Did “Ready Player One” do anything for VR?
Updated: Aug 22, 2019
The majority of Ready Player One (RPO) takes place in a virtual reality universe known as the OASIS — in the book and in the movie VR is a normal and accepted medium of entertainment (or seemingly the only one). The hope from many of my peers in the VR community was that the RPO film would help to “normalise” VR for mass audiences, to make them look past how strange/funny/awkward people looked when wearing a headset and to pick one up and try it out instead.
The movie has finally come out and, to be clear, it is not a movie about VR but rather uses VR to tell its story. It’s therefore not surprising that a lot of reviews deal with topics such as the movie’s faithfulness to the book, its plethora of pop culture references, the representation of female characters — basically everything except the film’s use of VR. So let’s talk about it and see what kind of impression the movie’s vision of VR leaves on us.
This is basically the OASIS platform — it is not a game but an open world simulation. It allows users to create their own avatars (humanoid or not) and interact with one another, play games, explore and essentially experience anything they can imagine. You can live out almost any fantasy you wish — flying, racing in a DeLorean, mountain climbing with Batman, etc. In today’s terms one would compare this to an advanced version of Second Life and guess what, it’s already in the works. So we can expect a form of the OASIS in our VR future.
The hardware used in the movie does not seem much more advanced than today’s VR hardware. The basic rig looks like a set of skiing goggles, gloves and some kind of neck harness to facial scan and identify users (though this seems to be an optional component as not all users appear to have it). Even though the technology looks simplistic, it’s actually quite complex.
VR Headset. The “goggles” (I hate that word when describing VR headsets but that’s what they look like) appear to be able to generate super high resolution images to the extent that you can’t tell the difference between reality and the OASIS. There also doesn’t appear to be any lag or visual distortion ever which means this is a pretty sophisticated piece of kit.
Wireless. It’s all wireless. There are also no sensors to track user movements which means this basic rig has sensors to accurately track user movements
Processing Units. There is no obvious processing unit. No one is carrying around a PC on their backs here. Seeing how lightweight everything is one can assume that everything is run over a super high speed network with the OASIS servers managing all processing tasks.
In today’s VR tech, we are only just starting to overcome the wireless hurdle but we do still need hefty processing units for this level of interactive VR.
And that’s just the basic rig. There are more advanced options for those who can afford it such as:
Haptic Suits. There are already a number of haptic jackets and suits in the market today though I’m sure they are nowhere near as sensitive as RPO’s X-1 haptic suit.
VR chairs and rigs. There are a number of VR rigs used to enhance the immersion and interactivity in the OASIS. There are a number of these available today but again, not comparable to those in RPO.
The movie takes a lot of liberties with how it treats VR. We see people in headsets doing all sorts of activities but its geared to entertaining movie audiences rather than reflecting reality. For example (slight spoilers ahead), at the climax of the movie when a large battle breaks out in the OASIS we see people literally running around in the real world wearing headsets totally oblivious to the fact that they could be running blindly onto a street or into a wall.
Another scene shows a group of teenagers fighting in their avatar form and then cuts to them in the real world literally punching and kicking while outdoors not caring who they may actually end up whacking in the real world. It looks stupid and no sane person would actually do that.
This film was never meant to be some oracle that predicts the future of VR — it is meant to be an entertaining blockbuster. It’s a fanboy take on VR. I don’t believe it hurts how people view VR but it doesn’t necessarily promote it either. The movie’s shoehorned “message” at the end about how we should appreciate what we have in reality rather than in virtual reality doesn’t seem to make much sense. There’s really no logic as to how VR is incorporated into society except for the hollow excuse of “let’s escape this dystopian future through VR”.
Going back to my original question “Did Ready Player One do anything for VR?”, in my personal opinion — not much. I don’t think audiences will necessarily connect the film’s VR world to what’s happening today. It would have been great if there had been pop-up VR experiences available for audiences after watching the film so they could make the connection. The studios definitely have the marketing budget and they could have easily tied up with one of the major VR hardware providers. It’s a missed opportunity.
All Ready Player One may do for VR is raise peoples’ interest in the tech. I guess that’s something we should be happy about? Am curious to know what you think! Please leave your thoughts in the comments section.
Abhi Kumar is Chief Creative Director at Warrior9 VR. He believes that VR is the next step in the evolution of visual content and is currently working on an animated VR sci-fi series, The PhoenIX. Find out more at www.warrior9vr.com