"Holy $#!+," I blurted after the Oculus Rift VR goggles were slapped on my face. It had nothing to do with the device's physical aspect – the Oculus Rift was surprisingly light on my head despite its bulky appearance. I just didn't expect to see what my eyes were sending to my brain, and everyone in the dark room laughed at my sudden outburst.
I would have said more, but I found myself a little speechless thereafter, lost wandering the streets of the Epic Citadel demo. I knew the experience would be awesomely cool, but I didn't expect to still be talking about it a week later to everyone I know.
If you were there when id Software and 3Dfx changed PC gaming, then you might know what's coming for you. At the time, John Carmack and his gang turned the grainy, pixilated polygon-based world of 1996's Quake into a super-smooth environment with believable lighting effects. Heck, I can't even remember Quake without GPU support now, but I remember cursing the moment I saw what the difference dedicated hardware support made.
This will likely be the very reaction every PC gamer will have when they use the Oculus Rift. In the private demo held by the Oculus team, I was seated in a chair and given a gamepad. The goggles were placed on my head and I was asked to look up, look down, look left, look right, and then look over my shoulder for calibration. That's right: you can see whatever is behind you without having to turn your virtual body.
Thus began my journey in Epic Citadel. If you've never seen the demo, it might as well be a level ripped out of an Unreal Tournament game, featuring a medieval castle landscape enriched with detailed textures, beautiful architecture, stone-laid roads, dynamic lighting, and more visual goodness. What's missing from the iOS demo is actual weather effects, kingdom inhabitants and objects you can climb onto.
Honestly it took me a while to get used to the fact that I could physically look up to see the cloudy sky and its flying occupants rather than use a thumbstick on the supplied gamepad (this was how I moved in the demo). For so many years I've used my mouse to look around in virtual environments, so the head tracking aspect didn't come naturally. However once I got my footing, the first thing the team pointed out was the falling snow, an effect added for this demonstration.
The following is no over-exaggeration: the snow looked physical enough that I opened my mouth, hoping a flake could land on my tongue. Of course that didn't happen, and I probably looked really stupid opening my mouth. But the falling snow presented an impressive measure of depth, more so than if I had walked through the same environment on my PC.
The demo also saw the insertion of local towns folk. Some moved and some were stationary, talking to other NPCs about whatever fake people discuss. This is what really made my jaw drop the most: how physical the NPCs "felt". I would circle around a knight, keeping my vision focused on his helmet while my hands maneuvered my virtual body around its form. He seemed to be there – I don't know how else to describe it – a seemingly real person in armor with no apparent seams or polygon bleeds or anything. Naturally if you reach out, the knight really isn't there in physical form, but damn if your senses aren't telling you otherwise.
The updated demo also included wooden crates, and Epic Games obviously stacked them for people like myself who felt it necessary to climb and dominate like some virtual king of the mountain. Like most FPS games, you move with the thumbstick and jump with one of the action buttons, and that's what I did, but used my actual head to look up and down as I climbed the boxes. I must admit that I hope to see this headset again with a working rocket launcher in a deathmatch scenario so I can see what it's like to rocket jump over a few opponents.
Keep in mind, if you will, that during my entire venture through Epic Citadel, I was using my head to look around in the virtual world, to point myself in a specific direction, not the gamepad's thumbstick. This may take some getting used to, especially for PC gamers who are accustomed to the keyboard and mouse combo. But there's no question that it makes a virtual environment more "immersive" because you can freely look around as if you were walking in the park, admiring the surrounding scenery and sunny skies.
The only problem I had with the Oculus Rift was that you're completely cut off from reality. That's the point! Yes, I know, but if you also have the sound plugged into your ears, you have no way of knowing if someone is sneaking up on you (intentional or unintentional). It may come down to the team adding a small camera on the outside – along with a possible push button – that allows the user to pause the game and see the feed without forcing the user to take the goggles completely off their head. Founder Palmer Luckey seemed to like the idea, but I may have been full of myself at the time.
Towards the end of our meeting with Oculus, I asked Palmer if he felt overwhelmed by all the recent exposure. Heck, at 20 years old (and it's been a while), I'd be a little overloaded myself hands down. He admitted that it can be at times, but added that he's surrounded by a great group of guys who want to see the goggles succeed. I agreed, and I walked away from the suite thankful for the chance to meet the brilliant guy who has changed gaming as we know it.
Stay on the Cutting Edge
Join the experts who read Tom's Hardware for the inside track on enthusiast PC tech news — and have for over 25 years. We'll send breaking news and in-depth reviews of CPUs, GPUs, AI, maker hardware and more straight to your inbox.
I will purchase one of these. I don't care if it costs $200+ early on.Reply
I've been waiting for believable, practical consumer VR for a long time, now. It's finally happening!
Pretty cool, but thats about itReply
Can't wait to have these working and on my head! Just get it right and don't rush it. You know what happens when you rush miracles!Reply
Can we get an article on prices, pc requirements, and what they will do for those who have vision problems in one eye *no glasses and those who have glasses?Reply
3D movies make me sick. Can't think this'll be any better.Reply
Then again, I could always vomit and pass out every time I play L4D2 which would bring a new exicting element to it!
" talking to other NPCs about whatever fake people discuss" fasion?Reply
but yea really looking forward to getting a chance to put a pari of these on the reviews are all so positive eitehr they are payign people off or they are just that good and hoping it is the latter
I am so excited to try this out. I do hope they can keep the price down. I recently took a 45 min road trip to demo the Sony head mounted display which costs $800 (way too much in my opinion). It didn't quite meet my expectations. It looked great for watching movies, but I switched it over to a game and was playing Sonic the Hedgehog. I found it difficult to focus on things while moving very quickly. I kept running into enemies. Also, if you shifted your head around a little, you would lose that sweet spot where the two optics (screens or whatever they are called) are right in front of your eyes. I hope Oculus Rift can improve on this and doesn't have such a ridiculous price.Reply
Everything I hear about Rift sounds too good to be true. I cannot wait for an opportunity to play with one myself.Reply
Kevin, I am curious about a few things that you might be able to clear up:
1) Did the low resolution of the device stand out? I just know that my 1080p screen screams pixel problems that have me begging for a retina style display for the desktop. I just find it difficult to believe that a screen which is below 1080p, and then only having 1/2 that res per eye could be that immersive.
2) Any wierd feelings of vertigo or disorientation during the demo? Or does the good head tracking fix that to better integrate the virtual with reality?
3) Any word about this being used with something like kinnect or even Emotiv in order to get rid of the controller entirely? I would imagine that with the visuals being so convincing that the fact you have to use a controller would pull you out of the experience.
4) Similarly, any word on some form of haptic feedback to 'complete' the experience? I love that new games have gone towards a simplistic HUD experience, and I think that some form of haptic feedback would give more of a 'pure' game experience where you simply see and feel the world around you.
It all sounds like very cool tech.