The Rift. A new frontier. A virtual reality head mounted display controller.
We were lucky enough to try out Oculus‘ Rift at this years Quakecon. On display were 2 demonstrations, one was called the “flying demo” which was basically Id Software’s Rage with flying and noclip turned on (allowing for free movement). The other demo was of Doom 3 BFG Edition, which of course displayed the viability of the technology for real gameplay. There are a couple important things to point out with these demonstrations… for one, the Rift is in its alpha stages. For hardware like this, that means hot glue gun, duct tape and a whole lotta love. The other thing to point out is that, even with the hardware in this early stage, it’s still a compelling experience.
For those who don’t know… The Oculus Rift was created by hardware expert Palmer Luckey and will be released for sale by his company Oculus sometime later this year. It is a head mounted display aka an HMD. The Rift is comprised of 2 LCD screens, some motion sensors in the form of gyros, a ski mask and lots of duct tape. Even in this early stage, it’s currently garnering support from technology visionaries including Michael Abrash & Gabe Newell of Valve Software, Cliff Bleszinski of Epic Games, David Helgason CEO of Unity, John Carmack of Id Software and more. Extensive support has been shown by John Carmack going as far as writing code and drivers for the device and supporting the Rift in Id Software’s Doom 3 BFG Edition. He also essentially promised support of it in Doom 4, calling it their “secret weapon”.
Now let’s talk about what it’s like to use the Rift. My immediate thoughts when putting on the Rift was my complete cut off from the world around me. It can cause a slightly nauseating feeling and may require some people to sit down. This is only a minor set back… but here’s where we start seeing the amazingness. The Rift really shines while doing simple things in the virtual world. Things we do in real life, but take for granted. For example, look up at the ceiling. Or examining objects on the floor. During a typical FPS experience, in order to look at something on the floor you must make the conscience effort to move your analog sticks and direct your character to look where you want. This is useful when looking at items on the floor… or searching for details in the stage. But imagine if you could simply turn your own head, in game… and see what was right next to you. The Rift acts as a direct extension of your body in the virtual world. Once you get used to moving around in the game and looking around, it becomes an incredibly immersive feeling. In a classic VR fantasy, the flying demo allows you to look in a direction and take flight. This is quite fun and also demonstrates the effectiveness of controlling a character via an HMD. Furthermore, since you have 1 screen per eye, you have a truly 3 dimension visual experience, far and away better than any 3D display.
The Rift is an exciting and promising new development. Look for our interview with Palmer Luckey, the creator of the Rift, soon.