michael abrash gdc 2013 virtual reality talk

And we thought all the exciting Oculus news was done for the week… Valve’s Michael Abrash is joining the company as Chief Scientist.

Oculus just announced that Michael Abrash, formerly of Valve, will be joining the company as Chief Scientist. Abrash once worked with the equally respected John Carmack and says that after parting ways he found himself “wishing for the pure focus, intensity, and impact of those two years working with John.” With Carmack as Oculus’ CTO, the two are once again reunited. Aww.

Michael Abrash is one of the heavyweights in the world of VR knowledge. He made his name known in the early days of gaming working with id Software, Xbox, and plenty more. In recent years, Abrash has been working at Valve on AR and VR research. His research has laid much groundwork for the modern era of virtual reality. I’ve had the fortune to see Abrash speak on several occasions, including at GDC 2013, where he spoke about “Why VR is Hard (and where it might be going).” As a testament to his wit, he’s capable of bringing complex problems to the table in ways that are easy even for the layman to understand. Abrash had been keeping a great blog about his research at Valve.

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For the announcement, Abrash penned a lengthy post on the Oculus blog detailing his journey to being hired by Oculus, he concludes with the following:

The final piece of the puzzle fell into place on Tuesday. A lot of what it will take to make VR great is well understood at this point, so it’s engineering, not research; hard engineering, to be sure, but clearly within reach. For example, there are half a dozen things that could be done to display panels that would make them better for VR, none of them pie in the sky. However, it’s expensive engineering. And, of course, there’s also a huge amount of research to do once we reach the limits of current technology, and that’s not only expensive, it also requires time and patience – fully tapping the potential of VR will take decades. That’s why I’ve written before that VR wouldn’t become truly great until some company stepped up and invested the considerable capital to build the right hardware – and that it wouldn’t be clear that it made sense to spend that capital until VR was truly great. I was afraid that that Catch-22 would cause VR to fail to achieve liftoff.

That worry is now gone. Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus means that VR is going to happen in all its glory. The resources and long-term commitment that Facebook brings gives Oculus the runway it needs to solve the hard problems of VR – and some of them are hard indeed. I now fully expect to spend the rest of my career pushing VR as far ahead as I can.

It’s great to be working with John again after all these years, and with that comes a sense of deja vu. It feels like it did when I went to Id, but on steroids – this time we’re working on technology that will change not just computer gaming, but potentially how all of us interact with computers, information, and each other every day. I think it’s going to be the biggest game-changer I’ve ever seen – and I’ve seen quite a lot over the last 57 years.

I can’t wait to see how far we can take it.

This announcement comes a few weeks after Valve’s Atman Binstock joined Oculus as chief architect.

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As one Road to VR reader put it, “Facebook is a memory now. The dream team is assembled, funded, and ready to build the Oasis.” (For those who haven’t read it, Oasis is the VR metaverse as described in Ernest Cline’s Ready Player Onewhich Abrash cited as being influential in his decision to work on virtual reality.)

It’s interesting to see all of this VR talent being ceded from Valve. The company has been very open with Oculus about their research, and even showed off their own prototype VR headset to much fanfare back in January. With Oculus having just been snatched up by Facebook, the nature of their relationship with Valve may have just changed drastically.

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