True virtual reality is often the pedestal upon which the future of gaming is placed; the ultimate goal to be achieved for games to become 100% realistic. Until recently, however, nothing had really come close. Nintendo’s Virtual Boy infamously bombed in the 90s, while 3D screen set-ups to simulate peripheral vision only go so far. Upstart company Oculus hopes to change that with their upcoming headset Rift, which attempts to deliver a true virtual reality experience.
The Oculus Rift gained exposure earlier this year when id Software’s John Carmack demoed the game at E3. I had a chance to sit down with the Oculus team and check out the headset for myself at PAX Prime, and I can say that the Rift mostly achieves what it sets out to do, though I have a few reservations.
Like the E3 showcase, my demo put me in the world of the upcoming Doom 3: BFG edition. Wearing the headset and soundproof headphones, you are completely transported into the world of the game. The inside of the headset has two lenses through which to view the game, creating stereoscopic 3D as well as true peripheral vision, creating a truly immersive experience. Most impressively, you control the camera by turning your head, with the game’s camera looking where you look. Movement and combat are still controlled by traditional controller or keyboard/mouse set-ups. While full camera control with your head is certainly an impressive feature, I asked Oculus if the final product would have the option to disable it for those inclined. They said that this would be up to the game developers, who will be getting dev kits this coming December.
My demo was solely with Doom 3, but the highest profile release set to support it is the upcoming mech/first-person shooter Hawken, going perfectly hand-in-hand with Rift’s attempt to merge gaming and reality. Oculus said that they were “big fans” of Capcom’s own mech game Steel Batallion, and hoped to take that style of immersion to the next level with Rift and Hawken.
I had a few reservations about the effect, such as with depth-of-field and conflicting camera control between the headset and the control sticks, though it’s entirely possible that these issues had more to do with Doom 3 specifically and less with the Oculus Rift itself. Either way, the Rift proves itself to be an amazing piece of technology, and I am immensely excited to see what devs are able to do with the dev kits in their hands. Though Oculus was not able to specify an official retail release date or price point, they were optimistic about the possibility of console versions, and perhaps even integration with motion controls. The Oculus Rift looks like it could open up a whole new range of gameplay experiences. I can’t wait to try it with other titles.