The Oculus Rift is going to change gaming, one headset at a time
22nd Jul 2013 | 03:47
From Kickstarter to kicking butt, to try the Oculus Rift is to love it
Something is amiss. Not with the Oculus Rift sitting on my face like a high-tech pair of ski goggles for the blind. No, something is amiss with my brain.
I'm looking around the ruins of a virtual castle and as I turn my head, the world moves around me. I look up and see thousands of snowflakes delicately falling to the ground. Instinctively, I reach out to catch one, but something is amiss. They are not real.
It's hard to believe that seconds after putting on the Oculus Rift HD prototype at PAX Australia, my brain would forget it's looking at a small 1080p screen just centimetres from my face.
Well, perhaps forget is the wrong word - I know that I'm looking at a screen, but the effect is so uncanny that my brain anticipates the other senses to acknowledge the view.
The visuals are far from photorealistic. They still look animated, still look like a game. And if I concentrate, I can still make out the pixels of the screen, a fine mesh of black lines that reminds you that you aren't looking at real life.
But none of that matters, because the device on my head is so lightweight and responsive that I can immediately forgive the Oculus Rift's weaknesses.
Even the fact that the HD prototype has't been optimised, meaning there are two black bars on either side of my peripheral vision, doesn't disrupt the experience.
This is going to change the way we play games, make no mistake.
The path to high definition
The story of Oculus Rift is almost as interesting as the experience of wearing one. Built from existing parts in the garage of founder Palmer Luckey, then turned into a Kickstarter phenomenon that raised $US2.4 million in funding, the product has reinvigorated the prospect of a virtual reality-enabled future.
With major publishers Valve, Epic Games and Unity all supporting the platform, the future looks especially bright for the Oculus product.
Initially, the dev kits sent out to Kickstarter backers only featured a 1280 x 800 screen. Because the screen is essentially split into two to create the stereo 3D effect, that meant a relatively low 640 x 800 resolution for each eye.
The new HD prototype, which has been made possible by the development of 1080p screens for smartphones over the past 12 months, fixes the resolution issue.
Running at 60fps and with no lag in the motion tracker of the head unit, the result is an immediate, immersive world that offers a whole new way of experiencing a game.
Kickstarting the immersive game revolution
As someone who can't handle watching 3D at the cinema without being overwhelmed by a sense of nausea, there was definitely a sense of trepidation as the Oculus Rift goggles were wrapped over my head.
Even Sony's Personal 3D viewer failed to deliver a sickness-free experience. But somehow, the Oculus Rift managed to trick my brain sufficiently to allow me to bypass the sense of disorientation, although a wave of dizziness did hit me about five minutes after taking the headset off.
Largely, it has to do with the headset's design and the lack of ambient light leaking in to disrupt you from the view on the screen. A tiny amount of light leaked in through the nose cover and air grills beneath the eyes, but not enough to distract from what you're looking at on screen.
But while vertigo may be enough to dissuade some from using the headset, the possibilities of a truly interactive environment will go a long way to sell the technology.
At PAX Australia, there were a number of indie developers showcasing titles specifically designed for Oculus Rift. What's more, we've already seen the likes of Team Fortress 2, Half Life 2 and Skyrim customised to support the virtual reality headset.
And this high-level support has created a market for additional immersive peripherals.
The Omni, for example, which is just about to finish its very own Kickstarter run, works with the Oculus Rift to allow players to walk, run and strafe through three dimensional worlds using special shoes and a low-friction octagonal pad.
From there, it's not too much of a stretch to imagine peripherals that allow for virtual weapons, virtual tools and virtual engagement in the near future.
Coupled with the fact that the team at Oculus Rift still hasn't settled on the technology it will use for the consumer release of the product, and there's still a lot of potential for the technology to move forward.
The prototype headset we used could still be replaced, with the Oculus team admitting that they were looking at all kinds of different technologies, including OLED.
More than a game
But regardless of the technology they decide to stick with, the Oculus Rift is set to deliver a paradigm shift in the way people engage with not just video games, but all forms of entertainment.
In one demo, the Oculus placed us in an empty movie theatre. Turn around and you can see the flicker of the projector on the real wall. Look to the left and right and see the exits. Straight ahead, a screen shows off the trailer for Man of Steel.
It's an early prototype of an app for the headset, but it doesn't take a genius to imagine where it can go in the future. Virtual cinema screens, composing your avatar into the app so you can enjoy the cinema experience without the teenage brats talking through your movie.
Or fill up a stadium with virtual front row seats to a live sporting event. All it takes are broadcast cameras in the right place and some intelligent code to make it happen. Sure, it's still a long way away, but it is going to happen.
If you can forgive the pun, the Oculus Rift is a game-changer, in the best way possible.