PAX Prime 2013: Getting equipped with the Oculus Rift

he aspiration to develop the most immersive and simulative take on video games has been a task that has gradually gained progress in the last 20 years of the video game timeline, and the folks at Oculus Rift hope to pioneer a breakthrough that revolutionizes the way we play games today. We’ve all been sold on the pipe dream of consumer virtual reality before, so I’ll admit that up to the point to which I was able to meet and speak with the OCR team that my skepticism was a little thick to say the least. However, the moment I was strapped on with the high-tech scuba goggles, I can say that my shit was turned upside down and that I’m now a believer.

The first demonstration of the goggles in action was a static run through of I-racing, with no interaction or agency in controlling the car, but rather an observer on the sidelines. I was placed behind the eyes of a driver within the cockpit of an F-1 racecar, and the trial gave me an opportunity to observe all of those nifty feature that the specs boast as far as immersion goes. The visuals on my immediate person (such as my chest, arms, and lower torso) were a bit sparse in contrast to all of the sharp, featuring fleshed out modeling done with the car I was driving along the environment around me. As the race progressed, though, the intensity engaged my senses in a way where I felt like I was along for the ride. Near the finishing bend, one of the rival racers spun out control off the track, and my body naturally reacted to it the way I would have as the role of a passenger. I turned my head back to look at the chaotic blowout my opponent suffered, and the visual dash of the goggles specs reactively changed to reflect the peripheral views from the road ahead to behind my shoulder and the back spoiler of my speeding ride.

The sensation felt organic, and each angle and perspective featured this meticulous crafted draw-distance comparative to how my eyes would actually signal my brain how to gauge the distance around me. While the sensation employed a genuine sense of immersion, I was repelled a few times from the positioning and scope of the goggles views shifting out of view and wildly blurring whenever they slipped  slightly from my head movements. Similar to the restrictions of the Nintendo 3DS “cone” of display in where the Stereoscopic 3D works without blurring or distorting, the Oculus Rift is restricted to how well you’re strapped, and demands a certain arrangement against your eyes in order for them to properly adjust and focus the visuals on the sharp, crisp display they’re intended to be in.

The other demo was Hawken, and it was in fact playable. While the experience poises potential in being the definitive way to enjoy action-mech titles, it fleshed some other quirks in the Oculus hardware that I hope the team irons out within the final release.

While the demand for the perfect setup was mildly annoying at best, there was another flaw worth noting. And to be honest, this is the only thing holding back the Headset from realizing its true vision for the video game market: The blurring from rapid movement, which in turn simulates what I can only describe as an artificial sense of mild Saccadic masking.

To explain, when your eyes process visuals and signals impulse to the brain, there's only so much movement they can process. If your eyes process movement in a way that translates to be unnaturally fast, then your mind prevents certain elements from entering your eye's final rendering of whatever it is you saw. This is all done in the background, and you don't fully realize the full scope of the blur, other than the sensation of hurried movement. Overall, this was what happened through some minor instances when I started my play with Hawken. I can understand it’s tricky, because organically, your eyes need some of that blur to fully sell the engagement that machine is trying to accomplish, but the sensation was a bit too frequent. Because of this, I was knocked out of the experience a few times when the illusion of agency was reduced to noticeable emulation.

Aside from these small quirks, I was assured from the team that they’re well aware of the flaw and are currently working their hardest to fix it, which is relieving because aside from that, it was an incredible experience. As I progressed in Hawken, I adjusted my movements and head shifting and got lost in the awe of looking down at the ground as my mech rapidly ascended towards the sky.

The OCR team is aiming for a consumer price point of around $300 for the goggles, but nothing was concrete about it yet. The team is currently preparing development kits ready for studios to take advantage of them.

Like I said, I’m a believer. The promise of VR the Oculus offers isn’t some dumb gimmick or inflated marketing, it’s gradually coming along to be the real deal, and soon, it’ll be in our homes ready to play.

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