Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality are terms you’re hearing kicked about with some frequency these days. Granted, they’ve been staples of the technological lexicon for several decades now, but this is really the first time I’ve heard them uttered sans the dreamy expression that had once been their standard accompaniment. That’s mostly because the idea is much more realistic these days than it might have been even a decade ago.
It just happens that Austin is central to the emerging ocular industry, and right in the middle of it are guys like Finn Staber. A mild-mannered Portalarium developer by day, Finn transforms into a hardcore industry expert by night. He’s organized and co-organized a number of VR and AR meetups and events in the Austin area, which has made him a bit of a known figure in those circles.
A fellow Army veteran, Finn and I have gotten to be pretty good friends over the last few years of my covering Shroud of the Avatar, so I decided to pick his brain about the Oculus Rift a bit. I’d just gotten the new Oculus Rift DK2, and after being blown away by the experience, I had to get a professional developer’s thoughts on the technology. This article actually started out as a bit of a love letter to the Oculus project, but then the conversation with Finn opened my eyes a bit.
Folks, we’re right on the edge of one of those industry shaking events that completely redefine what video games look like and how they’re played. Interestingly, Richard Garriott led the last big change from Austin when Ultima Online kicked off two decades of Massively Multiplayer Online games. Now that same city is central to the new technological medium, except that it’s not how we play our games that’s changing this time. It’s how we perceive them.
I Just Can’t Wait to be King
The moment I put the Oculus on, Elite Dangerous became a new game for me. I enjoyed the game before, but there was this strange sense that my Sidewinder and my Type 6 were the same size. I knew they weren’t because they used different landing pads. The problem was that when I flew through the space station aperture, it felt the same to me in both ships.
It does make sense, if you think about it. Sure, the ships were different sizes, but I wasn’t. The docking bay was the same size in relation to me, or at least my avatar, no matter what ship I was in. The cockpit around me had different features, but it was the same, too. Except that it’s not, and it wasn’t until I put on the Oculus that I really got a sense of the terrific scale of the ships and stations in Elite.
Armed with my new Oculus, I stretched my neck around to look over either shoulder and leaned forward to look down the side of my simulated command chair, and the hair on the back of my neck stood straight out as I realized this “cockpit” in my Type 6 was actually a platform jutting out into the bulbous space of a huge transparent bay of epic righteousness. The holographic displays floated gently in the middle-where of my now three-dimensional command platform.
I’m not kidding and am employing absolutely zero hyperbole when I say I was dumbstruck by the awesomeness of what I was seeing as I undocked and exited the station to be welcomed to the deep back by the azure pearl of a nearby agriculture world. Of course, I hadn’t quite adjusted my Oculus correctly and was running what turned out to be a very problematic set of Nvidia drivers. Thus, the spiritual experience quickly turned into a master course in intestinal fortitude as my view slammed back and forth at warp speed due to either a graphic bug or possibly a calibration problem.
An update and some configurations later, and experience had mostly smoothed out. It still wears on you to have the goggles on for too long, but after a few times I got to the point that I could play for a little over an hour at a stretch with them. The higher resolution of my monitors made it to where I didn’t mind switching occasionally, though. Plus, there were some dogfights that left me sweating a bit and needing a break, so I don’t think I’d call it a complete replacement for monitors just yet.
I had a cool conversation with Starr Long and Chris Spears about VR a while back over sushi in Austin, and Starr had made the excellent point that something like a third of people who try the Oculus, actually get sick from it. I’m not sure that’s a good statistic, though. I’ve got a pretty strong stomach and I’m not normally too susceptible to that sort of stuff, but I definitely got a little nauseated while trying the Oculus with Project CARS.
Though, once I borrowed a Logitech G27 steering system and tried again, I had a far better experience. I think it was the jerking motion from trying to use the mouse that caused problems for me. I’ve also played Descent: Underground with an Oculus, and it didn’t seem to give me much trouble, so it’s possible that’s not it, either.
Whatever it was that makes me get a little sick in some situations and be just fine in others, the fact that it’s not consistent makes me think the stats Starr noted probably should be taken with a grain of salt. I think you should probably say that nearly everyone is going to have some game or controller configuration that will make the Oculus a bad experience for them. With that, you probably have to also note that most of those same people will have other situations where they love the product as much as I did.
I have to admit that the thought was a bit of a splash of cold water for me, because I had been thinking of the Oculus as a complete game-changer. The problem is, who’s going to drop that much cash on a product that occasionally upsets their stomachs, though? More importantly, it’s a bit chancy for a development studio to invest cycles making their game compatible when there’s a chance it may not be playable for a sizable portion of their player-base.