The knock-out punch of your first time in VR.
It's been two years, but I still distinctly remember being drawn out of the headset and trying to gather my thoughts as my head stopped spinning. It was the first time I had taken off the Oculus Rift DK1 and I was instantly sold. There were no questions in my mind that what I had just seen was the undeniable future of gaming.
Since that day, I have remained inexorably smitten with VR. The ability to carry yourself from one world to another with the flip of a headset is nothing short of magic. From my first stomach turning coaster ride to cowering under a hospital gurney evading a Xenomorph some months later, my baptism by the workbench HMD engineers, geekazoid evangalists, and Reddit pyromancers could not have gone smoother. Reality just wafted away and the Rift enveloped me so readily; it felt like destiny. Getting to expereince VR as an early adopter has been a blessing. The new generations who grow up with this technology simply won't have a choice but to take it for granted. I'm clearly a lucky man.
Now, let's tell you a bit more about the man behind the show. My name is Brad and I live in Scotland. I was born to an American mother and Irish father and subsequently spent the first half of my life in the USA (incl. Alaska & U.S. Virgin Islands) and second half in Europe (Ireland & United Kingdom). Since July 2014, I have been showcasing VR to the world. As a friendly, sociable gamer, I enjoy being able to meet and play with people across the planet. And despite my deep-seated belief in VR from the start, I would not have guessed how social this would actually become and how rich and engaging the VR experience would feel.
Most of you will agree with me that ever since the iPhone made it's historic splash (and perhaps even a little before), our society has been trending towards being less social with strangers. People today know their neighbours less well, they stand side by side others at a bus stop without speaking, and can disappear into their own little universe at the kitchen table, not uttering a single word to their family members or flatmates. So, here's a prediction. I think VR will take the device out of the equation and allow people to connect again, not in their immediate vicinity, but online. VR will drive that experience to a level where the lines between meeting in person and meeting virtually will blur substantially from where we stand today.
Getting back on topic, as we speak of making friends virtually, I'm reminded of the early stream days. We advertised and streamed the live arrival of the Oculus Rift DK2, my first VR headset, on Twitch. That was July 29th, 2014, the birth of our VR-dedicated show. The unboxing and subsequent streams were highly popular. These resulted in several high profile engagements; my favourite one being the call-out by Nate Mitchell (VP Product, Oculus) that my 'Tears Over DK2' post on Reddit and Twitch highlight video was perhaps his favourite initial reaction to the DK2 shortly after arriving in enthusiast's hands.
Maturing as an entertainer along with my stream, I played everything I could get my hands on, including demos that fell into categories I had never really explored in my '2D' gaming days, such as the procedurally generated, psychological horror that can be found in Dreadhalls. Through trial and error, my audience and I quickly discovered that I am quite a jumpy lad (a trait that persists to this day, mind you) and that they thoroughly enjoyed watching my natural reactions to the heart-pounding experiences developers were putting out there for other devs and enthusiasts to try in the foundation days of the Rift.
As we moved into 2015, our show evolved in a year of further growth and ultimately led to the formation of several important relationships. My connections with the team at Oculus, Psytech Games of Windlands, CCP of Eve: Valkyrie, Co-founders of Casino VR, and multiple other studios were planted and would later result in some of my personal favourite stream highlights, such as this important PSA. Additonally, on the back of the show's popularity and acknowledgement of a well managed Twitch channel, Oculus presented us with the opportunity to moderate their Twitch-broadcasted launch of the CV1 (consumer version of the Oculus Rift). So, with the full support of my stream mods Evisired, Wo3dy, and Emrayla, we succeeded by effectively suppressing troublemakers and were jointly able to enjoy being part of a landmark event.
Now, this seems to be a decent segway to break any misconceptions you might have had about me being a one-man band. That is simply not the case. My success has been the result of a diligent group effort. Before I started our VR show, I ran the SPIDER Gaming Community for 5 years and had built up a circle of friends who were like-minded. They got behind my goal to host the world's best VR stream. Also, many of the 'open door' fundamentals still echo in our show today and the SPIDER logo remains proudly emblazoned on every stream, as I pay homage to my thriving, virtual family.
So, what makes our show special? To start off, one thing I had learned in business was the often overlooked importance of a strong unique selling point (USP). i.e. Why would someone watch me over another streamer? Why would I watch me? Answering this for myself, I recognized that I watch Twitch for the people, not the games. Tyler Durden had it pegged in Fight Club when he said, "You are by far the most interesting single-serving friend I've ever met." We needed bait and, thankfully, the Rift presented an unbridled opportunity to stand out from the crowd. Hence, I concluded that advertising the person on par with the game was important. From there, we pioneered the iconic 50-50 split view you still see today.
But, that's not all. Thanks to the pro-active coding work of our Czech friend Plenyx, we ended up with a built-from-scratch kudos points system we call ZimPoints. You can learn more about it elsewhere on the site, so I'll stay high level for now and just say that adding these interactive elements to the stream, including a text-to-speech messaging and betting system, brought another evolution in our entertainment factor. Later, thanks to my lovely wife Karen, this was then extended to a torture mechanism we refer to as the 'Wheel of Misfortune'. Turns out our viewers bloody love that; those twisted f**ks we call 'The Zeeple'.
Now, to speak of infrastructure and investment back into the stream, I did find the need to perform some upgrades to keep up with the CPU impact of OBS (the stream application I utilise) in order to maintain a comfortable framerate for VR. The result left a few spare parts, which led me to building out our reruns server. The benefit of hosting reruns was that our growing community could still meet with each other and talk VR while enjoying past shows even while I was was sleeping or otherwise occupied with my wife and daughter. To keep things fresh, we snuck in fun, rerun-only segments as Easter eggs. Initially, we ran all of this through the main channel. But later, after a bit of critical analysis, we moved this over to the Zimtok5TV channel, which has demonstrated ample success standing on it's own.
Another aspect of any successful IRC channel, community, or government is the underlying rules and conditions that guide the cultural aspects of it's citizens. Will there be unstructured chaos or a hard-coded set of disciplines? This is where my moderation team comes in and, under the thoughful leadership of Evisired (Dave), our lead moderator, we adopted a "zero bans" condition after months of seeing how the more rogue-like watchers on Twitch were behaving. What was the result? Kind of an exciting one. People were generally behaving better (no fight to be had, here) or even coming back and getting involved in a positive way. The net message? Well, we have all liked to cause a stir at one stage in our lives. As we mature as a show, so do they. We're not turning anyone away.
Let's turn to speak a little about the environment. Our viewers have been very kind to my wife and I. We've been fed regularly via TreatStream and gifted funds to help level up the show. The Logitech G27 wheel was a huge deal for me, given I'm a real miserly sort with money and it enabled me to get into Euro Truck Simulator 2 properly, funded by donations, and that has been one of the show's most popular games. Our viewers also gather regularly to watch and play games together, with or without me. Again, this isn't a one-man-show. It's also not a one-show-community. We invite partnerhips, ideas, and intelligent hook-up's in the wider VR space. We've had many and they've each brought their own colours to the ever-growing family. Our community wraps the globe, from New Zealand right the way round to California, USA. In short, I find that bloody amazing. Thank you, Internet! <3
One such partnership I've thoroughly enjoyed is with the talented dev team behind Windlands and AltspaceVR team member Ruuubick. While the devs stay busy creating content, @Ruuubick and I co-stream any new release. Our virgin speedruns are a rhythmic, symbiotic showcase that has given the dev team critical feedback and allowed us to race each other to finish the new level first, totally an alpha-male contest of bravado with our admittedly ropey spidey-skills. Dad-worthy puns, aside, we really have struck up a warm friendship and although Ruuubick far out-skills me in the game, we find creative ways of leveling the playing field. Making friends through VR just feels natural.
"When /r/oculus became a s**tposting platform, I found comfort on Zimtok's stream, it's a fantastic community of joyful open-minded enthusiasts and I'm really looking forward to spend hundreds of hours with them in multi-player experiences in VR !"
- Ruuubick_ (of AltspaceVR)
As we move through this new era of consumer VR, I find myself asking myself again, "Why would I watch our show?" And, again, being honest, it's still the people that bring the magic. We ourselves are unmasked, authentic streamers who strive to put on a damn fine show every time we're live. Also, having led several gaming communities in my time, my consistent, long term focus has been on social gaming and VR offers us that and then some. Anyone seeking a jumpy American/Irish lad may just find a suitable friend in me. Luckily, having gotten into self-recording and Twitch streaming from literally my first time with VR means that I've got the full story on file. With years of experience behind me, I can educate others how to maximise their fun in VR and enjoy it right along with them.
Fast forward a few years since my time with the DK1 and I now find myself at the centre of the longest running, trail-blazing, and in my eyes, the most genuine Twitch stream focused on VR-only experiences. Our unique 50-50 split view that we pioneered back in 2014 and the 'Wheel of Misfortune' we implemented on the back of our ZimPoints system have helped to surround the stream in fun layers the our viewers have really loved. What's next? Well, to put it bluntly, we are going to win. We have marked plans to share the tidal wave of new content with you, achieve Twitch partnership, form a dedicated VR stream team with other budding entertainers, and get them laid. ....Ok, on 2nd thought, we'll have to see how that last part pans out. Meanwhile, our crack team of relationship experts remains hard at work. #ForScience
Next, let's now walk the spotlight over to my wife, Karen. We bumped into each other on a mountaineering trip in university and from our first day together, we have shared games as a common medium to enjoy our lives together. As I've admitted openly on stream, my better half is far more responsible for our successes than I am. Karen is a refreshingly natural person, in a world so filled with the opposite. Her ideas about personal well-being, child-rearing, and our overall direction of the stream often open my eyes to new ways of thinking.
What a sport. I mean, with my persistent moaning about cat hair and recently hot temper, you're probably asking why she puts up with me at all. Answering that my question myself, I would say it's because she sees the same trajectory in me that I once saw in her, back when she was timid and soft-spoken. I've always been an entrepreneural spirit wanting to make something of my own and our stream's success has fuelled us both with a well of energy and inspiration to do more every day. With that in mind, let's not forget that my dear Karen has taken one for the team on plenty of occasions. The Zeeple and I certainly appreciate that. When she's not on stream herself, you can bet she's looking after our kids, participating as a welcoming mod in chat, or playing master chef; a skill she's particularly good at. Albeit not advertised, this is another important feature of our stream and is another one of our common interests. Food!
If it weren't for games and developments in technology, Brad and I wouldn't be together today. We met playing games on our Nintendo DS's, but he lived in Ireland, and I was soon to return to the United States. Daily video calls made it possible to be part of each other's lives for those years.
Where distance once meant goodbye, it now is instead an opportunity to hang out with people from every walk of life imaginable. And where internet and social games brought us to that point, VR is the next level. Teleportation is real, people! Let's get excited for this limitless new world upon us.
- Emrayla (Karen, Zim's wife)
Yes, maaaaa'am. Above, Karen has landed a bullseye in addressing the main driver for why people should pay attention to Virtual Reality. VR offers us ways to connect that you won't even realise were possible. There are experiences you may shrug off on the basis that they seem dull at first, like trucking, poker, & chicken farming. In cases like these, just try to keep an open mind and as you dip into new material and explore, you might be surprised at what you like and don't like in VR. Goodbye, predjudice. Hello, new age, hippie-style free thinking!
To wrap things up, here, there's really only one thing left to say. This is a joint partnership. It has been that way ever since we played Bomberman on a bus back in Ireland and clocked all the levels in Left 4 Dead; working together to tackle even the most gruelling of in-game tasks. Life can throw a lot at you, but when you've bonded your existence to a partner of the calibre I've found in my wife and the strong community bonds both in SPIDER and The Zeeple, then together, you don't let anything beat you.
VR is changing us. And, thanks to our ol' buddy Palmer and many others, it's finally here to stay.