Oculus Connect 6 Conference Highlight: Max Weisel of Half + Half Talks About Avatar and Experience Design for Social VR

This weekend, I am catching up on some of the presentations that took place at Oculus Connect 6 last week. The conference organizers have posted a handy list of all 53 presentations as a YouTube video playlist.

One of them was a “fireside chat” between Yelena Rachitsky, an Executive Producer at Facebook, and Max Weisel of Normal, the company behind Half + Half, a new social VR platform I wrote about earlier on this blog:

In Half + Half, you and your friends can swim with the fishes, glide through the clouds, play hide and seek, or just… wiggle! The avatars are simply designed but absolutely charming. (They remind me of a mixture of owls, nuns, and Teletubbies!)

The description of this video on YouTube states:

When designing for Social VR, it is important to create a positive experience for everyone. Given the variables that come with bringing strangers together with friends, how do you design with those challenges in mind? Join Max Weisel, Founder of Normal, who dedicated his latest project to tackling this head on. Max will break down how to design for joy, delight and silliness, as well as create interactions that inspire meaningful connections between everyone.

Max spends most of this video talking about the many world and avatar design decisions he and his team made while building Half + Half, especially when you encounter and interact with people you don’t know:

And in the very beginning I think, and at the start of this project, when we were first talking with Oculus, I think everyone at Normal knew the value of social VR and how intimate it feels, and how it’s not an experience you really get anywhere else. But one of the things that we really had to think about was, how do you do that with strangers? You know, what is a meaningful experience with someone you don’t know? And we looked at other social VR apps.

And I think I personally just wanted to avoid putting a bunch of people in a room to talk to each other. I think that there’s definitely value in that, but I mean, I don’t think that I’m particularly good at small talk. It’s actually kind of a lot of work, and so I just wanted to have something where I could go in, have a short, small, meaningful experience with somebody in the [world?], and maybe I add them as a friend, maybe we connect later, or maybe I just have this pleasant memory with them.

Max also shared some great pictures of earlier versions of some of the worlds in Half + Half, such as this early design for the glider experience, where you had to actually lie on the floor! (Note that you can now do this in either a seated or standing position in the actual release of the app, which is a good thing because my Oculus Rift setup is rather constrained in space!)

This is a wonderful talk and I learned a few things about designing for social VR which I didn’t know or appreciate before, so I do recommend you set aside forty minutes to watch this in full. (So far, this video has only had 231 views, which I think is criminally low for such informative content!)

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OC6 Starts Today: What Will Facebook Announce?

Today is the opening day of Oculus Connect 6 (OC6), a two-day event at the San Jose McEnery Convention Center in sunny, warm California, and it’s all everybody who is anybody in virtual reality and augmented reality has been talking about for weeks.

Even Facebook’s CEO has been in on the game, teasing users with cryptic announcements such as this one:

(RPG is short for role-playing game, in case you’re not up on the lingo. And Ready Player One, of course, is last year’s hit movie about virtual reality.)

Mark’s Facebook post led UploadVR to speculate:

What exactly could Zuckerberg be teasing here? In Ready Player One, the Oasis is an all-encompassing virtual metaverse that allows anyone to be whoever they want and do whatever they want. It’s so good that humanity basically loses itself inside the new world. We don’t think VR is quite ready for something of that scale, but this tease could be taking the first steps towards something like that.

We’ve written in the past about how confusing Facebook’s scattered social VR policy has been. Facebook Spaces appears to be all but forgotten about, Oculus Rooms never left Gear VR and Go, and Oculus Quest still doesn’t have its own social VR experience powered by Facebook.

Could we perhaps see Facebook announced a definitive social destination across Oculus Rift and Quest? … Maybe we’re just getting carried away, but it’s an exciting thought.

We’ll have to watch along with the keynote to find out.

Unfortunately, I am stuck here in the plunging autumn temperatures of Winnipeg, teaching undergraduate agriculture students how to use the library effectively to complete their assigments. So, alas, I am going to have to rely on second-hand accounts of what’s going on at OC6. If I am lucky, I might be able to catch the livestreams of Mark Zuckerberg’s keynote address and other events on the OculusConnect.com website, while I am multi-tasking (here are more details on how to watch from CNET). Of course, it’s not the same thing as actually being there.

And I am hoping (much like UploadVR) that there will be some sort of hint of Facebook’s code-named “Metaverse” social VR platform for Oculus Go, Oculus Quest, and Oculus Rift and Rift S users (which I’m willing to bet will be based on Oculus Home). Facebook has the capacity to steamroller the nascent social VR marketplace, and they’re not above using some dirty tactics to gain market share from competitors, according to a report compiled by SnapChat of their aggressive tactics, which has been submitted to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission.

So, stay tuned. Some interesting announcements may come out today or tomorrow.