The future is now.

During PAX Dev and PAX West (previously PAX Prime) over 100,000 video game industry professionals and fans descend upon downtown Seattle. These industry mavens and insiders come to talk shop, see lectures, watch tournaments, and above all else, to see the new stuff! PAX West, being the largest consumer accessible video game conference on the planet, is THE place to show off your new gaming software and hardware to the early adopters and insiders in the gaming and tech community. This year the message to the attendees was clear; virtual reality is here.

The permeation and availability of VR tech at this years event was staggering. Everyone from Sony to Some Kid (indie developer) had virtual worlds for you to explore and interact with. For those unfamiliar with VR, this offered a unique opportunity to immerse oneself in the different technologies and experiences.

Following our experience at PAX there is no question where the future of gaming and technology is headed, in fact, we’re already there. The real question now is, how long will it take for everyone else to catch up?

From indie sample to corporate staple; VR has left the garage.

This year we saw a major turn from VR being novelty echnology on the sidelines, mostly related to R&D and indie efforts, to being as ubiquitous as any major platform (xbox, ps4, nintendo etc). All the major players had VR wares to show and the incredible lineups of attendees, eager to enter their virtual worlds, didn’t let up all weekend.

HTC and Steam were there with the incredibly popular Vive which, to obtain a half hour demo slot, you had to book weeks in advance to see. Samsung and Oculus shared space on the show-floor where they highlighted the already available mobile powered GearVR as well as the Oculus Rift headset with the, yet to be released, Touch Controllers. Playstation made an exciting showing with their Project Morpheus headset, now dubbed Playstation VR, and a variety of accessories that added to their demos in a big way. There were also many startups and indie game companies running VR demos on everything from Google Cardboard to custom made proprietary headsets. VR completely stole the show(floor) all weekend, backed up by numerous VR specific lectures, and even a VR lounge down the street.

Passing fad or the next evolution?

Since the massive success of the Oculus Rift on Kickstarter in 2012 and the subsequent Facebook acquisition, just two years later for 2 billion dollars, VR has been “back” in a big way. In the four years since we’ve seen lots of other players enter the arena. The other iterations of the technology; AR (augmented reality) and MR (mixed reality) have taken off in their own directions, backed by giants like Microsoft and Nintendo. However, with few headsets actually available on the market and relatively few people having experienced VR first hand, there is still a lot of skepticism. Many would claim that VR failed in the 90’s, or that people look ridiculous wearing the headsets. These are valid points. But it doesn’t negate the billions of dollars pouring into the industry from the biggest tech companies in the world. Considering the influence these companies already have, the big picture looks less like a fad, and more like the start of something big.

"Virtual reality was once the dream of science fiction. But the internet was also once a dream, and so were computers and smartphones. The future is coming." - Mark Zuckerberg (2014)

In the Presence of the future.

In Virtual Reality we call the sensation of being IN the rendered environment “presence”. This is essentially where the skepticism ends and the adventure begins. When the mind can’t discern the difference between the real and the virtual, and a near-miss in your spaceship causes hearts pounding and adrenaline racing. This is the holy grail for gaming and, one could argue, for all media. To transport the viewer believably and completely into the world of the author. Experiencing presence is like taking the red pill in the Matrix, your mind becomes open to how deep this technology can actually take you.

PAX was rich with a variety of these presence-inducing polished, interactive experiences. Unique to events like PAX is the ability to, like a flight of beers, taste many experiences back to back and hone in on a flavour that best suits your tastes. From platformers, to RPG’s, to simulators, and first person shooters, there was something for everyone to experience in VR.

If you have yet to strap on a headset and get virtual, PAX and other gaming or VR events is a great way to get your feet wet. Here in an educational environment you get to ask questions of the pros, try your hand at a variety of experiences, and scope out the latest devices. Skepticism gives way to magic once you get inside those bulky “face toasters” and experience presence for yourself. The future is coming, indeed its already upon us, don’t get left behind. Be present and join us in the future.