Remember in the '90s when virtual reality looked like the future, and people were strapping on oversized goggles to look around a fully recreated world? If not, check out the movie "The Lawnmower Man" (the original, not the sequel) and you'll get the idea. Now, virtual reality (VR) technology is making a comeback with Oculus, which is crafting it to better fit in today's gaming world.
This past week at the PAX Prime event in Seattle, the Oculus team gave us a first road test of its forthcoming virtual headset device, the Oculus Rift. This project was recently featured — and successfully funded — through a Kickstarter campaign clearing more than $2.4 million in funds and is moving forward in production. Though a specific release date wasn't given, the team is trying to shoot for a late 2012 or early 2013 release.
The model that the team showed us was rather crude, made up of one VR visor and black tape that held it together, but it provided an idea of what gaming with the Oculus Rift will be like. The demo the team showed was a near-finished build of Bethesda's upcoming remake "Doom 3: BFG Edition" (arriving in stores this October), but the way it immersed us in the action was simply beyond belief.
The display you see through the curved lenses inside the visor completely envelops you inside your game world. It's also in full 3D, so you feel more involved with the action than ever before. When some flaming skulls lunged at us with their huge, gaping jaws, we couldn't help but jump.
But Oculus Rift isn't just a cosmetic bump up in VR technology — you can actually interact with this new universe. You can turn your head and peer around the video game world, and the perspective within the game keeps up with your movements. The Oculus team has taken most of the "look" technology that allows you to adjust your perspective using the right analog stick on traditional controllers and instead look around with real head motions. (You can still use the right analog stick on a controller for adjustment, however, like turning to face enemies much more quickly.)
Though only "Doom" was on display during the demo, Oculus promised that several games would support the Rift headset upon its release. "Hawken," a popular free-to-play robot/mech shooter that was a hit on the PAX show floor, is already set to support it from day one, and other developers are on board, with projects that go beyond shooters. We can't imagine how awesome a driving game would be with the Rift strapped to our skulls.
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There is a minor drawback, however, just as there was with old VR units back in the day. The Rift might be too immersive for its own good. Some people complained of motion sickness while road-testing the device, and we felt a couple moments of disorientation after taking it off. But that just shows how much this device really draws you into its game experience, and there's literally nothing like it. With the Rift, it's recommended you stay in one place when you use it, lest you injure yourself walking around.
The Oculus Rift doesn't yet have a launch date or price, but the early developer kits (similar to the one we saw at the expo) went for $300 in the Kickstarter campaign, so it could be around the same price, even though it hasn’t been finalized just yet.
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This is a huge step up from the old neon-painted units we used to mess around with years ago, especially with the use of 3D and motion sensing to really draw the player in. The Oculus Rift is something else — at the very least, worth a try.