Oculus Rift creator: Xbox One and PS4 are far too limited for what we're planning
11th Nov 2013 | 14:20
A Q3 2014 release is in the diary and time is ticking...
We're sat opposite Palmer Luckey, 21-year-old inventor of the Oculus Rift. There's so much we want to ask him but right now he's too busy explaining his plans to build the ultimate Pokemon team.
"Charizard's actually competitive again now that you have mega Charizard Y because his ability brings the sun out, so he's a great sweeper."
Seeing him geek out with so much passion, we've never been more glad that this is the person who controls the fate of Oculus Rift.
Why did he do it? Because he could. Because the technology for a proper virtual reality headset was finally ready. But perhaps most importantly, because he believed it was time for a shake up. "What people have available to them on the market in terms of game consoles and other platforms, I don't think it's exciting to them." Luckey tells it how it is.
You probably know the Oculus Rift story by now. The prototype hardware available to developers is still in its early stages but a commercial release is nearing. Until then, the team have their hands busy with a lot of tweaking and prodding left to do.
"We're working on higher resolution, positional tracking so we can track full movement through space, reducing motion blur, latency - all those issues that really can take you out of the experience sometimes, so the rift is as invisible as possible," says Luckey.
Research in motion
Solving motion sickness has perhaps been the biggest hurdle for Oculus to overcome, but Luckey assures us that the team have made huge strides in solving this.
"We already have internal prototypes that for some content completely eliminate motion sickness," he says. "Our newer hardware is much better and it greatly reduces the chances of someone getting motion sick."
However, experiencing a little uneasiness during simulated high speed motion should come as a surprise to no one. "The run speed in Unreal Tournament 3 is something like 30 miles an hour," says Luckey. "And instant acceleration backward 40 miles an hour... the human body does not handle it well.
"So a lot of this work that has to be done to make games work in VR is really making games that won't make people sick in reality while still keeping the limitations of VR in mind."
He also says it's something we'll get used to, given time. "Currently it's something that most people do adapt to after spending time with it their brain learns to handle it. Most people don't get motion sick after they learn to accommodate."
We'll be seeing the finished product in "months, not years", he reassures us when we raise our concern that the current Q3 2014 target might be too optimistic.
Perhaps we're wrong to have any doubts - with John Carmack now on board as Chief Technology Officer, the Rift is only picking up momentum. "He's super smart, he's working on everything," Luckey tells us.
"Carmack is more of an engineer than a game designer. We have people on the team who are game designers and who have come from that background. His game design background is not the thing that's being applied the most in Oculus right now, it's his incredible programming talent and understanding of how to integrate hardware with software effectively."
Setting sights on next gen
The mastermind behind Doom might be hopping into bed with the Rift but neither Sony or Microsoft seem particularly interested in Oculus right now (though that doesn't mean they're not pursuing their own VR solutions). Is Luckey planning to get cosy with either the Xbox One or PS4?
"Consoles are too limited for what we want to do," he says. "We're trying to make the best virtual reality device in the world and we want to continue to innovate and upgrade every year - continue making progress internally - and whenever we make big jumps we want to push that to the public."
"The problem with consoles in general is that once they come out they're locked to a certain spec for a long, long time. Look at the PCs that existed eight years ago. There have been so many huge advances since then. Now look at the VR hardware of today. I think the jump we're going to see in the next four or five years is going to be massive, and already VR is a very intensive thing, it requires rendering at high resolutions at over 60 frames a second in 3D."
Resolutions have been a big talking point these past few weeks, with the Xbox One performing below the standards of the PS4 in Call of Duty Ghosts, and raising concerns that it might not have enough power for the next console decade.
"We're seeing games that are already saying they're gonna run in 720p on next gen so they can barely hit 60 in 2D," says Luckey. "It's hard to imagine them running a VR experience that's on par with PC. And certainly five years from now the experiences and the technology for virtual reality that will be available on PC is going to be be so far beyond anything that a console can provide.
"What we're most excited about - really the core direction of our company - is trying to make something that works on platforms that are moving quickly and that are continuously getting more powerful, and consoles are not those."
Ok, but would we lump Valve's Steam Machines in with the other next-gen systems?
"We're good friends with Valve," laughs Luckey when we ask if the relationship with Gabe Newell could be closer than they're letting on right now. "We're great friends with them."
Guts on the headset
Luckey's equally cagey when we ask him to tell us his favourite Oculus experience so far, which is perhaps most intriguing of all. "I can't say. There's a lot of things going on that are not necessarily announced yet."
Something beyond the PC, perhaps? New talk about the mobile possibilities of Oculus have given the headset a second wind of early hype, but just how viable is a mobile Oculus Rift?
"It's not going to happen immediately but the long term future of virtual reality is going to be building basically mobile chip sets into these headsets themselves so that they're dedicated and not tethered to something else," says Luckey.
"If you look at the rate of how fast mobile phone technology has been advancing, I would be willing to bet that by the end of this console generation there are going to be mobile processors that far outpower them.
"And they upgrade every single year. So when you have VR hardware that's getting better every year and mobile processing power that's getting better every year, it won't be too many years before you can get a much better experience than a console in a headset that has everything built into it and is still cheaper than a console."
He might be just 21, but it's difficult to argue with Luckey's cynical outlook on the fate of current unified consoles - or ignore his optimism that Oculus could move from being a tethered peripheral to a console of its very own.
In his own words, "putting the guts on the headset is going to be the future."