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QuakeCon Preview: Falling through the TV with Oculus Rift

4:00 PM on 08.04.2012 // Allistair Pinsof
  @DtoidAllistair

[Destructoid is grabbing its rail gun and heading to Dallas, Texas this weekend for QuakeCon. Stay posted for game news, previews, and strange happenings from the infamous LAN room.]

Leave it to id Software mastermind John Carmack to make the industry change their opinion of virtual reality. Though Duct tape and an eight-year-old game are part of his presentation of the much tweeted about Oculus Rift VR goggles, they speak volumes of both the product’s current state and Carmack’s approach.

What we got our hands on is only a prototype and not the finished model being funded through Kickstarter, but it did give us a glimpse into the future of immersive games. The awful memories of heavy, whiplash-inducing headsets and lagging, ugly visuals become a distant memory once you put these goggles on.

Even though you are looking at an aging game (Doom 3) with hardware literally taped together, you can’t help but smile at the future that Carmack is building. This is 2012’s curved hallways: A gaming innovation so simple in concept but has long been so hard to achieve for all except Carmack.

The hype around this technology is deserved, but it did sour my first experience with Rift due to high expectations. While Oculus and Carmack are building the future, they haven’t built it quite yet. The first two things I noticed upon wearing the VR set was the low resolution and limited 90-degree view. Carmack stressed that these are both minor issues that will be addressed in time, but they proved to be noticeable obstacles in becoming fully immersed in the game. I felt like I was staring point blank at a CRT -- a jarring experience in the 1080p-era.

Once I got past this complaint, I started to realize how fluid the visuals were and how I felt my presence in the game’s world. Believe me when I say this is not hyperbole: I felt a keen sense that I could take a literal step back into the game’s world. I could turn my head to see what is behind me and look up toward the ceiling. Where the experience lost me a bit was in the motion controlled gun. My head movement mapped to my aiming, so I could very slightly alter my view to raise and lower my gun.

For the VR demo, Carmack removed all HUD elements which made for a rather miserable playing experience since I had no way to aim my gun The red laser on Doom 3’s machine gun is there for visual flair and will actually lead to inaccurate shots if you aim by it. Carmack thinks new players will find aiming through VR sets easier than a game controller. This may be so but Carmack’s demo didn’t help sell me on this point.

Carmack and Oculus are doing what arcades and even the military could never achieve. Though Carmack isn’t planning on touching feedback vests and smell-o-vision, he is taking one dream-turned-laughing-stock of ‘90s gaming and making it into the reality we all wanted twenty-something years ago. This QuakeCon demo may not have sold me on this being the future -- who wants to stand to play a game or turn their head constantly in a heated multiplayer match? -- but it’s interesting to see how far Carmack has brought this technology.

As of right now, Oculus Rift isn’t for journalists and gamers but developers who share the same dream that Carmack does. Together they may build new experiences we can’t even conceive right now. Considering that, maybe it’d be better to hear what developers think of Carmack’s new tech toy?

Stay tuned for an upcoming feature where we ask developers what they think of the Oculus Rift.

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Allistair Pinsof,
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