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A 20-year VR veteran offers valuable insights into the coming of Oculus Rift

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When trade site Gamasutra published an interview with virtual reality guru Jesse Schell earlier today, I took note.

Schell has been working with VR for two decades, and is able to put the incoming Oculus Rift revolution in its proper context.

Next year, the Rift, an affordable and workable VR experience, will arrive in consumers' hands. Invented by 22-year-old Palmer Luckey, it will change gaming and entertainment forever.

Schell jokes that "I was putting on my first VR helmet when Palmer was getting his first diaper on." He began working on Disney's theme park Aladdin's Magic Carpet Ride VR in 1995.

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"It's really funny," he said. "When the specs for the Rift were announced, I realized, Oh, my God. These were the same specs we had at Disney in 1995. The only thing is, this unit costs $300, and ours cost $300,000. So it was 1,000 times cheaper."

Schell, author of The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses is working on various Rift projects through his company, Schell Games.

He has some great insights to offer on what the coming of VR is going to mean for how we play and how we communicate with one another.

For a start, he believes that it will take time; that the novelties that come at launch may not be sustainable, and that problems like making use of hands, instead of controllers, needs to be fixed.

"There are going to be a few pieces that need to come into place for it to take on mass market numbers," he said. "I think we'll see it over the next 10 years. Maybe eight years? But it's going to take some time. But we're finally going to see some forward progress. I believe that starting in 2015, there will be a sustainable market forever onward for VR. It'll start small and it'll get bigger."

For many of us, one of the most exciting aspects of VR is the ability to conduct human-like conversations in digital spaces. "For people who are really into online interactions, this will be the ultimate online interaction," he said. "This will be the first time you'll be able to make eye contact with other avatars. And that will be a real thing. The power of it as a communication medium, ultimately, is going to be amazing. I feel certain that's ultimately why Facebook was interested, because they saw that potential."

I wonder if this will help moderate the hostility of online interactions? The sort of person who posts nasty messages in Twitter feeds and in comments is almost never the sort of person to behave that way in face-to-face interactions. I believe the potential for a digital one-to-one full body interaction will persuade them towards moderation.

This is just one of the interesting questions posed by Oculus Rift, the latest model of which was analyzed by Polygon earlier this week.

For Schell, the lessons of VR's difficult early years are clear. "It's tough, but it's fun. You don't have to get everything right," he said. "You get into questions of debate, like, what's not going to work and why. It's what's exciting about it."

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