Zenimax vs. Facebook Part 1: The Troubled History of VR

By Shamus
on May 2, 2017
Filed under:

Back in February of this year, a Texas jury awarded half a billion dollars to ZeniMax in the long-running Zenimax vs. Facebook case. Half a billion bucks is a lot of money, even for these titans. Zenimax is of course the parent company of Bethesda, of Skyrim and Fallout 4 fame. Facebook owns Oculus, the former darling of the VR headset scene. So while in court this was a fight between Zenimax and Facebook, to the gaming community this was a fight between “Bethesda” and “Oculus”.

I don’t really care about the petty slap-fight between these two gargantuan companies as they bicker over a pile of money neither one of them needs or knows what to do with, but there are some really interesting side-arguments going on here about source code and VR.


Oh yeah? Well that`s YOUR opinion, The Dude!

Oh yeah? Well that`s YOUR opinion, The Dude!

I know Zenimax is overbearing, petty, and not above bullying people with lawyers. I know making inaccurate statements is a good way to piss people off, and it’s really easy to do that in a case this complex. Back in 2010 I wrote a column that explained that you could sue anyone for anything as long as you could afford the lawyers. This is still true, and Zenimax can now afford another half a billion dollars’ worth of lawyers. That’s a lot more lawyers than I can affordZero. so I’m hoping that hanging the word “opinion” over this series and filling it with very obvious embellishments for comedic effect will act as a totem to ward off the Zenimax legal shock troopers.

This article (or series of articles) is my opinion and analysis, which is based on imperfect knowledge of complex events and shaped by personal biases. The parts that aren’t obviously opinion are often extrapolation on my part. I am not a lawyer, I don’t have any special inside knowledge of this case, and I have no expertise in corporate contracts except that I’ve signed a few and always felt uneasy about it afterwards.

To be honest, this entire case is a fractal. From a distance it looks like Zenimax is suing Facebook over VR, but then you zoom in to see the details and it’s an argument over trademarks, and if you zoom in on that it’s a he said / she said argument over source code, but then maybe it’s also about a contract, or maybe deep down it’s about a couple of engineers and a trade show demo? Or maybe a Kickstarter campaign? It’s actually kind of all of those things, it just depends on how deep you want to dig and how much patience you have for the fussy details.

Lady, if you think it`s impressive now then just wait until you try a headset that`s plugged in.

Lady, if you think it`s impressive now then just wait until you try a headset that`s plugged in.

I’ve read numerous news stories about this case and I still feel like I’m missing context. I’m not sure if two news stories are contradicting each other or if they’re simply reporting different fragments of the same larger story. It’s like a game of telephone where the message changes a little each time, except I can’t even tell what order the messages moved in, or where the gossip chain started.

I even asked a lawyer for help, and he was able to point me in the direction of more documentation and clarify many points for me. As a result I’ve gone over some legal briefs like this one. They turned out to be surprisingly readable. Having signed my share of legal documents, I know how impenetrable legalese can get. I assumed court briefs – documents aimed specifically at lawyers and other experts – would be even more baffling than the mortgages and NDAs I’ve dealt with, which are ostensibly intended to be read and understood by laypeople. But as it turns out, some of this court stuff can get pretty informal and it’s not particularly dense with jargon.

As helpful as this was, it only served to show just how much is lost in translation when trying to cram a complex disagreement into a typical news story. I felt like the more I read about the case, the less I knew. I just kept zooming in on the fractal, trying to find the final level of detail that would give me some kind of handle on the thing. I’ve put in several days of work in trying to write this series, but I’m still doubtful I’ve gotten all the facts exactly right. I’ve done what I could, but there are limits to what I can accomplish with the limited information and expertise available to me.

One final note is that doing this research has helped me to understand the Zenimax position a little better. I was pretty firmly against them based on what I’d read after the verdict, but now that I’ve read the details I find their position less objectionable. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’d side with them in the disagreement, but their arguments now make a lot more sense.

Except for their arguments on source code. Their arguments on source code would be hilarious if they weren’t infuriating. But we’ll talk about that later.

John Carmack

John Carmack

John Carmack

I’ve been pretty public about my professional admiration for John Carmack, former head programmer of id Software. He was the creative force behind the technology that drove the various incarnations of DOOM and Quake. He’s not as big a force these days, but only because the technology has grown to the point that no one person can single-handedly exert industry-wide pressure the way Carmack did in the 90s. In a field this big, it was pretty amazing that one person was able to stay so far ahead of so many rivals for so long. His technology wasn’t the only thing that made their games a success – id Software had lots of other brilliant creative people in their ranks – but there’s no denying his graphics engines were pushing the limits of the medium, selling faster computers, and making id Software an industry darling among both fans and critics.

Back in 2009, Zenimax bought id Software. In the deal they got the stuff they were interested in: Some trademarks, a back catalog of classic games, and some technology. But as they were unpacking the cardboard boxes of intellectual property and trying to figure out what the hell a Commander Keen was, they realized they’d gotten something else along with the deal: A middle-aged genius software inventor with a resume that makes him sound like the Thomas Edison of videogames.

“But Shamus! Edison wasn’t as great an inventor as people give him credit for. He just made commercial versions of a lot of ideas that were already floating around the scientific world. Also, Tesla was way cooler!”

There`s just no way to explain to the younger generation how amazing this was in 1993. There had never been a graphical leap this large and revolutionary.

There`s just no way to explain to the younger generation how amazing this was in 1993. There had never been a graphical leap this large and revolutionary.

The comparison is more apt than you might realize. A lot of Carmack’s greatest accomplishments were built on tricks and ideas that mathematicians had been playing around with for years. Carmack didn’t invent binary space partitioning, a key component of the DOOM engine. That idea had been around since the late 60s. Carmack was just the first person to make it work on then-modern hardware and figure out how it could be used to make a game.(And then make it really fast.)

Although there is one really important difference between Edison and Carmack: Edison had over 1,000 patents to his name, while Carmack is a big believer in the hacker ethic, which takes a dim view on efforts to “own” and control ideas using things like patents.

Like Carmack’s previous bosses, nobody at Zenimax was really sure what to do with him. You can’t make him invent something, after all. Still, better to employ him than to have him go work for a rival company. Also, he still had the ears of hardcore graphics nerds, and thus he had some sway with hardware manufacturers, and that’s never a bad thing to have around the office. It’s not clear if they gave him specific work to do, but they did allow him to spend at least some of his time on his own projects.

Apparently what Carmack really wanted to be working on was Virtual Reality. There wasn’t a lot of really interesting breakthrough work to be done making graphics engines in 2009. If you magically invented some clever technique that doubled graphics performance, what would that get you? Visually, that’s maybe the difference between running Crysis on “high” graphics settings and running the game on “ultra”. That’s nice, but that’s not the sort of jaw-dropping revolution like DOOM or Quake brought to the industry. Those old games made people say things like, “I never knew this was possible!” But at this point in the tech tree the innovations were limited to stuff like smoothing the edges off of jaggy pixels and adding another lighting pass. That makes people say things like, “Yeah. That does look a little nicer” as they squint at the screen. It’s just not the same.

Which means it’s really hard to impress people these days. Games look pretty good already and even a huge gain in performance will result in small gains in visual quality. But VR? That was one area where you still might be able to blow some minds.

The Long Troubled Evolution of VR

An amusing early attempt at "VR". Image from Wikimedia.

An amusing early attempt at "VR". Image from Wikimedia.

People had been “working on” VR for decades. It’s tough to pinpoint where it all started because the early definition of VR was pretty muddled. To someone in the 1970s, any modern first-person game would qualify as “VR”. In 1978 MIT created Aspen Movie Map, which involved taking photographs of Aspen Colorado and allowing the user to navigate through them. That qualified as VR by the standards of the day, but it was more like a precursor to Google Street View.

Eventually people settled on the idea that “VR” would mean using a computer to render an enveloping 3D environment, with distinct views created for each eye to create a sense of depth perception. We tried it in the 80s, but the CRT based displays of the day were heavy, flickering, and hampered by heavy cables. It was basically the last part of the computer you’d want to strap to your face.

By the time Carmack stepped up to the plate, VR had been “five years away” for a quarter century. People would build VR headsets, realize the problem was harder to solve than they first anticipated, and the effort would die. Then we’d get a fresh round of breakthroughs in rendering, displays, and circuit miniaturization, and people would take another crack at it. Eventually people would run into a new hurdle and it would die again.

The Nintendo Virtual Boy. (1995) Click for a retrospective on what it was like to use.

The Nintendo Virtual Boy. (1995) Click for a retrospective on what it was like to use.

It turns out VR is a really hard problem to solve. You need extremely high resolution screens, because once they’re strapped to your face those tiny pixels are going to look gigantic and blocky. You also need excellent refresh speedsIf you’ve ever pressed your face up against an old television screen you’ve probably noticed that the seemingly steady television image is actually very strobe-like.. But you also need the screens to be small and lightweight because they’re hanging off the front of your face. Also, you don’t want a heavy bundle of cables tugging on your head, so the device can’t use too much power. And the device needs to be cheap enough for the average consumer.

So we need screens that are high-definition and lightweight and small and power efficient and cheap? Good luck with that.

Oh, and that’s just what we need for the screens. We have to overcome similar challenges with lenses, rendering technology, processing power, user input, and head tracking. Everything needed to be custom-made, cutting-edge, small, and yet somehow still remain cheap enough for middle-class consumers.

In 2012 Carmack thought the technology was close enough for another go. He began working on his own headset in the mad scientist wing of the Zenimax basement labyrinthIt’s right across from the bestiary, which I’m pretty sure just contains an ice troll, a super mutant, and ten thousand cliff racers.. As part of the project he was also reading various enthusiast sites to see what everyone else was doing. The hacker ethic is strong in groups like this, and it mostly boils down to a bunch of engineers hammering away at a problem, comparing notes, and maybe occasionally smugly showing off when someone gets a breakthrough. At this point Carmack discovered then-20 year old Palmer Luckey, who had cobbled together a headset from consumer parts.

This is a complicated story, which means it’s going to take some time to unpack it all. This series is going to be five parts long. Next week we’ll talk about the technology Carmack and Luckey built together.

Enjoyed this post? Please share!


[1] Zero.


[3] If you’ve ever pressed your face up against an old television screen you’ve probably noticed that the seemingly steady television image is actually very strobe-like.

[4] It’s right across from the bestiary, which I’m pretty sure just contains an ice troll, a super mutant, and ten thousand cliff racers.

202020363 comments? This post wasn't even all that interesting.

From the Archives:

  1. Baron Tanks says:

    Typographical correction

    As helpful as this was, it only served to show just how much is lost in translation when trying to cram a complex disagreement into a typical news story.

    Think you missed the how there.

  2. arron says:

    What I’ve always admired is that a technology like VR has been tried (and failed) so many times and then technology moves on a bit and people then have another go, with lighter headsets and more computing power and higher resolution screens..and eventually it clicks, and becomes something that works for most people. We haven’t gotten to the point of Matrix-style neural plugs yet that switch your consciousness into a completely different world so you don’t get the travel sickness of with your vision and mind disagreeing with your other senses. But who knows where things will be in a couple of hundred years with medical technology and human augmentation?

    • Mephane says:

      We haven’t gotten to the point of Matrix-style neural plugs yet

      Yet. (Warning: long read.)

    • Baron Tanks says:

      I just don’t see the appeal as long as it’s so physically involving. That’s not what entertainment is for me. I want to relax and unwind and I don’t need a screen on my face to be immersed. But I guess it’s just waiting for that one application to blow me away and that would change my mind.

      • Echo Tango says:

        If it was less intrusive, I think VR would be a lot more appealing*. Right now, you need to cordon off a section of your living room / office, have cables trailing behind you, hold up 3 pounds of face mask and cables, and deal with movement desync. If the goggles were about half the weight, wireless, and the beacons / position locators worked flawlessly, I’d have a lot better time with VR. Right now, it’s just a big hassle which, like you, interferes with my entertainment / relaxation.

        * I’ve only tried a Vive at a friend’s workplace, but from what Google image-search is showing me, all the brands have very similar limitations.

        • Thomas says:

          The Vive is the only walking one right? You can use a PSVR sitting down on your sofa and it’s pretty clean cable wise too (I mean you can use a Vive sitting down too obviously, they’re just designing for standing up)

        • Scampi says:

          Right now, it’s just a big hassle which, like you, interferes with my entertainment / relaxation.

          Sorry for this nitpick, but…have you forgotten a word there? Otherwise it seems unnecessarily derogative to me.:D

          On topic: I would have written more, but Echo Tango pretty much summed up perfectly my concerns.
          What’s the point of VR if the immersion level is way too low and all we have for it is a heavy object hanging from our forehead, putting our monitor REALLY close to our eyes?

          • Echo Tango says:

            Yeah, that phrasing was bad. The clunky VR devices interfere with my relaxation. Baron Tanks is just some person on the internet. :)

    • VR never failed. This would imply that something better than VR has come along.

      VR simply never took off. It had it’s fads, it’s year of fame now and again.

      3D went through the same thing and now yo got 3D in most cinemas around the world.

      StarBreeze in Sweden are working on perhaps the best VR headset out there but only for themeparks (and maybe Cinemas?) for now, It’s area of view is the largest of all to truly immerse you (no tunnel view any more).

      When VR has it’s mainstream breakthough (it’s close but not there yet) we’ll see prices come tumbling down (thanks to mass production).
      The issue isn’t just t VR gear but what drivers it. Your average person scraping together cash for a Xbox Scorpio may or may not be able to afford VR gear.
      And Xbox Scorpio besides being as powerful as a high end budget to a low end enthusiast grade PC is still not good enough for VR.

      Even dual Titan Xp or 1080ti GFX cards won’t be able to provide 4K VR at a 120 FPS minimum.
      Once such hardware is affordable to the masses (and can be bought at any Electronic store chain), that is when VR will break through into the mainstream.

  3. GTB says:

    I have mixed feelings about this.

    Not you writing about it, i’m thrilled about that. These are the posts I come here for. I can get lets play and game review videos anywhere, but I like reading your take on industry stuff.

    On one hand, of course Carmack is going to use code he came up with when he worked for iD. Carmack is, I think, largely company independent. Not that he didn’t care about iD, but I think it was just a device to keep the money flowing while he worked on things that interested him. Zenimax was the same- as long as he’s provided with the tools and space he needs to tinker with shit, he’s happy. Of course he’s going to reuse libraries and concepts he came up with before. As far as he’s concerned, it’s all the same thing. Who cares whose letterhead was on his paychecks at the time?

    So from that point of view, Zenimax absolutely has a reason to extract massive amounts of cash from facebook.

    On the other hand, if you let Carmack do whatever the shit he wants to do, for a long enough period of time, amazing things will emerge. Some of it (remember Rage and megatextures?) won’t be necessarily ready for prime time, and it might even not be really feasible with current hardware. But its still a step forward for the whole stupid industry. I think monetization and copyright have done a lot to stifle the kind of open sharing of new ideas that was so prevalent back when the internet was the wild west. I wonder how many amazing innovations are locked up in intellectual property and just sat on by companies who have no idea what they have.

    I really miss Carmack’s quakecon talks.

    • Geebs says:

      Given the stuff written about him in Masters of Doom, it seems pretty obvious that if Carmack wants to do something, he’ll just go ahead and do it; and if you try to stop him he will do it anyway.

      I strongly suspect that Carmack (allegedly) copying his code onto a thumb drive and (allegedly) wiping his computer in a really (allegedly) half-assed fashion was done more out of sheer contempt for Zenimax – for trying to control his work – than out of any particular need for it.

      • Son of Valhalla says:

        Even so, this seems to come down to legalities more than anything else. I had an idea of what was happening after I read a short article about this in February, but I say Zenimax was/is trying to protect the iP it owns.

        Carmack could do what he wants, but you can’t commit to VR illegally without having unintended consequences, which befell Facebook in the end.

    • There are only so many ways to write does that does that same thing, and in the case of Carmak he knows how to write tight code, and there are very few ways to write really tight code. AMD and Intel provide optimization guides for their CPUs, you’d be hard pressed to find much better ways to do things than those

      If Carmak actually took source code with him and continue working on it then that would be an issue if that source code was iD’s property (depends on the work contract).

      But if it was just in Carmak’s head and he rewrote the code from scratch the story is different. (again it depends on the contract, i.e. non-compete clauses etc).

      I’ve often written code, then wondered if it’s really the best way to do it. Then Google it and find a younger me having doe it the same way many years before.
      Or I look back at my older code just to see how I solved it last time and find that my new code looks almost identical.

      IP (Intellectual Property) is the mess that plagues us all (DRM, Piracy, Music Royalties).
      But in the case of Carmak what can iD do? They do not own Carmak’s intellect, he’s not their property nor is his mind (that would be slavery after all).

  4. Orillion says:

    Mortgages and NDAs are absolutely not meant to be readable to laymen. They’re written to be as incomprehensible as possible, so that you don’t really know what your rights are when you sign the document.

    And for me, this is just the logical conclusion of Zenimax crying wolf. They’ve bullied so many people with their lawyers and endless piles of money that I wouldn’t care if Carmack had set a bomb on his way out; I’m done with them and anything they produce.

    • Mike says:

      Mortgages and NDAs are absolutely not meant to be readable to laymen. They’re written to be as incomprehensible as possible, so that you don’t really know what your rights are when you sign the document.

      Another key difference between contracts, like mortgages and NDAs, and legal briefs is that the purpose of a contract is to lay out obligations for both parties and penalties for noncompliance, while a legal brief is intended to persuade someone towards your viewpoint (usually the judge). Thus while a contract benefits from being overly verbose and precise even when not deliberately obfuscated (to avoid confusion/ambiguity), a legal brief needs to avoid being a chore to read in order to be effective.

      • sheenyglass says:

        Thus while a contract benefits from being overly verbose and precise even when not deliberately obfuscated (to avoid confusion/ambiguity), a legal brief needs to avoid being a chore to read in order to be effective.

        This matches my experience for the most part. Persuading a court and drafting a document subject to interpretation by the court are very different things.

        One analogy I’ve heard that may be thematically appropriate here is that a contract is software written in legalese to be executed by the Court. As long as a program does what it should when it runs, does anyone mind if a non-programmer doesn’t understand the code? (Yes, I am trolling a little bit).

        Mortgages and NDAs are absolutely not meant to be readable to laymen. They’re written to be as incomprehensible as possible, so that you don’t really know what your rights are when you sign the document.

        I’ve drafted/negotiated a variety of contracts, including many NDAs (but no mortgages) and in my experience intentional obfuscation is very rare. Contract drafters aren’t trying to be obscure, its just that readability to laymen is the lowest priority. As Mike mentioned, avoiding ambiguity and vagueness are paramount. If its terms are easy to read as well, that’s a bonus. A contract that hurts your brain to interpret, but only has the intended meaning to a court is an effective contract. By comparison, a contract that is easy to read but susceptible to multiple interpretations is a bad contract.

        That being said, making contracts more readable without losing this specificity is often possible, but it does require more work. Paying for that work may not be a worthwhile expenditure in the eyes of the client.

        • Echo Tango says:

          I would contest that a contract that is legally binding, but incomprehensible to one or more of the signing parties is “effective”. If I cannot understand what I am being legally bound to, then I cannot in good conscience sign that contract – I’m immediately making myself vulnerable to terms and conditions that I don’t actually agree to, but do not know about. The fact that contracts can be legally binding when not understandable by the signers, is a failiing of the legal system*.

          * I’m in Canada, but this seems to be a worldwide problem.

          • sheenyglass says:

            The glib answer to the conundrum is simply: do not sign the contract if you do not understand it and you do not want to hire a lawyer to review it for you. You may miss out on the transaction, but you have protected yourself from unknown risk.

            A contract is simply a legally enforceable promise. Without getting too deeply into theoretical issues, the law presumes everyone is capable of making their own decisions, including entering into a contract. Autonomy is the ability to make your own bad decisions.

            There is also a pragmatic basis for enforcing contracts that a layman does not understand. If testifying that one didn’t understand the contract was sufficient to invalidate it, then no contract could ever be relied upon.

            The more pernicious problem is that often people think they understand the contract, but do not. For this reason, if you are involved in transaction that could have significant repercussions, you should hire a lawyer.

            Another problem is that often people are faced with a situation in which they must enter into a transaction. They have no ability to negotiate or to walk away. However, I would argue this is not a problem with contract law generally, but with power asymmetry in a non-egalitarian society. For this, socialism (or a comparable non-capitalist ideology) is the answer.

            (Note, if you are actively misled about something by your counterparty, this can be fraud which may excuse you from the contract)

            It’s important to remember that the civil legal system (as opposed to the criminal justice system) is not really trying to do the “right” thing. It is a dispute resolution system and, as such, the goal is to provide an answer that resolves the argument. To provide a resolution, an answer should be (1) certain, in that it clearly delineates the rights of the party. It can also be (2) predictable, so that people can anticipate what the result will be ahead of time and (3) morally right. Of those three only (1) is absolutely required. Of the other two, (2) is arguably more important because it allows people to make informed decisions about how their rights will be adjudicated. (3) is nice, but not required for the argument to be resolved (and will often be subjective anyway). While this will often result in “bad” outcomes in individual cases, the idea is that certainty and reliability are necessary for contracts to be a viable tool. If the bank could not rely on the mortgage being enforced, they would not loan you the money.

            TL;DR: Problems that people think are issues with contract law are actually issues with capitalism/hierarchy and therefore socialism/left anarchism is the answer.

          • Matt Downie says:

            Sometimes you have a choice between:
            (1) Signing a contract you don’t understand / can’t be bothered to read.
            (2) Missing out on getting a job, owning your own home, or something of similar life-changing importance.

            Most people are going to choose option one. “I’m sure lots of other people have signed the same thing and I’d probably have heard about it if they all got screwed over.”

            • Daemian Lucifer says:

              Thats a bit flawed line of thinking,because plenty of people were screwed over,its just that they were screwed over in small,subtle ways.This is how being screwed over becomes the norm(like the permanent crunch time in gaming industry).

            • Syal says:

              If you can’t get the other party to explain the contract to you in a way that makes sense, you’re probably better off not signing anything from them. There are other jobs/homes/opportunities.

  5. Durican says:

    Virtual reality as a concept is effing awesome, and I love it. But since I am part of the extremely large portion of the human population whose brains aren’t wired efficiently enough to be able to use virtual reality without getting horribly ill, I have to wonder if VR was ever really a profitable goal.

    • Simplex says:

      What VR did you try? Just yesterday I played for 3-4 hours non-stop in VR. This was on a Vive headset, the game was Raw Data. There is very low probability that current high end VR (Vive, Oculus) in well designed games will give you sickness. If it does, you are most probably in a small percentage of population that gets sick from carousels and car rides.

      • CoyoteSans says:

        I mean, I absolutely get sick if I read or play games in a car. It’s the reason the resurgence of audiobooks has been a godsend for me. I also get sick just driving through rolling hills or mountains. I need to take Dramamine for those kinds of trips, and that stuff is literally over-the-counter.

        It’s not as uncommon as you might think.

        • Tohron says:

          Just FYI, I’ve had moderate issues with carsickness, but over 5 months of using my Vive, I’ve never had any issues with VR sickness. So they aren’t necessarily entirely correlated.

      • Viktor says:

        I get sick from VR. Car rides I’m fine*, and the bigger the roller coaster the better, but 2 minutes of VR and I was nauseous for an hour and a half afterwards. It’s not universal, but VR sickness isn’t uncommon either.

        *If the ride is rough/long AND I try to read while riding I can start to get sick, but that’s something that happens maybe once a year.

      • Durican says:

        I am in the small percentage of the population that gets sick from carousels and car rides.

        And 3D movies. Those are pure torture. Also I’m not entirely sure how small that percentage really is.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          3d movies are tricky.Ive been to quite a few,and about half the time they messed up calibration so that I got headaches raging from mild to severe.And thats in a theater that has been doing 3d for years,has good equipment,and for movies that were made to be 3d from the start.Soo,yeah…

          As for vr,there are plenty of things being researched to reduce the sickness.Like that tilting chair(which looks so cool).The only problem is that everything is so expensive.

        • You are not alone. Also I can no longer watch 3dgames on a pc, or play 3d games on a pc. I can get away with them on the tv with console but on pc, nope. Way back when we were playing Unreal Tournament all the time I kept puking and we kept trying to figure out why. It was the game. I stopped playing or watching and I stopped getting sick. I will happily pass up VR no matter how wonderful and lovely it is.

      • rabs says:

        Kinetosis is not that simple. Some stuff will make most people sick, some almost nobody.

        VR with bad framerate or head tracking will make almost everybody sick. The view will move in random fashion but the body doesn’t. Or everything will have some latency, like when drunk/sick/poisoned.

        VR without artificial locomotion makes nobody sick. That’s why devs favors room-scale movements and teleportation.

        But teleportation is also a problem for people with bad spacial awareness. They feel disoriented / lost quickly.

        With artificial locomotion and smooth transitions, people stay connected to the space, but it can trigger kinetosis (world is moving but body doesn’t).
        There are some tricks to limit the triggers for people that are susceptible to it. 1/3 of the population is highly susceptible according to Wikipedia.

      • Da Mage says:

        The percentage of people that get sicks has been found to be in the 50-90% range depending on what study you want to use. That doesn’t mean everyone vomits, but just giving someone a headache is termed as cybersickness.

    • Da Mage says:

      While every person will have a different level of risk of cybersickness when using VR, the majority of sickness can be avoided if the developer actually knows what they are doing. Trouble is, most don’t and you end up with software that significantly increases the risk.

      The risk will never be removed, but every month new techniques are being published on how to reduce it, just most developers aren’t paying attention. For example, the rollercoaster VR programs are used by research in order to force people to get sick, they break all the rules for cybersickness, yet people think those types of programs are what VR is about.

      • Erstwhile Reader says:

        Personally I think a lot of VR sickness is from unfamiliarity with the technology. I got a job as a game developer working on a VR title (Lone Echo) and had never worked on VR before in my life. For the first month or two I did occasionally feel queasy and got headaches. After playing / working on our game for awhile, I am fully acclimated to VR and only the worst hiccups throw me off. It took me a lot longer to get used to first person shooters & their controls when I started playing those way back when.

        Interesting thing to note: As a developer I’ve always had problems of feeling mentally fatigued and unable to concentrate after a few hours (2-4) of work, meaning about half of my time at work was unproductive. Lately, since I am jumping in and out of VR constantly, I’ve noticed that even after a long 10-12 hr day, I am rarely as fatigued or ‘zonked’ as I may have been working on non-VR projects. Might be a side effect of other things, but I do think there’s a wakefulness promoting element to VR (might not always be positive if you have sleep problems).

        In general one of the problems with VR is there’s no money to be made in it yet, so you have a lot of low-budget indies experimenting (good) but without the funds to properly respond to concerns about comfort / sickness. Comfortability has been one of our primary concerns and it seems to be successful so far in our metrics.

  6. Daemian Lucifer says:

    But as it turns out, some of this court stuff can get pretty informal and it’s not particularly dense with jargon.

    And some of it can be so informal that it can be turned into a rick and morty cartoon,without tampering with the transcripts.

  7. Dev Null says:

    Wow. An 865 word disclaimer. You should be a lawyer.


    • djw says:

      No way. It was 865 words that actually had a meaning for normal people who can read at a high school (or better) level. Lawyers don’t do that when they wright for peasants.

      • djw says:

        Ugh, that “wright” was bothering me, but I couldn’t figure out why. I know “right” was the wrong word.

        Anyway, please do me the favor and pretend I wrote write instead. Timer is up on edit button.

  8. Will says:

    This is the part where we play copyeditor, right?

    In the deal they got the stuff they were interested in: Some trademarks, a back catalog of classic games, and some technology.

    “Some” should not be capitalized.

    In general, my opinion on the Zenimax cases is that while it’s been easy to soundbite them to sound ridiculous and the gaming press has done so with wild abandon, if you actually look into the details of the case, they’re reasonable and in the right (e.g. the “scrolls” suit was them responding to Mojang’s attempt to trademark the word, and they pretty unquestionably have rights to Carmack’s work done on their time with their equipment), just playing communication conservatively and not trying to butter up or propagandize a bunch of gamers (which would almost certainly be futile anyway).

    Also, your footnote game is on point.

    • guy says:

      What I saw of their evidence that Carmack infringed on their copyright seemed pretty specious. They can copyright source code but not algorithims or concepts, and their evidence that Carmack used their actual source code with small modifications rather than writing new code from scratch to accomplish the same objective seemed dubious. Though I hadn’t been following the case and hadn’t realized they were suing over anything beyond Carmack allegedly copying source code.

    • Philadelphus says:

      While we’re at it, in

      half a billion dollars worth of lawyers

      “dollars” should have an apostrophe after it (half a billion dollars’ worth).

  9. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Like Carmack’s previous bosses, nobody at Zenimax was really sure what to do with him.

    They shouldve told him to make better engine for bethesdas open world games.Stuff that would actually allow cars in the wasteland.

  10. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Games look pretty good already[2]

    Youve figuratively killed me with that one.

  11. James Schend says:

    Anybody who played Ultima Underworld wasn’t so impressed by Doom. It did more graphically the year previous.

    Doom was certainly *popular*, but it wasn’t some revolution in graphics. It was evolution.

    • djw says:

      I played DOOM before I played Ultima Underworld, so I was quite properly amazed by DOOM. I agree with Shamus that it is difficult to describe how amazing it seemed then, since it looks so awful now.

      My vague recollection is that DOOM was *much* smoother on the computer that I had at the time. It was also a good deal less buggy. Underworld crashed often, and in the end I could not even finish it because the last crash was a game ending crash (and this was before google so I could not easily search for solutions).

    • MadTinkerer says:

      Same here.

      To me, what Doom did right was bring a new sense of speed and strategy, but it came at the cost of things like friendly NPCs, complex object interaction (or even any kind of inventory), and any real story. To be fair, the Doom team had in mind something more like a shmup played from a first person viewpoint (there was even a point system and high scores in an early version) than an RPG played from a first person viewpoint. But still: in Ultima Underworld you can talk to the monsters and in Doom you can’t.

      (Unless you make a mod.)

      But now we have a plethora of both excellent FPSs and excellent Immersive Sims, so it’s all good.

  12. “Which means it’s really hard to impress people these days. Games look pretty good already[2] and even a huge gain in performance will result in small gains in visual quality. But VR? That was one area where you still might be able to blow some minds.”

    I’m not sure I agree with this contention. I’m pretty sure that if someone could come up with a good system for making 3d objects interact with each other instead of just having discrete “animations” and the nightmare realm of clipping issues that results, that would be pretty amazing.

    Heck, just seeing characters actually interact with objects instead of just waving their hands in the direction of the “interact” point is still damned impressive and usually reserved for cut scenes.

  13. baud001 says:

    Games look pretty good already

    That was a good one.

    For the VR, I don’t care much about it. I’m not a lot interested in it and only for strategy games like XCOM and apparently the VR is not interested in doing those kind of games (or it’s a bad idea and I haven’t realized it yet).
    But I like your write-up, so I’ll follow along.

  14. Joe Informatico says:

    Having recently read some historians’ discussions of Edison (especially in regards to Tesla), I’ve concluded that Edison deserves about as much credit as Steve Jobs. He was a developer and manager who was able to take some theoretical ideas or existing technologies that were floating around, come up with a version of them that people would actually use, and put a bunch of smart engineers to the task of making that version of them a reality, and then selling them.

    Also, despite what Matthew Inman thinks, there’s a lot more evidence to suggest Edison and Tesla were cordial than there is to support the notion they were enemies.

  15. Da Mage says:

    This looks like an interesting series for me. I am a PHD student researching cybersickness in regards to VR, so my day job is basically trying to help fix VR stuff. While I haven’t written a review of VR history (its on my todo list for my thesis), I done a lot of research and writing into cybersickness.

    The earliest ‘VR’ using a head mounted display (that I’ve come across in research) was invented in 1968 can was nicknamed “The Sword of Damocles”. If you want to go back even further, the military helicopter simulators from the 1950s share many of the same problems as later VR technology, except that it was rendered onto screens in a cockpit instead of screens on your face.

    VR research was mostly military up until the late 80s and 90s, there was a boom in research about VR. That dropped off in the early 2000s until word of these new headsets started appearing in the late 2000s and researchers started again.

  16. Paul Spooner says:

    Just wanted to say I’m looking forward to your perspective.
    Don’t you own an Occulus headset? Might be worth bringing up, if only as a disclosure.

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