"Hunger in LA", De la Peña project which publicly showcased a Oculus Rift prototype for the first time
You've probably read about the lawsuit that game publisher Zenimax filed against Oculus VR/Facebook, alleging intellectual property theft of proprietary VR technology, which is currently being decided in court. Very roughly summarized, Zenimax is claiming the Rift is based on tech the company owned while Oculus CTO John Carmack was there, while Oculus is claiming that company founder Palmer Luckey created a working Rift prototype before he even met Carmack. In the coverage, some subtle but important distinctions are being missed, or underreported. For instance, Upload VR cites Luckey as saying this in court:
Luckey gave a detailed run down of the first prototypes of the Rift, which he started making after purchasing other headsets. He detailed four prototypes he made, the last of which he showed at a USC Lab in January 2012, where he worked as a technician. Also referenced was his work with Nonny de la Peña, a journalist making her own VR tech to tell stories. Luckey joined her for the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, where her piece, Hunger in Los Angeles appeared on a rudimentary headset allowing for six degrees of freedom movement. It was not the Rift, though Luckey said the piece could have run on his headset “to a certain degree.”
This isn't quite right. As I reported last year:
Palmer Luckey was de la Peña’s intern at USC’s Institute for Creative Technologies, learning and honing much of his VR abilities under her guidance. Working with de la Peña in 2012, Palmer Luckey originally built what would become a prototype for the Oculus Rift (nearly a year before his famous Kickstarter) for her acclaimed “Hunger LA” VR experience at the Sundance Film Festival.
Polygon's coverage misses this connection entirely, citing de la Peña as someone who merely "worked with [Luckey] while at USC’s MxR Lab". No: In fact, Luckey worked for her, and she made it possible for Luckey to publicly present for the first time an Oculus Rift prototype at Sundance, one of the most important film and interactive conferences in the world:
As she puts it above at 2:00:
"Palmer was a lab assistant, we together produced two pairs... [we wanted to put them] in the trunk to go out at 10am but it didn't go out until 10pm because we were coding the distortion out, everyone's working really hard to make them perfect before they went out... so we come to Sundance and basically Palmer crashed in my hotel room and drove the truck back for me and actually kindly got my boots from my car... the billionaire boy.
... 9 months later Palmer did the Kickstarter and the rest is history with Oculus."
So it's bitterly ironic in several ways that current media coverage understates de la Peña's role in the Oculus' existence. Without her project to impel it, and her guidance of Luckey, the Oculus Rift might not have even been created at all (at least in the time frame it was). And because of their history together, it's likely Nonny de la Peña will end up testifying on Oculus VR's behalf, since she's the one of best qualified people to refute Zenimax's claims -- even though de la Peña is a Mexican-American Latina who is personally "dismayed" that Luckey funded promotions for Donald Trump's anti-Latino, misogynist Presidential run. And while de la Peña's "Hunger in LA" project was designed to help create empathy for the poor, and it helped launch Palmer Luckey's career in VR, Luckey now wants to give virtual reality to the poor, so they can experience virtual versions of a non-poor life.
Image via Multiple Journalism.
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