Anton Orlov is a senior software developer and quite probably the biggest VR aficionado in X-Team. In this interview, he talks about his hobby, the benefits it has had on his life, and why he hopes more people will try out VR in 2020.
How did you get into VR?
I was just fascinated by the whole idea of VR, even before the first commercial VR headsets came out. I was following the media around VR for a long time and I dreamed about owning a headset at some point.
When the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive were released, I was working at a local gaming media website. I visited a game studio to try out all the current headsets that they had and spent around 8 hours in VR with almost no breaks. I totally fell in love with it. I still couldn’t justify buying a headset, though.
For the next couple of years, I was mostly playing VR games at conferences and checking out the new indie titles that were coming out, until I got my own Oculus Rift in January 2019. That marked the beginning of a big chapter in my life.
You now own a few VR devices. Any favorite device?
I own the Oculus Rift, the Valve Index, and I got myself an Oculus Quest a couple of months ago as well. Which one is my favorite is a tricky question though. I didn’t sell the original Rift after getting an Index, because I still wanted easy access to all the Oculus-exclusive games (of which there are many, and most are amazing too). So I kept the Rift. I've barely used it since though, because the Index is such an incredible upgrade in terms of fidelity and immersion.
But the Oculus Quest is a different story. It shifted my approach to VR a little bit, because it's a completely self-contained device with a pretty active modding scene. With a bit of time and effort, you can easily play the original Half-Life or Quake directly on a Quest. It’s an amazing experience; I use both the Quest and the Index pretty equally these days.
If I had to choose which one to keep, I would stick with the Index, but only because of the quality of the experience. I still absolutely adore the Quest. It's an amazing toy to play with if you’re willing to dive a bit deeper than what the Oculus Store offers you.
What's your favorite VR game?
Hmm, hard to say. In terms of pure fun and excitement, I would say Stormland is the best VR game out there. It’s fun, beautiful, and very polished. It has a great story too!
But in terms of time spent and replayability, I would say it’s somewhere between Beat Saber and Pistol Whip (see the clip below - that's me playing). I love rhythm games in general, and both make you feel amazing. Both are also available to play anytime on the Quest.
And your favorite VR app that's not a game?
VR apps are a weird beast. There are a lot of them, but many aren't good. I would probably recommend the OVR Toolkit to anyone who uses SteamVR (with the Index). It allows you to stay connected in VR and gives you the ability to see your desktops and windows in a VR space. I know people who work in VR, while also sharing a room in something like VRChat or Bigscreen for more direct collaboration.
If we’re talking about creativity tools, Microsoft Maquette is one of the apps I tried recently. It’s kind of a prototyping tool that allows you to place things in VR. Since scale is something that's really hard to get a feel for on a flat screen, this app has proven to be very useful when building content for VR applications.
There is also one more group of apps. Social VR apps like Bigscreen, Rec Room, and VRChat, the best-known and weirdest one of all, and the one that takes the crown when it comes to freedom of self-expression. It's absolutely mesmerizing and terrifying at the same time.
Although I wouldn't recommend a new user to check out VRChat, if you’re interested in game development and excited about VR, then there is no better platform to show off your creations. Instead of making something to publish on your ArtStation for ten other people to see, you can make a VRChat world and, with some luck, get tens of thousands of visits in a couple of months.
It also made me find a hobby I never thought I could get good at: 3D modeling and lighting of environments. I’m not that great at it just yet, but the passionate community of world builders and content creators inside of VRChat have kept me coming back to Blender and Unity every single day after work. I don’t think I would ever have improved as much as I did otherwise. So this one has a special place in my heart. Weird, sometimes scary and even questionable, but special nonetheless.
There is another positive side to VR. It made me move every day... and a lot too! My average VR session lasts around 4 to 5 hours and burns around 1500-1800 calories. I feel way better about myself and my body than I did this same time last year. It's really great, because it happened pretty much by itself. It also made me more comfortable with standing up for hours on end, to the point where I bought a standing desk because I didn’t want to sit down as much anymore.
That's an amazing side benefit! What's the one thing that you think has most improved in VR in recent years?
It's hard to pinpoint one thing. I think it's more of a combination of improvements, all of which can be summarized as presence. At this point in the VR lifecycle, you can have an experience that runs at 144 frames per second and a very impressive resolution, which doesn’t suffer from pixelation or blurriness from your hands or even from your entire body, all while you're interacting with virtual objects around you.
Boneworks is a good example of such an experience (when you play it on a Valve Index - see the video below). It feels pretty surreal how far we’ve come from the first prototypes of the Oculus Rift 4 to 5 years ago. This being said, all the current headsets still feel first generation. There is no product on the market that is so revolutionary that you can call it “Gen 2” of VR. It makes recommending a device to new VR users a pretty complicated process.
Where do you think we will see most improvements over the next few years?
I think that the biggest improvements will come in terms of better input and feedback systems. Oculus hand tracking, VR gloves, etc... are getting better and better every year. Hopefully, they will get consumer-friendly at some point too, so we can have more realistic input options and more immersive VR interactions.
Finally, what are you excited about in the future of VR?
Honestly, I think it is the fact that more people are starting to enjoy the medium. The Oculus Quest did wonders for helping people get into VR. It's a very good experience in an easy-to-use package. I’m really hoping that VR will get rid of the “it makes you feel bad” stigma in the coming years, so that people will be more open to trying VR and treating VR-based experiences the same way they treat normal games.
I hope so too. That was super fascinating! Thank you so much for your time Anton.