Virtual Reality is going to change the world

It’s amazing. You strap on some gear, and then you’re inside whatever world you want. It showed up in books, it showed up in movies, and everyone dreamed about it. Problem was, it kinda sucked. I tried Dactyl Nightmare at an amusement park, and it kinda sucked. Huge wires, unconvincing tracking, horrible visual fidelity. VR kept sucking for a long time, and people kinda gave up on it.

But then something happened. Or, well, it had already happened, but nobody realized. The technology was finally here to do proper virtual reality. The team behind Oculus Rift realized this, and built the first prototype of VR that was finally just good enough to be usable, and it was only going to get better and better. They set up a kickstarter to fund their enthusiasm, and a lot of people got excited. They made about ten times the money they asked for, and I was one of the top-level backers.

I got my oculus rift dev kit, and played around with it. It was convincing. It presented a lot of design problems. It made me nauseous. It was signed by the entire Oculus Rift team. I got super excited and worked on a couple of prototypes before moving on to other things. Perhaps I would pick it up again closer to the consumer version release.

A couple of weeks ago, they reminded me that I still hadn’t visited their office, one of the rewards from the kickstarter. John Carmack would be there. The combined opportunity of seeing their latest tech and getting to talk about vr (and doom) with John was overwhelming, so I took the 12+ hour flight there. What I saw was every bit as impressive as you could imagine. They had fixed all the major issues, and all that remained was huge design and software implementation challenges.

As someone who always felt like they were born five or ten years too late, I felt like we were on the cusp of a new paradigm that I might be able to play around with. I could be part of the early efforts to work out best practices, and while I have no doubt that in ten years we’ll look back at the problems with early VR applications in the same we look back at GUI problems with early PC games, it still felt exciting to me. My head started spinning with potential applications and how to deal with all the issues (how do you do gui? how do you deal with locomotion? what input do you use? what happens if the player leans far enough forward to clip into a wall? how do you prevent vr induced existential crisis?)

Of course, they wanted Minecraft. I said that it doesn’t really fit the platform, since it’s very motion based, runs on java (that has a hard time delivering rock solid 90 fps, especially since the players build their own potentially hugely complex levels), and relies a lot on GUI. But perhaps it would be cool to do a slimmed down version of Minecraft for the Oculus. Something free, similar to the Minecraft PI Edition, perhaps? So I suggested that, and our people started talking to their people to see if something could be done.

And then, not two weeks later, Facebook buys them.

Facebook is not a company of grass-roots tech enthusiasts. Facebook is not a game tech company. Facebook has a history of caring about building user numbers, and nothing but building user numbers. People have made games for Facebook platforms before, and while it worked great for a while, they were stuck in a very unfortunate position when Facebook eventually changed the platform to better fit the social experience they were trying to build.

Don’t get me wrong, VR is not bad for social. In fact, I think social could become one of the biggest applications of VR. Being able to sit in a virtual living room and see your friend’s avatar? Business meetings? Virtual cinemas where you feel like you’re actually watching the movie with your friend who is seven time zones away?

But I don’t want to work with social, I want to work with games.

Fortunately, the rise of Oculus coincided with competitors emerging. None of them are perfect, but competition is a very good thing. If this means there will be more competition, and VR keeps getting better, I am going to be a very happy boy. I definitely want to be a part of VR, but I will not work with Facebook. Their motives are too unclear and shifting, and they haven’t historically been a stable platform. There’s nothing about their history that makes me trust them, and that makes them seem creepy to me.

And I did not chip in ten grand to seed a first investment round to build value for a Facebook acquisition.

I have the greatest respect for the talented engineers and developers at Oculus. It’s been a long time since I met a more dedicated and talented group of people. I understand this is purely a business deal, and I’d like to congratulate both Facebook and the Oculus owners. But this is where we part ways.

If you want to experience Minecraft in VR, there’s an excellent mod that does this. It’s called Minecrift, and you can find it here.

Let’s talk about ZexyZek

ZexyZek makes videos about Minecraft, and he’s got 700 thousand subscribers on YouTube. Here’s a link to his channel: http://www.youtube.com/user/ZexyZek

Because we apparently have to have them, we have terms and conditions on how you can use Minecraft. Because talented and entertaining people making videos about Minecraft is an incredibly good thing for everyone involved, we allow for making videos and monetizing them by having ads on them. We also try to prevent things that would be negative for the game.

Someone at some point added the term “no trolling” to these terms. I assume this was done in good faith to prevent Minecraft being used to harass or bully people, but “trolling” is a very problematic terms. It also so happens ZexyZek does a bunch of videos where he engages in what he himself refers to as “trolling”. I doubt these are the videos that were intended to be prevented with the “no trolling” rule, but I don’t know. I didn’t write the terms and conditions. I find legal documents very boring, and I just want people to have an excellent time in general.

From what understand, ZexyZek noticed this and contacted us about it, asking if trolling really was against the rules. Because it is, the reply was yes. He took this as it being the end of his series about trolling people in Minecraft, but I think that’s miscommunication. Nobody I talked to about this said they had told him he couldn’t make the videos.

Unfortunately, his video led to a lot of his fans being very upset with us. I understand this. But it also made for a very hostile situation to try to figure out. My first reaction when being screamed at to do something is a sort of immature impulse to just ignore it. My inbox is getting flooded with really nasty emails, and I know this is happening to other people at Mojang as well, and it’s kinda making us feel defensive and bitter since we didn’t intentionally do anything wrong. So I said nothing and did nothing until I calmed down.

Content creators like ZexyZek and all the community their fanbases creates is the reason Minecraft is where it is. At this point, you’re more important to Minecraft than Mojang is. It’s grown so incredibly big.

So let’s try some things, ok?

* I will ask the people in charge of the boring legal texts to clarify “trolling” with better words. If they really did mean what was perceived, I will ask them to remove that line.
* Please consider not sending hate mail to people. You’re sending it to real people with real lives, and it really sucks. I don’t mean to just us, I mean in general. Be awesome instead of mean.
* Maybe don’t post heartfelt videos about how we ruin everything to 700k players, ZexyZek? We try to be nice, please give us the benefit of a doubt.
* I’m sorry this happened. Nobody meant anything bad, and it still went sour.

and finally:

* ZexyZek, you can continue your series. As long as it’s not genuinely malicious, nobody at Mojang is going to shut it down. You, and all other content creators, are very very important to us. When I created Minecraft, I had no idea it would get this big, and it amazes and humbles me every day to see what people do with it.

Love,
Notch

First person controls in the Oculus Rift

I’ve been playing around with trying to come up with intuitive controls for a first person game using the Oculus Rift. I quickly chose to decouple the body from both the head and the aim, so turning your head is essentially a free action that has no consequence on how you interact with the game. This is similar to how moving your head works in real life, where you constantly move and rotate your head without expecting it to change what you’re working on or what direction you’re walking in.

The orientation of the body is represented as a reticle that’s freely rotated around in a sphere around the player. Moving forward moves to to where the reticle is pointed, and not where your head is pointed. The reticle gets clipped against an infinite pyramid extending out from the players eyes to avoid it from leaving the field of view. The in-game result of this is that if you turn your head far enough, it will start turning the body as well, and it’s quite visually clear when that will start happening.

Originally, the rotation of the reticle was in euler angles, similar to how fps controls work, but this made the reticle get stuck pointing straight up or straight down when looking up or down. Instead, I tried making it always rotate relative to the camera rotation, meaning moving the mouse right would make it appear to move right on the screen. This worked great when looking up or down, but it meant that looking straight forward, tilting your head to the right and “turning right” would turn your reticle down into the ground. The solution was kind of simple, use the pitch of the camera to control how much of the roll that gets applied to the relative motion of the mouse.

In other words, when the eyes are pointed at the horizon, no amount of roll will affect the direction of the reticle, but as you start looking further up and down, the roll gets added to it more and more. While this feels fairly intuitive to play, I render the reticle rotated to this dimension, meaning that moving the mouse right will always move the reticle to what appears to be right of the reticle texture.

Moving the reticle to the left or right edges of the clip space spins the player around, so the body can pull on the head as well. This doesn’t feel very natural, but some control similar to that is required unless you want the player to turn around 360 degrees in their chair. The player can not spin the view up and down with only mouse controls.

This keyboard is probably older than you

Brand new site

The new notch.net is live! All there is right now is the “Games” page, and I’m not entirely sure what the long term plan is. Perhaps there will be a blog, perhaps there will be reviews. Who knows?

I will participate in Ludum Dare next weekend, and I will host the game somewhere on here as I develop it.