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We Are All Time Travelers: A Conversation With Ian Grieve

Chances are, if you’ve played a video game in the last few decades, Ian Grieve had a hand in it somewhere. Whether as a programmer from the very early 16-bit days, as part of the team that launched the Sony PlayStation, as the creator of Theatre of Death for the Amiga, as a founder of Warthog Games, or by laying the groundwork for licensing that made games available around the world, Grieve was an integral part of the video game industry.  Although he never really left that world, he has switched his focus to areas of entertainment made possible by gaming technology, including virtual reality, eSports, the metaverse, and using his skills to build real-world applications from the possibilities created by Web 3.0.

Grieve sat down for a chat with Live Design before his LDI session: Ian Grieve Enters The Metaverse to talk about the role of technology in bringing people together, the difference between being adept and being passionate, and why we are all time travelers, whether we like it or not.  

Live Design: You were highly successful in video games, what made you move into other aspects of interactive entertainment?

Ian Grieve: I was always intrigued by what was coming next, I’ve been pursuing the next new thing forever.  A contact of mine, John Carmack, became chief technology officer at Oculus VR and I got to use the new Oculus headset and thought: This is a game changer.  I felt that the video game industry had matured but had become so much more corporate, it was big business. It is not exciting and adventurous if it’s just spreadsheets. So I helped an architectural company in Reno adapt their 3D files to use in virtual reality, put them in Oculus headsets, and enabled them to wander around inside planned buildings in 3D to look at experience their creations before they were built.  That became an exciting crossover for me, high-end interactive technology bleeding into real life, and that led blockchain, which led to crypto, which led to eSports which led to competitive gaming... When it all comes together that is the basis for Web 3.0, which is where we are heading.

My experience in a lot of different areas lead to this path, and when I stopped and looked around I found I was the only one on that path! Of course, things are converging now, but I was there at the dawn of the Internet, Web 1.0, I became firmly ensconced in Web 2.0, and now I’m loving Web 3.0 but it is coming so fast. Everything is accelerating.

LD: What technology is having the most impact at the moment?

IG: For me, having 360 video in the headset. I record family gatherings, Christmas, holidays, and awards events. I put down the 360 camera and record and people forget it is there. During lockdown I was able to get a pass to go to Yosemite when almost no one was allowed in. I took 360 film between El Capitan and Half Dome and there is no one there, no cars, no people, nothing. Now, I can put a headset on and be in Yosemite. High definition feels as though you are really there. I can recapture more personal moments, too. My father-in-law has passed away, but I can put the headset on and watch family gatherings and it is as if he is sitting right there next to me. The quality of the camera and the quality of the reproduction means once you’ve had the headset on for about a minute you forget you are wearing it.

The genesis of why I wanted that high-definition escape was long flights, where you are stuck in economy and you want to be somewhere—anywhere—else. I could put a headset on and be on a beach or watching my daughter pick up an award. It is a portal into another world.

LD: What advice do you have for young people with a theatre tech background who want to be prepared for the interactive forms of entertainment that are coming?

IG: It’s about enhancing the experience. Things will become more personal, more individualized, for example, giving everyone their own personal audio at a show instead of blasting sound from loudspeakers. But the fundamentals are the same. Think about movies —the special effects get better and better, but the story and the characters are the most important part, without those no one cares about the CGI. So, learn the fundamentals of a great live event, the stuff that’s makes it an engaging experience, and then transpose that into the new medium where you are no longer restricted by time or location. And remember, as technology evolves it gets faster and better, but it also gets easier to use. Assume that new technology will arrive with simplified tools to make it more accessible.

The first generation of headsets do isolate you – but that will change. See-through goggles or goggles that overlay VR will change how we do things. We will still be able to have that communal experience with others, but it will be personalized.  

LD: How do you see our interactions with technology changing in the future?

IG: The sentient web means that interactions are driven by voice, gesture, or any number of ways, the interface is no longer an issue. But there is a schism in the mentality that goes with those interactions. Right now, the schism between users occurs around age 35. Those who are older use digital tools as an assistant for real world activities—parking a car, storing documents, using etickets etc. They stream music and movies but they still own CDs.

Younger people don’t want to own anything, they just want access. They are more interested in virtual goods and experiences, and treat AI devices more like a person than a robot. Would you think to ask Alexa to fart? Or rap? Try it!  It is receptiveness versus resistance, and right now the watershed is 35. In five years’ time, that schism will be at age 50, not 35, but things are changing so fast.

But the key to using technology to create and entertain, isn’t age-related. It is the difference between someone who is adept at something, and someone who is passionate about it.

The speed of change is filtering out people who are merely competent with technology, but the people who love it and are fascinated by it are the ones who can keep up. They see something new and they immediately start thinking about how to apply it to what they love. They don't think "Oh, a new tool to learn," they think, “Where can I take this?”

This isn’t a job for them, it is a vocation and a calling.

Whether you want to be or not, we are all time travelers, it’s just that we travel into the future one second at a time. You can’t stop at one pinnacle in your life where you were happy and hold onto that moment, the clock will always win. In entertainment and live events, it’s about having and creating new experiences and enhancing them to bring joy to everyone.

This story originally appeared on Live Design Online.