When I was young I enjoyed getting to visit arcades every so often. They’d have the usual cabinets, all the classic games, huge consoles to try your hand in everything from sniping with a full sized rifle to punching the bejeezus out of a bag in an attempt to gauge your strength. But one time I found something different. I recall very vividly a time I spent in a large arcade in Branson, Missouri. There is where I encountered my very first Virtual reality setup. A gigantic contraption even came complete with a treadmill to walk on and a helmet with wires strewn all around. The game wasn’t anything special, simply a big extremely low poly-count FPS. But still the machine had a huge line. So much so that despite trying my best to get a turn, that turn never came. It was my very first time seeing anything VR, and it instantly cemented my love for the empty genre. Many years later I’m finally seeing the beginning of what is hopefully a surge of interest in the VR world. The single most promising virtual reality platform the world has ever seen. Oculus Rift.
So what is the Oculus Rift? The Oculus rift is a brand new virtual reality headset designed not only to give you a 3D gaming experience, but also to completely immerse you in the game like you’ve yet to see. With head tracking, a super high field of vision, and a low latency response time, this headset is something that will most certainly be on many gamers christmas lists. If you’ve read this blog in the past you’ll have seen me mention the headset from time to time. Be it the wide support it seems to have garnered from big names like Gabe Newell, John Carmack, Cliff Bleszinski, as well as numerous developers, or an incredible public backing success via Kickstarter. It would appear that all the stars are aligning to give what looks to be a genuine honest attempt at creating something revolutionary for the gaming world the best chance it can to succeed.
In the past others have tried to bring about VR headsets, however technology at the time just wasn’t up to it. Many gamers remember the painful days of the Virtual Boy, the notorious headset known for being a pioneer of VR, but at the same time subject its participants to painful headaches and more than one crick in the neck. Others have tried to expand into the virtually untouched market of Head Mounted Displays (HMDs), Headsets, and VR. Most notably we find the Sony “Personal 3D Viewer“. Designed not for games, but as a high end gadget for an immersive 3D viewing experience. The only problem? At eight hundred dollars we’re talking about something more expensive than a next generation console or a very decent mid-range gaming machine. For something akin to strapping a pair of TVs to your eyeballs. As it stands, while neat, Sony’s attempt has simply not panned out or had the kind of reception that the Oculus Rift has.
Virtual Reality has always been around in pop culture, though as we slowly age into the future we’re finding ourselves facing it more and more often. In the past shows like Star Trek, with their Holodeck have paved the way for people to gain interest in the digital world. In Japan popular series like .hack and Sword Art Online have brought a desire for VR to the forefront of many a nerd’s conversations. Even among books you can’t be free of Virtual Reality. The recently released and popular “Ready Player One” told a tale of an entire world willfully trapping itself in its own computerized reality. It would appear that humans have a dream for an immersive online experience, even more so we’re inundated with cautionary fantasy tales of dangerous virtual worlds and those who love them. So is the Oculus Rift finally the answer to mine and others lifelong dream of VR? It sure looks like a good start.
Not too long ago the Oculus Rift shot itself from semi-obscurity to the limelight with the help of Kickstarter. Not only did they obliterate their two hundred and fifty thousand dollar goal, they blew past a million dollars within 36 hours finally coming to rest at over 2.4 Million. It’s a loud shout that people are ready for VR. That people are eager to truly immerse themselves in games. The Dev kits have finally started shipping, these “prototypes” aren’t quite what consumers will be able to expect of the final product, but were still so popular that they prompted the owner to stress to fans that they’re not designed to be suitable for anyone other than developers, and that fans should wait for the retail version come 2014.
Speaking of the retail version the Oculus Rift 2.0 (as it has been dubbed) is looking like we’ll be seeing some vast improvements over the current developer version. Not only are they expecting a performance increase, but an upgrade to a shocking level of detail with 1080p per eye, wireless connection, a more comfortable feel and increased support in major games and engines. There’s only a few downsides that I can see, there are worries about how to render text in games due to the size of each screen, and the quoted price range for the Rift 2.0 is “Less than one thousand dollars.” While I know more than a few people would be happy to drop the dough on that, I think even I’ll have a hard time finding that much cash to burn. Right now the dev kit costs three hundred dollars, I would be comfortable paying up to five hundred for a souped up bad boy version of it. Though I don’t think I could bring myself to drop seven to nine hundred dollars or more on something like this. At the end of the day, it’s still a peripheral, and I’ve got to eat.
There are a couple things I hope we’ll see in the retail or later generations of the Oculus Rift. As it stands right now, it’s a great Headset, but I’d like to see an audio headset integrated one complete with a microphone. While that may be asking for too much in this first run, I hope that down the road we’ll be able to combine other peripherals into this one. I can imagine trying to move audio and voice in addition to 1080p visuals and low latency head tracking wirelessly may be asking for a little much, but that still doesn’t stop me from dreaming!
All in all, despite a few concerns likely to be ironed out before launch, the Oculus Rift looks like an amazing start into the much fantasized world of virtual reality. With support from all over the gaming world pouring in and a clearly skilled team creating something unique yet so often dreamed of, it appears that my dream of experiencing immersive virtual reality may not be far off. In the future we may see even further refinement, lowered prices from hardware advancement, and maybe even competitors to drive further innovation and use from the untapped market of Head Mounted Displays. I know one thing for certain, 2014 has never felt further away than it does now.