The paperback version of Ernest Cline’s second novel, Armada, is now available. After exploring virtual reality gaming in Ready Player One, Cline adds long-range drone combat using a virtual reality game to the mix in his second page-turning bestseller.
Hollywood is adapting both of these Random House books into big screen adventures. Steven Spielberg is directing Ready Player One, which will star Simon Pegg, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, and Tye Sheridan., and Universal Pictures is adapting Armada for a film adaptation, based on a script written by Cline.
Ready Player One has become required reading at Oculus VR, literally. Cline has seen his fictional universes blend with reality after the consumer launches of Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive (with Sony’s PlayStation VR slotted for an October debut). Here, Cline explains to [a]listdaily why he’s all-in for virtual reality in this exclusive interview.
There are some analysts that believe augmented reality, or mixed reality as Microsoft and Magic Leap call it, will ultimately become the de facto technology in the coming years. You’ve been gung-ho about VR with your books. What are your thoughts about the future of AR?
It’s amazing. I’ve seen the Magic Leap demos and the way that it can turn your bedroom, your office space, or a room in your house devoted to using these devices that paint virtual objects over real surfaces that are there. I don’t know if that’s ever going to be as appealing as escaping into another world entirely. I think augmented reality is a turnoff to some people. Like anybody wearing Google Glass being at a party and all this information is popping up over people’s heads about each of them. That would be offensive to the people who knew it was happening, even if everybody was doing it. I don’t know if that would add to human relationships, or detract from them, or create a barrier between people if they knew that this person was seeing other things or ignoring them completely. It’s almost like somebody glancing down at their phone while they’re talking to you is a faux pas now. AR is like having your phone super imposed over everybody at all times.
Do you see any uses for AR in the future?
For applications of gaming it’s interesting and for teleconferencing too. You could sit around a table of empty chairs and see the people projected into those chairs and they would see the same thing on their end, but I don’t know how much more believable that would be and more useful that would be than just putting on goggles that shut out the real world entirely. They seem to be almost like apples and oranges to me. From what I’ve seen, virtual reality and shutting out the real world entirely in service of the whole other reality that’s created inside is more compelling and more immersive, but also has this impulse to not want to be around other people while you’re doing it because you know you look silly. It’s hard to look cool wearing VR goggles because nobody sees what you see. Whereas with augmented reality, everybody who had the glasses could see what you could see.
What are your thoughts about Magic Leap?
With Magic Leap you can look at your finger and a Tinkerbell fairy will land on your fingertip and you almost feel it there even though you know it’s not really there. It looks at you and you can move it around and see it from every angle. It adds to the light that’s already coming into your eye so it looks a little more realistic, but I feel like virtual reality goggles are going to catch up with that. And when you put on the virtual reality goggles it will look like you’re seeing reality, as opposed to seeing something drawn by a computer. It will be interesting to see. I think eventually you’ll have goggles that will do both. You’ll have see-through goggles that can either be AR or VR. Maybe it will be like those sunglasses that flip up and you’ll have augmented reality and virtual reality in the same device.
Some analysts believe VR will be like your home theater experience for big movie experiences and AR will be like your tablet for more day-to-day interactions.
What’s crazy about that Leap Motion controller, which is a flat infrared camera that they use epoxy to stick on the front of the Oculus Rift, is that there are already demos where you can use that as a pass-through camera and wave your hand in a certain way and it changes into a black and white camera. And that way you can see your desk and your office environment and reach out and take a drink of water and then put the glass back down and then turn virtual reality back on. I’m pretty sure within a few years Oculus will have cameras built into the front of it like that.
The Vive does it right now with its “chaperone” feature, which turns on the camera when you get close to a real-world object.
Yeah. They showed me the Vive when I was at Google when I was there and it showed the walls and everything as a wireframe outline so it didn’t completely disrupt the virtual surroundings, but it kept you from running into things. I think that will be a quick addition to the Oculus.
What are your thoughts on how quickly reality is catching up to the fiction from your books Ready Player One and Armada?
It’s startling. When you are playing a virtual reality simulation for a while and then you take off those goggles, it’s startling to look around and realize you’re in this room and not in that space that I was just in. Even if you know if the graphics in there are not photorealistic yet—it’s still a little jarring—but when you look around inside this other place it feels to some degree like you’re really there. There are people already developing haptic suits and haptic feedback gloves where you can kind of close your hand around a doorknob or a flight stick in the virtual world and it will feel like it’s really there.
We’re in the infant stages of that now. It’s like black and white televisions compared to the TVs that we have now, is how quickly this technology is going to evolve. Now we have all these big corporations (like Facebook, Google, Samsung, Microsoft) and everybody around the world focused on the problem of virtual reality and making it as engaging and as real as possible. It’s an exciting time and interesting time to be alive.