Oculus Rift A New Virtual Frontier - Games Weekly

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Sunday, October 19, 2014

Oculus Rift A New Virtual Frontier

With Oculus Rift, Project MorPheus and More Promising that the future is one of virtual Reality, there’s no doubting that this is an exciting time to be Playing video games. just What can the technology offer, though? We go ‘hands on’ to find out…
it’s one of the biggest questions currently consuming the videogame landscape: is virtual reality the future? you only need to look at the chatter coming out of e3 2014 to know that vR experiences are on everyone’s mind, with the Oculus Rift and sony’s Project Morpheus headset sparking  as many discussions and excited gasps as anything with Metal gear, batman or the Witcher stamped on the box.

the idea of being able to enter a digital world, explore it, look around through 360 degrees and stare a 20 foot dragon in the face is one thing, making vR work to the point where you simply must play it is another. Proponents say that it’s going to take over the landscape, that it’ll change the industry forever and redefine how we expect to interact with and experience games.

On the flipside, there’s the ‘fad’ camp the people that see this as little more than the next step in convincing consumers to add further peripheral clutter to their living rooms. the kind of clutter that, like a Rock band guitar or a tony hawk’s skateboard or dare we say a Kinect, will find its way to the attic after about seven months. Make that seven minutes, where the tony hawk’s skateboard is concerned.

having now played a number of games and tech demos on both the Oculus Rift and Project Morpheus we can tell you that the technology does work and that, with some tweaking, it could and in fact probably should become a mainstay of the future gaming landscape. in our humble opinion, however, in its current form at least, it will not take over gaming as some might have you believe. but more about that later; for now, let’s chat about aliens.

 “The Project Morpheus street luge Tech demo does away with your hands altogether, Placing full control in your head”
Alien: Isolation, the self-proclaimed ‘haunted house in outer space’ being developed by creative assembly, represents the most obvious means of immediately convincing gamers that virtual reality is worth getting excited about. The qualifier ‘gamers’ being the key word there, because it’s unlikely to convince anyone else in its present state.

If you’re not already intimately familiar with the standard control pad layout then you won’t be able to play Isolation on an Oculus Rift. This is because the game requires you to use such an input device to move around and interact with the environment while Rift is strapped to your head. You can’t see the pad, so if you haven’t already memorised its layout then you can’t effectively play the game. It’s a simple but genuine barrier to entry that the industry must overcome before this technology can
go mainstream.

On the other hand, gamers rejoice! Isolation is genuinely a joy to play using the Rift. You control your feet via the analogue sticks, but subtle movements such as looking around, standing on tiptoe and tilting your view are performed by simply moving your head in the desired direction.

For example, when crouching behind a desk you can move your head to look between boxes and other such items standing between you and the xenomorph.

sense. However, experiencing this level of control firsthand genuinely feels revolutionary; primarily as the sense of drama is raised significantly. If you happen to spot the alien when glancing between a computer and a coffee mug your natural reaction is to crouch and get out of his potential vision, the act of cowering accurately and immediately replicated by your in game self. It’s that immediacy that really adds to the immersion and sense of peril.

Always in the back of your mind is the fact that you’re holding a control pad, though. What’s happening in front of your eyes might feel fresh and exciting, but what’s happening in your hands is exactly what we’ve been used to for 30 years or more. The juxtaposition is palpable, like piloting a fighter jet using the steering column of a World War II truck.

“with some tweaking it could become a mainstay of gaming’s future”

To what extent a traditional game controller disrupts the experience depends very much on the genre, however. EVE Valkyrie, CCP Games’ space-dogfighter set in the EVE Online universe, is unhindered with pad in hand. The ship’s movement is controlled with an analogue stick and weapons are fired with the triggers you don’t need years of gaming experience to master that. Even on some basic level we know how to steer a ship using a rudder, so the input feels much more natural than
fiddling with a stick to walk does in games like Isolation.

Valkyrie makes one particularly good use of the motion technology inherent to Rift, in that you can guide missiles towards targets by moving your head; whichever direction you look is the way the missile will go.

Independently of this, though, you must remember to guide your ship with your hands a feat of multi tasking that is initially more difficult than it sounds, following years of single-tasking in the flight sims of past and present.

The Project Morpheus Street Luge tech demo does away with your hands altogether, placing full control in your head. Don’t get too excited; that’s your head, not your mind. With only your feet visible in front of you, you glide down streets avoiding cars, trucks and barriers as you go, while tilting your head from side to side to steer.

Having your vision be completely consumed by the Morpheus headset results in a genuine sense of speed, any immersion-reducing peripheral vision taken completely out of the picture. Street Luge does not have the depth to become a fully fledged game, but it remains perhaps the best example of how VR can turn the simplest of concepts into something engaging and far more exciting than they would otherwise be.

The idea that such technology will consume, take over and generally usurp the videogame landscape as it exists today is a fallacy, though. VR will play an increasingly important role as the future unfolds, but to suggest that it will take over is a step too far. Firstly, it’s not social enough. Putting on an isolating headset is hardly the best way to engage with friends in the good-natured competition offered by Mario Kart, FIFA and Smash Bros. Sony claims to have at least a partial fix to this limitation by showing on the TV screen what the Morpheus wearer is seeing, but this is the most passive  of social connections.

Secondly, the tech as it exists is simply too cumbersome. Wearing something the size and weight of night vision goggles on your head is fine for bouts of space fighting and racing down hills, but it’s not suitable at all for the more dulcet and slower paced tones of Football Manager, Civilization, Don’t Starve or an MMO.

There’s no doubt that designers will figure out how to make such games work using VR, but the point is that the experience is too intense and immediate to make it suitable for extended sessions. VR is interesting, wonderful and incredibly exciting. It’s a technology that can offer so much to so many different kinds of games. What it isn’t, though, is a replacement for  the way we currently play. Think of it like Christmas pudding: it’s great, it’s special, but you don’t want it every day.


Some designers are already looking to take the virtual reality experience a step (literally) further than just the headset. The Omni, from Texas based Virtuix, enables you to walk through videogames your every step accounted for and replicated in the game world.

Virtuix claims that full immersion can’t be achieved by sitting down, which is why it has spent so much time and effort developing the Omni and getting it successfully funded through Kickstarter. Clearly the consumer base is right on board with the concept the company asking for $150,000, but getting over $1.1 million from crowdfunding.

By climbing onto a small platform while wearing a set of specially designed shoes, the Omni acts as a kind of treadmill that can pick up your every step, jump and crouch. Imagine playing Call of Duty, only if you don’t crouch in real life your head is going to get blown off. You’ll need to wear something like an Oculus Rift to experience the virtual reality aspect, of course, otherwise you’re just using a treadmill as a controller.

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