some mocap gloves and arm sleeves (or something similar to a Microsoft Kinect), to at least come close to doing something useful better than without it.

      The Vive solved that well, by all accounts. Its "wands" work better than the Wii - good enough that you can easily pick them up when seeing only the VR view of where they are.

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Tuesday October 11, 2016 @05:11PM (#53058297) Journal
    Unless you have the tech for full 'augmented reality'; and some good ideas about how to actually make that a virtue, it is hard to make a terribly compelling case for 'mobile VR'. The fact that a modern smartphone screen is just about the right size to be shoehorned into a low rent VR headset is worth a few tech demos; but nothing battery powered that fits on your face currently has the punch for VR work; and 'wearing giant, ridiculous-looking blinders' is a bad idea in public.

    The main win for 'mobile' in general isn't on absolute quality; but on the fact that it is in your pocket right now and other sources of distraction aren't. Especially for cellphone stuff, which doesn't have the advantage of hardware buttons designed with games in mind; but offers a very, very, low friction path to downloading and playing something.

    So long as VR gear is moderately ridiculous looking; and largely blocks the surrounding reality, it's not exactly a compelling choice for on-the-go entertainment, which generally demands something reasonably unobtrusive and capable of being used without missing your station/walking into things/etc.

    VR more generally has some definite use cases(which, in part, is why deep-pocketed research types have been enduring considerably lousier and vastly more expensive VR setups for a couple of decades now); but are going to have trouble escaping 'novelty' unless the install base is larger.

    Whenever you have a feature that is cool; but only some of your players have, you force developers to choose between drastically narrowing their customer base, ignoring the cool feature entirely, or doing something with the cool feature that is sufficiently unimportant that the game can still 'fail gracefully' for people who don't have access to it.

    We saw a similar thing, though less dramatic, with 'PhysX': when they first came out with their dedicated PPU card, approximately nobody owned one, so any games that could use the additional physics processing used it for visual tinsel that could be removed or faked without causing any real problems in gameplay. Even after Nvidia ate them developers couldn't necessarily rely on particularly high performance physics acceleration being available(yes on higher end Nvidia setups; but limited on feebler Nvidia GPUs and CPU backed on Intel and AMD setups), so the effects remained mere flavor. Often rather pretty flavor; but nothing gameplay essential; because it still has to work if the physics acceleration isn't available.
  • by seoras ( 147590 ) on Tuesday October 11, 2016 @05:21PM (#53058351)

    Insightful from Carmack. There's been a history of failed attempts in technology to "game change" focusing on the single human sense of vision.
    More recently it was 3D TV's and movie theatres which, in hindsight, enjoyed what Carmack describes as "coasting on novelty".
    The 3D movies I paid a premium to watch were cool for the first 5 minutes and then I forgot I was watching 3D as my focus shifted to the content.
    A short lived novelty and not cheap. Content is king.
    Going further back I think it's fascinating that everyone assumed that video phone calls would be the future (see "Bladerunner").
    Yet here we are in the 21st century using text messaging as primary.
    Preference for communication is the reverse of what everyone assumed. 1.Text messaging, 2.Voice call, 3.Video call
    Keeping this in mind, while watching Zuckerberg playing with his new toy on his Facebook videos, I can't help but wonder if he's going to be very disappointed in the end at the uptake numbers.

    • Preference for communication is the reverse of what everyone assumed. 1.Text messaging, 2.Voice call, 3.Video call

      Yet try to find the documentation of any new SDK and it's "watch the videos on Youtube.

    • There have been a few movies where 3D actually added a lot to the experience. A hell of a lot of immersion, mostly. But doing 3D at that level hasn't been cheap or easy. I suspect that VR will be like 3D, but amplified. Many directors will mess around with it for a bit, only a handful will get it right at great expense, but the result will be nothing short of amazing. And like 3D, those few successes will not be enough for mass adoption (and I don't mean people buying 3D TVs, I mean them actually watching 3
      • 3D adds little to games but VR is potentially (literally) a game changer in this area.

        Sure, as long as you don't mind the game changing to all rail-shooters, walking simulators, and trite "experiences". Throw in some shitty motion controls and you've got yourself a recipe for success!

        • Any simulator will greatly benefit from VR (flight, space, driving). RPGs and adventure games as well. So will shooters (also the sandbox variety, like Call of Duty or Battlefield). Pretty much any game that presents a first-person view of the world.
    • Insightful from Carmack. There's been a history of failed attempts in technology to "game change" focusing on the single human sense of vision.
      More recently it was 3D TV's and movie theatres which, in hindsight, enjoyed what Carmack describes as "coasting on novelty".

      There have been a number of attempts at 3D shopping, 3D meeting spaces, 3D websites over the years and they all failed in my opinion because like video calling they were just gimmicks that were unable to offer any usable value. VR Facebook I assume will meet a similar fate. If people wanted to interact with each other in a space that (is)looks real they have the option of doing that already.

      I think VR itself is different. It isn't 3DTV .. I see the sentiment everywhere by what I assume are people who mos

      • by tlhIngan ( 30335 )

        Software currently sucks, displays have a long way to go yet in terms of at least experiences and games VR isn't just another gimmick with no or marginal value. It isn't an incremental improvement like Color TV, HDTV or 3D TV... In my opinion it is a "game changer" tons of fun and frankly amazing. Until you try VR (smartphones don't count) you won't understand.

        Nobody watches 3DTV and says "holy shit" the effect is marginally neat and then you forget about it... everyone who has tried our VR gear is like OMF

    • Going further back I think it's fascinating that everyone assumed that video phone calls would be the future (see "Bladerunner").

      Who is this everyone? Just like Minority made touch UI look cool, or Star Trek demonstrated voice input, I think most people realise that shit isn't as practical as the movies make out.
      The simple fact that there is a biological limitation on what you can process with different parts of your body. So voice will never be the primary machine interface, because the body allows typing and thinking simultaneously, but it is much harder to talk and think simultaneously. Just as touch is more labour intensive than

  • Was when John talked about developing a VR scripting language and discussion went to whether VR scripts would eat into Oculus store profits.

  • There are a handful of games -- mostly cockpit games that involve cars, planes, and spaceships -- that are indisputably better with VR. EVE: Valkyrie, Project CARS, and Assetto Corsa are awesome beyond compare in VR. But there aren't many of these games, and they all fit the same formula.

    And there are a few other games that, while genuinely good, don't really add much with VR. These ones make you wonder why they're not a normal game because they're limiting their market. And because VR headsets aren't the m

    • by darkain ( 749283 )

      Sssoooo, what you're saying is we need a new Steel Battalion game, with the "Steel Battalion Controller of fucking holyshit why did they even make that in the first place" !?

    • A lot of the problems are pretty similar to when gaming started to take off on mobile too. Initially we had mostly shitty ports/clones from other platforms and control schemes that largely sucked (virtual joystick anyone?). Over time quality has improved and control schemes have been figured out that work well with the touch screen interface to the point that mobile is a pretty good gaming platform (not for everyone but it certainly makes a lot of money).

      VR will take some time to really find its footing but

  • Smartphone GPUs are not powerful enough and not power efficient enough to drive a VR display at acceptable quality for mass appeal period. All low level "tricks" and hardware hacking in the world are not going to do much to change this basic equation.

    Nor do I see where there is sufficient R&D budgets to push technology hard enough to make it happen in the near term just for the sake of VR.

    • by Hadlock ( 143607 )

      VR Works just fine on my three year old android smart phone. The Unity and Unreal engines are free to download and develop with, this technology works great on very old phones and it's free to develop for, can you elaborate on your points?

  • Mobile games fit the VR model much better than traditional PC or Console based games.

    Mobile games are short, gimmicky and disposable. The UI is already stripped down to a minimum, they're meant to be played for short periods, good for a giggle, and then you move on.

    Meanwhile, PC and console games have significantly better input devices with controllers, keyboards, mice, etc. As much fun as it is to physically stand up and crouch down in a VR cover-based-shooter, it's significantly less responsive than jus

    • Mobile games fit the VR model much better than traditional PC or Console based games.

      The only thing that makes a mobile game a mobile game is touch screen rather than controller interface.

      Mobile games are short, gimmicky and disposable. The UI is already stripped down to a minimum, they're meant to be played for short periods, good for a giggle, and then you move on.

      Not interested in wasting time with low quality.

      As much fun as it is to physically stand up and crouch down in a VR cover-based-shooter, it's significantly less responsive than just pressing a button. Did I stand up high enough? Too high? I'm tall, and now it won't register me crouching. Same with reloading, walking, talking, or anything else you might do in a game. Pressing a button is much easier and more reliable than trying to hump my PS/Vive/Wii-motes on something to simulate an action.

      Head and controllers are tracked in 6DOF. Not vomit inducing 3DOF currently dominating smartphones. The system knows exactly what your position is in space. If your taking cover you would be able to see for yourself whether your crouched down enough. If you sit on the floor in RL your sitting on the floor in VR. You input physical height for calibration

  • Always has been, always will be.

    Period.

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