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Will these new virtual reality trends trump Oculus Rift?

Sure, we've got Google Glass but what comes next? The virtual reality business is working overtime to find out

As Oculus Rift continues to bask in the glory of future hype, there’s still a lot more to virtual reality than the most-talked-about headset in the world (sorry, Glass). For starters, once Oculus and its overshadowed brethren become commercially available, what’s the next step? Will there be a hardware-based user divide between play and business, between practical “real world” applications and gaming for sheer entertainment? Will virtual reality software divide along these sort of lines, and what kind of self-evolving curatorial sensibilities will we, as a society, develop in response to this (bear with me) brave new world? Right now, the virtual reality business seems abuzz with ideas, but when it actually comes to putting on the gear, first experiences are going to be everything. Dazed takes a look at possible firsts – let’s hope you don’t have a shitty one.


So, before we move beyond the much-discussed parameters of the world we can experience with Oculus VR, we should face the fact that Oculus is going to be used in some truly absurd places as a quick marketing ploy. Case in point: everyone’s least favorite childhood pizza slaughterhouse, Chuck E. Cheese, has decided to jump on the virtual reality bandwagon with its “Virtual Ticket Blaster Experience.” We’re not sure whether this is going to be the best, most refined use of the Oculus experience, but then again, virtual reality is being touted as the mode of entertainment of the future, so who are we to argue? In short, there’s going to be a lot of “VR for the sake of vr”


Survios is a fledgling VR startup that gets straight down to business: it allows users to pick up objects in a virtual environment (think gaming stuff – swords, weapons, and so on). This is “free-moving” virtual reality that offers a wealth of interactive possibilities when it comes to actually touching and moving “physical objects” in a digital environment. The interesting thing about Survios lies in its hardware focus on commercially available components appears to be a RPG (role-playing game)-heavy experience, especially since it’s concurrently developing its own software and games to go with the hardware. Reports so far are positive, but we’re holding out for a personal test run when it becomes available.


Weed Firm just got taken off all the relevant app stores, but it’s probably the most interesting app to hit the spotlight (albeit for a very, very short time, for a very specific demographic) since the fading specter of Flappybirdgate, because it’s taking the principles of Grand Theft Auto (criminal activity) and repackaging it in a digestible, “safe” format. The next step seems natural: create a virtual environment in which regular people can engage in a “new” industry – weed’s been around forever, so here we’re using “new” as in recently legalized. Of course, smoking and selling weed isn’t remotely like carjacking and pimping, but you get the idea. The game allows the player to basically be Nancy from Weeds – grow weed in your suburban home, sell it, interact with “Horny dancer Jane,” bribe cops, avoid trouble. With pro-marijuana legislation slowly but surely creeping across the US (and arguably, the world), Weed Firm is a physical manifestation of mainstream culture’s weird, hypocritical relationship with the devil’s lettuce. Obviously it’s all in the name of good fun, because real weed farms are cagey about who they let in and around the product. The developers, Manitoba Games, had this to say about Weed Firm’s tragic disappearance from #2 on the Apple store: “We guess the problem was that the game was just too good and got to number one in 'All Categories', since there are certainly a great number of weed-based apps still available, as well as games promoting other so-called illegal activities such as shooting people, crashing cars and throwing birds at buildings.”


The guy behind Second Life, Philip Rosedale, is on the cusp of making science fiction into reality. High Fidelity is a new game system based on a telepresence-meets-Minecraft concept, in which people can explore connected virtual realms that share an infrastructure (transport, economic entities, and whatever else). To that end, High Fidelity’s discrete parameters for what they want to get out of VR tech are pretty neat and clear – in their words, they want to facilitate “rich avatar interactions” via a “seamless molecular fabric” made out of scalable cubes (that’s where the Minecraft comparisons come in). This is one of the more well-fleshed out instances of a VR hardware company/incubator developing its own (very exciting) proprietary software that actually looks fresh, and we can’t wait. 


So far, all of this sounds great – new virtual worlds that anyone can explore, with hopefully off-the-shelf gear, hopefully not at a totally ruinous price. However, the cost of always being connected – you know, besides all the current downsides of constant surveillance, DRM and other digital-era quandaries – might soon take on terrifying new meaning. The US government has long been toying with creating “a single, secure online ID that Americans could use to verify their identity across multiple website, starting with government services.” Next month, they’re going to roll out a pilot program in select states under the guise of a “National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace.” Sounds like “dystopian” as an adjective is actually accurate here, especially since third party organizations would be involved in storing and securing these “identities.”


Roy Lazarovich, a singularly magical human being and committed golden-age gamer, has found the perfect way to preserve all of our childhood memories (“we” here really refers to me) via Oculus Rift tech. what Lazarovich is essentially doing is “virtualizing” the ultimate 80s/90s bedroom, “complete with an old PC, some 8 and 16-bit game consoles, game magazines and old cartoons,” with the intent of allowing anyone to recreate their old bedrooms down to the last detail. One of the most amazing details is Lazarovich’s current open call for old magazines so that he can study, scan, and “virtualize” them into an interactive catalog. 


Allred is trying to build a “Wikipedia of news” with his startup, Grasswire. The idea here is to create a crowd-sourced news platform of news with a perfunctory “fact check” feature to keep trolls in place. Now, combine this with the rising brand of virtual reality journalism spearheaded by Nonny De La Pena, who made waves with Hunger in Los Angeles, an immersive experience that places viewers in line at a food bank in LA. De La Pena has been doing this for several years now – combining her successful, highly visceral (well, as visceral as it gets) formula with the future trajectory of reporting – “open-source” news platforms – could very well introduce a new breed of empathy into news as a whole.


On a completely Debbie Downer note, this interior mapping endeavor is a terrible idea on a commercial scale. IndoorAtlas is a Finnish company that offers an indoor mapping service based on buildings’ unique magnetic “variations,” which really just sounds like a great big fat bullseye for enterprising criminals with a taste for technology. It’s true that we’ve generally paid a lot more attention to outdoor/external mapping, because on the surface, the idea of mapping the indoors just sounds stupid. I mean, it’s the indoors, for godsakes. Nonetheless, the IDEA of a growing open-source library of mapped public buildings is cool, but what happens when people start offering this service to homebreakers, Glengarry Glen Ross-inclined salespeople, shitty landlords, data harvesters, soulless marketing people, and other devious minds who will inevitably hack this thing to bits?


Now, we couldn’t very well omit this gem in a virtual reality roundup – a new design project involves giving chickens VR headsets to simulate free-range freedom. Researcher Austin Stewart explains, “The goal of the project is to raise that question of how do we know what’s best, or what is humane treatment. And also to look at how treat ourselves. We’re living in these little boxes, just like chickens.” If that isn’t the saddest thing we’ve ever heard.


This is a total moonshot, but not unlike the Mike Teavee experience we all read as children in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, turning matter into light might form the cornerstone of mainstream virtual reality, and scientists hope to achieve this feat sometime next year. The headline “a photon-photon collider in a vacuum hohlraum” isn’t as expository as we’d like it to be, but to our understanding, the process basically involves firing electron lasers at a piece of gold, which creates protons. These protons are then pew-pewed at a little gold cylinder called a hohlraum, which, in turn, produces an insanely bright light. This is probably fantastic news for the pop star hologram industry, but we’re hoping for more virtual world applications beyond resurrecting Michael Jackson.