As a kid I kinda dabbled with virtual reality headsets and other virtual experiences, but it wasn’t really what I expected and wanted out of a VR experience. So I, like pretty much everyone else, left VR alone for a while until we believed we were ready to come back to it. Well ladies and gentleman… that time is now. Palmer Luckey and the team at Oculus have put back the reality in virtual reality with the Oculus Rift. However, they have hit a little bit of a roadblock of sorts as the hardware is pretty well shelled out, but the software is basically null. So far the ONLY game playable with the Oculus Rift is Doom 3 BFG Edition so there is a desperate need for developers to produce software for the Rift. Having developers get their hands on the hardware is important to Palmer and that is why in their Kickstarter project they set the Dev kit for only $300. Which other VR headsets are generally in the thousands to the tens of thousands price range.
I am a virtual reality enthusiast with a head mounted display obsession, and have been collecting (41 unique units!) and building (countless revisions) them for years. I love electrical engineering, optical engineering, gaming, building, and working with other people to make ideas a reality!
Palmer isn’t looking to be the richest man on Earth with the Rift and society should be very grateful for that. It seems as Palmer honestly cares about the overall progress of technology (specifically in the VR area) and enhancing the video game industry. I believe he is the perfect person to be head of this project and I personally wish him the best with this and I hope that it turns out the way he expects. Also Palmer, if you happen to read this then might I just say thank you and extend it to your team and I’m sure there are many more to appreciate for this, but I feel like you guys deserve it right now.
So while at QuakeCon 2012 I got to learn a little bit about VR, AR (augmented reality), the Oculus Rift, and how it all works together in the world of gaming. During the panel “Virtual Insanity” there were great technical industry minds such as Michael Abrash from Valve Software, John Carmack from id Software, and of course Palmer Luckey from Oculus/ModRetro. While most of the room had absolutely no clue what they were talking about (I’m not too familiar with optics and displays and such), we still got the general idea of what they were saying. Michael believes that AR in its full potential will be the biggest game changer for all of society, while VR will no doubt give the greatest gaming experience possible. He also went on to state that Valve’s R&D department is looking into both the AR and VR for their products. John loves making software and was really excited when he found out that there was a new medium for his software so he instantly went to Palmer, who loves making hardware, and they hit it off making a dynamic duo.
Technical specs of the Dev Kit (subject to change)
Head tracking: 6 degrees of freedom (DOF) ultra low latency
Field of view: 110 degrees diagonal / 90 degrees horizontal
Resolution: 1280×800 (640×800 per eye)
Inputs: DVI/HDMI and USB
Platforms: PC and mobile
Weight: ~0.22 kilograms
John then decided to put the new Doom 3 BFG Edition as the first ever Oculus game. They saw this as a good fit, because it explores the first person experience very well and Doom served such a large purpose for gaming when it was originally released and now will do the same in another stage of gaming. Palmer went on to say that he didn’t really do anything too different with the Rift than the other guys and in fact the Rift itself is mainly just the plastic, lens, and some circuitry. VR has had the most issues with head-tracking latency, screen resolution, field of view, and cost. Oculus has corrected those issues to a certain degree finally and is now ready for developers to start to experiment with it. Below is a short video of someone using the Rift. This video serves to show how the head tracking works to aim/look around.
They had the Oculus Rift available to the public for the first time really at QuakeCon 2012. I was able to snag a couple minutes inside the virtual demon filled world of Doom. Now before I go into detail about it I would like to mention that I am a near-sided individual and did not wear my glasses during the demo and if I’m not mistaken the Rift doesn’t require individuals to have good stereoscopic vision to use. Meaning you can have bad vision or a lazy eye and still play the game well. Anyways, I put on the headset and my eyes and mind take a moment to realize what is going on. Once that is done you can tell the depth perception of the game very easily; I noticed my gun in front of me and the walls and objects in the room, for a lack of a better term, all had their own planes of existence. We were using an XBOX 360 controller with the demo and so the controller functioned as normal with the exception of the aiming. While it is normally used by your thumb, this time you use your head to aim. The right thumbstick on the controller still serves the purpose to turn your body around and to raise/lower your weapon. After stumbling around in the level for a little bit I managed to get a hold of the mechanics and started nailing demons left and right. It soon became second nature and I felt completely immersed in the game. I actually forgot I was standing on the Exhibition Floor of QuakeCon for a moment until Palmer started talking to me. It was a very surreal experience to be able to only see the game your playing and having to actually participate physically at the same time. There really aren’t many words to describe the way it felt other than natural. The worst part of the demo was when I was told I was getting pulled out of the game. Honestly it took me a second to realize I wasn’t in the game anymore and remember how I was supposed to look and walk properly. This is up there as one of the greatest gaming experience in my lifetime; up there with defeating the Reapers in Mass Effect, defeating Bowser for the first time in Super Mario, beating Demon Souls within a week of release, and rescuing the world of Hyrule and saving Princess Zelda from Ganondorf. This two minute moment that I got to be put inside the world of a video game and blast away at some demons was just great and I cannot wait for this to progress further.
As a side note to all this, Palmer and John wanted to stress the fact that this is not consumer ready by any means. It is simply ready for developers to take a hold of it and start exploring the possibilities. The reason for the Kickstarter was mainly for developers and like-minded individuals. Also enjoy the pictures and full length demo from QuakeCon below of the Oculus booth and people trying out the Oculus Rift.