Early Thursday morning, Facebook-owned VR company Oculus hosted their third annual developer keynote, Oculus Connect 3. There was news galore of course, but first, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg took a selfie.
It wasn’t just any selfie. Zuckerberg, alongside IRL-but-virtual pals Lucy and Michael, held a live demonstration of Facebook’s vision for social media in VR. With Mii-like avatars acting as their personhood in VR (similar to what’s been seen in other social VR programs, like Altspace), they’re seen as able to fully interact with one another. Their avatars react in real time with the user’s actual emotions, whether they’re happy, shocked, sad, whatever.
Following a simple card game, the demonstration took a strange turn. The group, upon Zuckerberg’s urging, were transported to a livestream of Zuckerberg’s own house to “check” on his dog. He then called his wife, Priscilla Chan, and the three of them took a selfie: Zuckerberg’s young Justin Timberlake-like avatar, a livestream of his mop-like pup, and a Facebook Messenger video call of his wife. And there it was, a “21st century family portrait.” God help us all.
The Zuck, as I like to call him, followed up this first showing of Facebook-centric VR with an in-prototype hardware announcement. He introduced a new standalone Oculus VR headset that is completely wireless and acts as a sort of middle-tier VR device—more capable than the mobile Samsung Gear VR, but below the PC enthusiast Rift. Though there were no firm details beyond a short tech demo, so it may be a while until it’s a viable option.
In the most expected news of the keynote, Oculus finally announced a launch date for its much-delayed Touch controllers, which are available for pre-order starting October 10th. They cost a steep $199, putting the full price point of the entire Oculus package head-to-head with the already controller-including HTC Vive. Oculus has also bundled a room-scale option for use alongside the Touch, given that you actually have the space for it (I sure as hell don’t). The Touch ships December 6th, with 35 games in tow.
The games launching alongside the Touch controllers include the Oculus Story Studio-developed Quill, a VR painting tool used for their own upcoming short animation Dear Angelica, and Kingspray Graffiti, a Jet Set Radio-channeling graffiti simulator (minus the rollerblades and trip-hop soundtrack). But with Kingspray’s in-game Boombox, it’s possible to listen to hundreds of internet radio stations while the player sprays away. So maybe our Jet Set Radio VR tagging fantasies aren’t too far off after all.
A new Oculus headset that’s completely wireless
Launch releases weren’t the only games spotlighted in Oculus’ presentation. They also revealed a slew of upcoming titles still in development. One of them was a new game from Metro 2033 developers 4A Games, wherein they introduced a post-apocalyptic first-person-shooter called ARKTIKA.1. Another was a new game from The Order: 1886’s Ready at Dawn, announcing the 22nd century-themed space exploration Lone Echo, which doubles as both a single-player and competitive shooter.
There was other news sprinkled among the ones listed above, like new Oculus earphones, customizable Oculus Avatars, Disney and Blade Runner 2049 VR experience partnerships (I’m on board with the latter), and a lower spec requirement for the Rift, resulting in more affordable base PCs to support the hardware (dubbed “Asynchronous Spacewarp,” which is a cooler name than it deserves). Oculus also boasted an additional $250 million investment in the greater “VR ecosystem,” an extension to the $250 million they’ve already dedicated. This includes committing $10 million purely to diversity programs such as the Diverse Filmmakers Project, VR for Good, and Amplified New Voices.
The keynote wound down on a long note, and remained Palmer Luckey-free. But given how long the rest of the conference was, it blended with the rest. Oculus chief scientist Michael Abrash mused for a half hour about where VR is headed from here with infectious enthusiasm. “I honestly have no idea what we’re going to be using VR for in 5 years,” Abrash said on stage. “That doesn’t bother me in the least.” Because in the end, it’s worth the chase—I hope.
Did I miss anything? I hope not. But if I did, you can read more about Oculus Connect 3 on their blog.
Header image: Courtesy of Oculus