As I've said numerous times before, Oculus VR's Rift headset is disruptive technology. 3DFX and its Voodoo GPU was disruptive back in the 90s, changing the gaming landscape forever by enabling hardware-accelerated true 3D. Adding GPUs to smartphones was disruptive as well, proving that mobile devices can be pocket-sized gaming machines capable of true 3D rendering. The Oculus Rift looks to change the gaming industry again.
Sure, that's a lot of talk, but you really don't fully realize what Oculus Rift brings to the table until it's planted on your face and you're running around chasing virtual butterflies fluttering over your head. You really don't feel the effects of 3D when it's rendered on a flat PC monitor or HDTV like you do with the Oculus Rift. Trees are actually there even if they're not photorealistic. Water is actually flowing at your feet even if you can't see your shoes.
However, currently the main immersion problem with virtual reality in general is that movement is limited to a gamepad and mouse/keyboard combo. Ultimately, you feel like you're seat-belted into a carnival ride, unable to move about freely on your own two feet but fully capable of directing the cart in the right direction, and looking around 360 degrees. No longer is the virtual head locked to the virtual body.
"Keyboards and mice and even gamepads – they're all kind of broken abstractions of how we actually interact with the world," Oculus VR's Palmer Luckey told TechRadar. "Keyboards and mice are superhuman interfaces that are very unintuitive. One of the things that the Rift does that's so powerful is that it lets people, anybody, even without hardcore FPS training, look around a world in a way that's natural."
The Virtuix Omni tries to eliminate the traditional peripheral input by allowing the gamer to actually walk with their feet on an omnidirectional treadmill. The platform doesn't move, but rather the user wears grooved shoes that dig into the slanted surface. Movement is picked up by a Kinect sensor and translated by software. Thus walking around in Half-Life 2 still seems a little kart-like, but at least the players feel like they're actually pushing forward using their feet instead of an analog stick.
In his interview with TechRaday, Luckey admitted that virtual reality is more than a visual input: the industry needs to rethink how gamers interact with these virtual environments. "It's not a natural interface. It's not something people can use, and it is not the best way to convince yourself you're in a virtual space," he said regarding traditional inputs. "I think we're going to need to see the same kind of revolution in input. The perfect interface is not a keyboard and mouse."
So does Luckey have a solution to the input problem? "I do, but nothing to announce," he said. Sounds like 2014 is going to be a disruptive year for wearable tech gaming in general, and we're almost there.