The Oculus Rift Diary – Part 1
The thing about VR is that it puts you into a virtual world, right? So, is there a better way for me to test things out than to plug myself into the granddaddy of 3D shooters and spend an hour blasting Fiends, Shamblers, and Scrags?
This was a fucking horrible idea.
The Rift handles Quake well, thanks to the superb job Phoboslab did with making the two play nice. Mouselook is tied to the horizontal axis, with you using your head to fine-tune your aim and to look/aim up and down. You turn with the mouse, but if an enemy pops out at you from the left, you can look at it and open fire. It’s surprisingly easy to get to grips with, and makes me feel like my eyes can launch murder beams. This is a power I have wished for many times.
Quake, however, does not handle the Rift well. Or my stomach does not handle Quake well through the Rift. Something like that.
Here’s the thing: Quake is fast-paced. Really fast-paced. It might not necessarily seem that fast-paced, but your player character accelerates from zero to about 30mph instantly, which is pretty much enough to make my brain shout WHAT THE FUCK and start trying to climb out of my ears. The fact that I was sat down, but was clearly moving under my own steam (and walking, and jumping) didn’t help, nor did the fact that the mouse was also affecting my turning.
Great game, and the Rift implementation works really well. This would be fantastic if it weren’t for the fact that I barely managed to finish E1M1 before I had to go and sit in a dark room for half an hour.
Also: I never realised how big most enemies are in this. The Rottweilers in particular are bloody huge.
And now back to our regularly scheduled quick looks at Rift games.
Because Quake wasn’t bad enough, I decided that the next thing to try (once my brain had been lulled back into a false sense of reality) was arcade-y freefalling game AaAaAA!!!. It has built in Oculus Rift support, and everything, and I can turn it off really really quickly if I need to.
This… was actually fine, which is a big surprise. I have a feeling there are a few reasons for this, though. One is that you’re pretty much only moving along one axis (horizontal) while continually looking in one direction (down). Another is that you’ve generally got a point of reference in the distance. I’m not sure about these reasons, but I’ll doubtless be touching on them again in a few weeks when I’ve got a bit more experience with what makes me ill and what doesn’t.
BLEURGH rating: 4/10. The bounce pads give a bit of a WAIT WHAT feeling, but other than that it doesn’t do much to inflict nausea… which is kinda surprising, since this is a game in which you’re falling as fast as you can and as close to buildings as you can.
Finally, something soothing. Blue Marble is a relaxatron: you convert an audio file into .ogg format, drop it into the directory, and then you go on a nice soothing ride though space while that music plays.
It’s… quite something. With the Oculus Rift securely strapped on and headphones attached to your ears, you do feel surprisingly like you’re in some sort of little spacecraft floating around Earth. You can look whichever way you like, and the craft will slowly turn to match your direction, while drifting along its predetermined course. You’ll drift past satellites and asteroids, watch the sun come up around the side of the Earth… it’s just lovely.
What’s also lovely is that the visuals are somewhat synced to the music, insofar as the length of the trip pretty much coincides with the length of the selected song. One I tried (The Chemical Brothers – The Private Psychedelic Reel) went on for longer than the ride, which obviously isn’t great, but then that’s 10 minutes long. Everything else worked fine. I would highly recommend Air’s Alone in Kyoto for a genuine sense of gentle wonder.
BLEURGH rating: 2/10. The very beginning, when your little pod leaves the spacecraft, can be a bit jarring. Beyond that, though, it’s smooth starsailing.
The Closing Comments
I’m simultaneously awed and disappointed in the Oculus Rift, which probably sounds confusing. I’m awed because when it works, it really is a hell of a thing. With headphones, it occasionally manages to completely fool the eyes and ears, and dropping into a completely virtual world evokes a feeling that defies description.
The disappointment mostly comes from the dev version I’m using. Right now, at least, I would highly recommend holding off for the consumer version. While the devkit is solidly built (it doesn’t feel like a prototype, at all) the low resolution is a bit of an issue, particularly when it comes to absolutely any text whatsoever. AaAaAA!!!‘s menus require a fair bit of squinting, and most of the little jokes are totally illegible. The “screen door” effect – in that you can see little dark lines in between the pixels making up the image – is in full effect, although you learn to ignore that fairly quickly. There’s usually a sense that I’m looking at the world through goggles or binoculars, mostly because of the big black outlines around my peripheral vision where the lenses don’t reach. The latter is unlikely to change, but the rest should – I’d hope – be fixed with the commercial release. This is why I was so amazed that Blocked In worked so well; despite all of these issues, I still forgot I wasn’t actually there.
In short: the potential is absolutely there. The devkit just doesn’t make the most of it right now – which isn’t a surprise. It’s a devkit.
Over the coming months I’ll continue detailing my experiences with more titles (particularly games that don’t natively support the Rift, like Far Cry 3, and games with proper built-in support, like Hawken), update you on whether the nausea with games like Quake is lessening as I adjust to the Rift, talk about anything exciting that’s happening, get other people to try it and relate their reactions and opinions, and start experimenting with what seems to be causing or reducing nausea. Stay tuned for lots more VR coverage.
If there’s anything you particularly want me to look at, examine, or comment on, post up a comment below. And yes, I’ll be taking a look at Rift horror sometime soon. You bastards.