VR Series Part I: When Palmer met John

I’ve got an idea for a screenplay but it might seem too far fetched…

 

Stop me if this gets too unbelievable.

 

The story begins with a Whiz Kid named Palmer.  Brilliant.  Driven.  Totally unassuming.  You wouldn’t look twice if you saw him on the street.  He’s a kid with a gigantic dream and the brains to make it happen.  Palmer is a Virtual Reality junkie.  The kind of junkie that amasses the unofficial largest private collection of VR headsets and devices.  He becomes a devoted scholar on the technology of the medium.  Through the process of reverse engineering previous iterations of past Head Mounted Displays (HMD) he has also evolved into a world class tinker.  He begins to construct the prototype which promises to bring an effective and affordable HMD to the masses.  His free time is spent among 3d and VR websites and bulletin boards.  A revered member of the community he shares his vision and discusses his device with fellow enthusiasts.  One such enthusiast was a man named John.  Like Palmer, John shared a compulsive devotion aimed at making virtual reality an actual reality.  But unlike Palmer, John wasn’t an unassuming kid that no one outside of their small community had ever heard of.  To millions of hardcore PC gamers John was more than a legend; He was a demigod.

 

Though his name might not carry household recognition the games that he designed and developed certainly did.  It would be nearly impossible to find an American who hadn’t come into contact with his work.  A significant portion of the population, even those who were not gamers, had at some point played his flagship game.  And if they hadn’t played it they certainly heard of it and was aware of it’s existence.  Far too often than was merited you could find his work being discussed and dissected by news anchors, fear-mongering Senators and misguided family values activists everywhere.  By designing and releasing two of the most popular PC games of all time he had, perhaps unwittingly, become the architect of the “First Person Shooter.”  From “GoldenEye” to “Call of Duty” the influence of his work was undeniable. If you’ve ever enjoyed a game where you travel through a 3d map choosing different weapons with which to dispatch an alien or enemy soldier you owe John a debt of gratitude.  He is the father of the most popular and profitable genre in video game history.  Honored by countless industry publications, M.I.T. and time magazine, his revolutionary work in gameplay mechanics, 3d graphics and source engine development has earned him a rightful place as one of the most influential people in the history of gaming.  If they ever construct a Mt. Rushmore video game leaders he’d be on it.  As is want with true visionaries, John was not satisfied with the current state of technological achievement.  He wanted, nay needed, to push the boundaries of innovation.  It was clear to him how game changing a viable VR interface would be.  He sought out the technology and began to gameplan its development… and that’s about the time he met Palmer.

 

Palmer’s little headset had intrigued John and he asked Palmer if he could try it out.  As one is apt to do when a request is tendered by a demigod, Palmer shipped him the prototype.  What happens next is kind of thing that doesn’t happen often to niche technology enthusiasts; unbeknownst to Palmer, John would demonstrate his little set of wonder goggles before the world’s biggest electronics technology conference.  Suddenly this industry legend was acting as a brand ambassador for his little home project.  John took to the stage and began extolling the virtues of Virtual Reality and this little device.  It was clear that John saw the future as one where games were played not behind the wall of a monitor but rather within the confines of the world itself.  Suddenly Palmer and his little machine had been thrust into the forefront of a digital revolution.  Palmer had designs of his own for his device.  His intent was to create a kit full of individual electronic components and an accompanying guide for assembly.  His target audience wasn’t going to be your average PC gamer, let alone every household in America.  He would crowd source the project hoping to make enough so that he could feasibly ship a few hundred units which would go to his fellow enthusiasts.  A realistic goal at the time.  But John’s role as ambassador had increased the potential consumer base exponentially.  Suddenly it became clear that maybe this was something that everyone would want.  Maybe this little headset would be as coveted and desired as any consumer electronic product.  Maybe this had its place alongside the iPhone and the Playstation.

 

Within months a company had formed and would be known as Oculus.  Palmer was joined by other young, bright and hungry executives who would use their experience within the industry to help guide Palmer to bring his product to market.  By the time the Kickstarter campaign had launched they had the captured the attention of the industry.  The video produced for the campaign was pitch perfect; professionally produced and featuring numerous cameos from John and other highly recognizable industry leaders.  Their funding goal was $250,000.  By the time the dust had settled they had secured nearly $2.5 million.  When they demonstrated their first iteration of a working developer model at the following flagship consumer electronics conference it had become clear that this was no toy.  It had moved beyond proof of concept and had evolved into perhaps the most highly anticipated piece of consumer electronics in years.  Demonstrations continued to showed that developmental improvements and technological breakthroughs had been occurring at an accelerated rate.  It was clear that the technology was marching assuredly towards a polished consumer release.  Venture Capitalists had taken notice and demonstrated such a strong belief in the product that they endowing the company with investments totally nearly $100 million.  Emboldened by the capital infusion alongside countless awards and industry accolades, the company has grown in both size and talent.  Palmer had become the face of a new industry.

 

John’s place in this tales would not end here though.  Quite the opposite.  A passionate proponent of VR he would continue to stress the importance of developing games for this emerging medium.  He provided Oculus with his limitless expertise as an programmer, advisor, and mentor.  He would split his time by serving in both his new role with Oculus and his previous role with the software company which he helped found.  He was wearing two hats and serving two masters. This would not last.  John saw VR as the inevitable future of gaming and beyond.  When it became evident that this vision was not shared by his former compatriots the decision was made to split ways.  Nonetheless, his place at the forefront of this digital revolution seemed predestined.  When stepped into a full time position as Oculus’ Chief Technical Officer the announcement felt somehow inevitable as if it were meant to be.

Now how is that for the plot of a blockbuster film?  Too unbelievable?  Perhaps.

 

But that’s the thing… this is all true.  This has all happened.  This is not some crafty Hollywood underdog story.  Of course some of what I wrote is speculative and there is a great deal of depth to the story that I had neither the time nor expertise to delve into.  I’m sure there are omissions that I will regret, players that whose names I should have mentioned and events that I may have missed.  In the end though what is left is this; the story that I have brought to you and the events that I discussed are all true.

 

Palmer Luckey is a real man who exists in flesh and blood.  While you may have never heard of him I can tell you that he is both a cult hero and unlikely celebrity among a rapidly growing fanbase.  John Carmack, co-creator of the games “Doom” and developer of the Quake engine, did find Palmer Luckey through an online bulletin board.  As unlikely as it may be this story remains a truth.  The best kind of truth.  The kind of truth that gives way to legend over time.  Think of how we remember the early days of Apple and Microsoft.  Think of how we watched the story of Facebook become an Oscar contending film.  Those stories took the names Jobs and Gates and Zuckerberg and thrust them into the global consciousness.  Is it absurd to think that many years from now we might talk about the beginnings of Oculus and speak the names Luckey and Carmack with the same sense of esteem?

I don’t think so.

Edited to correct facts regarding Kickstarter goal, Palmer’s knowledge of Carmack’s demonstration and application of goggle headband.

Stay tuned for Part II: What is the Oculus Rift and why do you really, really want one?

 

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