Smashing Spotlight: Steven Rose, Senior Developer

Wonder what makes Smashing Ideas so smashing? Our people! We sat down with Steven Rose, Senior Developer, to talk shop, why he’s SI’s resident expert in Augmented & Virtual Reality, and how Sonic the Hedgehog led him down the path to being a digital pioneer in our agency.

 

What led you to the world of digital?

I have a vivid memory of seeing Sonic the Hedgehog in a department store, which completely blew me away. I wanted to understand how it worked so I went on to destroy disassemble a Sega Genesis to figure it out. After that I got a Spectrum ZX and started banging out some BASIC programs. I’ve been here ever since.

 

You’re our resident expert on AR (augmented reality) and VR (virtual reality). What excites you most about this emerging platform?

This year the tech is finally coming to consumers at large – the GearVR, Vive, the Rift, the HoloLens and more. We’re going to discover how consumers react to it, and see it evolve in response – new ways of using the tech will emerge over the next year that we had never thought of, and I find that very exciting.

On a personal level, massive multiplayer games draw me in so I’m eager to find out how they will translate to VR.

 

How do you think more traditional-based businesses will utilize AR/VR, or is it only for the entertainment industry?

  • In the classroom setting and for training – you retain knowledge better if you see and do things.
  • In creative work – VR will offer a natural way to move around and interact in 3D space, and creating 3D artwork may be easier than traditional 3D modeling.
  • In healthcare – surgeons can reduce the amount of mistakes that are made by practicing with VR. Medical data from scanners is easier to understand and manipulate.

 

Do you think there are any limitations of low-cost VR adapters like Google Cardboard?

Google Cardboard, and the like, are good because they bring relatively low-cost, easy-to-use VR to the table. However, there are a few drawbacks:

  • The first challenge is that limited processing power means high fidelity real-time 3D graphics aren’t feasible.
  • Second, there are a large variety of input devices, but due to the lack of adoption, not many Google Cardboard applications use them, so you are limited with how you interact with things. To be fair, this problem is also an issue for any VR tech that doesn’t come out of the box with some kind of controller.
  • Third, is lack of positional tracking – phones can track head rotation, but they don’t track position with the necessary accuracy – so any experience that involves actually walking around is not possible.

Despite my above qualms I do think all the aforementioned issues will be addressed in the long term, and due to the other advantages mobile VR could become the future of VR.

 

How does technology and visual storytelling work together to create a true VR experience?

VR offers a level of immersion where it feels like you’re really there in the scene. This type of immersion is referred to as presence. For storytelling this is huge – it can make things more exciting or scary and heighten emotional impact in general…maybe to the point where things have to be toned down not to overwhelm viewers – scary movies could be truly terrifying in VR. Oculus Story Studio (among many others) is pioneering approaches for effectively telling stories in VR.

 

You experiment and build VR experiences in your free time. What are some of your favorite things that you’re experimenting with?

I am someone who likes to interact with things as opposed to being a passive viewer. The leap motion is something that will track your arm, hand and finger movements so they can be brought into virtual experiences. I’ve played around with using it to rotate virtual objects. One criticism is that there’s no feedback – you can’t feel virtual things, but it is surprisingly easy to interact without touch and makes a deeper level of immersion possible.

I also made a small quadcopter game for a VR Jam called Quacer, which was fun to develop and play.

 

Now for the obligatory tech person question. What’s your favorite piece of technology you can’t live without?

My Razer Nostromo – it’s like a little ergonomic keypad for your left hand. It prevents me from getting RSI while gaming, and can be programmed.

 

You build some pretty amazing digital experiences, some of which aim at changing the way people learn and absorb information – what piece of technology do you personally hope will come out in the next 10 years?

I’d like to see general purpose robots come out that are actually useful and affordable. Maybe 10 years is pushing it, but a lot of progress is being made with robotics and AI.

 

We’re keeping the tech geek/nerd stereotype rolling along. Hands-down the geekiest thing about me is…

 I met my wife in a video game. Do I win a prize?

 

And last, but not least, what song best describes you?

This is such a hard question! I’ll go with Wonderboy by Tenacious D…

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