It’s been nearly a week since the last C4 attendee left The VR Experience with wide-eyed amazement. Were you one of the lucky attendees that tried the Oculus Rift? If you were, then I’m certain you enjoyed the experience.
If you’ve read any of my past columns, you’ll know that BaseLAN has a rich history of showing the wonders of virtual reality to the public. One of our staff members was a Kickstarter backer of the original Oculus Rift development kit, so when the DK1 first shipped to early backers, he received one and was gracious enough to let us do a small public demo. It sparked the imagination of several people at AYBOnline. The company quickly purchased a DK2 so we could continue to show you the best of what’s coming.
In the past, these demonstrations were limited in scope and time, and they were simply a small addition to the Demo Zone where we show off some of our sponsors’ hardware. At BaseLAN 27, our first event in partnership with C4, we learned the hard way that the demand to try the Oculus Rift is tremendous. Our small staff (myself, my girlfriend and two other part-time staff) got absolutely smothered by the crowd, and we still had three other PCs we had to manage with other games. It was so stressful we almost pulled the plug mid-day. At one point, the lineup was over two hours to try a 5-minute experience. I wasn’t about to recreate that kind of environment at BaseLAN 29; thus, The VR Experience was born.
Rather than make virtual reality a component of the Demo Zone, virtual reality became the central attraction. We forged an agreement with AMD to make the whole thing happen. Without Don Woligroski at AMD, this whole event wouldn’t have happened. Not only did he provide three high-end gaming computers and Oculus Rift headsets for each, he, his son and two of his son’s friends gave up hours of their weekend volunteering. Along with Don and his team, BaseLAN staff members Pat Algeo, Kareem Hidara and Chris Craig all gave up most of their weekend to share the wonders of VR with the city of Winnipeg.
Because of these fine gentlemen, The VR Experience could not have been a bigger success. Together, we managed to show more than 1,000 people what virtual reality is all about. We opened their minds to the wonders and the possibilities this new technology will unlock. We all worked like mules, blasting eager attendee after eager attendee through in something reminiscent of a production line. We’ve learned the hard way many times now, so we were prepared to be efficient.
At past events we’ve allowed people to select the experience they wanted, and we had different demos on different headsets. This time around we needed to work with efficiency, so there were no options available to switch to. Three of the headsets were running the same demo for most of the weekend: EPIC Showdown. This is a quick two-minute passive experience — which doesn’t sound exciting when it’s described like that, but honestly, it’s probably the best introduction to virtual reality that you could hope for.
Jumping in to VR for the very first time can be a very emotional experience. It can be quite a shock if you don’t know what you’re getting into, and having to learn a game mechanic while learning how to move around in VR can be overwhelming. Also, as a first time experience, a short one is best. It only takes a second to be blown away by the power of VR, and two full minutes can feel like a good amount of time for a first-timer.
Our assumptions about the experience turned out to be bang on. With three headsets going, and an average time of four minutes to get the guest into the headset, through the experience, and out of the headset, we figure we had close to 45 people per hour through The VR Experience. We had the demos going for practically the entire duration of Comic Con’s show floors, and the pace was pretty consistent all day. The lineup never ended throughout the weekend, and to the casual observer it probably looked daunting, but the pace we were moving at allowed the line to go very quickly.
On Friday and the early portion of Saturday, one of the AMD machines was configured to play Elite: Dangerous in VR. We had several people lining up to try that game out, and it proved to be a big success. It took too much time to get a good feel for it, so when the show started to get busy it went back to Showdown.
Our fourth machine was configured with an older version of the Oculus runtime, so it wasn’t able to play EPIC Showdown. On this machine we had a few different demos. For Friday and most of Saturday this machine was running Elemental: Ghost Story, which is a VR game that uses the Leap Motion.
The game has you shooting fireballs from your hands towards enemies and is an absolute blast! We had a big line of people wanting to play that game, which was no surprise in a crowd like Comic Con’s. On Sunday we switched it to a space flight game played with and Xbox controller. I’m not sure what this game is called, but it had a good amount of interest too.
The VR Experience didn’t close down when the rest of C4 did. It was open to the attendees of BaseLAN 29 until the wee hours of the night. Late into Saturday, we brought out some real fun. An Oculus Rift headset was attached to our racing simulator system which was equipped with a Zotac Titan X and a Logitech G27 racing wheel. For the avid racers, this was a real treat!
We also played some goofy games, like A Night At The Rockulus, which is a parody of the SNL skit and movie A Night At The Roxbury. Players are set in the back seat of moving car with “What Is Love?” playing on the radio. You have to nod, bob and peck your head at the same pace as the driver and front passenger (who are depicted wearing rifts). Not one person came out of this with a straight face. I was nearly in tears when I played it.
Out of the thousand or more people we showed VR to this weekend, I only know of two poor reactions. One kid was so scared that he was crying. We felt terrible about the whole thing but we had no idea. He didn’t let anyone know, he just sat through it despite our warning that it was always OK to stop it at any time. We made sure to be clear about that going forward. The other person who didn’t like it suffers from vertigo and was almost instantly getting dizzy. I spoke with her briefly and she said she’s tried VR a few times and she’s apparently just not able to use it.
Every single other person came out of the headset with a smile on their face, more often than not exclaiming that it was an amazing experience. I talked to dozens of people after they tried, asking how they liked it. Virtually everyone was amazed by it. Many wanted to know more, like where they can get one and how much it would cost. It was actually surprising to see how many people expected price tags in the thousands. When I explained that Playstation VR would work with PS4 for likely under $500 they were amazed.
I worked like a damn mule last weekend and for weeks leading up to BaseLAN 29 and seeing the reactions on people faces and the excitement this fostered for VR made all of my efforts worth every minute. I am deeply passionate about virtual reality, and I know I’m incredibly fortunate to be in this position to share this wonderful new medium with people. I’m proud to say that I and my team have created at least a few VR enthusiasts. There were many, many people that couldn’t wait to get their own headsets.
By the time BaseLAN 30 comes around, virtual reality headsets will be out in the market and there will be far better experiences to show. I’ve already got some things in the works for the next event to make it even better. With any luck we’ll have demonstrations of multiple different VR systems in the spring.
Kevin Carbotte is a Contributing Editor for aybonline.com. He knows a little about a lot, and a lot about a little. The opinions in his columns are his and his alone, but you are free to have them.