It’s the kind of underdog story that the internet loves. James Andrew, developer behind Oculus Rift title Rift Wars headed to Pax East 2014 in Boston with no credentials and ended up drawing a crowd demoing the title. We speak to James about his experiences and he shares his thoughts on virtual reality at PAX East.

Virtual Reality Draws Strong Crowds at PAX East

Rupert Murdoch catches a glimpse of the future.
Rupert Murdoch catches a glimpse of the future.

We know VR is now a big deal and not just in the cliques of hardcore fans. The word of VR has spread far and wide, and most gamers when asked these days what Oculus Rift was, could probably take a good stab at telling you. Another recent example of the ubiquity of the VR Headset was shots of media mogul Rupert Murdoch wearing an HD Prototype during a demo of the Game of Thrones VR experience ‘Ascend the wall’.

Nowhere has this renewed interest in VR been better illustrated at recent technology and games industry shows. In particular, GDC 2014 was arguably dominated by either announcements of VR headsets from Sony or from Oculus themselves and the number of promising titles being developed with virtual reality in mind was truly a sight to behold.

PAX East, one of the largest gaming conventions in the world, was no exception to this new VR fervour it seems. And one Indie Developer was lucky enough to ride the wave of the clamour for all things VR when he crashed the show and kicked up a storm showing off his own demo.

VR Underdog Story

20140413_154940James Andrew (Pixelrouter) is one of two developers working on a new Oculus Rift compatible title called Rift Wars. The title attempts to mash together the classic genre titles Starfox (1993) and Geometry Wars (2003) and throw them into a VR-contained experience. The result is an intriguing mix of dogfighting and twitch arcade mechanics.

Andrew had received good feedback from other showings he’d done at the Boston VR Meetup and decided that, despite having no pass to the show, he’d try his luck at some guerrilla PR tactics and crash PAX East with his trusty Oculus Rift and demo rig in tow. After many laps of the PAX East Show floor, James was about ready to give up and go home, but on his final round he spotted a demo station with one lone occupant and his Oculus Rift. This was his chance.

I approached him and asked, “Hey man, what are you showing?”

He said, “Oh, this is the Rift Coaster demo. I’m not really a deve yet, but I’m just here showing the Rift. I was over in the BYOC (Bring your own Computer) area, but the organizers saw me demoing over there and told me I could set up here. I see you have a Rift too!”

I told him that I’ve got an original game with me and that I was hoping to find a place to set it up. He said, “Well come on in. In fact, why don’t you put your game on USB key and I’ll demo it too!” I learned his name was Michael, and I am very grateful for his attitude and his immediate desire to help me.

Shortly afterwards the crowds massed at the makeshift stand and James and his new companion found themselves demoing James’ new demo to 100s of people non stop for the remainder of the day. You can read the full story over at Andrew’s blog, but what James took from his experience was something he himself already knew, “VR is hot!”.

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It’s a great story, but we wanted to know a little more about Andrew’s experience and also delve a little deeper into how virtual reality was represented and received at PAX East. Happily, Andrew was more than happy to share his experiences and feelings on PAX East with Road to VR. Here are some of those, along with some pictures of his extraordinary trip:

Walking on to the PAX floor on Sunday morning, and seeing all the thousands of screens showing various traditional games, I got a feeling like I was a time traveler from the future marvelling at the antiquated technology still embraced by the masses. Various booths had flashy displays showing off the latest shooters and other, so called, ‘Triple A’ titles, and after being immersed in VR for so long now, I had just about no desire to try any of these new titles. VR is like electric power, and all of these big studios are highly invested in steam. Sure, there will always be a place for screen based games, just like there is a place for steam powered locomotives in today’s world. Every so often, its nice to take a ride on an old train, but as far as innovation goes, its time to move on.

IMG_20140413_160758The scene at the Oculus booth was pretty representative of the power VR is starting to have over peoples attention. I got there just before the floor was technically open and was able to get in a relatively short line. While standing in line, I saw the line grow until it looped all the way around the booth. At this time, the enforcers came in and capped the line. Then about ten minutes later, when they lifted the cap, I saw about a dozen people actually running to get a spot. Then, a little while later I saw another capped line at another booth, and I thought, “Oh, this must be Eve Valkyrie.” It was not. It was another Rift based space shooter, but I forget the name. Then there was the scene at my demo. These three scenes had more attention from the audience than anything else I personally witnessed. I mean, people waited over and hour just to spend three minutes playing my game, and this was without any brand recognition on their part at all, apart from the recognition of the Oculus Rift.

IMG_20140413_124736Next time, I definitely want to plan ahead and bring someone with me to take better photos and to record people’s responses just as taking the Rift off. The kinds of things people say are so beyond anything I hear them say when getting up from playing a game on a screen. A few comments I recall, “That was like the best thing I ever experienced in my life,” “Whoa, I was so immersed in there, I forgot I was here at PAX,” “Just incredible… incredible,” “Amazing….” And these are not unusual cases. And all this from a game made by two guys, in there spare time, in just 30 days! Wait until they see what we are working on next!

20140413_174308A game like Rift Wars is meant to be played at a big event like this. Yeah, its kind of cool to put on the Rift at home, and play through the three minute level, but in a public setting like PAX, it really shines. Everyone had three minutes to try and beat the day’s High Score, so it had all the best aspects of a serious session, back in the day, at an old-school, real lift Arcade. If there were quarters involved, people would have been racing to put their quarters on the machine to call next. Throughout the day, I noticed very many people, when done playing, walk around behind the booth to watch others play on my screen. I believe this may prove to be a very powerful aspect of the VR experience. Yes, only one person can be in a Rift at a time, but its really cool to know others are watching from the outside world.

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Update: You can download a demo of Rift Wars right here or alternatively here!

Our thanks to James for sharing his thoughts on the experience, check out PixelRouter’s site here. We’ll be learning more about Rift Wars soon courtesy of Reverend Kyle’s regular podcast where James has agreed to be a guest. Stay tuned!

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Based in the UK, Paul has been immersed in interactive entertainment for the best part of 27 years and has followed advances in gaming with a passionate fervour. His obsession with graphical fidelity over the years has had him branded a ‘graphics whore’ (which he views as the highest compliment) more than once and he holds a particular candle for the dream of the ultimate immersive gaming experience. Having followed and been disappointed by the original VR explosion of the 90s, he then founded to follow the new and exciting prospect of the rebirth of VR in products like the Oculus Rift. Paul joined forces with Ben to help build the new Road to VR in preparation for what he sees as VR’s coming of age over the next few years.