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What we think: Testing the Oculus Rift
A few weeks ago we had an opportunity to test a prototype version of Oculus Rift, a brand new virtual reality headset created by Palmer Luckey.
Many of our friends asked: “How was it?“, “Is Oculus really that great?” or “How’s going to look the final version?“.
If you’d like to know the answers to these questions- take a look at our thoughts!
Oculus? What’s this?
In case you haven’t heard about it – it’s a head-mounted, stereoscopic display, designed specifically for virtual reality simulations and video games.
It may sound like we’ve seen this before – in the 90′s, many tried to bring virtual reality into our homes, but all their attempts where, to put it mildly- imperfect.
Nintendo’s Virtual Boy, the VFX1, Virtual I-Glasses, CyberMaxx – all these systems failed because of extremely high prices accompanied by technical flaws, like: low resolution, high latency and narrow field of view.
Now, when technology has moved forward, the Oculus Rift is supposed to be the first VR headset that won’t make your eyes melt and won’t force you to sell your car, to buy it.
Where and why we tested it?
This summer, we decided to visit Gamescom- the biggest gaming event in Europe.
Our plan for the event, apart from playing the newest games and taking tons of booth babes photos, was to meet and chat with some other indie game developers. While we were going through all the “Meet us at Gamescom” news, we found out the Oculus Team is also visiting Cologne, to perform a series of closed presentations of the Rift. We sent them an e-mail and pitched one of our current projects, asking whether they could show us their product, because we might be interested in supporting it.
To be honest, we didn’t really expect any response. At that time Oculus Rift was on the rise- their Kickstarter project was still alive, so everyone wanted to see it, put it on their heads and test it. On the other hand- we were just getting set up as a studio, looking a bit more like “gamedeveloper wannabe guys”, than a serious initiative. Surprisingly – we got an e-mail from Nate Mitchel – Oculus Vice President of Product, who got really excited with our game concept and invited us to a presentation.
It was hard to find the place, because it was held outside the Gamescom trade fair hall, but in the end we met with Nate and Palmer Luckey – the creator of Oculus. We had a short chat and got a chance to give the Oculus Rift a spin.
Koalas and the Rift – open mouths, shaking legs and feeling sick
The test setup consisted of a:
- Oculus Rift prototype (looking like the one here)
- A Razer Onza game pad
- Doom 3 BFG Edition game
- High quality headphones
Here are our impressions, written down a few hours after the presentation:
Łukasz: I got really psyched about this thing! In a blink of an eye I felt like I was literally moving through the narrow, dark corridors of Doom 3.
For the first few seconds my body was absolutely shocked – my heartbeat was really fast, my head was spinning like a rollercoaster and I even started to sweat!
This sensation passed quickly as my brain learned to ignore the signals coming from my inner ear and focused on the incoming images. If you’re wondering what’s the face expression of a dude whose brain is switched off – that must be my expression on these photos.
I played it for about 15 minutes and it was a truly amazing and very intense experience that I would like to repeat some time.
Tom: The first impression was really intense – when Palmer placed the Rift on my head, anything that mattered a while ago, suddenly stopped being important. It might sound like an advertising slogan, but the simultaneous impact of all the Oculus features literally blew my mind. The level of immersion was incomparable with any other VR system that I experienced in the past – the field of view was really wide, the 3D effect was clearly noticeable and the head tracking system felt really smooth. All this, joined with high quality headphones created a stunning effect.
It took me some time to recover from the “Oculus effect”, but when I finally regained my ability to think, I noticed that the image is a bit blurry and the resolution is quite low. It didn’t bother me so much, but I only played for 15 minutes, so it’s hard to say whether it’s a flaw in the long run. However, there was one thing that truly bothered me – I’m not sure if it was caused by the game genre or the hardware, but still…
In reality, when people want to look somewhere, they just turn their heads in that direction and this is supported by eye movement. Oculus’s head tracking system perfectly detects the head motion, but purposely omits eye movement detection. Don’t get me wrong- I understand that it’s going to be mass produced hardware, so the production costs must be low, but it just felt kinda unnatural to lose my eye movement powers. I have a feeling that this impression won’t bother me in games where I’m not controlling a human being (like Hawken) or games where the reaction speed isn’t as important (imagine Amnesia supporting Oculus).
What about the shaking legs thing? I started playing sitting on a chair, but after a while, I stood up. It felt kinda weird, but I didn’t realize I was doing something unusual, till I stopped playing. According to guys standing next to me, my inner ear and vestibular system went nuts! I looked like an acrobat, standing on a thin line, leaning forwards and backwards trying to maintain balance at all costs. Unfortunately- no one recorded it…
To sum up – I liked it very much, I want to experience games this way (especially Hawken) and I definitely want to implement Oculus into our games, but for safety reasons – I’ll probably do this while sitting…
Kris: Let me start by saying that I’m nearly always sick when I play games while travelling, so I wasn’t able to truly test the Oculus.
I don’t know exactly how long it took, but I think after about 30 seconds I started to feel dizzy and sick, just like when I play on an iPad in a car or read a book on a train. I just had to take this thing off!
Palmer told me I was the second person in history whose reaction was so bad. The first one was a little boy, who started screaming and running all over the place. This ended up in him smashing his head and the Oculus against a wall.
Maybe my reaction wasn’t so extreme, but I’ll probably never try it again- I really felt like crap for the rest of the day.
A few more facts
After the tests we got to talk a little bit more about the Oculus with Palmer and Nate.
We learned that:
- Kickstarter project backers will receive their prototypes and developer kits in December.
- The developer kit and device’s prototype will be sold through Oculus’s online store for 300$ (it’s already available- here). First website-bought devices will be shipped in January 2013.
- Oculus already supports all the most popular game engines, including Unity and UDK.
- Oculus Rift will be available only for PC and Windows, the Mac version is not ready and won’t be available for some time.
- The support for iOS is possible, but due to high hardware requirements it’s highly unlikely that we will see iPad or iPhone games supporting Oculus.
- • At the moment, Oculus’s resolution is 1280×800, split between both eyes, rendering the effective resolution at 640×800, but the final consumer version of Oculus will display a two times higher resolution, at 1280×800 pixels per eye.
- The Oculus Team is also working on lowering the device’s weight and latency.
- • The technology needed to implement eye tracking system is too expensive at the moment, but according to Palmer – it’s possible that it will be implemented in the future.
Oculus Rift is already a great gaming device and the consumers’ version will be even better – no doubt about it. However it’s really hard to say whether it will change the way we experience video games. At this point everything lays in the hands of the game developers- it’s the quality of the games supporting the device that will make people buy the system. Although the list of industry figures backing the project is impressive (Gabe Newell, John Carmack, Cliff Bleszinski, Notch), it’s unclear whether these are real game announcements or just nonspecific plans.
Personally – I believe the Rift has a big chance of becoming the first mass-owned VR system, because the Oculus team has the right people in the right place. Palmer’s commitment to the project and the excitement he’s showing whenever he’s speaking about the Rift, shows that this is something more than just a job for him. His passion and enthusiasm convinced me he will do everything to make the Oculus Rift the best VR system possible. Nate, on the other hand, knows how to handle game developers and if he’ll continue to reach out to smaller, indie studios, as he did with us – it’s only a matter of time when there’ll be tons of great games created specifically for the Rift.
Speaking for Crunching Koalas – we are very seriously thinking about implementing the Rift into one of our games and we’ll surely give it a try in December, when our developer kit arrives. Follow our blog to see how it went!