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Butterflies and bullet trains: Oculus Rift's emotional demos will kick you in the heart

Hayden Dingman | Sept. 28, 2015
The emotional new Oculus Rift experiences revealed at Oculus Connect will make you feel happy, sad, and badass.

And it all culminates in a battle against a massive flying robot which fires rockets towards you—rockets which you, of course, snag on their way towards your face and return to sender.

I cracked some jokes during Oculus’s keynote yesterday about the rhetoric surrounding Bullet Train—Oculus CEO Brendan Iribe literally called it “inspiring,” which I think is an odd choice of phrase. I’ve played plenty of experiences in virtual reality I think are more inspiring and/or thought-provoking than a bombastic shooter.

On the other hand, Bullet Train’s a hell of a lot of fun, and a proof of concept for more “traditional” games in virtual reality.

Sad Henry

henry oculus
Oculus Studios' Henry.

An experience that’s actually inspiring? The short film Henry, created by Oculus Story Studio (the company’s internal film division, headed by Pixar vet Saschka Unseld).

Henry ‘s a pretty simple story: There’s a hedgehog who likes to hug things, but his spikes get in the way. On his birthday, Henry wishes for a friend. He gets his wish, in the form of some balloons that come alive. Hedgehog. Spikes. Balloons. Yeah, you see the issue.

I cried.

Don’t get me wrong—I cry for any old thing. I cried for Toy Story (1, 2, and 3). I cried for Iron Giant. I wept like a baby during Furious 7. I am, as the saying goes, a man in touch with his emotions, at least as far as films are concerned.

And yeah, I cried during Henry—once out of sadness, once out of happiness. It’s the first time this has happened to me (though I’ve teared up once before), and I quickly learned crying doesn’t mix well with “having a thing strapped over your eyes.”

There’s something magical about Henry though: Eye contact. It’s a small thing I don’t necessarily think of in normal games or in daily life, but having Henry glance over at you as the story unfolds—seeing the joy in his eyes when he finds friends, or the fear when a blue spirit flies around the room—it connects you to the character. You empathize.

I haven’t seen Henry on a normal screen obviously, but I don’t think the fourth-wall breaking would be quite as poignant or effective on a normal TV screen/monitor.

Virtual Michelangelo

And then there’s Medium. As Iribe put it during Thursday’s Oculus Connect keynote, “Every great platform has to have a paint app, and this is our paint app.”

Except it’s not really—it’s more of a sculpting app, more like Maya or Blender than Illustrator or MS Paint. Still, having played with (and loved) the HTC Vive’s equivalent, Tilt Brush, I was excited to check out Medium.

 

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