Kevin Williams Delves Into John Carmack’s Discusson of Newer VR Tech

arcadehero August 6, 2012 3
Kevin Williams Delves Into John Carmack’s Discusson of Newer VR Tech

We’re always happy to have some discussion of future technologies that may or may not come to life through the amusement industry and today, Kevin Williams from The Stinger Report has some thoughts on the subject based upon John Carmack’s keynote address at QuakeCon 2012, which video was posted on Friday. Mr. Carmack gets into the problems with VR tech but also the possibilities and Kevin breaks it down after the posted video. Here is the link that takes you to the point where the discussion starts – the embedding tool does not allow me to enter in timestamps.

If you are wondering what Mr. Williams has to do with VR tech, he worked for a company called Division Ltd. / Inc from 1993-96, a company that was a Virtual Reality hardware and software developer, with a focus on the amusement sector. Kevin also worked at Walt Disney Imagineering for 4 years after that so he has been involved in the tech since it’s pioneer days with the amusement aspects tied to it. Feel free to ask Mr. Williams any questions in the comments below, I’m sure he will see them and respond.

Kevin Williams:

A great presentation, (but for you guys that cannot spend three hours watching) – the core elements are that it illustrates the entrance of a game developer into the world of virtual immersion development and head mounted display development. John discusses the elements that most of us that work with VR-E technology had to learn the hard way and is presented compellingly.

John mentioned in a previous interview the way that id Software has licensed their previous games (DOOM, etc.,) for VR-E application back in the 90’s. It is interesting to consider how far we have come in 10-years, but also how much has stayed the same?

The presentation is totally honest (what we have come to expect (and respect) from John), and he admits the failing of the system prototype upfront – before the audience at QuakeCon’12 got to play the system (based on the E3 demo V2.2):


These failings are:

– limited resolution [“resolution-low”] (he hopes for a 1080p future (end of 2012))*

– need for a stronger anti-aliasing, noticeable (need for more power)*

– top of the line PC needed (saturated his current high-spec system)

– demanding high bandwidth from the target system

– poor latency on this version (hoping for better but has to force syncs)*

– imbedded LCD means bleeds of image (15mil/sec issues)

– 60fps causing additional latency issues (unable to nail this down due to prototype)*

– update at less than wanted with a 250htz, taking two passes (latency linked to gyros and tracking problems)

– rapid head movement / tipping tracking lag (looking at a screen flash for consistency)

– image tear with rapid movement noticeable*

– no positional data so spacial awareness issues (‘Scooby Soo’ing!’ leading to motion nausea (simulation sickness))***

– ascertaining the final tracking system still undecided, demo offering positional difficulties (lumpy, with 10-degree off on occasion)*

– ascertaining the final interface system, still undecided and offers problems

– orientation not completed in time, so positional problems


I do not want to touch any of the comments that John made about Augmented Reality (AR) -there is a danger that AR requirements are linked to the VR-E needs and then things become confused and statements are made that are wrong.

Fundamentally, John hit the nail on the head regarding the key issues of what is wrong (need to be answered) with the concept:



-‘no absolute positioning’

These caveats are serious (as he knows from his statement) and cannot be brushed off lightly. His statement that “… all these are solvable in the future.” is an expression I have lived with from different vendors over my time over the last 15-years in this field. I cannot see the consumer sector being able to make this financially work without a simple solution, and the above issues are complicated!

His final comment about free roaming linked to optical tracking as a future idea is outdated as we already do this in our (professional) sector:

His admittance that he needs to consider environment sensing (to ensure playing environment checks – no running into furniture) all links to his observation to the deliverable system needing a “lot of bandwidth” – which seems to be the strongest argument to commercialize this system in the Location-Based Entertainment sector, rather than as a home (consumer) system! The Out-of-Home approach means that the above problems can be addressed – where the home approach means a lot of wasted time and money for another flash in the pan fad (as seen with the KINECT / MOVE SDK problems).

In ending, John underlines that the passion and drive that has taken this concept into the stratosphere of super hype is that this was seen by many as “the coolest thing at E3” – with the hype/media machine saying “wow… VR is here now!” It is this danger that John confirms worries him about moving too fast, worries me too. I get the feeling that when all these issues are summed up, the realization that the $600 price point will move to $800 (SDK) – and then when playing on a conventional PC the game is not achievable to offer the VR experience needed (first intimated).

Presenting this system has led to the situation “Spiraling out of Control”, mentioned by John as a concern – in reality the concern is that a home PC (let alone Gen-7 or Gen-8 consoles) is not up to achieving what is needed (quality). What he feels he has presented is the ultimate geek-paradise (enthusiast gamer) which has re-ignited the VR frenzy. The Rift being on the bleeding edge – for the Mod community – as the target of what has been achieved so far (outlined in the Kickstarter proposal). For the public however, the reality is that they will not have the skill-set to achieve any level of immersion from the SDK – for those guys that want to play for real, they will have to go to a LBE facility to experience the true VR Entertainment for the foreseeable future (till 2015??)!

(Note – I marked(*) the issues that are deal breakers for consumer support till Q-4 14)

(Note – John’s swipe at the ARM chips and the dead-end that consoles represent was very interesting– John also mentions that physical effects seen at amusement parks (EFX) is far more important, but way beyond him at this moment)



  1. editor September 5, 2012 at 8:15 pm - Reply

    Remember the danger of that VR simulator sickness I mentioned:

  2. Tarique Naseem March 13, 2013 at 6:43 am - Reply

    Hello again, Kevin!

    A great write up, and summary of John Carmack’s talk.

    It’s interesting that the issues they are facing today are exactly the same issues we were having back in the heyday of VR, except with bigger numbers! (resolution, frame rates, etc).

    Latency has always been a ball ache, along with drift from the 3DOF tracking systems in particular, due to their very nature. I personally can’t see a huge problem with resolution (720p for the Oculus I think) if the first two are addressed, as this is where users will be turned off.

    John Carmack is absolutely right in pointing out the hype machine has the potential of setting people’s expectations too high.

    We’ve both seen this happen before, which is a worry. ’90’s VR was this amazing tech that never really lived up to peoples expectations. Now everyone sees it as a failure, which is a shame. It did serve it’s purpose, up to a point. It’s failure was not adapting to the ever changing landscape. Innovation basically slowed to a crawl. People lost interest, and it eventually died (in peoples eyes). However, without the developments in those days, you’d not be seeing a lot of the newer tech in previous years (like the Wii controller, for instance – Which looked remarkably similar to something we were working on at Virtuality with our ‘puck’!).

    The new kids on the block need to learn from a lot of the past mistakes, and not repeat them, otherwise I suspect the same demise may happen again.

    Having said that, it’s good that we’re having these discussions now, so there’s hope that this will drive innovation to get around these issues. In our past lives, I remember we would brush over a lot of these issues we faced, hoping no one would notice 🙂 I doubt this will happen this time… I hope!

Leave A Response »