Impressions – Oculus Rift
Last night, due to the kindness of my good friend, I was able to demo the Oculus Rift and I have so, so many words to say about it. But first, for the uninitiated, the Oculus Rift is a VR (Virtual Reality) headset currently in development that uses a camera and infrared sensors to detect head movements and display the result of them on screens inside the goggle casing. It gives the illusion that your head is stuck inside a rendered 3D world and you have full agency to stare around at your hearts content. And it’s absolutely incredible. Every video I’ve seen, every play through of a Rift compatible game, ever person I’ve seen put the headset on and go “Whoa,” had not prepared me for how it was finally putting on the headset. It’s a different type of gaming, and proves that future isn’t just on the horizon, it’s knocking at our door.
The ergonomic design of the DK2 is great, and though the headset appears unbalanced towards the forward end, it actually is surprisingly comfortable and very easily forgotten when in-game. Multiple adjustments may be made to increase the comfort of the user including how far away the lenses are from the eyes, how far apart they are, as well as the tightness and relative orientation of the head-straps. Setting everything up to actually get the hardware to display is a little less convenient. Based on the game you are attempting to play and what sort of rift compatibility software each specific demo runs, you have to jump through a series of different hoops. This means there is no effortless way to switch between VR compatible games and an entire entourage of auxiliary programs are needed for some games, and an entirely different entourage for others. This is the big weakness of the rift at this point and time; it’s complex and moody.Consumers would have zero patience with this device on a large scale, and that’s simply because it’s a developer kit at the moment, and by that virtue alone it is not ready for sale to everyone.
However, getting dropped into the cockpit of a sidewinder starfighter in 1080p resolution and warping towards a gigantic sun in Elite: Dangerous definitely goes near the top of my list of favorite things I’ve ever seen in a video game. It’s absolutely incredible the way that being able to move your field of view naturally in a game tricks your mind into feeling like you are actually present in whatever situation the game is setting. It seems like such a no-brainer that moving your head to look is more conducive to immersion than hitting a button to do so, but the feeling you get from the tangible motion and video reactions is almost unrecognizable from actually looking around in the real world. This is coupled with a very clever system of depth and 3D technology. Walking around the default Oculus demo (which is a simple rendered Italian villa) I had to stop and remind myself that it was a game I was looking at a few times. What I find so stunning about the rift is the staggering sense of depth and scale that it gives. 3D films are interesting and the depth they offer is a good effect but when you add the freedom of motion to that, it suddenly stops feeling like a picture of something 3D and feels actually like a 3D object in the real world, regardless of how imperfect it’s shape might actually be. Instead of looking at a flattened image, you get the feeling that you are inside of a physical space, and all of the tiny details and visual design bits are brought closer to the forefront of the experience, because they’re no longer just curtains for the action happening, they are the shifting and deep area in which the player exists.
The rift is a seriously cool look into another soon to be normal facet of video games. An exploration of the things we can do with existing technology as well as how we can push the limits of player immersion. I’m excited to see what sort of games come out specifically for the hardware, and what kind of design choices will the device influence for it’s games. What sort of stories will the rift be able to tell us? Is it perfect? No, not by a longshot. But it’s tangible virtual reality technology that functions, and is currently functioning for many people around the planet. That in of itself is a gigantic leap forward in the potential for immersion, narrative, and gameplay.
Don’t buy it yet though.