The Oculus Rift Diary – Part 1
We’re told that virtual reality is the next big thing. We’re told that this is the forefront of a VR revolution. We’re told that VR is going to change everything; we’re told that games using VR will be a mind-blowing new experience; we’re told that VR is a literal game-changer.
I’m a brand-new Oculus Rift owner. In this diary series, I’m going to chronicle my thoughts and impressions as I use it, get others to use it, and watch it (and the software using it) evolve. Today, we’re going to start off with my very first impressions; I’ll tell you about how I set it up, what I tried, what amazed me, and what disappointed me. I’ll also be giving you a BLEURGH rating for everything I tried, based on how nauseous it made me feel. Zero is the “no nausea” end of the scale, while 10 is the danger zone.
I have a horrible feeling I’m going to wind up going to 11 by the time this diary series is through.
Setting up the Oculus Rift was astonishingly easy, which possibly shouldn’t come as much of a surprise considering that it’s mostly just a second screen. The headset is connected to a control box with power/brightness/contrast switches, and this control box connects to a power point, a USB port, and a DVI port on your video card – or possibly a DVI-D port. I get confused.
Happily, the Rift (which comes in a rather impressive black briefcase-looking box) also comes with a bunch of plug adapters for different regions; you simply replace the prong section of the plug with one of the others in the box. I say “simply.” It took me about half an hour to work out how to do this, but then again, I am Stupid.
And that, honestly, is it. Windows set it up properly pretty much immediately, and from then on I could use it as I wished. No software to install! No configurations to piss about with! Well… mostly.
While there’s no bundled software, and while the Rift worked fine out of the box, if you want to calibrate properly for your face you need to wander onto the developer section of the site and download a few little programs. These let you calibrate the Rift for magnetic drift (no, really) and for your interpupillary distance – the distance between your pupils.
This isn’t anywhere near as complicated as it sounds, thankfully. The former involves rolling the Rift around in your hands, and the latter is sort of like visiting an optician – you have to stare at a green line, and then move it until it’s just barely visible at the edge of your vision. Once that’s done, congratulations! Your Rift is working.
Next, I needed some software to try. There’s a big list on Wikipedia showing games with Rift support (and games planning Rift support) but, honestly, the developer forums were probably the most useful place to visit. This was where people posted up all sorts of little tech demos and artsy test programs, which means there’s plenty of stuff to pick and choose from. I’ve done a fair bit of delving, but here are a few things I fiddled with on my first day.
Blocked In (Link may or may not work; apologies)
This was the very first program I tried, and… well, despite being simple, it’s quite a thing. You’re a guy, sat on a stool in a dingy room. The radio in the corner is quietly burbling out the Tetris theme. On the desk in front of you is a dissected Tetris block, as well as a Gameboy, and a monochrome monitor showing what looks like a game of Tetris.
Then you look out the window, and see that there are Tetris blocks falling from the sky.
This is basically the entire thing – you just sit there and look around, and marvel at how everything’s in 3D. It’s a really, really good way to start off, too. Because there’s no movement (barring head tracking) there’s really very little nausea, and it gives a good sense of being somewhere entirely different. At one point I tried to reach out and touch something, and was actually surprised when A) I couldn’t see my hand, and B) I punched my window. In terms of creating an environment that feels real, this pretty much nailed it for me. That’s quite impressive, for reasons we’ll get into at the end of this diary update.
BLEURGH rating: 1/10. It’s only getting a score that high because it was the first thing I tried, so it was mildly disorienting.
I survived sitting down and looking around a room, but can I survive a rollercoaster? Yes. Yes I can. RiftCoaster is an on-rails rollercoaster set around the Epic Citadel. In fact, “set around” doesn’t really describe it – this is Epic Citadel, with a rollercoaster track laid out around its towers and valleys.
And bloody hell, it’s kinda weird. Despite the fact that I was sat down on my comfy chair in my room, there’s something genuinely nerve-wracking about going up a track alongside a big, big tower, and getting to the top, and just teetering over a sheer vertical drop… and then there’s a genuine sense of speed when you actually start to fall. Despite the fact that you’re sitting down in a comfy chair, not moving.
It’s a short track that just loops around on itself pretty quickly, but it’s another impressive display of the Rift technology. If nothing else, it shows that it’s pretty easy to fool the brain with expectations: it looks and sounds like you’re moving at high speed, so it’s hard not to actually feel that you’re moving at high speed.
BLEURGH rating: 3/10. There’s movement involved, but because you’re sat on a vehicle and not actually responsible for your own movement, it’s sort of like being a passenger. If you’re intolerant of rollercoasters it might be a lot higher, but this isn’t all that nausea-inducing.