Every Tuesday Andy straps on the Oculus Rift and dives headfirst into the world of virtual reality. Is it really the future of PC gaming? Let's find out.
Now that the Facebook buyout story is yesterday's chip paper, everyone has stopped talking about Oculus Rift. Not me, though. The headset is a permanent fixture on my desk, and I'm always keeping my eye on sites like RiftEnabled and Oculus VR Share for new demos to try. It's a minefield, though. The open nature of the hardware means there's a lot of crap out there in Rift land, but it's amazing that most of the good ones I feature in The Rift Report are made by one person in their spare. Imagine what a team of 100 developers with a blockbuster budget could do.
This demo was created in Hutong Games' Unity plugin PlayMaker , which lets you create 3D adventure games with little or no coding experience. It's brief, lasting only a couple of minutes, but it's brilliantly scripted and animated. If you have an Oculus Rift, I advise playing it before reading on, because there's a surprise at the end that you should see for yourself.
I wake up in my apartment and wander into the kitchen where my wife is making coffee. I stroll past a mirror and notice that I can see my body, and spend five minutes tilting my head and watching my avatar copy my movements. Looking down and seeing a virtual body while using the Rift never feels quite right, but this is one of the best examples of it I've seen so far.
It's a fairly mundane domestic situation, until I find the gun. My wife starts yelling, understandably, but it's in Polish (I think) and I have no idea what she's saying. Seemingly unperturbed by her gun-waving husband, she turns to pour the coffee and, suddenly, there's a flash of electricity and she falls to the floor and starts convulsing violently. The screen begins to flicker, revealing that my 'wife' is, in fact, a robot, and I've been projecting some kind of VR 'skin' onto her.
The machine rises from the floor, rushes towards me, and grabs me by the neck, lifting me in the air effortlessly. Why would they make these robot wives so strong? Its eyes are glowing red with fury, but I still have the pistol. I squeeze the trigger and it keels over. Terminated.
This program lets you 'inject' Oculus Rift support into games that otherwise don't have it. Titles supported include Dishonored, Dear Esther, Skyrim, Borderlands 2, and Mirror's Edge, and although the effect isn't always perfect, it's still a thrill to explore these worlds in VR.
Skyrim feels much more massive in scale, especially when you have to crane your neck to see the peak of the Throat of the World. The rat-infested alleys of Dishonored's Dunwall feel grimier and more claustrophobic. Each game has its own quirks that you'll have to deal with, usually involving changing FOV settings, but most problems can be overcome by searching the forums.
Private Eye is inspired by Alfred Hitchcock's film Rear Window, in which a housebound photographer spies on his neighbours in an attempt to unravel what he thinks is a murder plot. The influence is clear, from the layout of the buildings, to the cast on your leg. You can zoom in with your binoculars, adjusting the focus to follow people and pick out clues in the environment.
In the demo I played, the structure was a little messy. I didn't really feel like I was piecing together clues to solve a mystery. It's more like an elaborate hidden object game, mixing objectives that relate to the murderer you're trying to catch, and more ordinary things like finding an old woman's missing cat. But, as simplistic as it is, it's a novel use of the Rift hardware, and professionally made.
I love the film noir soundtrack and the amount of detail there is to pick out in the world. “This is the result of three weeks spent pretty much entirely in my room going slightly mad,” says its creator, who recently showed the game off at Rezzed. “To see so many people enjoying Private Eye puts all the sweat, tears and sleepless nights into perspective.”
If you have a question about the Oculus Rift, ask Andy on Twitter , or leave a comment below, and he'll answer it in next week's column. Even the silly ones.
“Does the Rift affect your eyesight once you remove it and try to adjust to natural light again? Is the transition odd?” – Dominic Rogers
Not really. You'd think it would be more jarring, but I don't feel any sudden change in light when I emerge from the Rift after extended periods of time. But the longest I've used the Rift for in one session is about 40 minutes while playing Euro Truck Simulator 2, until it got too hot and I had to take it off. I imagine if you spent five hours in the thing, taking it off might be more of a shock to the senses.
“How easy is it to switch between the Rift and your monitors?” – Rich Smith
The way I have it set up, there's no need to switch. My computer recognises the Rift as a duplicate display, so when I load a game up, it appears on both the monitor and the in the Rift. On the monitor it looks like the screenshots above, with two separated images.
“What are the top things that induce barf? Do games need to adapt their design, or will players just get used to it? Did you?” – Marsh Davies
Different things make me queasy at different times. Often I'll get it if I'm looking down at my character's legs, then suddenly look up. Others when I'm banking sharply in a flying game like Elite: Dangerous. But it seems to affect people differently, so what's fine for me might be bad for you. There are people who can't use the Rift for more than five minutes without feeling like they're going to hurl.
I'm sure Oculus have people investigating this, because they'll need to consider the health and safety implications before they release it. You know that warning you always ignore about taking a break every hour while playing games? Surely it must be an even shorter amount of time in the Rift. Even as a seasoned VR user, I'm occasionally forced to take it off because I feel sick.