Hello again. On a note unrelated to Icarus – I finally got an opportunity to try out an Oculus Rift Developer Kit 2; so I took a short break from my modeling schedule for Icarus to try it out. I’ve been drinking all the hype juice for the Oculus Rift and after trying it out I came to a few different conclusions:
1) It is reasonably cool already and it still has a huge amount of potential.
2) It is not going to replace traditional desktop gaming.
-Due to the motion sickness issue, you cannot play games like Quake or Call of Duty (or Icarus for that matter). In fact, using a VR headset, any game where your player character actually moves their origin point around is going to cause motion sickness in the majority of people. However, there are a huge amount of games that could be created where your player character remains stationary (other than the head motion tracking which is awesome by the way) – and the environment changes around you. This is where the head motion tracking really shows its strength. It allows you to move in the VR world realistically without any motion sickness. I listened to several interviews with Palmer Lucky ( founder of Oculus VR company ) and he is always talking about how games today are not designed for VR and they really need games to be specifically created for VR. I never really understood what he was talking about but I think this is mostly marketing speak for “most games nowadays would cause immense amounts of motion sickness if played using a Rift, we need people to create comfortable VR experiences for the Rift”.
3) The motion sickness issue is difficult to understand until you actually try it out – and it is really a testament to how realistic the experience is that it causes so much motion sickness so easily.
-You would think that because we play games all the time where our player character moves “hella fast” and twists and turns across a map (Team Fortress 2 for example) – that we would already be accustomed to this phenomenon by now – but a VR headset is an entirely different experience from traditional desktop gaming. With a VR headset, what peripheral vision you do have is part of the VR world – your mind is saying “I am moving” but your body is saying “I am stationary”. – whereas when you desktop game – your peripheral vision is just whatever room you are in and your mind can more easily know that you are stationary – so your mind is saying “I am controlling a camera on my screen” and your body is saying “while I am sitting in my chair”.
In any case, there are huge possibilities for gaming with the Rift – I can remember a number of times when the urge to reach out and touch a branch or a leaf while using the rift just felt so natural (I can definitely see how something like the Leap Motion Plus hand controller is a natural fit for any VR headset). And I can imagine a huge number of games that will be comfortable for everyone. I can imagine many games that are a lot like a movie that you are inside of. You can look around and witness plot events happen – and really feel like it is just over there, or behind you, or in front of you. Or you could be a detective sitting in a restaurant or an office and you can have story dialogues with NPC’s that come to visit you. These are real possibilities.
All this being said, it being the development kit there were a few hiccups (don’t get me wrong, the good experiences I did have made up for these in large part). Here is a list of the games I tried out ( in chronological order ) using the Rift and a short description of my experience with them:
OculusWorldDemo – This was a small experience that came with the SDK files. It was basically a crappily modeled Mediterranean cottage with a small yard and a vista created using some really pixelated skybox textures. This was the first thing I was able to get working and even with the low fidelity art assets it was really cool. However, after about two minutes of walking around my head started to feel a little woozy and I realized what people were talking about with the motion sickness. I did have my first “cool VR experience” with this demo though. There was a small balcony on the second story of the cottage and there was a tree with some branches – it really felt like you could just reach out and grab one of those branches – in fact when I first stood there I instinctively put my hand out for the leafy branch.
Mona Lisa Room – This was the second thing I tried – I couldn’t get it working. In fact any game that was made with Unreal Engine 4 I could not get to work on the headset (which is a shame because they probably look the best) – it would show up in stereoscopic vision on the desktop but it would not transmit the video to the headset. This is about when I decided to not troubleshoot anything and to just take a more “try it if it works” attitude towards downloading games off of Oculus Share.
Neos: The Universe – this was the third thing I tried and it was a truly mind boggling experience. The game basically narrates as the scale of the VR world grows from the size of a neutron to the size of the observable universe. Very cool experience, I would definitely recommend it. No motion sickness for me as your player character is stationary for the entire experience (you can do some really cool head tracking lookarounds for things like a coffee bean or a proton).
SightLine: The Chair – this was awesome. It was probably the best experience I had. Whenever you look away from something it changes. This game really showed me how beautiful small rooms will be in VR. I can see people one day putting on their headset to sit in their “VR Office”. In fact I would say small rooms are the coolest thing about VR because as you move your head the motion tracking lets you kind of look around an object – and that object really seems like it is there.
Pixel Ripped – I believe this was made with Unreal engine 4 – I could not get it to transmit video to the headset although it was playable on the desktop. Basically it is a “game within a game” kind of thing. I didn’t try it too much because I was trying to get another working game for the headset.
The Hum: Abductions – Proof of Concept – It was made with Unreal Engine 4 so I could not get it working and it forces you to sign up with an email and download their installer. I’ll try it again some other time to see if I can get it working. But I was on to other things.
Ocean Rift – this looked really cool but the problem was that you had to find events (sharks and whales) – they didn’t just come to you. And moving up and down underwater canyons looking for sea creatures can be extremely nauseating in VR. This experience would be great if they just had the fish swim by you in some artistic fashion while you were allowed to headtrack around them.
Welcome to Oculus – I couldn’t get it working. I don’t think it was Unreal Engine 4 but a note in the setup said “You will need a set of media codecs installed to view this experience. For more information, visit http://treyte.ch/codecs/” – This was more effort than I was interested in at the time especially since I had so many other downloaded games to try out.
Don’t let Go! – This is the one where you put your hands on the two Alt keys on your keyboard and try not to let go as a poorly animated Velociraptor and some creepy little (and big ) spiders crawl around your head. It was not difficult for me to hang on – but I could definitely see how more scary and realistic art assets could make me let go unconsciously. The room that you sat in was just a plain old office but it was really cool to look around it.
TNG Engineering – this was a walkabout of the engineering section of the Enterprise D. Very cool, Very well modeled – very cool sound effects – a Star Treks nerd’s dream come true. (no Geordi LaForge though – he might have been working on a coolant leak).
Titans of Space – this was the highest rated experience on Oculus Share. It was really cool. Basically it takes you on the tour of the solar system and some of the larger known stars. Very, Very cool. Caused me some significant motion sickness as it flew around the planets – even though it was rated “very comfortable” on the the share page. One big downside was that it was all text based. Reading text in the game seems to have some issues as there is no anti-aliasing on the text (at least I couldn’t figure out how to get any). So all the text looks very pixelated.
NewRetroArcade – I could see how this game could really show off the potential of the “game within a game” concept that I think VR will thrive on (as it mostly solves the motion sickness issue). However I could not get it to transmit video to the Rift headset. I think it was made with Unreal engine 4. Basically, you can play arcade games in a virtual arcade. I played it for a bit on the desktop but I was on to other things.
Café Âme – this was both the shortest, most limited experience as well as one of the most enlightening. Basically you are a robot sitting in a cafe of the future on a stormy night with a cup of coffee in front of you. As you look to your right there is rain spattering on a window – you can see your reflection and your glowing eyes. Your head motion tracking is linked to the robot model – so as you move your head the robot’s head moves in the window reflection. So it is a game asking the question “what would it be like to be a robot?”. Very cool – showing a huge amount of potential, also very short and limited.
Therapeutic Heights – Relaxation Experience – You are basically in a hot air balloon basket ( although it is more like a bedroom ). You float around over a landscape that looks like something out of Microsoft Flight Simulator 2002. Interesting, but I had some jitter with the head tracking that was causing me a little motion sickness. There was a lantern inside the bedroom attached to the ceiling and it was another time when I had the instinct to reach out and grab something in VR.
Kira – The art style reminded me a little of Trine. It was basically a “look there to go there game”. You moved around a little fantasy room by looking at nodes. It was getting late by this point and the game was causing me significant motion sickness. Very cool though once you got to stationary positions. I took on the strategy of looking at a node long enough to start moving to the next stationary position and then closing my eyes so I wouldn’t get any motion sickness. Very beautiful game all in all though.
Elevator Horror – this was a legitimately scary game. I won’t spoil anything but there are some really scary moments. Very cool little demo. No motion sickness.
INSURGENT: Shatter Reality – This was a promo thingy for the Movie INSURGENT (2015). I couldn’t get it to work even on the Desktop – but it looked really cool in the screenshots.
ViewPort VR Panoramic Experience – This was another “look there to go there game” – although it was by far the most highly detailed thing I have experienced in VR so far. It was basically an apartment that you could just move about. The texturing and lighting were hyper-realistic. Definitely gave me that “VR Office” feel again. Very cool, very short.
Surge – This was made with Unreal Engine 4. Like all other Unreal Engine 4 games, I couldn’t get the video signal to be sent to the Rift – although it looked cool on the desktop.
Convrge – a social world game. It was getting late so I didn’t try to troubleshoot it – but it did not work for me the few attempts that I tried it. I just tried it now on the desktop and It worked but no one was in it. Basically, it is a outdoor movie theater that you can watch Twitch and YouTube in with other people. Might be cool, I’ll try it again some time and see if anyone is in it.
So in conclusion, I believe traditional desktop gaming and VR gaming will probably live side by side – probably not eating up too much of each other’s markets (although they will of course eat some – but I have to say I think there is a strong possibility that VR will eat up more of the movie industry than the desktop gaming industry as I believe participatory stationary narratives or stories will be really popular in VR). I believe desktop gaming will continue for the foreseeable future, at least until VR headsets can produce resolutions high enough to accurately simulate desktop screens inside of the VR world – in which case it will probably eat up the LCD screen market significantly.
To be honest, my hype has gone away a little but the potential has all been confirmed to me. And I think I can say for sure now that I want my next game to be for the Oculus Rift and hopefully other VR headsets. I have some ideas for some artistic stationary experiences that I would like to try out.
Thanks for reading, hopefully this gave you an understanding of VR headset technology from the perspective of a newcomer – including both its future potential and its remaining challenges.
P.S. – For those interested in Icarus – I’ve been modeling away on Icarus. I am a little bit behind on schedule for my static models. I think it will be another 2-4 weeks more until I am done with the majority of the static models – I got a little sidetracked with the VR stuff – but here are some viewscreens for all the species and consoles for one of the species I did last week: