On this episode of Too Embarrassed to Ask, Recode’s Kara Swisher, her son Louie Swisher and Recode Radio producer Eric Johnson talk about Sandbox VR, a new virtual reality arcade installation south of San Francisco that they visited together, along with Kara’s other son, Alex.
You can listen to the whole thing in the audio player above. Below, we’ve posted a lightly edited complete transcript of their conversation.
Kara Swisher: Hi, I’m Kara Swisher, editor at large at Recode, and you’re listening to Too Embarrassed to Ask, coming at you from the Vox Media podcast network. This is a show where we answer all of your embarrassing questions about consumer tech and the week’s news. You can send us your questions on Twitter with the hashtag #TooEmbarrassed. We also have an email address, TooEmbarrassed@Recode.net. Reminder: there are two Rs and two Ss in embarrassed, in case you cannot spell. Louie, can you spell embarrassed?
Louie Swisher: I’m pretty sure.
KS: This is Louie Swisher. He’s back, again.
LS: Hi, thank you for having me, Mom.
KS: As one of the most — “mom.” It’s nepotism, but it works for Kara Swisher, because you’re very popular with the people who listen to this podcast.
We’re gonna be talking about a lot of things. You’re here for the summer with your delightful mother, you’re here in San Francisco.
LS: Yes. I’m having a wonderful time.
KS: Are you? You are. We last spoke when we were in Washington, D.C., about lacrosse.
LS: Yeah. With Paul Rabil.
Paul Rabil. You liked that.
LS: It was a great podcast, I think, at a great time.
So now we did another great thing. Today we’re in the San Francisco studio, but yesterday I was on a pirate ship. I drove down to San Mateo to try a new virtual reality experience created by a company called Sandbox VR, it’s about to get a big funding, apparently. But it was essentially a room, it was a pirate-themed video game that I played along with my sons Louie and Alex, and my producer Eric Johnson, who’s also here.
Eric Johnson: Hello.
How you doing? So it’s part of this new trend where people are gonna do these VR play places. And there’s a lot of them around. This one is called Sandbox VR, they make their own games, and we’re gonna talk about that today. About what it was like, what we saw, what we liked or didn’t like about it, and what’s going on with VR gaming, especially popular gaming. This was in a mall, in the Hillsdale mall, which is in San Mateo.
Louie, why don’t you explain what happened when we got there? Just give us the what for. And Eric can add some stuff.
LS: Well, when we got there, we were greeted very kindly by the staff. And then after everybody was ready, they suited us up by putting on these, what looked like an ankle monitor. I felt like Lindsay Lohan when I was wearing it. He gave us these wrist monitors, to track arm movements when we were in the game.
There were two of them.
LS: Yeah, there was one for each wrist and one for each ankle. And then we just went in and they put on these backpacks, which had some computer in it. And they put on the VR headset, and they gave us these toy guns and we played the game.
And we had cool vests, too.
LS: Yeah. I was very fashionable, I looked great.
We looked good.
LS: Honestly, yeah. You just have to go to our Instagram to look.
But I’m just saying, it was a computer on our back, that’s what they were putting on our backs.
LS: I’m pretty sure it was a computer.
Yeah. But it wasn’t uncomfortable, right?
I didn’t find it very. What about you, Eric? Because one of the issues is, VR, you have to be tethered.
EJ: Oh believe me, I know. I bought a VR headset for my home.
Right. So you wander around with a big thing at your back like you’re on “The Matrix.”
EJ: I sold a pool table to make room for a VR room in my house, and used it for about a year and a half and gave up on it. It’s a lot of hassle to do really good VR. You can do untethered VR, the Oculus Go or the Samsung Gear VR. You can do that without any wires sticking out of your head, but the experience is totally different. It’s not at all like what we saw yesterday, where we were wandering around this room in a really immersive video game that actually felt like we were in another place. And that’s the ideal for VR, is you really feel transported.
So we had a computer on our back essentially, right?
EJ: Yeah. And then I think they also had computers off to the side of the room that were running the shared experience. I think it’s a mixture of these.
But it was wireless, it was utterly wireless, correct?
EJ: Yeah. We had a lot of computing power on our backs, but we were being tracked by all those cameras around the room. So the Lindsay Lohan monitors on our ankles and our wrists ...
They had little balls hanging off them.
And little sticks, right?
EJ: Yeah. So if you’ve ever watched the special features for an action movie, on the DVD or iTunes download, you look at the behind the scenes where they have motion capture going on, where you have a person wearing a suit covered in white balls. It’s the same technology there, or it’s basically extrapolating, if the wrist is there that means the rest of the body is here. So it stays here in these points.
How did you feel? First of all, the stuff wasn’t heavy. We looked kinda good.
LS: Yeah. I felt very immersed in the game, I think.
Yeah. I didn’t have discomfort with the outfit at all.
LS: Yeah, no. There was no discomfort. I think just besides the game being cartoony ...
It was good though.
Because when you looked down you saw dirty hands, or whatever. You were a woman.
LS: Yeah. So everybody chose the characters and ...
EJ: When Louie looked down.
LS: Yeah. There was a big pair of boobs with it.
All right, okay. All right. And?
LS: And I don’t know.
But it was very real. You felt like you were the person.
LS: Kinda. I guess. Other people, when you could look at the other people ... because there was no facial expressions. But you could see, if you put your arm up, then your character would put their arm up. And that was very interesting.
Yeah. And you could look at your hand, and stuff like that.
Which weapons did we have? You had a torch and ...
LS: A pistol.
And I had a pistol.
EJ: I had a pistol, and Alex had a crossbow.
LS: That fired a lot of little things. He kept shooting the entire time.
LS: Got a little annoying at some parts, but it was fun overall.
Yeah. And you were team captain.
LS: Of course.
Of course. Had you done something like that? What was your last VR experience?
LS: I think you, me and Alex went down to a ...
Right, a place.
LS: Some office in San Francisco, and they had a VR headset. You could do the 360 vision, but you couldn’t walk around like we could in this video game. It was a lot of fun. That was my last one. That was my basis.
And you used the Go? We gave it away at Code this year. You haven’t used the Oculus Go?
Okay, we can try it at home. But have you used any other VR?
LS: No. Not at all. And Eric, we’ve used them all.
EJ: I’m the other extreme. I’ve used too much VR.
Yeah. And how did this seem in comparison?
EJ: So I’m gonna be the curmudgeon, I think, on this podcast, because I’ve used so much VR that I’m hyper critical of all VR demos.
I thought this was a really interesting concept, it was a great start to what I think is a really promising concept for a VR business. I think this honestly makes a lot more sense than expecting people to spend $1,000 or more to buy these headsets for their home to get that sort of experience.
So business-wise, this made a lot of sense. The actual game, I thought, was lacking compared to what I’ve tried, both in my own home console and in another demo environment. But it’s a start, and this company Sandbox, we were talking to them and they were saying they’re planning to update it I think every six months at first and then every four months starting next year.
EJ: New games, or they’re gonna be improving the existing games. So that’s, I think, a really promising sign, that they know this is not going to have the longest replay value. They know they need to innovate on the game design.
Right. We played the pirate game, which was, we basically got attacked by zombies.
LS: They’re like, skeletons. Little ghosts, gremlins and stuff.
EJ: Stuff spinning around the room. That was my favorite part, was the giant ghost.
LS: And how it would, even if it was in the game, if you came into the same area as the ghost, your character would die. Which has got to be a feat of technology to do that, take the real-world movements and locations and implement that.
Right, and then you had to touch your arm. There was also problem-solving in ours.
LS: Yeah, it took us a while to do that.
LS: But I figured it out. I think.
Because there was also wind, too.
LS: Yeah. There was this one part where we had to light all these lanterns, and then there was this hatch that was open on the side of the ship and all this wind was gusting. And the last lantern was in the gust of wind, and if you went over there with the torch then the torch would just go out. So you had to figure out how to close the hatch.
And like any natural video game player, the first thing you do is shoot at it. So we all shot at it for a bit and nothing happened. And then I noticed there was blueprints above the hatch, and I look at the floor, and there were these same blueprints on the floor.
I didn’t see. My eyes.
LS: It was on top of these tablets. And then when each player would stand in these same locations as the tablet, essentially stand on those stone tiles, it would close the hatch. So we tried that, and I thought once you stand on them all at once, you stepped on them, it would just close permanently. But you had to be stepping on all of them for the hatch to close.
EJ: Our whole team was standing on these tablets.
LS: Yeah. You had to have that. So I realized that you had to pass the torch to your teammates.
It took a minute for us to figure that out.
LS: You had to pass the torch to your teammates, whoever was closest to the lantern could light it. So that’s what we did. It took us a minute to get that through because the talking between players was okay.
Yeah. The voice wasn’t as good.
LS: Yeah it wasn’t as good. But we figured it out, we got it. There was a lot of, “What? What did you mean? What did you just say?” But once we got past that, we did it.
EJ: That was the interesting thing, that was one of the other things the executive from this company was saying. Ceki Chen, who’s the president and chief product officer, he was telling me, he was comparing it to an escape room. Which, I’m not sure if you two have ever done an escape room.
LS: No, I’ve not done one.
You didn’t do an escape room?
EJ: Yeah. So you bring a team — and this was on an episode of “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” which is a touchpoint for Louie and me. You bring a team to this place and you are communicating with each other, you’re solving puzzles, and there’s a lot of heavy emphasis on talking to one another and working out problems. So in the context of this action video game, it was pretty difficult a lot of the time to hear each other and to get to the actual solutions.
Right. “What do we do?” Because zombies kept attacking.
EJ: Right. Stuff kept attacking, there was this really annoying parrot that kept squawking at us.
LS: It kept repeating itself. There was one part where you’re fighting Davy Jones, and he’s this huge skeleton that stands over the ship.
That was cool.
EJ: That was very cool.
LS: So you had to light this cannon and it’d blow a hole in his chest, and you could shoot the core of Davy Jones. And the parrot was always just, “Light the fuse! Light the fuse!” No matter what you did, it was on a loop, it’d always say, “Light the fuse!” So I’d be lighting the fuse, then you guys would be shooting the skeletons. And I could just hear Mom on the other side going, “Louie, light the damn fuse!” “I just lit it!” “Well, the parrot won’t shut up.”
EJ: In an escape room, you don’t have all these distractions.
That’s about regular life with us. So you did light the damn fuse, and we did kill Davy Jones, which was lovely. We won. It was a 30-minute session, too.
LS: I think you had 30 minutes.
EJ: We beat it in less than that.
LS: There was one point where we couldn’t figure out how to beat the ghost at the first part. After them just destroying us, the game was like, “You’re not gonna beat them, just move on.”
LS: I think you had 30 minutes to complete it. Or it would complete itself.
Yeah. Exactly. So you wanted harder things. One was not being able to hear people, and the annoying parrot in this particular game. We didn’t do the other ...
LS: I want to try the zombie game.
We will. We’re gonna go back this summer and try it.
EJ: If they got repeat customers, I guess it worked.
I’m not gonna do it. You can bring all your friends. But also, I couldn’t see as well. I don’t see, is why I have glasses. So I couldn’t see the feet above the thing. I saw there was blue, but I couldn’t see anything.
EJ: The feet?
When the sides of the boat were opening.
EJ: Oh I see.
I couldn’t physically see everything.
EJ: Yeah. The little symbols above the window indicating footprints, telling us we were supposed to stand on those tablets Louie was talking about.
I didn’t see them. So I’m saying, seeing was a big part of it.
EJ: That’s also the resolution of the screen we were looking at. It wasn’t just your eyesight.
LS: Yeah. When I mentioned the VR experience I had done earlier, I just remembered the visuals being a bit better. This particular VR experience was really great, but it was more focused on interactive movements, which I think is great. But the other one I did was because you couldn’t have that moving ability, they focused a lot on the visuals, and I think that’s a trade-off.
Yeah. Exactly. That’s a fair point. So how does it compare to other types of video games? Louie, you play a lot.
LS: I don’t play a lot.
You play enough.
LS: I play some.
You play Fortnite?
LS: I play Fortnite. I’m a huge fan of Battlefield 1.
Right. You play Fortnite on mobile?
No? Alex [your younger brother] does.
LS: I don’t play it enough. Yeah, Alex just started playing that.
Yeah. So how does that compare to all types of video games? Is it an unfair comparison?
LS: I guess it is kinda an unfair comparison. You can’t really compare a basic TV video game to a VR experience, because they’re completely different.
Which one is better right now?
LS: I don’t know. VR experiences are really amazing and cool, but sometimes I just want to sit in front of the TV and play Battlefield 1 or something.
Why is that?
LS: I think part of me is, knowing I’m playing a game. The VR experience is cool but sometimes it can maybe get a bit overwhelming.
You didn’t feel nauseous though, right?
LS: No. Not at all. But maybe you’re not a huge fan of the game? A lot of the pirate game was really cool, it’s not something I would go to. I think sometimes just the basic controller video games, it’s a nostalgia and just enjoying those experiences more.
And you play it with friends, you always have a headset on and you’re talking to people. I don’t know who they are.
LS: Well, they’re just my friends, playing online.
LS: What do you mean? What would they be?
I don’t know, I just don’t know who’s on the other end. I’ve seen movies where people talked to friends on them. So you like sitting in front of the TV because you like the sitting experience.
LS: I didn’t say that. Sometimes i just prefer, I can’t really explain it, I just prefer to play with the remote sometimes, like with the console.
If the immersive experience became more compelling, the content, it gets better. I’d want to be in that, because ...
LS: Oh yeah. I think what would be really awesome is if you could play a game like Halo, something that’s a bit fictional. I think doing a game like Battlefield 1 in VR experience would be lot, because it’s based on a real event.
EJ: You would get PTSD from the VR game.
LS: Not necessarily, but it was just such an astonishing, incredible conflict, I don’t know that I’d want to experience that in a VR experience. But something like Halo, which is obviously, the Covenant’s not real. These characters are obviously ...
EJ: Let me translate. The Covenant are these aliens that have taken over ... Never mind.
LS: They’re aliens you have to fight. And you keep switching sides during the series. I think that would be a really great VR experience.
EJ: I am skeptical, just because a big part of Halo is, you’re traveling across a lot of distances, you’re going down underground into these underground fortresses. There’s a lot of movement in Halo, and right now I don’t know if that’s ...
Well, they talked about that, going up and down. He talked about elevators moving you.
LS: That’d be cool. For those games, I’ve seen this before, it’s like a treadmill for the VR set.
EJ: I’ve used one. Yeah, yeah.
LS: So yeah. I like walking a lot, so that wouldn’t faze me much. You could get a workout in while playing video games.
EJ: It was an interesting idea of having the VR treadmill. Maybe it’s gotten better since I used it. When I used it, it was more hassle than it was worth. It felt really weirdly restraining. You could not forget that you were strapped into a harness.
Right. Because they had to keep you there so you don’t hurt yourself.
EJ: So you didn’t run off the platform and fall off and hit your head.
Right, exactly. So one of the things they have is the movement. This room was 13x14, it was a small bedroom essentially, a big bedroom actually.
EJ: Right. And within the VR world, we had little red boundaries, telling us, don’t go past this point or you might hurt yourself.
Right, exactly. And that was well done, you could see that.
LS: Right. When you got closer, a wall would pop up. And when you stepped back, it’d go away and you could see the areas we were in were small and didn’t seem like you would want to walk around. We were on the deck of the ship, you could walk around enough but you couldn’t go anywhere else.
There was enough walking around, but you do have to go up and down. Because I kept wanting to go up the stairs.
EJ: You wanted to just go into the ship right away, you were shooting at the door. Like, “The treasure’s in there, let’s go in there!”
Right, exactly. So being able to move would be an issue, but there are the issues of physical danger to people, as it were.
EJ: But there are companies that have figured out ways to do this, but it’s just that it takes a lot more space.
EJ: There’s a company called The Void, which is based in Utah, they have ... I’ve been wanting to try this, I haven’t tried it yet, they have an installation down in Anaheim, at Disneyland, where it’s a Star Wars game where you’re running around the Death Star and they have a whole map. They have a whole warehouse-sized place that’s all ... you can actually crouch up against the wall in the virtual world and it’s a real wall that’s there. You see ... You can run around corners, you can hide behind walls.
You have to make sure you don’t run into things.
EJ: Well, see, you’re wearing a wireless backpack-type unit like we were.
So you can see, yeah.
EJ: And they have cameras everywhere that are tracking you all over, so it knows exactly where your virtual character is, and it’s all mapped one-to-one ...
Yeah, that’s the idea, supposedly, to turn your living room into a game place.
EJ: But this doesn’t work in the living room, though, you need a ...
I heard that someday it will map your house and then you’ll be able to make it into ...
Yeah, but the idea is movement up and down without killing yourself. Essentially without hurting yourself.
EJ: Right, that’ll be a good goal.
And that’s the thing. But they did have the wind, I suppose they can have water, they could do all kinds of ... they could do a lot of stuff where you would do that. I’ve been in a Disney thing where they shoot water at you in a movie. You’ve been there. Remember that? You were at a Disney movie where they shot water at us.
EJ: Like a 3-D type thing?
LS: Those are a bit corny, they have one Disneyland where it’s like this Shrek one, your chair shakes a bit.
I like that!
LS: There’s one cool part where they these little, I guess the floor’s ... there’s something over it and they have these little ... it feels like there’s bugs running under your feet, under your seat.
EJ: Freaked me out when I was a kid, I hated that when I was a kid.
LS: It’s actually just a little bead, I guess, they just pull through the floor, underneath the carpet.
I bet you didn’t like that.
LS: I didn’t mind it. I thought it was cool.
They should be able to visually do stuff to you kinetically with other senses. I think, with smell ...
LS: They do that sometimes. They have a little spray thing in the seat in front of you.
Yeah, that would be interesting, just more ... the air was good, I liked that part, because I did feel like I was on a deck of a boat. And for some reason ...
LS: Yeah, that was cool.
Now someone who doesn’t play video games at all, those sitting-down ones, I would play this much more ... I would consider doing it again, which I would never play a video game on a TV, I just find them dull, watching them. I don’t understand why it occupies you people so much.
LS: I’ve never really ever seen you play video games.
You’ve never seen it because I never have.
LS: Maybe you should just try. Or you should play ...
I played Pong a long time ago.
LS: Pong, okay.
Okay, I’ve played ...
EJ: The thing is that Pong is not really a ...
What’s the one with the yellow thing that eats ...
I’ve played that.
EJ: That’s an arcade game. You should play ...
Space Invaders, I’ve played that.
EJ: Arcade games.
LS: Arcade games. Games have changed a lot since then, I think you actually ...
I know that, I have them with ...
LS: Just try Fortnite. Just play one round.
EJ: We need to start a YouTube channel for Recode, just a Let’s Play channel for Kara and Louie.
LS: Yeah, yeah.
All right, will you teach me?
Yeah, I’m not gonna play with you. Anyway, so ... maybe I will. I have just never wanted to. I just don’t, and I like watching television just the way it is, but I don’t like playing games, I don’t understand it. I probably would be good at it. Does this make more sense as a business than buying a VR headset and wearing it at home?
EJ: I think so. I think, especially because they’re able to change the environment precisely to fit the game, to have those bands there to simulate the open window. They can control everything so much more than anyone can in their home. So I think this makes a lot more sense.
Six people ... seats up to six people.
EJ: Seats up to six people. We had four.
Four was quite enough.
LS: I think, honestly, this stuff could be kind of like going to the movies. Like that would be really cool.
I think that’s the idea.
LS: I think that’s what they should go for. I think there should be a lot more of these places where it’s like, you can go and have the VR experience. Then you don’t have to .... you can just pay instead of having to buy all the equipment and always having that.
Right, having to get the updated stuff.
LS: Exactly, having to update all the time, where you could just ...
Would you need more content? You’d need more than just one or two [games].
LS: Well, I think they can do it on ...
You wouldn’t do pirate again, would you?
EJ: No, I like ...
LS: I think what they could do is like the movies, like they have these certain games, have new games every month, or something like that. That’d be very cool. That would be a lot to develop, but like, I think if they get enough ...
Do you like solving or shooting more?
LS: I think a mixture of both is good. Our game was kind of childish, but if they had a little bit more complex one ...
EJ: I’m much more a puzzle guy than a shooting guy. So I was asking them at the end, I’ve played enough VR, specifically games that were like this pirate game. The genre’s called wave shooters. So basically we’re in the center and there’s stuff coming at you.
EJ: Yeah, ’cause waves after waves of enemies coming at you.
Yeah, like zombies.
EJ: And my preference is — and this what I love about escape rooms, is when you have a wave shooter, you have problems coming at you from outside. But in an escape room the idea is that you’re inside and you’re trying to get out.
I like the idea of using the VR space to have some sort of collaborative puzzle-solving thing, where it’s like we’re picking up objects and we have to put them together in the right order or we have to stand on the platforms, like we did at that one point with the torch. I think puzzles like that are way more interesting for VR than just, “Here’s a gun, pull the trigger a bunch.” I was kind bored by the end of it, to be honest.
Were you bored with the shooting?
LS: Eventually. Yeah, I guess a little bit boring, like shooting the things became more of a hassle, like when I wanted to just ...
EJ: You just wanted to light the fuse. I just really wanted to light the fuse.
Light the fuse! Light the fuse!
LS: I kept getting stabbed by these skeletons. That was a bit frustrating.
Yeah, now that’s always frustrating. I don’t know. I like shooting. I have the highest kill ratio.
LS: No need to have the highest accuracy.
What does that mean?
LS: That means that it was like 67 percent, so it means if you took 100 shots, 67 percent of them [hit].
So that means I’m a better shot, right?
EJ: Or it means that you took fewer shots than the rest of us. Because Alex was firing his gun about once every half second.
You gotta be careful.
EJ: So his accuracy was ...
LS: His accuracy was really low. I scored the top, of course.
Not accuracy, no.
LS: Not accuracy, but in everything else. I got MVP.
EJ: We all got scores overall for how many enemies we killed.
All I know is I was most accurate.
EJ: We’re all winners.
No, I was most accurate.
Okay, we’re going to take a quick break now. So, overall, you guys, so you liked it? You liked it?
LS: I liked it. I would like to see different types of games in the same sort of environment. I do. Or innovation in the game front.
But in terms of comfort? Good?
EJ: Yeah. It was fun.
Fun? Good. We had a good time.
LS: Just like, new content would be awesome. More for a little more mature audience.
What do you think about the equipment? It was pretty good. I thought it could be ...
LS: I wanted the machine gun. I wanted you to take this over the machine gun. That’s almost helping out.
Okay. All right. But you can get the machine gun ...
LS: It’ll break history just a little bit doing the pirate ...
You could get a machine gun at some point. And so, what about you? Any equipment for you ... it’ll just be smaller, that’s right. Someday it’ll be easier to ...
You’d put on like glasses and that’s it.
EJ: I think for an arcade-type of thing like this, I don’t think that’s the most important thing because they have the backpacks already, you can already move around. So miniaturization I think is less important for this type of ...
Maybe something lighter on the head.
LS: I’d be fine wearing a backpack if the content was amazing.
EJ: Right. Exactly.
Okay, all right. We’re gonna take a ... how much did it cost, by the way? Do we know?
EJ: I was talking to them. They were saying that during the day this location in San Mateo is $32 per day. But then at night it goes up to $38 per person.
Per person. Okay. It’s worth it.
EJ: They’re all around the world, they have installations all around the world. And the average in the U.S. is $35. It’s less in different cities.
But different companies have it, not just Sandbox VR. And how many do they have?
EJ: They said they have locations in Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, L.A. and New York. Bangkok.
They’re growing. And they’re getting funding by a well-known investor, but they wouldn’t tell me who it was. Yes. But they need funding to build these things up. They are entertainment.
Okay. We’ll take a quick break now. We’ll be back with some answers and questions from our listeners about VR and video games after this. Louie, Eric, can you give me your best reading of the line “hashtag money”?
EJ: All right, so we’re going to do this together?
Yeah, we’ll do this together. One, two, three.
EJ & LS: Hashtag money.
Oh, that’s manly of you. How about pirate? Do a pirate voice for me.
EJ: Arr! Hashtag money.
Thank you. Very good. Thank you.
And we’re back, talking about VR video games with my son Louie Swisher and our podcast producer Eric Johnson. We were all playing with my other son, Alex Swisher, yesterday in San Mateo at Sandbox VR, and we’re going to take some questions from our readers and listeners.
We did this all at once, we got some really good questions here. Adresults Alec: “What would it take to make brick-and-mortar VR arcades flourish?” Thoughts? Louie?
LS: Did you say “Rick and Morty”?
No. Brick and mortar.
LS: Oh, brick and mortar. Oh.
EJ: It does sound like “Rick and Morty.”
LS: I was just thinking of an episode from “Rick and Morty” where they have all the arcades and then they kind of have an immersive VR experience in it. Like, they both go into ...
And what happens?
LS: Instead of just like a five-minute video game, it’s like you play as a character. I forget what it’s called.
EJ: It’s like Roy or something.
LS: Yeah, Roy or something.
EJ: That’s right.
LS: And so you play as a whole life of Roy, and Morty, being the stupider of the two, gets caught up in ... like when he comes out of the game, he’s like, “Where’s my family? Where’s all this stuff?” But when Rick goes into the game, him being incredibly intelligent, he’s like, everybody’s watching, “Oh, Roy’s going off the grid,” and he’s burning his Social Security card.
EJ: That makes sense if you watch the episode. It’s funnier in the actual episode.
That’s another thing I’m never watching.
EJ: You would like “Rick and Morty,” Kara.
Yeah, maybe so. What would it take to make brick and mortar ... I’m watching “Riverdale” with Alex right now.
Which is good. Do you watch “Riverdale,” Louie?
It’s Archie and Veronica. It’s really good. Betty. Anyway, but they’re awful, it’s like a dirty version. It’s really quite troubling.
LS: Why are watching that with Alex?
No, it’s not that dirty.
LS: He’s in eighth grade.
He’s fine. Just tell him to speak to me about this. You’ll do your own parenting someday. So, what will it take to make them flourish? Just, more interesting?
EJ: Yeah, and I think having specifically different genres of games, so this is something that Ceki was saying to me after we did this. They’re specifically looking at Riven games, so like a DDR or rather a music type of game, that’s one of the things they thought about.
Sure. Oh yeah, dancing.
EJ: Sandals and shield games, or whatever you call it.
Sandals and shield.
EJ: Yeah, wizard games. They were saying they got the license to Star Trek, so they’re going to have a Star Trek game where you’re actually on the bridge of the Enterprise.
LS: That’s really cool.
EJ: Yeah, so I think like ...
You can do a lot of things.
EJ: To make it diverse the way a movie theater is, where you can go and see any different type of movie. You can see an action movie or a drama or a comedy ...
You remember that Tom Cruise movie “Minority Report” where they had those arcades ...
LS: Never saw it.
Well, you should see it because they have these things where people go in and they get an Academy award, they can feel like they’ve gotten an Academy award.
EJ: Oh, so it’s the experience of just receiving an Academy award.
Yeah, so then you give a speech, instead of ... there’s obviously a sexual element. Like you ...
EJ: Of course.
Get porn and stuff like that. But riding a motorcycle, maybe you don’t want to ...
LS: Skydiving would be good.
LS: I wonder how they can do it with an indoor skydiving ... I think they already have that.
LS: We went, Alec’s birthday, we went to an indoor skydiving place and they had one with a VR headset where you kind of ...
Oh yeah. So yeah, that would be cool.
EJ: Feels like you’re actually falling.
Yeah, it was cool. And then you don’t have to actually jump out of a plane. Anyway, there’s lots of things that can be really cool.
EJ: At the Code Conference this year, actually, we had ... there was a company, I think it was called Birdly.
EJ: Did you try that one?
LS: I wasn’t there.
Oh, you didn’t go. Alex did. He did it like seven times. It was fantastic.
EJ: Basically, let me explain, so you’re lying down on this sort of bench-type thing and you have your arms sticking out, into wings.
So, it’s the most ridiculous for all the Code attendees because there was a lot of Instagrams of Kara doing it. Yes. Yeah. So you’re a bird and then you flew around the city, and as you moved your arms, the flaps, up and down ...
EJ: You angled to dive and go up.
You look down to angle down, go up, and if you flapped your wings, which you could do because you’re attached to these things, you go up and you could ... you feel it. You felt like you were flying.
EJ: And it also had a fan blowing in your face the same way that this pirate experience did.
It was superb. I have to say, I looked ridiculous, I would have one in my home and fly every day.
LS: I want to try that now.
Yeah, it’s really cool. Alex did it like 26 times. “Oh, it’s this kid again.” I was like, “Yeah, he gets to do whatever he wants.”
EJ: Maybe Kara Swisher could have one of those in her home, but I think that’s a perfect example of the sort of thing that could go in a place like this where it’s something you show up and you’re willing to pay $15 or $20 for a few minutes. It’s just this really cool experience.
The money, besides the equipment, where there’s people like putting stuff on, there’s a lot of people helping you. Like, for everything they definitely .... all of a sudden they’ve got to watch you, make sure you don’t vomit.
EJ: Lot of overhead there.
Anyway, computers will not be able do this. A lot of teens were probably making fun of us because when we looked at them, we looked kind of goofy wandering around the square and they were watching us. We just recently did — Louie, Alex and I — we did that Carne Y Arena, which was the immigrant [experience]. It’s the installation that Laurene Jobs and Emerson Collective pays for part of, and you ... explain what we do. It’s an art installation. But it’s VR.
LS: You go by yourself, and so first thing, you walk into this dark room and there’s writing on the wall about why the artist decided to do this project. And then when you’re done reading it, you go into this room, it looks like a jail, or a detaining cell. And that’s what it is, and so they have all these shoes on the floor and there’s a plaque that says like, “These are shoes of actual children who attempted to cross the border.”
EJ: Oh wow.
LS: And then, when you’re in there, you have to take off your shoes and socks and put them in a metal box and then close the hatch, and you have to sit on these cold metal benches and wait for an alarm to go off. Then when the alarm goes off you walk into this ... I’d say it’s like a smaller warehouse, but there’s black ...
It’s bigger than our house space.
LS: There’s curtains all around the walls and the floor’s dirt. And in the middle are these two people wearing all black. And then, once you walk up to them they suit you up with like ...
LS: They give you a normal backpack, and they put on a VR headset, and then you’re wired up to this thing on the roof, so that’s how you’re connected. And so, it’s like 30 by 30 feet, the room.
It was big, yeah.
LS: Once the simulation starts you’re ... it turns on and you’re in the desert, and so you have to walk around like ... there’s dirt on the floor, so it feels like you’re walking like in a desert, except for it’s cold.
They had heat, they had wind.
LS: And so then you see these virtual people who are crossing the border. They look, they seem to be crossing into the United States. And it’s in the desert.
You hear them talking.
LS: Yeah, and you hear them talking. You can walk around and up to them and get really close up.
Really close. It was a beautiful visual.
LS: And then, if you look at the sky you can see a helicopter, and then it gets closer and closer and closer, and then all these Jeeps roll up and then it’s like ...
EJ: It’s like immigration ...
LS: Yeah, it’s ICE and they’re stopping you. And they don’t personally affect you until the end, you’re just kind of like an observer, like a third person.
EJ: So you get to experience what it’s really like to be someone crossing the borders.
LS: Well, no, you don’t have to do what they do.
You’re not them.
LS: You’re not them, but you’re a person who’s standing there with them.
You could be them.
LS: And so what happens, you witness them being stopped and they separate the men and women and children, and then they ... It shifts to night somehow. And then there’s like, “Hey, there’s this table,” and then they have these graphics of these people on a raft that sinks, in the table. And it comes out like a pile of sand or something.
LS: And it forms that. And then there’s all this other stuff it forms. And then you, it cuts back to the people being detained, except it’s night now. And they’re talking to the individuals and arresting them. You’re observing, you can walk around and see, and there’s dogs barking. And then at the end, this officer walks up to you and tells you to get on the ground and they point their gun at you. And they have a flashlight too, so it’s kind of like a bright light coming from there. And then obviously you can’t respond in any way.
And they’re screaming at you.
LS: And so they’re screaming at you, “Get on the ground!” and then it ends with them shooting you.
Yeah. And it was, but it was ... Everyone was human. You felt bad for the officers. You felt bad for the people, it was just a bad situation. It wasn’t that they were villains. It’s that they’re doing their job and it’s a terrible job.
And when you walk through them, you could feel their heart. That was the whole ... Any one you walked through ...
LS: You could feel their heart beat? What?
Remember the heart? You didn’t see that?
If you walked ... Oh, you didn’t know that? That’s what it was about. If you walked into the people, their heart beat and you could see it.
LS: Oh. I didn’t know that.
So then you understand it.
LS: I didn’t really move. I mean, I’m gonna say I just kind of turned around.
Yeah, you didn’t. Were you scared?
No. Because that’s the one thing I was thinking of, the last part and we’ll get to the next question, it’s in the same thing with this one. How can you make someone feel scared in these things? How can you make them feel empathy? We did one at the empathy lab with Jeremy Bailenson.
LS: I felt empathy. I definitely felt ... I wasn’t scared because I knew I wasn’t going to be affected, but you could see ...
But how could you feel like them? Like could there be a drug you could take?
LS: They’d have to be interactive. It’d have to be interactive, there have to be people who touch you. Like if an officer grabs you on the shoulder, then one of the attendees should grab you on the shoulder at the exact same time.
EJ: Right, and we were wearing for this pirate thing that we did — I mean, it’s very different in demos, right? — but in this pirate game, we were wearing vests that presumably there could be haptics in there so that if someone were to touch you ...
LS: Yeah, whenever you got shot in the game, it would vibrate in that certain location.
EJ: So they could do the same thing for being ... For having a virtual character touch you.
Anyway, but I’m talking about actual feeling. When we did the Jeremy Bailenson demo, it was an African-American kid getting yelled at. How could you put someone’s lifetime of experiences into that? And how could a guy like Louie, white guy in America, feel what it’s like to be that kid?
EJ: Yeah, this is the thing that you’re talking about, 1000 Cut Journey, where basically you are inhabiting the body of ...
But you need to inhabit the feelings and the lifetime of things.
EJ: And I don’t know if ... You can’t really have a lifetime in that compressed ...
Just this weekend at Pride, someone was like, “Oh, they’re all running around,” and I said something like, “Oh, well, you couldn’t do that.” And they were like, “What was that like?” And I’m like, “I can’t ... you’ll never know. I can’t explain it to you. And you’ll never feel it.” And it was really ...
EJ: You can give someone a flavor, but you can’t actually give them the lifetime experience.
You can’t. Yeah. So that’s the problem with a lot of this VR stuff. I wish there was some drug you could take, almost. Like they would inject you. Anyway.
EJ: I don’t know I want tech companies injecting me with anything. I’m not feeling too good about that idea.
So an empathy thing that ... you’d feel the fear, you’d feel the worry, you’d feel the agony.
Or fun, or whatever. “Why do you think companies like” — this is from Productive Citizen — “Why do you think companies like Microsoft, Facebook” — and by the way, Productive Citizen, I liked this. You said I wasn’t going to like the VR. I did. “Why do you think companies like Microsoft, Facebook, Google, Sony keep dumping money into VR despite very low unit sales? Is its technology transformative, innovative enough to justify the shorter-term financial losses?” Yes.
EJ: I mean ... Sorry, go ahead.
LS: I’m gonna take from that like why are they pouring all this money in when they’re not making any, I guess. I think that’s because they’re, for VR at least, the marketing is being targeted at home ownership. And I don’t think that’s the market. I think you want to have these like movie theater places. I enjoy that much more than any Oculus headset. If you bought ...
I have one at home, you’ll try it tonight.
LS: I’ll try it, but I’m ... How often do you use that?
I don’t care at all.
LS: Yeah, see, you don’t use it, but that’s a lot of money you put down the drain, and if you tell other people about that, they’re not gonna buy one.
No, Facebook gave it to me.
LS: I’m just saying, I’m just saying.
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
LS: I think I’d enjoy these movie theater experiences much more because also not having it around as much makes it more like ...
LS: Fun. And new.
That’s a really smart point, sweetie. I just called you sweetie, I’m sorry. Mr. Swisher.
EJ: The other thing is that all these companies know what happened to the companies that didn’t act on mobile fast enough.
EJ: And I would give some examples if i could remember the names of those companies. So I think for a lot of these it’s kind of hedging their bets, right? Facebook is more willing to spend $2 billion now to buy Oculus than have to spend $17 billion later on to buy WhatsApp, you know? That’s something that we’ve read about in Recode a bunch. It’s like the cost that Facebook has had to pay for not having a mobile phone, so I think the idea here is they don’t actually know that this is going to be as transformative as they say it is or they want it to be. But they’d rather take the bet now if they can get ahead and then own the technology rather than wind up having Google eat their lunch later on.
Absolutely. All right, Tolu Thomas: “Latency’s a huge factor in online multiplayer game play. How much processing power and internet bandwidth do VR games require to create a quality experience?” I didn’t feel it was too latent at all.
EJ: Well, I mean, we were local. We weren’t online. So yeah, I thought it was very well done, the experience that we did. But what Tolu is talking about here is online multiplayer games like Fortnite where basically you can be playing with people all around the world. Like Louie, you play Fortnite, right?
LS: I do. I’m not that good. I only have one solo dub.
EJ: The whole thing with that game, though, is you can be playing with a team and you can make very gentle movements and there’s a lot of tense moments where you’re down to the final people playing the game, you can be kind of sneaking around, and there’s a lot of subtle movement that can go into the final stages of that game. And so I don’t think VR is at that point yet.
LS: I don’t either.
EJ: Yeah. I have played an online multiplayer VR game on the Vive, the thing that I bought for my house. And it was fine for talking to people and seeing their avatars. But there was a lot of jumping around where basically the players’ virtual characters would suddenly snap halfway across the room because it was just updating. So it’s not ... I don’t think it’s quite there yet in terms of a Fortnite-style multiplayer game.
All right, but I would say it was ... There wasn’t latency in this one, as you said it was local, but that’s gonna be a big issue. Because waiting around, it’s like waiting around for anything. Although, think of anything.
All right, last question, Steven Gordon: “Vertigo, tethered devices, hardware clunkiness, VR won’t change gaming much in the short term. AR seems much more promising for gaming.” I didn’t have any vertigo. It wasn’t tethered and it wasn’t clunky. It felt okay. It could have been slightly smaller but it felt fine.
In this case, I could see as Louie said, playing this in an entertainment way was perfectly acceptable. When you get on like a ... When you go to a theme park, they strap you in a chair, they put you in a flume log or whatever. It’s just the same. It’s similar to that. And it’s great.
EJ: You go to a destination and you’re willing to do more stuff, for the experience.
Right, yeah, a destination. I liked this. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I really enjoyed it. VR, sure, I think it could be lighter and in front of you in your world. That’s more like Pokémon Go, but you guys fell out of that game pretty ... I remember two years ago ...
LS: No, I was really big into it, and then ...
We were in Australia and we were wandering all over Sydney. You were catching them or whatever the hell ...
EJ: Were you looking for the Australia-exclusive Pokémon?
LS: Maybe. I don’t really remember. Yeah, that was a huge game, like I’ve oftentimes, I’d be like, “Oh, I’m gonna walk home.” And my mom was like, “Whoa, why are you walking home?” I’m like, “I want to catch the Pokémon. I want to unlock this egg.”
But then you stopped.
LS: Yeah, sometimes I’d just leave my friends’ houses at night so I could walk around to hatch an egg. That was a really fun game, but I think it was a game of the summer, so once I got back to school and I couldn’t do that, like ...
EJ: It was dependent on everyone else doing it at the same time.
EJ: When once people started to drop off, it was like a network effect.
LS: Yeah, exactly.
Right, but you liked it for a bit.
LS: I loved it, yeah, it’s good game.
For example, Alex and you both played that. And then Alex is stuck with Minecraft and Fortnite. He’s stayed with it pretty long.
LS: I mean, I sometimes play Minecraft. I have the demo downloaded on my computer. It’s fun sometimes.
Why do you like to stay with those? And you used to play one that it was like vampires and fruits, what was it? It was zombies.
LS: Plants and Zombies? Plants vs. Zombies.
EJ: Vampires and Fruit. [laughter]
LS: Yeah, that could be your knock off version, Mom. Totally not like copyright infringement.
Plants and Zombies. You used to play that incessantly.
LS: Plants and Zombies. Yeah, I still, I honestly, I’d love to play again.
EJ: I would play that right now. It’s a great game.
LS: Yeah, sometimes I’ll just re-download and beat the game in like two days.
Really? What else did you play? You didn’t play Farmville. But Plants and Zombies was big.
LS: No, I didn’t really play Farmville. Plants and Zombies was so much fun. But the most addicting level game of all time I think had to be Clash of Clans.
Oh, Clash of Clans. That’s right. Alex still plays that.
LS: Alex still plays. A lot of people play that still.
And you also played the birds, Angry Birds.
LS: Angry Birds. The birds. All these great knock-off games from Kara Productions.
EJ: Alfred Hitchcock’s Angry Birds.
LS: Swisher Production presents The Birds. Vampires vs. Fruits, you know?
Oh, you’re very funny. I enjoy your humor.
LS: I’m seeing a new market for you, Mom.
Okay, thanks, baby.
But what do you think about the AR/VR thing? You think it’s just, you think that’s gonna solve itself, right? Presumably?
LS: What do you mean?
The vertigo, the ...
LS: I think that once the technology gets better and more immersive that’s like ... I think some people get vertigo from driving cars. And they’d be like sick from that, so ...
EJ: And as we all saw, this was a really polished experience.
LS: Yeah, it was great.
EJ: They did a really good job with the potential for safety gear.
Everything. The service, the people.
LS: Definitely. Definitely.
Everything was nice.
EJ: And on the AR point, I would just say I think that AR is great if you ... It’s like everything else, it’s great if you have a really great content experience, and Pokémon Go was a really well-made game. But I am less convinced that AR generally has as much potential as VR to do fun stuff.
Tourism. If you’re going around Paris.
Like, “This where Louis XVI lived.” By the way, there was a Louis in Paris.
LS: I know, I just did European history.
Yeah, it’s Louise in Spain and Luigi in Italy and stuff like that. Anyway. So but you would think ... You would do those. You would do those if it was more of these.
LS: Definitely. I just saw a Microsoft ad for some like AR, or ... What’s the difference between AR and VR?
AR is augmented reality, so you’re walking around Paris, you look up at the Eiffel Tower with these glasses and it tells you this is ...
LS: Oh it’s like still images and stuff, it’s like ...
EJ: Well, I got some people yelling at me once about this because I wrote about this.
It’s pasted on top, essentially, right?
EJ: Right. And there’s some people who say that AR can be where it’s actually integrated in the environment, which is what Microsoft calls mixed reality. Where you have a digital thing integrated into the real world. But a lot of AR, it’s just pasted on top. It’s text and it’s images, it’s information overlaid on top.
Pokémon Go was AR.
EJ: Right. But then they kind of made it mixed reality because they made it more integrated.
LS: I was thinking, I just saw an ad for, it was about their AI, their AI tool. And it was about how they captured using millions of cameras ... Or using lots of cameras to capture these relics of history, like all the tombs and ancient structures and stuff, and then you could dive in and look at it from pretty much any angle because of what they had done. And there’s a guy going, “This is the future. We need to preserve history.” And it goes like, “Microsoft AI.”
EJ: I’m a history nerd, I like that.
LS: I love history too.
EJ: I’m on board with that.
What do they do? So they go to “Microsoft,” and then what ...
LS: It’s just like then, boom. It’s just Microsoft AI.
And then what did you think of Microsoft AI?
LS: I was like, ooh, I don’t like AI but that looks cool.
Okay, all right, cool, so it worked. Their advertising worked. Well done.
LS: Well yeah, no, that’s good ...
Well done, Satya Nadella. Yeah, so you liked it. You liked the concept. Because you know what’s interesting about that, just like this, is you start to see the real-world implications of it. Like when they show you real things, then it becomes ...
LS: Yeah, because you want to ... When all these pieces of history are getting destroyed or just naturally going away, you want to be able to see this for years to come. I’m a very live in the moment person, I don’t like taking pictures of stuff like ...
No, you don’t.
LS: But I think there’s some things that, if it’s gonna go away forever, then maybe you want to have some documentation of it.
Right. And one of the things that interesting, just before this Matt Mullenweg from WordPress, we were just taping a podcast with him and he was just showing me, he had a drone inside of a cave that he couldn’t get into so he sent a drone and took pictures. And he got to see the whole inside of the cave.
LS: I think that’s cool.
It was cool.
It was interesting. It was very nerdy but it was cool.
All right, last question. Louie, we’ve talked about Snapchat a lot, you and I have. I went to Snapchat headquarters in New York and I got the new Spectacles and would you continue not using them, is that correct?
LS: I mean, I never really got my hands on a pair, but I don’t really think I’d want to use one.
Right, because why? Because first of all you don’t chronicle things.
LS: I use Snapchat to talk to people.
You do. You say you’re in the moment but you take a lot of Snapchats and send them instantly.
LS: Not really. It’s mostly just of my face or stuff. I don’t like, if I look at a nice view or something, I’d rather look at the view and appreciate it rather than looking through a tiny lens in my phone.
Right. So there’s the Snapchats you do are just you ...
LS: Well, it’s just for talking to people, I guess. That’s what I use Snapchat for.
Right. So what did you say yesterday, it’s a bunch of teenagers sending pictures of each other and going, “Hey.”
LS: No, it’s just ... Snapchat has evolved to a point of where people are caring about their streaks a lot, and it used to be you just send pictures of your face without text. But then progressively people got so self-conscious that they’re like, “I’m not even going to send a picture of my face.” And they send pictures of their shoulders and stuff. I gotta admit, sometimes I do that, but it’s still ...
As long as you keep it above the shoulders.
LS: Okay, Mom. Okay, Mom. Okay.
I’m just saying. I’d like my teens to behave themselves. But you still use Snapchat, that’s my point. But you complain about the design.
LS: Because it’s like everybody uses Snapchat. Okay, they kind of ... When they switched from their old update to their new update, nobody asked for that. It was ... Nobody really liked it.
I know, I told.
LS: But then they slowly fixed it. So it was better. And they got rid of the ... Before, they had three pages: It was a texting page or with all your people you talk to. There’s the camera page. Oh, there’s four, actually. Then there was your Memories page, and then there was this page where you could look at all the Stories. And they had separately the Snapchat-produced Stories. But what they did in the update was they kind of got ... They took all the people’s stories and they put them on top of their accounts, so you had to go and click on each individual person.
Which you didn’t like.
LS: No, nobody liked it. And then they put all their ... They just excessively promoted, the self-made Stories and all their sponsors and stuff. And nobody really liked that. But eventually they fixed it, so it’s back to how ... Similar to how it was.
So all is forgiven with Evan?
LS: Yeah. But we remember.
EJ: The north remembers.
Oh Evan, are you hearing that? I don’t know if you listen to this, but there is a warning from a teenager. Anyway, well, so you like this, you’re going back to it. You’re not on Facebook yet?
LS: And that I wasn’t gonna quit. I wasn’t going to go to texting.
Right. No Facebook for you?
LS: No. Never. Sorry, Mark.
EJ: Please, he has standards.
Yeah, no teen I know does Facebook that much, I have to say. Anyway, this has been another great episode. We give it thumbs up, thumbs up in general?
LS: Thumbs up. Go see it.
Curmudgeonlies. Go to this.
LS: It’s worth it. Yeah, it’s really cool.
EJ: Even my cold, cynical, Grinch-like heart, I enjoyed a lot of it.
We enjoyed it. Because my children are so delightful and amusing.
EJ: Exactly. It was more the company than anything else.
He was shooting you full of ...
LS: Yeah, Alex really was just sticking you full.
EJ: I noticed.
He was sticking you full of them. I noticed that myself. And by the way, you looked lovely as a lady.
LS: Thank you. Thank you.
It was really nice seeing you that way. And I think we had a really good time. It was really fun. We bonded a little bit. It was a good thing.
Anyway, this has been another great episode of Too Embarrassed to Ask, largely because of Louie Swisher, as usual. Thanks to Louie and Eric for coming on the show.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.