VR Hack Nights, and the birth of a crazy dream

November 22, 2018
Nevyn Bengtsson

I started sketching on the underpinnings of Alloverse in December 2016. The basic thinking was this: it’s currently not possible to be productive in VR. You can play games, but there is no software infrastructure for really building productivity apps. The way both Oculus and SteamVR works is, you launch a desktop application, and it takes over your entire headset.

This matches how you’d use apps on an iPhone, but not how you do your daily work on a desktop computer. On a real computer, you use multiple apps at the same time, and you take information from one app and apply it to another, you copy-paste, drag-and-drop, and in general just multi-task a lot between apps.

So, what VR then needs, is a platform for running apps not as immersive experiences, but as individual applets that can all run side-by-side in a place, together with you, the user.

This led me to Unix’ ancient X11 design, X11 forwarding, and thinking about the distributed nature of the Internet; and I realized I had to write basically a Unix Window Manager for VR. Had to. Life goal.

But the project was too big, too crazy, and I couldn’t wrap my mind around where I would even start, especially when it’s just a side project next to my busy and booming startup Lookback.

Almost two years later, I watched the Oculus Connect 5 Keynote, and in particular Michael Abrash’ incredibly inspiring talk about the state of XR. He compared today’s situation to the state of computers in 1979-1980, around the time when Xerox PARC was creating the Alto, the cradle of the graphical user interface as we know it. As the foundations for 2D HCI were created in that magical and transformational moment, the foundations for XR and 3D HCI is being created right now.

This made me realize that we’re on the cusp of a revolution, one where AR headsets replace smartphones; one where 2D UIs take the place of text-based terminal interfaces, and 3D UIs replace all every-day computing.

Days later, I started VR The People, a VR hack night group that meet after work every two weeks to learn more about VR, Unity, and to work on our own projects. The time to delve into my own project, with tons of lovely and inspiring people around me, plus the two years of letting my brain background-process how my project should work, finally allowed me to create Alloverse.