Confession: I've been in love with the Oculus Rift for awhile now. I was won over from the moment John Carmack (now Oculus' CTO) helped me strap a prototype to my head. I've seen it a few times since then, too. Every time I find myself going even more crazy than before. And now that I've played around with a prototype for the Oculus Rift HD headset, I'm head over heels.
Here's the bummer of this love story (and something I realized while playing it today): I can't show you. Static 2D pictures in a blog post do nothing to convey how incredible this thing is. Even video would be pointless. And I'm done posting goofy headshots of someone else with the Rift on their face. I'll just have to tell you how neat it is and hope that you'll soon have the chance to try it for yourself. More on that later.
The prototype I tried today wasn't even that fancy of a rig. In fact, they just slapped HD panels in place of standard ones, with no other changes. But even with that I loved the experience.
Oculus teamed up with Epic Games to show off the Rift with a version of the Unreal Engine 4 "Elemental" tech demo. From the first moment I put my face in the set I felt awe. Looking up, I could see snowflakes fall from the sky down and around me, giving me a real sense of the stereoscopic effect the Rift provides. In the distance were snowcapped mountains. While they would normally be hard to appreciate with the standard resolution set, with the increased resolution of the HD panel these mountains could be fully appreciated.
Moving inside to a mountain base cave, I was instructed to look around for a lava lord. I saw plenty of lava running bubbling up through cracks in the cave floor, but no lord. But, after turning my head a bit to peer into a dark corner, my eyes focused and I saw him sitting there. What a feeling! Having to actually physically look around for something, and then for that something to surprise you is something I've never felt in any other digital experience. Someone should start work on a game for Rift where you have to look around in dark places for creepy things.
Watching the lava flow and boil was impressive enough, but seeing magical beams cast into the cave and bounce around really showed the power of lighting in this demo. Having these particle effect-heavy beams fly past my virtual head really helped to make the demo feel immersive.
A real wow moment for me in this demo was taking a controller into hand to go into a sort of god mode where I could hold the left analog stick to fly around to wherever I was facing in the world. Gliding up close, following the steep slope of a fiery volcano up towards its top gave me a real sense of danger. After flying up to its peak, turning my head down to look at my feet startled me. The sense of height felt so real that I felt myself sort of shifting to almost catch myself. I'm sure I'll never climb a mountain that has lava pouring out of it, but with this I'll at least feel like I know a bit about what it might be like.
Another demo was not necessarily game related, but it won me over just as easily. This was created by one community member that had a great idea. Oculus already has a community of creative minds supporting the Rift, with many of them sharing ideas, code, and tricks to make immersive experiences. They just launched a sharing platform called Oculus Share, allowing creative types to give what they've learned to others. For now, Share is for the creative support of the Rift, but one day this platform will also be where gamers can find new games to play.
This one community member wanted to see a virtual theater, so he created VR Cinema. Without any kind of explanation, Oculus had me jump into this VR Cinema to check it out.
With the Rift on, I could see a trailer for the new Superman movie playing. My head was stationary at first, but when I began to move it a bit I found that I could turn my head a bit to change the view. With the HD panel in place, the image quality of the trailer was nice. I was enjoying it when a flicker of light caught my eye from the corner of my view. In fully turning my head I found that I was actually sitting in a dark virtual theater, and that that flicker was some of the light coming from the screen reflecting off the top of some theater chairs. Looking down and letting my eyes adjust, I saw stadium style theater seating and even faint row lights! It took me by surprise that I was in a virtual movie theater. The feeling of looking up at a big screen -- just as you would in a theater -- was pretty convincing.
I could go on about how exciting the Oculus Rift experience is. But, as I said before, pictures, videos, even words, won't do the trick. You've got to try this.
During my one hour appointment with Oculus, two others tried to request an appointment and were denied. Oculus is completely booked for all days of gamescom. People were literally banging the door down of this little meeting room to see this thing. While leaving, a European games press member actually stopped me and asked that I give her the rundown. She wanted to see it so much, but couldn't get in.
If you're going to be at PAX next week, you're in luck. Oculus is bringing the Rift to show to attendees of the show. I insist you go see it. And I recommend that you line up early.
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