Simply the Quest: Oculus Connect 6
Last week the team flew out to San Jose for Oculus Connect 6. In between a busy schedule of talks, meetings and watching people sneakily paddle through the reeds in Phantom: Covert Ops on the demo pods, we asked our Founder and CEO Patrick to give us his key takeaways from what was another big week for VR…
Whisper it quietly: VR is growing
It is always a privilege to see visionaries like Mark Zuckerberg, Michael Abrash and John Carmack speak in person and it was exciting to see just how big Oculus Connect has become since we first attended back in 2014. The crowds at the keynote and networking events are now massive, and it’s a sign of just how important and wide reaching VR is becoming, not just in gaming, but in a whole host of parallel industries and enterprise areas.
It’s all about the Quest
Mark Zuckerberg reiterated that the Quest is selling as fast as they can make them, and there was a huge amount of positivity for the headset from everyone I spoke to. The announcement of the Oculus Link cable was particularly key – apart from being told that it’s the “sexiest cable you’ve ever seen” (I’m not sure ‘cables’ and ‘sexy’ should ever together in the same sentence!) – it changes the landscape in a major way. You will now be able to enjoy the key benefits of both Quest and Rift gaming in a single device. If you have a good PC, you can use the cable to connect your Quest, and you can play any Rift game using the Quest hardware, using the slightly higher resolution of the Quest display. Does this hint at Oculus phasing out the Rift? I believe so and given that the Quest is so much better than the Oculus Go, with a small price drop it’ll take that market away as well. Everything is becoming centred around the Quest, and I strongly suspect it will soon be the only Oculus headset.
R&D and future tech
Oculus continue to make huge investments in R&D and future technology. They talked about AR and confirmed that they are indeed working on an AR headset (although it’s likely to be a few years away). Facebook join companies like Google, Apple, Microsoft and Magic Leap who are all working on, or heavily rumoured to be, AR or combined AR/VR headsets. I’m still totally convinced that we’ll see the two technologies, which share so much technology in common, converge into single devices that allow both.
Oculus also spoke about their recent acquisition of CTRL-labs and spoke a little more about the work they have been doing in their mysterious “Building 8” division (in short: Neuralink-type technology which will ultimately allow users to control headsets/glasses with their thoughts). All-in-all, it’s an exciting future.
Great new functionality with existing headsets
It’s not just about the future though as Oculus announced major new functionality that will come to Quest soon, improving the existing hardware. They showed off fantastic hand tracking technology with huge potential – it uses the cameras on the Quest to track your hands and fingers with incredible precision. This is a fantastic technology for pushing VR towards mass-market adoption – holding a controller and using the ‘grab’ button on the side of the controllers is not intuitive for many new players, whereas hand tracking is simple, means that controllers aren’t needed, and is 100% intuitive. Whilst it won’t be the solution for every game, I think it may well become the standard for VR input, alongside eye tracking.
Oculus also announced Passthrough Plus, which will allow Quest users to quickly see through the cameras (properly adjusted so everything looks correct), so they are aware of their surroundings and what is happening in the real world. It’s an important addition which makes the headset even more usable.
Oculus announced Facebook Horizon, a virtual world created by the internal team behind Facebook Spaces, headed up by Rachel Rubin Franklin (formerly in charge of The Sims at EA). Horizon is going to replace both Facebook Spaces and Oculus Rooms and become their core VR social focus. We all knew that a VR virtual/social world was absolutely core to Mark Zuckerberg’s vision when he bought Oculus, and Horizon looks like a great step in that direction. The focus on user-generated content is great (look at how well Roblox did), and the avatar tech is getting better all the time. I still have a concern around the fact they are focusing on using your real identity (rather than being able to escape and become someone else online) and this might be a real limiting factor for them. For me, Horizon looks slightly sterile and corporate at the moment, but it’s got huge potential and I can’t wait to see how it grows.
What about the games though? Well, as VR continues to grow the number of big budget, major titles announced has increased too. First up was the debut of Medal of Honor: Above and Beyond from Respawn (the team behind Apex Legends, Titanfall and Jedi: Fallen Order). It’s exactly what VR needs – a big game from one of the leading developers. I had the chance to play it, and it looks gorgeous, feels epic, and, as a huge fan of previous Medal of Honor games, I can’t wait for it to arrive.
Stormland and Asgard’s Wrath were shown off as well: two more titles with blockbuster budgets, both looking like money well spent.
Another huge game which took centre stage was Vader Immortal: Episode 2, the second instalment of one of the Quests biggest hits. Based, of course, within the Star Wars universe, it shows the commitment from Oculus to delivering not just big games, but big IPs too.
Compared to previous Oculus Connects, the line up on show proved (again) that VR is truly starting to take off, and these titles – and many more (including, ahem, our very own Phantom: Covert Ops) – are going to be must-have games for the rapidly growing Oculus community.
The VR kayak game
So, yes, what about Phantom: Covert Ops (or “the VR kayak game” that everyone affectionally referred it as during OC6)? Following all the E3 awards, including the coveted E3 Game Critics award for the Best VR/AR game, we knew a had a special game on our hands. It was great to see Phantom being demoed at the show as one of eight key games, alongside Lone Echo 2, Asgard’s Wrath, Beat Saber (of course!), Medal of Honor, Vader Immortal 2, Stormland and The Room VR (created by our friends down the road, Fireproof Games). The quality of Oculus games continues to rise, but we feel Phantom holds its own alongside those other amazing games which is a credit to our super talented dev team. Oculus has a fantastic line-up, and we’re delighted to be a part of that.
Overall, it was a great week. Incredible new tech, glimpses into the future, a new social platform and, yes, some brilliant new games. There is no doubt that, along with Sony, Oculus continue to lead the way on commercial VR and I expect to see a lot of buzz about the Quest this Christmas.
As Oculus said throughout OC6, “the time is now”…