Oculus Rift isn't ready for public consumption just yet, but for those developers who will be pre-ordering the second dev kit for the VR device, the improvement in visual quality and the ability to lean into the image will make that $350 seem very reasonable.
The difference in visual quality is illustrated by having the original dev kit and the new version side-by-side at an event near GDC. I try out the Tuscan villa demo, transitioning from the familiar and somewhat blurry vision of a pleasant surrounding to something far sharper where I can now tilt my head clockwise and get a resulting interaction in-game. This tech has come a long way in a year.
There's almost no motion blur when I quickly turn my head, an issue with the original, and in general it feels like longer term play will be more feasible with a resolution of this quality. It's really impressive and a lot more professional-looking as a model, and given the mileage we've gotten out of the original in our office, I'm eager to start testing it with the novelty tech demos we've enjoyed over the months and something as impressive as Elite Dangerous with the improved visual quality.
One of the two tech demos Oculus were using to show off DK2 was the same Unreal Engine 4 demo Cory saw at CES earlier this year. In that, you can lean in to a tower defence-like design and witness individual soldiers marching around a high fantasy environment. There's limited interactivity - I can spam a few orcs with fire attacks - but it showcases how the Rift doesn't necessarily need to be associated with first-person games. Here, the player almost functions as a free camera as a result of wearing the headset, which is an interesting use of the tech that opens up a lot of other potential genres for use with the Rift - you could see how an RTS could play out neatly in this fashion, or even a game of FIFA. As restrictive as the demo is in terms of the player's abilities, showing how the camera control can be carefully mapped to the Rift is an important breakthrough of DK2 that unlocks more potential ideas for experimental developers.
The second tech demo is a fighting game set in a living room, where myself and another journalist could control our avatar's heads in a 3D space. We were looking at each other in game, but in real life we're staring in opposite directions. In the midst of this fairly realistic-looking space comes two fairly outlandish looking miniature fighters on the table in front of me, who have sword and fire attacks to damage each other with. I'm encouraged by Oculus to get my fighter to jump on my virtual knee and look down on it with the headset.
It's a bizarre moment, especially because the trousers I'm wearing in real-life are near identical to those in the game that are now being occupied by a small blue knight with a sword. After this odd moment of having my mind blown by virtual jeans, our characters start jumping around the living room and having a scrap. The score is tallied on the TV in front of both avatars. Again, it's nothing special in terms of actual game design, but there was a neat feeling of player expression as we tilted our heads from side to side and casually got our fighters hitting each other in a convincing environment. The quality of the headset display means I don't have to squint to make out details - even if it's not consumer-ready right now, it feels like they're getting there from the vast improvement in resolution and functionality.
There is still no timeframe for a mainstream release, and Luckey clearly still believes there's some way to go until this is ready to be in the hands of consumers. My time with the DK2 just reaffirms my belief that this is the most exciting thing happening in PC gaming, and its power to heighten traditionally passive interaction through the way it presents virtual places is remarkable. The DK2 is a good indicator of how fast Oculus VR is able to progress its technology - now I can't wait to see what developers do with it.