I met Brendan Iribe in January 2013, shortly after Oculus won their Kickstarter campaign, to discuss building a special environment for Oculus. They had a good sized office, filled with boxes and parts everywhere. It looked like they just moved in but were too busy working to make it any tidier. There was a station where a couple of guys were fabricating new prototype sets to test, which were largely taped together with black tape. Even though these prototypes were make-shifted together, the headsets still looked really well made, although with a homebrew feel. There was also a table that had a graveyard of old VR headsets and helmets, which was really nostalgic and cool.
In order to demo their existing prototype, Palmer needed to come out and set it up. I was immediately impressed. They had a few demos working, admittedly with a few flaws, but you could see the potential. I immediately starting thinking about all the new games I could make with this thing. Suddenly I was filled with both excitement and fear, this is going to be BIG, I better not screw this demo up!
We then sat down with Nate and Micheal to brainstorm what this new project would entail. They heard of me through my reputation as an environment artist from my time at Blizzard, Midway, and High Voltage Software. I went in with a small portfolio, just a few images of different types of environments to show some range. One of them caught their eye, a fantasy themed location that was bright and colorful. “Everyone expects the dark, gritty sci fi, ” Brendan explained. “Let’s do something bright, cheerful, and inviting. This way, we’re open to more than the core gaming audience”.
I then suggested a Mediterranean themed location, something that was a tinge fantasy but still largely based in reality. It would be realistic, but very idyllic at the same time. Also, it had to be low poly to avoid any frame rate issues and contain some real world objects like desks and chairs. It was an easy suggestion for me: my wife and I had just returned from a trip to that area and took thousands of photos while in Rome, Tuscany, and Venice. They loved the idea and we went work.
I left the Oculus office with probably the first headset they’ve ever loaned out to any developer. It was a taped together model in SD format with switches taped onto the front. They wrote out the installation and operating instructions on a pink index card. There was no box, just loose items, parts, and cables we threw into my wife’s purse.
We worked mostly with Nate while creating the first version of the Tuscany World Demo, interfacing with one of their first employees, Peter, on the Unity integration. There was a lot that was being figured out on the tech side, especially considering we were also making a C++ version of the demo that needed to have stripped down shaders. It felt like developing for PS2 specs and materials to ensure maximum performance.
Over the next 14 months we’ve worked with Oculus on a handful of projects, including the EVE Online demo for CES this year. I’ve watched Oculus grow from a few guys to a couple of hundred in a really short time. Each time I go into thier office I’m impressed on how well they’ve adapted to their continually expanding growth.
Something else worth noting is the positive attitude that seemed to exude from every Oculus member, especially Brendan and Nate. After having worked at a few AAA console studios, you get a bit used to the cynicism that developers in our industry sometimes slide into. I never got any of that from the Oculus guys. From day one they all seemed to have a certain serendipity to them. And a mission – to finally bring VR to the masses. I could tell that they sincerely love this mission.