Vulnerability and VR: Crytek's tense Oculus Rift demo

2015 03 04 Cryengine Page00 Trex Gdc

I wasn't really scared of the T-rex staring me down. I'm pretty sure it was a loving stare, actually, and that I was a baby T-rex chilling in the nest. As I stood on the GDC 2015 show floor with an Oculus Rift Crescent Bay prototype on my head, I was scared of Crytek. I was scared that they'd tricked me into playing this demo so they could scare the crap out of me in public.

That would be a mean-spirited thing to do—making the T-rex snap my head off without warning—and of course, it didn't happen. After some roars, the dino bounded off into the jungle. But I had to tell myself that Crytek wouldn't do that to me the

The coolest thing about Crytek's 'Back to Dinosaur Island' demo is actually really sweet. As the T-rex peered into my eyes, I got a tap on the shoulder. "Tilt your head," said a voice from the other world. I did, and the beast tilted its head with me. The 'I tilt my head when you tilt your head game' is my freaking favorite thing about dogs. It's one of the best things about anything, really. It would've been more adorable if there were fewer sharp teeth involved, but I really liked it. Yet still, I'm thinking, "Hello dinosaur, please don't suddenly bite my head off. I will look very stupid if you do."

Wearing an Oculus Rift can be scary. If I'm watching a horror movie and I don't like what's about to happen, I can look away and study something in the room to remind myself that whatever awful finger-related injury is on the screen is just an effect. In VR, I am at the mercy of the game designer. They can make me jump whenever they want, or gross me out, or all kinds of things I haven't thought of because no one's done it. It is a very vulnerable position to be in, and makes VR not entirely pleasant.

It comes with the territory, though. Either I'm looking at a flat screen and there's that barrier between what's real and what's a game, or my vision is so filled with a new reality that I believe it and can be manipulated by it. Crytek and the Oculus Rift had me feeling that sense of VR 'presence' enough that a jump scare would've destroyed me, but it wasn't fully there. The demo was running on some fancy Nvidia hardware (though not the Titan X announced today) at over 90 fps, and looked gorgeous, but I had some issues with the Rift. The headset was uncomfortable over my glasses and there was a crack of light at the bottom, and though it's a massive improvement over the first Rift DK, I still felt like I was peering through a screen door. The consumer version is said to be another big leap, which is encouraging. I also wonder how much it would have improved if I'd been able to adjust the optics and not use my glasses.

It is close, though—whether or not it happens in this first round of consumer releases, I very much believe that VR tech is going to get to the point where we feel totally present in virtual worlds. And it made me realize that we're going to have to put a lot of trust in the people making VR games. They can't mess with us, or at least, not any more than we agree to be messed with before putting on the headset.

I will not be playing VR horror games.


As Executive Editor, Tyler spends a lot of time editing reviews and looking at spreadsheets, and whatever time is left over writing reviews. People joke that he doesn't like 90 percent of the games he plays, but he'll tell you he just has very discerning tastes.
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