For those of you who read Popzara religiously (we know you exist) and weren’t already aware: I’m the token vision-impaired member of the staff. I don’t have stereoscopic vision. In practical terms, this means that I lack depth perception, so 3D movies and games don’t work for me. More importantly, I can’t use those Magic Eye images that were all the rage in the 90s. I could’ve been the big man on my elementary school campus were it not for my inability to use Magic Eyes. Damn.
Generally, then, I have trouble getting excited when I hear about whatever new display gimmick is about to hit games. Remember when 3D TVs were going to be the next big thing? Yeah, I pretty much skipped those entirely. Just didn’t do it for me, largely because when I try to use one it’s like looking at the image through a puddle of Vaseline. For certain types of entertainment, sure, that’s fine – I think some of the less, er, well-produced films on Netflix would probably be better if I weren’t capable of seeing them. For games, though? Not so much.
Now the next big fad is VR, so of course I was primed and ready to ignore it since there’s no way it’ll do anything for me. I was even more primed and ready to ignore it when all the me-toos started popping up for a technology that’s not even readily available yet. At least there was a Wiimote before the Kinect and PS Move, you know? So I spent most of my time trying to forget VR existed, which became a tall order to fill as everyone from Microsoft to Burger King announced their own remarkably similar take on the concept.
Then one evening at E3, fellow editor Herman and I went to The MIX, an afterparty focusing on indie developers that might have been a little too small to make it onto the show floor. That’s where I ended up having my first experience with the Oculus Rift. Herman did too, but he’s been on the fence about the whole thing. Aside from a couple hangups associated with the fact that I wear glasses, it actually works. Holy crap.
Essentially, the Rift doesn’t simulate 3D vision, at least not to the extent where stereoscopic vision is required to use the device. Instead, it simulates immersion. As someone who spends most of his time immersed in the real world, I am quite capable of looking around, so this aspect of VR actually works just fine. The experience is similar to sitting in a spherical theater; as you look around, you can see a different picture in every direction. It’s actually pretty striking.
The first game I had the chance to try on Oculus was Tactera, a sort of pseudo-RTS. Now, the cynical side of me wants to say that there’s no reason this couldn’t be done on a more traditional interface. That’s actually correct. Still, my reptile brain was too busy being amazed that the system actually worked to process cynicism at the time.
You could look around in a complete sphere and see everything! You controlled the cursor with your vision instead of just a controller! This was something else and my brief time only left me wanting to try it again.
The second was Narcosis, a game based on undersea survival. This was a more traditional first-person game and, for the first time, I actually found myself getting a little motion sick. Given my usual immunity to that sort of thing, especially regarding video games, this came as a surprise and I didn’t stick with the game for very long. Both Herman and the game’s representative placed the blame on the DK2 I was using. This is an earlier version of the Rift headset with some quirks that are likely to be worked out by the time the consumer version of the Oculus Rift, swears new convert Herman, becomes available.
While I’m still not entirely convinced that VR is the wave of the future, I certainly had an interesting time finally trying out Oculus Rift for myself. Clearly this interface will lend itself to a style of game that’s not really possible elsewhere. It’s worth noting, though, that the market’s already starting to look a little crowded. As we’ve seen with the MOBA fad and the cancellations of even high-profile games in that genre, multiple identikit clones of the same product might not be the best business model. Still, I think too much has been invested in VR technology to count it out just yet, so we’ll have to see which direction things go in the future.