It came as quite a surprise at Oculus’ developer conference back in September that Minecraft would come to support the Oculus Rift CV1 and Gear VR. And while that gives players something to look forward to as the Rift approaches its launch, the path that it took to get it there was full of twists and turns.
Road to VR guest reporter Nate Kozak summarizes the tale.
“Minecraft was my quest,” Oculus CTO John Carmack, said on stage at the company’s last developer conference, Connect, where the Minecraft VR announcement was made. It was a quest that start a year and a half earlier.
Like so many now in the early VR community, Minecraft creator Markus “Notch” Persson was “100% impressed” upon contact with Oculus’ first, now rather primitive, 2013 VR headset, the Rift DK1.
Having supported Oculus’ Kickstarter to the tune of $10,000, Notch would shortly thereafter go on to pledge compatibility for Mojang’s insanely ambitious vaporware 0x10c, openly speculate about porting Minecraft to VR, and even kicked off the ‘Oculust’ VR O-face selfie trend, embargoes be damned.
When Oculus invited Notch to their headquarters prior to the 2014 Facebook acquisition, Carmack said he “talked with him about geeky programmer stuff for a long time.” The two got along well and some private prototyping of a VR version of Minecraft seemed likely.
By 2014 however, nothing had materialized. Hopes were sufficiently dashed not long after; as Carmack said, “When Facebook acquired Oculus, Notch kinda famously blew up over it”, entirely pulling out of negotiations and saying on Twitter that, “Facebook creeps me out,” and took to his blog to detail exactly why he disapproved of the deal. Some in the VR community fostered lingering anger at Notch for depriving them of a VR game with such deep replayability. Carmack, it seems, was among the most heartbroken.
He spoke at length on stage at Oculus Connect about how “Minecraft was something that I was desperate to get into virtual reality, because I thought it would be critically important.” He said Minecraft already embodies “so many things people think about the Metaverse” while enabling exploration of the sorts of “magical vistas” that create lasting memories.
Surprisingly, Carmack estimates that he has spent more time in Minecraft VR than in all other VR games combined. He went so far as to say Minecraft was possibly “the single most important application we can do for VR;” his “grail,” he called it.
Curiously, while Notch pulled away from Oculus after the Facebook acquisition, he would end up playing a key role in bringing Minecraft to VR after all, but ironically only after he had sold his own company to Microsoft. As Carmack recalls:
[Notch] eventually got over [the Facebook acquisition], and things calmed down a bit. Then there was the Microsoft acquisition [of Minecraft and parent studio Mojang]. So at that point I had asked Notch, ‘Well, who should I talk to about this now? I still really, really want to make this happen.’ And he put me in touch with Tommaso [Checchi] and Jonas [Mårtensson] at Mojang, and I started pestering them about it. I would just drive home this case: ‘Look, we don’t want to ask anything from you, just let us try, let me try to build this, and if you think it’s cool, we’ll figure out what we want to do from there. I am so confident that it’ll be cool that I’ll agree to just about anything here.
From there, some contracts were drawn up governing Carmack’s work on Minecraft VR. Oculus lawyers protested that “John, you’re basically working for Microsoft”, but—Carmack being Carmack—work proceeded.
It took a great deal of his effort to create a functional prototype running on Gear VR after leaning that the game didn’t run quite as efficiently as he had suspected. But when the notoriously sim sickness-prone Oculus CEO, Brendan Iribe, played Minecraft VR for 20 minutes with no ill effects, wheels really started turning, and didn’t stop until hours before the announcement at Oculus Connect. Carmack intimated that the ink on the agreement was literally barely dry, recalling on stage that, “I got the email at 12:35AM this morning that the deal was signed.” This was a victory for VR, but also a personal one for Carmack; at one point, he says he told Mojang, “If this doesn’t happen, I’m going to cry.”
It did, thanks primarily to Carmack’s dogged persistence and extensive optimizing, Brendan Iribe and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s ability to work out a deal good for everyone, and Notch’s eventual willingness to open doors he easily could have leaned against. Now, there will be a tremendously compelling core experience for the launch of the consumer Rift and Gear VR, and millions of established Minecraft fans driving adoption of the hardware. Carmack said it, but it feels true for lots of people: “This was a huge, huge win for me.”
Notch’s opinion of the announcement? “Neato!“