For two beautiful minutes I was a fighter pilot in space. Even though we were in a wide open hall with crepes being made not far away every one of my senses told me I was in space flying a fighter of some sort. There were enemies out there somewhere, two people who were in reality sitting just across from me were coming after me. But in the vastness of space did it really matter? With only 2 minutes did I want to spend my time hunting down the enemy or did I want to fly through debris and enjoy all the colors of space? I was playing EVE: Valkyrie. I was in space.
The line for the Oculus Rift stretched around two thirds of the booth from the entry way stretching around three corners to the exit. They were offering a few different experiences there. World of Diving and EVE: Valkyrie were just two. We were lucky enough to be picked to sit down for some EVE. We got comfortable in our seats, had the controls explained to us briefly then the headset went on. It took a few moments before my eyes focused properly. I was in a cockpit, about to be launched into space. In the distance the bay doors were already open so I caught my first glimpse of space. Looking around my cockpit was complete. It had buttons and switches, flashing lights and of course that ever so important protective glass. I felt like I should be strapping myself in. An Xbox controller was handed to me clumsily because of course I was blind to the real world at that point. With a few last minute instructions headphones were placed on my head. A mission briefing began, I admit though I was so engrossed in the visuals that I paid it no attention. Something about a rescue mission maybe? I don’t know, all I wanted was to hurry up and get into space.
And then it happened. Without the pressure you’d expect from being launched into space at high speed I went from comfortably sitting aboard a ship to the emptiness of space. Of course I learned quite quickly that space is anything but empty. There was wreckage and debris, celestial bodies, and beautiful colors. I’m not an EVE player but I’ve always loved how beautiful and colorful they make space. I’d let my mind wander for a few moments before I remembered that I could actually do things. Then there was the panic, what did the buttons do? How do I make myself go? After a bit of button pushing and accidental shots fired I was off. The thing I learned about space is distances are deceiving. I wanted to check out some debris that looked nearby but it really wasn’t. It put me out in the open, exposed me to the enemy who I had been content to ignore. Just as I was about to attempt a manuever through a gap in the debris I started getting shot at. Whoever it was they were good. They caught on to the controls fast and I could never shake them. And so I was killed. In a fiery burst the glass of my cockpit blew away and I was back on the ship.
I had held my breath during my death. It was a natural human reaction. About to be exposed to space? Better hold your breath! The transition from dead to restarting was a bit jarring. Just moments before I was dead. Fade to black, have a funeral, something. Finding myself back in an all new cockpit on the ship again it took my brain a few moments to reset. Which of course during a two minute encounter meant time was just ticking away. Once more I was launched into space and had just enough time to fly around before the two minutes were up. I was the only death, the PvP encounter was won by the enemy. But in reality we were all winners. We were in space. Though perhaps the biggest winners were Oculus Rift.
Before my experience with it I had my doubts. Would it really be as amazing as the idea implied? When a new technology comes out you expect graininess, you expect it to look terrible. I had always imagined that the Oculus Rift would be a stepping stone and I would end up with a second or third generation machine, not the very first one. I may be an early adopter of technology but I don’t invest in brand new technology. Not on my budget at least. But my Valkyrie experienced changed everything. I cannot wait to get an Oculus Rift now and EVE: Valkyrie will be the first game I get, if it becomes more than just a demo.
Though the entire experience was amazing, it also sparked a conversation with colleagues that continued until the end of Gamescom. Just buying an Oculus Rift and setting it up in your living room doesn’t do it justice. As I said earlier, I wanted to be strapped in to my seat. On top of that, the experience would have been improved a million times if in my hands, instead of an Xbox controller, I had my own cockpit setup. As Oculus Rift becomes more and more of a reality, the peripherals industry is going to boom. We need Joysticks, buttons, and switches. We need chairs to strap into, air machines that blast scented air at us. We need ways to walk around safely. This is the first step in making the holodecks of Star Trek a reality and it is the peripherals that will make the Oculus Rift really shine.