Oculus Rift – first experience

Yesterday we hooked up and experimented with the Oculus Rift VR goggles devkit for the first time. It was first and foremost very cool. I can now finally relate to a first-hand experience with the VR goggles and formulate some initial feedback on it.

Starting out

Installation of the hardware is a breeze. This is how you’d want a consumer to setup virtual reality. A USB and DVI plug into the computer, some power to the headset, set your graphics card to clone the image across monitors and you’re good to go. Major props.

Games

We tested a couple of applications:

Epic Citadel rollercoaster
The first demo we tried. Starting off with a painstakingly slow hoist to the highest point of the track we’re launched into a high-speed rollercoaster ride. I’ve been on a couple of real ones before, and the expectancy of experiencing G-forces combined with the immersive visuals threw me off guard almost immediately. Motion sickness was moderate at some of the tight bends but all in all very cool to race around in.

Planet 1 demo
At first glance this demo struck me as a nausea-generator, but it was actually the least discomforting demo we tried. You’re navigating around on a planet surface in some kind of hover-/spacecraft while avoiding incoming meteors. You can fly in every direction, look around you while flying the other way, do 360 loops etc. It’s great to just look around over your shoulder and see the rear side of the plane. What helped greatly here (I think) is the presence of a metal frame around the view position. When you look around you always have a frame of reference (which is similar to the rollercoaster demo; there the motion sickness is not caused by a lack of this frame of reference (the cart’s there, after all) but by the body not experiencing what you think it should, based on what you see).

Team Fortress 2
Once again the experience was very convincing. Looking down to see your virtual body holding a minigun or a bazooka is particularly nice, as is the ability to change the way the headset orientation affects the HUD and camera-behaviour. TF2 also has an in-game calibration method for setting the inter-pupillary distance. Don’t skip out on that step! It changes the image to completely fill up your own vision-boundaries and ‘pulls you in’ even more.

With this game I had the most trouble, motion sickness-wise. We played around with the different configurations camera behaviour and all that changing around, combined with the higher speed of gameplay and running in different directions than you’re looking in left me pretty sick in the end.

TF2 also makes the limited resolution of the displays apparent. Navigating the game’s menus and reading the in-game interface messages is quite hard, even with anti-aliasing up all the way and motion blur and V-sync turned off. The screen-door effect┬áis fairly noticeable as well. Hopefully that will be changed with later iterations of the hardware. I’m also quite curious to see if that would affect the degree of motion sickness I get.

Conclusion

I was most surprised about the motion sickness effects. In all my history of playing games I have never experienced it before, but that turns out to be no guarantee. The resolution of the displays is also a possible optimization.

All in all I think the Oculus Rift delivers a very good virtual reality experience. Installation is very easy, the headset is comfortable to wear and we didn’t have any technical trouble with it whatsoever. We will definitely be experimenting with using this headset for one or more serious game projects.

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