A Wild Pokémon Appears

After Kipman finished some of the opening announcements, the stage transformed from a relatively enclosed room to a large, cartoony outdoor space. This set the stage for him to invite John Hanke, the CEO of Niantic (the company behind Pokémon Go), to join him.

Hanke joined the stage as an Altspace avatar, which was an interesting juxtaposition to Kipman’s real-life avatar. Because of the many technologies which can be used to represent people in VR, this sort of mixing of avatar fidelity is likely to be part and parcel of VR’s future.

Kipman and Hanke spoke of the future of social XR experiences, and how Microsoft Mesh could facilitate that future. After a brief back-and-forth, the two faded from the stage as a screen popped up to play a recorded video segment of Hanke showing off a prototype socially-enabled version of Pokémon Go running on HoloLens 2. You can watch the complete Pokémon segment here.

Image courtesy Niantic

Funny enough, in the video segment, Hanke was his real-life self while Kipman was the one represented as a remote avatar.

Oceanographers Take to the Stage

Following a windup by Kipman, oceanographers Edie Widder and Vincent Pieribone appeared on stage as life-like representations of themselves as the stage transformed into a dark, deep sea appearance. The duo recounted some of their most memorable experiences of oceanographic discovery, with immersive visuals—like bioluminescent fish and a giant squid—floating around them to underscore their talking points.

The segment was capped off with Widder and Pieribone talking about how advancements in technology, especially 3D dat visualization, make for richer and more intuitive ways for scientists to plumb the ocean depths.

James Cameron Joins as a Guest

Celebrated filmmaker James Cameron joined Kipman on stage as a guest to talk about some of the latest work he’s been doing with submersibles and the way he and oceanographers are using immersive media to collaborate on scientific ventures remotely.

“Beaming in” from New Zealand, Cameron’s appearance on stage seemed to use the same video billboard trick as Kipman, and the two were facing each other for the conversation. As they spoke, a life-sized 3D model of a futuristic-looking remote submersible floated down from above the stage and positioned itself between the pair, bobbing gently in place as a prop relating to the conversation.

The Audience and the Stage Become One

Capping off the Ignite 2021 virtual reality keynote was the most interactive and, well… trippy part of the whole experience.

Kipman invited to the stage Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberté, who first appeared as a frog that leapt out of a portal onto the stage and then transformed into an Altspace avatar version of himself.

Laliberté was there to talk about his project Hanai World, a social XR platform that aims to bring immersive components to traditionally in-person entertainment (like stage productions). After a few minutes of conversation, Kipman and Laliberté invited the audience to join them for a taste of Hanai World.

At this point, the audience was sucked into the portal and taken along a trippy wormhole of imagery before appearing on a small island surrounded by dancers. At this point, the audience had been dispersed around the island, and there was no longer any clear separation between the presenters and the audience.

Kipman and Laliberté were at the center of the island around a small fire, this time appearing as 3D volumetric captures of themselves alongside two others represented the same way. The audience meanwhile remained as their Altspace avatars.

The audience was encouraged to dance along to some singing and music as a large dome encompassed the entirety of the island with psychedelic projections of giant people projected onto it.

The keynote concluded after a few minutes of the Hanai World experience.

– – — – –

Given all the moving parts, I was surprised how seamlessly the nearly hour-long experience turned out to be. I’ve attended plenty of virtual reality presentations, but nothing nearly this ambitious.

It was clear from the presentation that Microsoft believes that part of its role is to inspire the imagination of the audience with what immersive technology could mean for the future. But far more than the overly-produced marketing videos that Microsoft showed throughout, it was the successful execution of the virtual reality keynote itself that was the most inspiring thing the company showed. After all, there I was, sitting in the virtual audience and experiencing this future first hand.

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Ben is the world's most senior professional analyst solely dedicated to the XR industry, having founded Road to VR in 2011—a year before the Oculus Kickstarter sparked a resurgence that led to the modern XR landscape. He has authored more than 3,000 articles chronicling the evolution of the XR industry over more than a decade. With that unique perspective, Ben has been consistently recognized as one of the most influential voices in XR, giving keynotes and joining panel and podcast discussions at key industry events. He is a self-described "journalist and analyst, not evangelist."
  • Anonmon

    Hate to fixate on a semi-unrelated point in the context of the article being about Microsoft’s keynote, but frankly, if they’re trying to tout their whole “Interconnected VR and AR devices all seamlessly working together through all kinds of independent software” thing, they might want to work on making Altspace more palatable for anyone who isn’t into that whole thing already. As that’s obviously where they’re going to have their jumping off point if they ever get their grand plan off the ground.

    No arms, no legs and feet, no service from me as I do not care.

    Having extensively used every level of tracking between nothing but head and hand controllers and full body in the likes of VRChat, short of adding elbow and knee trackers into the mix, yet, about the most frustrating thing in the beginning about trying to be social in VR was not being able to have body language follow what I’m trying to convey. The head and controllers by themselves literally can’t, it’s straight up not enough to convey the full range of body motions and emotions. Even just adding a hip tracker was a MASSIVE difference to how effectively I could communicate. Bringing feet into the mix, and even with only just serviceable IK, it makes the experience less awkward telepresence robots with Rayman hands (or loosely puppeted avatars in the likes of the aforementioned VRChat), and more actually seeing other people in virtual reality.
    Whoever it was who had a problem with IK arms in the early days of VR who drove it home in the minds of some that “No arms is better than non tracked arms”, that must have been a strange person, as having no arms in the likes of Alyx is FAR worse personally than the alternative.

    Have something to say about the limitations of how you make yourself look in Altspace and all the other VR social software of its ilk, but I get that something like Altspace isn’t trying to be ChilloutVR.
    Though with having things to say, Microsoft better get their heads out of lala land if they think they’re gonna be able to tie their vision of the future to Microsoft accounts, as that’s DoA if they try to remotely pull something close to the Facebook thing.

    • Tarzan André

      I couldn´t agree more. As a former dancer, now tech consultant, I have been looking for a VR business platform that allows for more full bodied representation. The closest thing so far has been SpatialVR, which at least has a full torso with face and arms with hands. The IK looks quite awkward at times, but it still gives a lot more to work with in terms of communicating mood and gesture for attention.

      Might it also be problem of moderation or even censorship? The perceived difficulty of achieving believable IK animation seems to weak an argument. It makes more sense that there is a wish to limit the body expression to prevent intentional unwanted gestures and controversial actions. I get that this is a challenging issue in a large live event, but I think it is critical for the growth and maturity of social VR to figure it out.

    • benz145

      The easy answer is to only give avatars arms when seen from a third-person perspective. That way anyone looking at you sees your arms, so you look more like a real person, but you don’t see them in first person, avoiding the proprioceptive disconnect.

      • Anonmon

        That’s the thing though, I for one get MORE disconnect with no arms there at all than I do with arms that don’t track properly. Being able to see the backside of my wrists squicks me out in ways having the elbow be in the wrong place never has or did.
        I need arms, even if they don’t move properly without elbow trackers. And there were too many times before getting foot trackers where I would try and do something that either required doing something specific with the feet, or more often shifting weight in a specific way that required specific foot placement relative to the hips, that just did not work.
        How people settled on “Head and Rayman hands is perfectly fine” I’ll never know. Unless we’re talking about Facebook who vehemently is against anything that is against their ‘ease of use’ design goal, which makes full body tracking without external sensors impossible.

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  • Great post, thanks for summarizing this keynote!

  • Bleargh

    Qualcomm who held a press presentation in Spatial VR last Feb: “Am I a joke to you?”

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