Special: Dragons, Virtual Reality, And Other Delusions...
December 2003, Sutton Courtenay, Oxfordshire, England. David Hart and Allistair Mitchell come forward to show the world that the greatest myth of all time is not a myth at all.
They let the press photograph a 30 inch tall jar filled with formaldehyde, inside the liquid preservative rests a baby dragon. The story accompanying the find was that Hart found the jar in his garage. It had been saved from destruction by his grandfather, a porter at the Natural History museum where German scientists had placed the dragon in the 19th century.
The story made worldwide headlines. The initial reaction around the globe was simple, expected, and completely irrational: Is it real?
What is the reason for this reaction? It goes back thousands of years. The dragon dates all the way back to one of if not the first civilization that had writing, the Sumerians. It appeared in their artwork and cuneiform literature such as the epic of Gilgamesh, a pre-Bible text including documentation of a great flood. All over the world cultures developed their own version of dragons. China, Great Britain, Japan,Vietnam, India, Europe, South America and others all had their own dragons.
Something in us wants these creatures to be real even now, many centuries after their existence has been disproven. Why? In mythology and modern entertainment dragons are both great friends and insurmountable enemies. If you can befriend one you can ride it into the sky and go to unimaginable places. If it is your foe the only way to defeat it is to locate a weak spot in the impenetrable scales.
Like all forms of entertainment dragons have been a part of video games from the beginning right through to Dragon Age, The Elder Scrolls, Spyro, The Witcher, and Dragon's Dogma. They all had their own approaches to the creature. Remember when an update to Skyrim sent the dragons flying backwards? I got to see it first hand and it was hilarious. It reminds me that we are constantly trying to get the dragon right, to find what it is that makes it connect to mankind, to discover what it is that makes us still search for them and put them in our creations. It is a chimera of known animals, mythological creatures, fears, hopes, ambitions, fantasies, and somehow is still apparently a kind of holy grail of archeology even though we have no evidence of them.
The dragon has been right in front of us all this time and yet completely out of reach. We cannot touch them or ride them or examine them. In the hobby of gaming we love our dragons but they are still unreachable on our screens.
The search for another myth also began in a garage. A young Palmer Luckey, who describes himself as self taught, pulled together scrap parts from failed experiments in virtual reality and all by his lonesome solved a problem that corporations had spent millions of dollars trying and failing to do: create a working VR head mount that fools the brain into thinking it is elsewhere.
E3 2012, Luckey's product called the Rift was on the floor of the show after receiving software support from industry legend John Carmack. You have to figure that at that E3 virtual reality wasn't on everybody's list of serious wishes. Like the dragon though, when someone came forward to said they'd seen it, people took notice. They too wondered, Is it real? Scaleform's Nate Mitchell was among those taking notice. In June he spoke to Time magazine's Victor Luckerson:
“Basically Palmer [Luckey] had a bunch of circuit boards, and a bucket of cables and wires, all this stuff tangled up. He set it up, plugged it in -it took him a little while, and I was sitting there being like, Is this really going to happen? Is this going to work?” Mitchell then looked inside the box himself. “There was no interactivity, nothing moving, but it gave you the sensation that, wow-there's a world inside this box.”
8/2/2014 David D. Nelson