Hands-On with Oculus Rift: Virtual Reality Is Almost Here, Finally

It's awesome, except for the Dude, Where's My Torso? moment.

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Patrick T. Fallon / Bloomberg via Getty Images

A man wears the Oculus Rift virtual reality gaming headset and an audio enabled helmet during the E3 Expo at the Los Angeles Convention Center on Tuesday, June 11, 2013 in Los Angeles, California, USA. Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg

Unity Demo in Oculus

I’m old enough that I’ve had my heart broken by virtual reality before. In 1992 I waited on line for forty-five minutes for a chance to play Dactyl Nightmare. I’ll never have that time back. And the emotional scars that Nintendo’s Virtual Boy left on my heart have not healed.

But they feel a lot better now that I’ve seen Oculus Rift.

There’s a lot of hype about this device, but I was keeping my expectations low. I’ve been hurt before. Oculus Rift is a virtual reality headset developed by an independent company that got some of its funding from a Kickstarter campaign last  year. It’s been endorsed by a lot of major figures in the gaming world, but I only got interested last month when John Carmack—the industry legend who developed the technology behind Doom and Quake, and who is pretty much the definition of credibility in my book—signed on as CTO. What I saw was still a prototype, but it’s well past the glue-gun phase: it looks like a pair of black plastic ski goggles with a big opaque lens. It’s light and pretty comfortable, and it fit over my glasses.

But to get to the point: it works. They put me in a demo based on the Unreal 4 engine. Nothing fancy, just a winter landscape, a looming castle, light snow falling out of a darkening sky. The feeling of immersion is difficult to capture in words, but as soon as you’ve got the headset on you realize that every time you’ve played a video game, ever, your mind has been doing the work of ignoring the fact that your peripheral vision is full of reality: non-game stimuli. Once you put Oculus Rift on, you can stop working. You can relax. Your peripheral vision is full of game.

It didn’t sink in fully till my native guide—Oculus CEO Brendan Iribe—suggested I look behind me. As I turned my head to look over my shoulder, and the viewpoint tracked accordingly, I kept expecting to get to the edge of the frame…but there is no edge. You’re all the way in. The circle of the world is complete. The goggles followed my head movements smoothly—I noticed no glitches. I looked up, straight up into the purple sky, and saw snowflakes sifting down from directly above me; I almost expected to feel them settling on my face. At that point my brain said no más. It surrendered to the illusion completely.

Caveats? It’s disconcerting looking down and not seeing your own body in the game-world with you—there’s a definite moment of dude where’s my torso. I’ve also heard reports of people getting nauseous or disoriented in Oculus Rift, but they may have been using earlier prototypes that weren’t precise enough to pass your inner ear’s bullshit test. It may just be that I’m a good test subject for this kind of thing: I’m one of those people whose inner ears are easily fooled, and I have a stomach of iron—I don’t get motion sickness.

But those are just footnotes to what was an astoundingly compelling experience. I’m sold: VR is being cracked, and these are the guys who are doing it. Over the years I’ve been lucky enough to get early pre-release looks at some transformative, breakthrough technologies, including Xbox 360, Wii and Kinect. This felt like those. It’s going to change the game.

17 comments
news1993
news1993

Oculus Rift seems like an incredible new gaming device.  You get so involved in the game because there is no glitches to make you believe it isn't real.  The problem I can see is if people get too involved in the games, they could hurt themselves by running into things, etc.

MichaelShoup
MichaelShoup

One question... couldn't this cause Heart Attacks, Coma's, and Seizures???

NeoracerXox
NeoracerXox

You just dont know how good it is till you try it, it literally fools your brain into thinking its somewhere else, wherever that may be. When I tried the roller coaster demo I could NOT convince my brain I was sitting in a room infront of a computer, it believed I was 200 feet up in the air on a rickety train track..and I felt FEAR! DAMN! Intense..

ChrisGelson
ChrisGelson

Lev, I remember playing Dactyl Nightmare back in the early90's at the World Trade Center. It was right across from Sbarros Pizza. If I remember correctly it was like$5 for 3 and half minutes but it was worth every penny. I remember the racing game they had there as well though, it wasn't as good as nightmare. Never forget those words "Bird is coming" man I got picked up so many times and dropped! It was awesome. Did you play at the World Trade Center or another location? Ever since then I have been waiting for VR. I have the i glasses and several other head mounted displays but they fell short.  I am hoping the Rift lives up to everything everyone says it is. Great article. Keep us informed.

davivincent
davivincent

Wii and Kinect are gimmicks in comparison with the Rift...

VRSexLab
VRSexLab

Those that have not yet seen demos of Oculus are in for a pleasant surprise.

And imagine the impact this technology will have on the adult industry.

This is a game changer for sure!! 

crim3
crim3

"I don’t get motion sickness" - You'll get

NathanThorin
NathanThorin

Indeed! The world is waking up. We at GalactaVision are doing our part to make it that much more accessible. If you are in the Milwaukee/Madison, Wi area please come check it out firsthand at one of our events in Oct. Posted at: www.facebook.com/galactavision

Dasher
Dasher

I own an Oculus Rift and it's definitely the future. It has so much potential, not just in games but also for other things such as therapy or curing phobias... There potential is there, and the product (the Rift) is going to be there when it launches commercially. After playing games with this thing on an almost daily basis I can tell you it's a game changer.

If you're interested in seeing what it looks like in action, I've got a few videos on my YouTube channel @ http://www.youtube.com/ResetLoad

I really can't wait until this thing officially launches, it's going to be an incredible time to live in.

JoYardley
JoYardley

The virtual reality renaissance is here, or should I perhaps say revolution?

Recently someone made it possible to visit the virtual online world of Second Life with the Oculus Rift.

Can you imagine?!

Not just playing games and exploring worlds created by game designers at your finger tips, but now you can also visit worlds created by friends, family or yourself!

The possibilities are endless and it seems things have only just begun.

Look into the Virtuix Omni (it enables you to walk in real life and virtual worlds at the same time), the Leap motion, the Structure Sensor, and you'll see the amazing possibilites on the horizon!

Here, I wrote about it in my blog;

http://joyardley.wordpress.com/2013/09/18/virtual-reality-progress/

Gilbert452
Gilbert452

@MichaelShoup I'm pretty sure people said this when sound was added to silent films and when color was added to film.

NathanThorin
NathanThorin

@crim3 In our experience testing it on over 100 people thus far, only about 1 in 20 experience some dizzyness the first time around, and usually only with high-speed games, or ones with flashing lights. It's not enough to deter people from trying it again, and there are fixes in the works.