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The Story of Project Holodeck







The Beginning of Modern VR Gaming


John Carmack at E3

As a forum moderator on Meant to be Seen, Palmer continued working on his HMD and shared his progress with the community.  Lo and behold, Palmer got discovered by John Carmack, and after sampling the prototype, John demonstrated the unit at E3.  Once "Oculus Rift" was coined and the Kickstarter launched; the rest is history!

The amazing talented individuals from Gaikai (Brendan and Nate) joined with Palmer and together they crafted the Rift into a beautiful product that could revolutionize the games industry.  They wrangled amazing endorsements from industry giants at Valve, Epic, and more, for the Kickstarter campaign.  I’m sure everyone here remembers what a rush that was!

Before E3 happened, Nate and I pitched Project Holodeck and Wild Skies to the Advanced Games pipeline at USC.  This was a very competitive program, and Advanced Games is considered the capstone class at the number one games school in the country.  We were thrilled to get accepted – and this gave us the opportunity to bring on incredibly talented engineers, designers, and artists to help us bring Project Holodeck to life.

It was in the summer 2012 that we met our Lead Developer Alex Silkin.  We were originally trying to accomplish avatar embodiment with four Kinects, but the algorithms simply weren’t giving us the fidelity we needed to sustain a proper avatar in VR.  The Kinect is a cool piece of hardware, don’t get me wrong, but it is more of a gestural interface than a high precision 6DOF tracking device.  With Alex we decided to switch to the Razer Hydra, which could provide precision tracking of the hands using a magnetic field.  Although the idea of complete body tracking of arms and legs had to be thrown out the window, with the Hydra we could have solid hand tracking with no occlusion issues.  Since the hands were your primary method of interacting, we realized this was the most important part of avatar embodiment anyway. 

Keep in mind this was before the Oculus Rift was widespread and long before Hydra released their own Unity plugins, and we had no SDKs to work with, so this was a massive engineering challenge to undergo.  Alex created an entire Hydra framework from the ground up, and by October we had hand tracking in VR.  We also added the PS Move controllers for absolute positional tracking, so that players could move around the 20’ by 20’ play space.   A gyroscope on the torso could tell the difference between crouching and bending down.  Lenovo laptops ran the entire experience on the back with a big battery, so you didn’t have to deal with tethering and tangled wires.