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What is the future of VR?

This is a fascinating time in the Virtual Reality industry. In many ways, it parallels the dawn of the film industry. Going back to 1890, when the first motion picture cameras were invented, people really didn’t know what to do with them, or have any idea of the profound impact they were soon going to have on the world.

The oldest surviving film is this:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roundhay_Garden_Scene

The novelty carried it along for a few years, and it grew into an industry. People flocked to store fronts, and eventually retrofitted theaters to see these moving pictures. It was like magic.

This is sort of where VR is today. People are scrambling to find (and make) content that pushes the boundaries, and sets new standards, but the novelty factor is still a major part of what is giving VR legs.

But if we look at film, we see that after a few years, the novelty wasn’t enough. Once everyone had seen a few films of a horse running, or a person walking, they didn’t see much reason to keep watching films.

So early filmmakers began to film stage plays, so that they could be presented to people anywhere. They also filmed far off places in the world, and brought those films to people who might never see these exotic locales. These filmmakers took regular life, and captured it. But something was missing. The medium existed, but it wasn’t its own thing. It was an extension of things we already understood. There’s a quote I love, “The electric light did not come from the continuous improvement of candles” (Oren Harari).  Filmmakers realized that films had to be something new.

In many ways, this too, is where VR sits today. We’re taking what we already know, and “VR”ing it.  We’re filming scenes, but in 360. We’re taking 3D games, and rendering them to a head mounted display.

How do we get away from it feeling gimmicky? A novelty? What is the thing that will only make sense in a VR headset. Where the game or experience cannot be properly conveyed on a 2D screen alone. Where does it go from here?

Well, in the late 1800s, people started to expect films to contain meaningful content with narrative and story. And this is where movies truly found their place – their purpose. When movies began to tell a story, the movie industry exploded. When the continuous narrative and the techniques behind editing and and special effects started to become common practice, the medium became its own thing, rather than a way of repackaging things we’d already seen.

So what does this mean for VR? Where are we today?

Well, I think we’re somewhere in the late 1890s. Many people are producing content, games & experiences, trying to figure out what will cause VR’s explosion, but it hasn’t exploded yet. We haven’t yet seen the defining piece that makes it all gel. We’re still at the stage of viewing films in front of stores, and in retrofitted theaters. VR as a go-to form of entertainment in the home is not widespread enough yet.

But it will happen. There will be something that makes millions of people jump on board the VR train.

VR differentiates from movies in a profound way. While movies create a trance-like shared viewing experience, VR is isolated, and reactive. Turning your head in VR, changes your view of the world. Movies bring a time and a place to you. VR, on the other hand, brings YOU to a time and place. You don’t watch it, you are it.

So, what will make VR become truly mainstream? That point where people come home on a Friday night, pour a glass of wine, sit down, and throw on the VR headset, and settle into an evening of… what?

Ask yourself, right now, if you were to sit down with a VR headset on for a few hours, what would you want to be doing? Since VR teleports you to a different time and place, the question is really asking, “If you were to be able to do anything at all, right now, what would you do?”, and then make that possible with VR.

To me, the thing that pops to mind is something creative, something about exploring and discovering.  And probably something social. Take a look at Pokemon GO this past summer. The message that we heard over and over, was how much it was bringing people together. We saw Augmented Reality take a huge leap forward, and possibly begin to find it’s place and its voice.

What will that be in VR?

I don’t know yet, but I, like so many others in this new industry, am trying to figure it out.

The sinking of the Titanic. A Unity 5 Experience.

This is something I put together to see if I could create an experience of being on board the RMS Titanic.  I created this to coincide with 103rd anniversary of the Titanic disaster.

Here’s a video of the experience:

This is all Unity 5, with realtime global illumination (GI).  This was pretty tricky because I wanted the ship to eventually sink and go beneath the water, but with pre-calculated indirect GI, it was impossible to move the ship into the water.  So what I did, was move the water, onto the ship!  The result is very effective.

Try it out for yourself!  can you survive the sinking? Check it out here.  This is the Unity webplayer, not WebGL.  The WebGL version is coming soon.

https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/93115667/Titanic/index.html

 

The Midway Oasis – Oculus Rift VR Game

My Oculus Rift DK2 arrived recently, and so I had to dive in and create something. I ended up creating this strange sort of surreal and dreamlike island – which, as it turns out, is a sort of purgatory that you must escape.

The game is called “The Midway Oasis”.  It takes place on a strange island, that has more to it than meets the eye.

Here’s a link to the app on the Oculus VR showcase (where you can download and try it out):
https://share.oculusvr.com/app/the-midway-oasis

Controls:
Look around to move the aim sphere – this is where you’ll go to when you press the SpaceBar.
The sphere must be green to travel to it.  If it’s red, it means its too far away, or on an inverted steep surface.
To avoid having to turn your head 180 degrees, you can press the Left and Right Arrows to turn your body 90 degrees.
Pick up the dream spheres by going close enough to them that the aim sphere turns light blue.

The Midway Oasis is a mystifying experience. At its core, this is an exploration game, where you must arrive at a seemingly abandoned island in the middle of nowhere, with towering rocks, massive floating towers, rickety buildings, narrow bridges supported by splintered beams, and hints of an ancient presence. But what is this place?

Towers galore

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Welcome to the Midway Oasis, lost wanderer.

As you have washed up here, you have clearly had a turn of fortune. For better, and for worse.

Undoubtedly, you have no recollection of your journey here. You just know that you are here, and not much else.

This island does that do you.

Others have come before you, having cast their dreams upon these shores.

And they have found the way home.

They have left behind their dreams for you to find.

If you seek redemption, you must find all the dream spheres, whereby the exit portal at the peak of the Great Tower will open.

Listen to the wind.
It whispers an ancient tale.

You will not be judged harshly, for you have been compassionate when those around you were lost in their own darkness.

They will follow you home.

ExtroForge – Indie Game

So, after years of doing freelance development for a countless number of clients, I’ve finally decided to put a team together to produce something of my own.  I’m proud do announce that development of the game “ExtroForge” is underway.

Extroforge is a game in very early development, in which you create a base, fortress or city, build vehicles, and then take them into battle against other players. Up to 32 players can play, on 2 teams. Once the game begins, the race is on to secure resources, find a home for your base and begin building. As you refine your resources, you build greater and more complex structures, and eventually vehicles that you can use to explore the world, and ride into battle.

A complete game, or round, will take anywhere from 10 minutes, to 2 hours to completely play out. Think of combining MineCraft, PlanetSide, and an RTS game like Command & Conquer, and you’ll have a good idea of what Extroforge feels like.

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The Power of the Sleep Cycle

Ok, I’ve been talking to people for a long time about the fact that you can get by on 6 or even 4.5 hours of sleep per day without question. The secret is NOT the amount of sleep, but rather the number itself; a multiple of 90 minutes will change your life. One thing I should mention, is that because we are analog beings, and not computers, that which could be 90 minutes for some people, might be 80 minutes for another, or 100 minutes for another; you will eventually learn the length of your sleep cycle by watching the times you naturally wake up and turn over, make a mental note of the time / interval.  But assuming that 90 minutes is the average, these are the best lengths of sleep that will not make you feel groggy. The worst thing to do is wake up in the middle of a sleep cycle.

1.5 hours
3 hours
4.5 hours
6 hours
7.5 hours

Those are the sleep quantities that you should aim to get, and those are what your body will naturally take, removing the alarm clock. Guaranteed. Go to sleep without an alarm clock, and watch what times you naturally wake up at. It will be a multiple of around 90 minutes from when you first went to bed. This 90 minutes is known as a sleep cycle, and it’s how I try to live my life.

Typically, I sleep 3 hours a night, and nap for 90 minutes in the evening. That’s a total of 4.5 hours, and I am always alert, always awake and always feel rested and refreshed.  Read on for more details…

“A group of Harvard scientists trained volunteers  to perform a visual task that required them to  learn how to recognize certain patterns as they  flashed quickly on the computer screen. When  the subjects were tested 10 hours later, those  who had taken a 90-minute nap did much better  than those who didn’t nap. In fact, they did as  well as people who got a full night’s sleep in a  previous study”  –  http://www.sleepfoundation.org/Alert/030730.cfm

Here’s something from the Center for Applied Cognitive Studies (http://centacs.com)

“Studies show that the length of sleep is not what causes us to be refreshed upon waking. The key factor is the number of complete sleep cycles we enjoy. Each sleep cycle contains five distinct phases, which exhibit different brain- wave patterns. For our purposes, it suffices to say that one sleep cycle lasts an average of 90 minutes: 65 minutes of normal, or non-REM (rapid eye movement), sleep; 20 minutes of REM sleep (in which we dream); and a final 5 minutes of non-REM sleep. The REM sleep phases are shorter during earlier cycles (less than 20 minutes) and longer during later ones (more than 20 minutes). If we were to sleep completely naturally, with no alarm clocks or other sleep disturbances, we would wake up, on the average, after a multiple of 90 minutes–for example, after 4 1/2 hours, 6 hours, 7 1/2 hours, or 9 hours, but not after 7 or 8 hours, which are not multiples of 90 minutes. In the period between cycles we are not actually sleeping: it is a sort of twilight zone from which, if we are not disturbed (by light, cold, a full bladder, noise), we move into another 90-minute cycle. A person who sleeps only four cycles (6 hours) will feel more rested than someone who has slept for 8 to 10 hours but who has not been allowed to complete any one cycle because of being awakened before it was completed…. “

It explains why, when I get 8 hours of sleep I feel tired and groggy, or when I get 4 hour of sleep, I can barely wake up. As human beings, we should know about this fact, as everyone always says “get your 8 hours”. Yet some people fare better than others. Why is that? Probably because the more rested people are actually getting closer to 7.5, or 9 hours, while the 8 hour folk feel constantly unrested.

It is said that many of the most productive people in history have understood and practiced this. Leonardo Da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, and Buckminster Fuller used this *exact* technique. Other great minds likewise used naps to their advantage including Nikola Tesla, Thomas Edison, Napoleon, and Winston Churchhill.

Naps are the key to direct Theta brainwave access. Theta brainwaves are the brainwaves of hyper awareness. The more theta you have during your waking hours, the more creatively intelligent you are–it’s really that simple.

As far as longevity, Fuller lived to 87. DaVinci into his late 60’s. –Both lived over DOUBLE the average life expectancy of the men of their time.

Monophasic sleep is the “norm” for North American culture. We sleep at night, and work during the day. Polyphasic sleep consists of multiple sleep/ wake incidents scattered throughout the day. A sleep schedule with an afternoon nap is an example of polyphasic sleep. There is evidence to suggest that humans were originally suited to a polyphasic sleeping routine, rather than the arbitrary monophasic one that we are used to. For starters, almost all animals in nature conform to polyphasic behavior. In addition, polyphasic behavior is the predominant mode of sleeping for human infants, and even in the later years, children have to slowly be weaned from the afternoon nap. Furthermore, when people are isolated from the external environment – so that they cannot determine the actual time of the day from natural cues such as sunlight, or artificial cues such as clocks or television programs – they tend to exhibit more napping behavior instead of retaining the single monophasic sleep period during the “night.” Finally, it appears that naps – relatively brief sessions of sleep – are more effective in refreshing the mind, than longer periods of sleep. In a sense, we were taught to “unlearn” this natural way of sleeping, when we had to adjust to the arbitrary 9-to-5 schedule.

Oh, and on 3 hours of sleep a night, I have one cup of coffee at the most per day.

The sleep cycle is a beautiful thing.

Interesting Note: Your brain cells reset their sodium & potassium ratios when the brain is in Theta state. The sodium & potassium levels are involved in osmosis which is the chemical process that transports chemicals into and out of your brain cells. After an extended period in the Beta state the ratio between potassium and sodium is out of balance. This the main cause of what is known as “mental fatigue”. A brief period in Theta (about 5 – 15min) can restore the ratio to normal resulting in mental refreshment.

Update: I originally wrote this article in early 2003, it’s now mid 2009, and my sleep patterns are regular, unwaveringly bi-phasic.  I’m healthy, I don’t eat any sugar whatsoever, my cholesterol is low and my productivity is higher than it has ever been.  Some people have wondered how they would transition into a sleeping pattern like this.  The keys (from my experience only) are:

  1. Measure the length of your sleep cycle. 90 minutes is a good average, but for some people it is different. Mine has actually changed in the last few years from 90 to about 75.  Now, if I hit the pillow at 7:00, I wake up for the first time at 8:15. Never, ever using an alarm clock. Because of the change in sleep cycle length, I now get 4 cycles per day. Usually three late at night, and one in the evening.
  2. The key thing is, it MUST be divided up into two distinct sleep sessions per day.  It’s not enough to just get 4.5 hours and say “that’s my sleep done for today”.  You’ll have a hell of a time staying awake for the remaining 19+ hours. You’ve got to divide it into two (or more) sleep sessions. The REM sleep you achieve has to be spaced throughout the day for it to have the proper “flushing” effect. In many non-western cultures, the mid-afternoon nap, siesta, whatever you want to call it, is a completely standard practice.

For anyone interested, here’s a picture I found that shows what sleep cycles “look like”:

First, we have a single cycle:

A typical sleep cycle.
A typical sleep cycle.

And here is how they divide up into the night.

Sleep cycles through the night.
Sleep cycles through the night.

Remember, waking yourself up in the middle of a sleep cycle, say in stages 3 or 4, are the days when you feel groggy and can’t figure out why, yet, other days, get less sleep and wake up feeling alive and alert.

Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor, I’m not a therapist, or anything of the sort. I’m just a human being who discovered this by accident, experienced it, then looked it up to see if there was any research into stuff like this.  It started because I was getting less sleep at night, and was tired, so I started having naps after work (at first, accidentally on the couch), but found unexpectedly that it suddenly rejuvinated me the next day, and made everything else easily doable. The rest was history.
photo credit: martinak15 via photopin cc