3 min read
‘Oculus Quest is an inflexion point for the VR industry’
It will come as little surprise, then, that pair is excited about the latest VR headset – Oculus Quest – which hits the shelves today. The Facebook-owned company’s mobile VR headset finally cuts the cord, allowing users to play console-quality titles anywhere without needing a high-powered PC. As such, Barratt believes that the Quest presents an “inflexion point” for the industry. We spoke to him to find out more.
How did Cooperative Innovations start?
Simon Barratt: Cooperative Innovations was set up in 2016 and consists of my cofounder Brian Marshall, who I’ve worked with for many years, and I. We’re both from the games industry and have 25 years of experience in programming and running studios between us. In the past we’ve worked in everything from VR and AR to ports, PlayStation Vita titles and even top-selling BAFTA-winning games like Perfect Dark on the N64.
We focus on people being the fun multiplier to any VR experience that you can have. With VR being seen as a solo thing, we thought that bringing multi-user to that would be a huge benefit; so we developed full-body avatar and procedural animation tech called Ikabod that includes voice chat, physics, and same-space interaction across networks.
VR still isn’t proven and was even less so in 2016. What made you take a punt on it?
My cofounder Brian and I have been long believers in VR. I’ve got books at home on my shelf from the early 90s that are about building your own VR headsets and trackers! I used to buy all the headsets and eyeglasses back then. Brian even did some work on Nintendo’s Virtual Boy back in the day. We believed VR would be a big part of the future on the back of early online gaming like Everquest, Ultima and Counter-Strike 1.6. We saw multiplayer combined with VR in the future world, long before Ready Player One came out. Now that companies like Facebook, Oculus, Apple, HTC and Google are onboard, it’s an inevitable future for us.
Tell us more about Ikabod. Are you licensing that tech?
Back in February, we announced that we’ve started to license Ikabod to bigger developers. Ikabod is an inverse kinematics solver that we’ve developed in the last three years. In simple terms, it allows us to do everything from animating skeletons – which we do in our cooperative VR RPG game Raiders of Erda – to matching players’ avatars with their hand controllers and headsets in social VR. When you’re fighting something, it simulates your full body movement using the position of three parts – your head, elbows and feet – in the real world.
What can you tell us about Spaceteam?
We’ve announced that we have the license to develop the game. Spaceteam is going to be a social VR game, and we’re announcing more at E3. On the mobile version, you get a series of commands given to you relating to the console in front of you, and you shout random things at each other to ensure you survive while your spaceship is hurtling through space.
Why do you think social VR will be big on the Quest?
Social VR is huge. Look at VRChat – it has a huge community around it with lots of user-generated content, and it’s quite exciting seeing engagement around that. Similarly, Rec Room is a nice comparison for us as it’s free-to-play, yet you have different game modes in there, whether it’s the Paintball or Quest adventure-style games. It was especially nice seeing the latter, as they were a bit like our plans for Raiders of Erda. It proves the fun of having multiple people, whether members of the community or friends, and reinforced our position on social VR.
What else excites you about the Quest?
We’re really excited about what Quest can bring, as having a low price point means more people will use them with their friends. I’ve recently seen people previously on the fence – in terms of VR – popping up on my Oculus Friends menu, and that’s because of the Quest’s cheaper price point. Plus, you can take it anywhere with you – you don’t need a big PC or a PS4 – so I see it as an inflexion point for the industry.
We’re also seeing a growing interest on the social video side. In the non-VR space, we’ve had the PewDiePies and Stampy Longcats, and now we’re starting to see VR-focused YouTubers like Nathie and Zim. As the Quest picks up we’ll see audiences grow which feeds into the growth of the market when people see how fun these experiences are.
What’s it like being a Yorkshire games developer in the VR space?
Ultimately we’re working in an international market so it has always been pretty irrelevant where our team is based. Obviously from an investment and business development point of view there is still a lot of travel and I would say that the UK still has a bit of catching up to do with the US but we certainly punch above our weight in terms of quality of teams and experiences. We love being here in Leeds and alongside some great games and VR/AR companies.
What is the VR meetup scene like in the North?
VR Manchester has been running for quite a few years now, and we know a few of the team from the BBC who run that. It’s a great event. We’ve been running a few local events such as Get Into Gaming at Leeds International Festival, which took place last week. We think we’ll see more events around VR coming up locally. We made an attempt to start VR Leeds – we’ll have to have another go!
What do you think about headsets like Valve’s Index which are targeting the high-end gaming PC crowd?
I think you always need a mixture of devices for any market. We see that now with high-end PCs – some people want to be playing on dual-high-end graphics cards whereas other people are fine with whatever standard mid-range PC they have. To use a Ready Player One analogy, different people have different levels of hardware – you may have the equivalent of a full body suit with haptic feedback, or you may have a broken old VR headset which has been handed down. Ultimately it’s just a different way to get into the same experience.
What Quest games are you looking forward to?
Superhot – being able to do acrobatic stunts without tangling myself up in wires! Then there’s the freedom of Tilt Brush, even with its lower graphics. I’ll play the same stuff I would normally, but the fact I can do it on my travels in a hotel room without having to set up sensors is very exciting.
What’s coming up on the horizon for you?
We’re working to get our products released – Spaceteam and Raiders of Erda. We’re making sure we get our tech licensed out to a few more good companies, and we’re also doing work for non-games-industry people; including work with architecture, training and other types of firms. The next step beyond that is to be working toward another fundraiser to support the ongoing licensing of our tech to more people, adapting it for areas such as AI, social VR and AR.