Warren Spector - one of the main creative minds behind Deus Ex, and more recently programme director of the Denius-Sams Gaming Academy at the University of Texas in Austin - was, like many of us, not enormously convinced about VR.
In an interview given early this year, he told Johnny Cullen that he’d been burned by variations of this technology before:
“This is where I look like an idiot in five years, but I just don’t care,” he laughs. “I was a big supporter of VR in 1994 when we did System Shock and Wings of Glory and supported the Vortay VFX1 headset and the Cybermax headset. And I just don’t believe fundamentally that people are going to want to put a goofy set of glasses on, isolate themselves from the world and play games that way. They’re not going to want to look stupid and they’re not going to want to be so isolated they can’t tell when somebody’s looking over their shoulder making fun of them.”
“Prediction is a fool’s game, but I personally don’t have any interest and I think there’s a lot of hype and a lot of buzz. And I’ve certainly put on an Oculus Rift and seen some cool stuff, but as a player, I’m not very interested and as a developer, I’m not interested at all.“
In the months since that interview was given, though, Spector has been persuaded to change his mind. He’s still not 100% convinced in VR as a purely entertainment proposition, but its potential has become clear to him.
“Since the interview that led to Johnny Cullen’s article about teaching design, and after many discussions with developer friends and gamers of all stripes, my thoughts have changed some on the VR front,” he wrote to us.
“I still worry a lot about the non-content issues around VR, the human issues that seem to me to be largely unsolvable: humans not wanting to wear goofy-looking glasses... isolation from your surroundings, not knowing who’s there with you and not being able to share the experience with others... the space required when you kind of have to move around to get the full experience... Those are the things that specifically concern me. Those are the things I wish people would talk about publicly when they talk about widespread/mainstream adoption of VR. (I have no idea if people are talking about these issues behind closed doors, for what it’s worth.)“
Palmer Lucky’s appearance on the cover of TIME Magazine recently re-ignited a lot of these questions about VR. It’s never not going to look a bit silly, right? That could be a huge problem for its mainstream adoption.
“But compelling content, cost and tech?” Warren continues. “Those will all be solved. There are too many smart, creative people working in the VR space for those problems NOT to be solved. And VR will play a large role in some areas of life. I have no doubt about that. It’ll be a real boon in training situations of all sorts... in social media (super-Skype!) in medicine and psychology (I’m especially intrigued by uses in phobia therapy)... at museums... maybe in theme parks. In a location-based or communication environment, where there’s clear benefit, even a need, for the VR experience, it’ll be great. In entertainment, I’m still not sure.”
Spector previously said that VR did not interest him at all as a developer - but that, too, might be about to change. “Let me also get one more thing out there: Since some in-depth conversations by the VR community on my blog, on Facebook and on a variety of websites, I’ve been thinking a lot about VR. And as a developer, I’ve started thinking about ideas I’d actually like to try out.
“You can blast me for what I thought and said earlier, here and elsewhere but I hope people will give me credit for being a learning animal. I’ve started to come around. Colour me dubious, but intrigued (as I was in the ‘90s, the last time VR was The Next Big Thing). So ignore what I said in that interview about not being interested from a developer standpoint at least. You may see me dabbling in VR yet. Now, let’s talk about those human issues I cited above and see if we can solve them!”