Over the past 30 to 40 years, we have seen numerous examples of science fiction becoming science fact. Video calls, wearable health tech, AI, IoT gadgets, the list goes on. But one area of tech has remained tantalizingly on the periphery of the mainstream.
When the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift were both launched within weeks of each other in 2016, it seemed that the Virtual Reality age was upon us. VR hardware would be 2016’s holiday season must-have and we would all meet up in cyberspace to see in 2017. That’s not quite how it worked out. They were indeed that year’s trending gadget, but not to the extent that they ever hit the mainstream.
Since then, the technology has developed, applications have been developed in other areas like medical training, and the legacies of Oculus and HTC still continue to develop new headsets and serve their small but devoted niches from somewhere deep within the underground labyrinths at Meta and Google respectively.
Neither of these tech giants are in any great hurry to push the VR agenda. But even if you’re Google or Meta, you can’t stifle innovation. It’s no big surprise to those in the know that the biggest strides are taking place in Australia. Here’s a nation that is famous for its the-readiness and for its small indie businesses that can stand alongside the giant corporations from across the oceans.
A history of false starts in VR
From The Matrix to the Star Trek holodeck, VR has had some great applications in science fiction. Trying to turn them into science fact has always come off as a little lame. The Oculus Rift and HTC Vive were not the only attempts to bring VR to the masses and thereby make millions of dollars. They were just the closest to succeed, an attempt at ignition that is still smouldering today.
Way back in 1993, SEGA ruled the gaming world, and developed an amazing VR headset for the SEGA Genesis / MegaDrive. At least it sounded amazing, featuring head tracking, stereo sound and LCD screens within the headset. The trouble was, it lurched from one developmental issue to the next and never made it beyond the prototype bench before SEGA decided to cut its losses and abandon the project.
Around two years later, Nintendo took up the poisoned chalice and launched the Nintendo Virtual Boy onto an unsuspecting public. It was, they claimed, a groundbreaking portable 3D gaming console. Without the “ground” part, the description made sense. Lack of both development and support, nigh-on impossible controls and graphics that were restricted to red and black all contributed to its demise after just 12 months.
Aristocrat – Australia’s casino giant led the charge
The first Australian gaming company to look seriously at VR was Aristocrat. While their vision of VR casino gaming never quite took off, they provided the launchpad that inspired others to follow. Aristocrat has been building physical pokies for Australian casinos, truck stops and so on for the past 70 years. A spirit of innovation is what has kept them relevant for so long, and when the digital age dawned, they were among the first to port slot games for online platforms. When you review Australian casino platforms on a site like https://www.casinoaus.net/, take a look at the slot games and you will see several from Aristocrat on all the sites.
In September 2012, long before the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive, Aristocrat showcased its nLive virtual casino solution at that year’s Global Gaming Expo in Las Vegas. A limited launch in Maryland saw massive interest with about 75,000 players signing up. Ultimately, it proved to be a short-lived craze, but the model evolved into the live gaming experience that is so popular at online casinos to this day. Aristocrat can also take some credit for inspiring other Australian gaming studios to take up the VR gaming baton and run with it.
Zero Latency is a global VR pioneer
A company that has made treading its own path into a strategic mantra, Melbourne-based Zero Latency is a pioneer of free roam VR systems that the user can explore without tripping over cables, coffee tables or the dog.
This is the really tough science that needs to be in place for VR to work, and Zero Latency has developed it better than anyone. In the virtual environment created, sensory trickery can convince you that you have traveled a kilometer without physically leaving a fairly small playing area.
Zero Latency’s VR solutions are the real deal, but they don’t come cheap and are not for home use. They do, however, provide all the VR tech for high profile arena events and shows across Australia and the world.
Chaos Theory brings VR into your home or business
The self-styled Number One VR developer in Sydney is expert at grabbing all the information that is available on a topic and bringing it together with its own magic and expertise such that the result is bigger and better than the sum of its parts.
The studio is all about helping client achieve their specific dreams and targets through VR and AR solutions. VR games from the Chaos Theory studio include educational adventure games for schools such as Kanga Quest and Top Teacher, plus Sharmila, a humanitarian protection and accountability training game developed for the United Nations World Food Programme.
Stirfire Studios created a Virtual Symphony
Perth-based Stirfire Studios appeared from nowhere to grab the gaming world’s attention with Symphony of the Machine. It is a visually stunning game in which users literally create new and unique worlds from scratch by directing beams of light such that they create specific weather patterns.
The puzzles are interesting and tough, and the constantly changing environmental features create a lovely backdrop that sometimes makes you want to just stand back and observe. They were developed for PlayStation VR. Yes, the controls are a little fiddly and the game is over too fast, but these are minor gripes. This remains one of the best examples of what VR gaming can achieve.