I always wondered what happened to Virtual Reality after it first appeared in the arcade halls in the 1990′s, only to disappear again. I was blown away when I first tried a VR arcade game and even with its many shortcomings I could see vast potential in the technology. I was just a teenager at the time, but knew it was something special. It was disappointing to see that it slowly faded away, but I always knew it would come back again one day.
It seems like the wait is almost over… I finally received my first very own VR headset a few weeks ago, the Oculus Rift development kit. What follows are some of my impressions from playing various demos and games with the Oculus Rift.
The Rift arrived in a neat little plastic box, with all the cables you need. Just plug and play. There really isn’t more to it, very easy to get started.
It is important to mention though, that this is a developer kit and not really a toy. There is very little official software support at this point in time, and even when there is, it usually require some tweaking to get it running properly.
There are 3rd party drivers which can help you play some games that are without official support, but as I’ll explain in more detail below, it does require some patience and tweaking to get it running with the Rift.
A little tip is to use the Oculus Config Utility that comes with the Oculus SDK(downloadable from the developer section of the Oculus VR site) to measure your interpupillary distance (IPD) and calibrate accordingly. This will remove some of the blurriness and have the supported demos render correctly to your IPD. Team Fortress 2 and some 3rd party drivers have their own tools to calibrate.
Also, most games are not designed with VR in mind, so menus etc. will often be completely unreadable while wearing the Rift.
It’s been said 100s of times, so I’ll only mention it quick… screen resolution on the development kit is low, and to the point where it’s hard to fully enjoy the games. While 1280×800 screen resolution doesn’t sound too bad, when it’s an inch from your eyes it’s still becomes a problem. Oculus VR is already testing 1080p screens, and hopefully a final consumer version of the Oculus Rift will be even higher. To me, this is where the Rift will win or loose the race to bring virtual reality to the masses.
Everything else about the Rift is quite solid… it’s pretty much just a ski-mask with a monitor strapped in front of it with some head orientation tracking. It doesn’t come with any headphones, so I highly recommend getting a good set for when you play. Good sound make a huge difference for immersion. Personally I use a pair of Audio-Technica ATH-A700 headphones.
The Rift also comes with 3 different size lenses to help adjust for your vision and IPD and make room for glasses if you wear them. The screen can also be shifted slightly forward if needed.
There are a bunch of tech demos and little games available for the Rift, I suggest you start playing these to get a feel for the equipment before giving real games a try. You can find a list of the demos on Riftenabled.com. I tried a fair few but Blue Marble and VR Cinema3D were the two that stood out from the rest.
PC used for tesing:
CPU: Intel i7 980X
Motherboard: Asus Rampage Extreme III
RAM: 12GB Patriot Viper 1800 MHz
Graphics Card: Geforce GTX Titan 2-way SLI.
Blue Marble was the first demo I tried; and what a start. This is probably one of the best demos available right now and is a great way to show the potential of the Oculus Rift. Floating through space with soothing music.
Since the Oculus is Stereoscopic 3D, this in-game screenshots shows what is being rendered for each eye.
VR Cinema3D This is a great demo that basically let’s you watch movies as if you were in the cinema, with support for 3D movies this is a lot of fun to try, and it really do feel like you’re in a cinema minus the annoying people on their mobile phones. The low resolution get’s a bit in the way of fully enjoying the experience, but I can easily see myself watching movies this way when the commercial Rift is out.
Marmoset Toolbag is a real-time material editor and IBL renderer that just added Oculus Rift support. This is a lot of fun for a 3D artist like myself. It works really well, and only have a few bugs with DX11 tessellation (Marmoset version 1.10). It’s quite amazing to see your own 3D work in VR with 3D stereoscopic display.
Here is a screenshot of one of my personal works… (making of here.)
Skyrim is probably one of my all time favorite games, so this I was eager to try out. There is no official Oculus Rift support from Bethesda, but you can get decent results using 3rd party Vireio drivers. It takes some time in the forums and a fair amount of tweaking, particular if you have mods installed, but with a little patience it’s very playable. Combat and exploring works great, but even with tweaking, the UI leaves a little to be desired, particular inventory and dialogue UI are hard to read. But it’s one of those games where people keep trying to get it running, so I’m sure most of the problems will be solved in the coming months, but it’s certainly good enough to have some fun with. Some users have been able to get ENB mods running but I didn’t have so much luck as I would keep crashing to desktop when enabled, but all other mods I tried ran fine.
Try improved first person perspective with this mod. This will give you a body when you look down towards your feet, and it really adds to immersion.
DOOM 3 BFG
Doom 3 BFG was supposed to have shipped with the Oculus Rift Dev Kit but for some reason it didn’t happen. You can however still get to play it, just buy the game on steam and follow this simple guide to get going. Make sure to follow each step carefully. Once you’re in the game it’s quite amazing, that is one scary game and it will make you jump in your seat. The games looks a bit dated now, but still a lot of fun in the Rift.
War Thunder just recently got official Rift support and it is pretty awesome… still quite glitchy, but when it works it’s a really great experience… good looking game that is really perfect for VR, and it’s free to play. In general I think simulation games, cars, planes etc. are perfectly fitted to the Rift… just add a joystick or a driving wheel for car simulators and you’re in for a great ride. For cars, try out iRacing this game have official Oculus Rift support.
Team Fortress 2
Team Fortress 2 (TF2) With official support from Valve this game really lends itself to the Oculus Rift. The cartoony graphics look great even if the fast pace can be a little overwhelming at times. TF2 comes with its own calibration tool to configure the Rift, and you can find the whole guide to set it up here.
Half-Life 2 have some official support, but for me the game didn’t feel right inside the Rift, it tracked poorly with bad frame rate. But by copying the calibration settings from your TF2 config file into the HL2 config file everything seemed much better.
As a game developer I strongly believe in VR, and I really hope that this time, it’s here to stay. Of course the possibilities of VR stretches far beyond just games which just makes it even more exciting.
Playing games on the Oculus Rift immediately gives you a whole new experience, even old games you played many time before are new and exciting. With VR you’re no longer just looking into a game universe through a window(monitor), you are there, in the middle of it. With VR you get the right sense of scale and that makes a huge difference, you feel part of the world. Will every game be fun in VR, probably not, but done the right way, 3rd person games, strategy games can easily, and with great advantage, be played in Virtual Reality.
Nausea, yeah, you will get a little motion sickness when playing the Rift. It really depends on the game and there are tons of things game developers can do to minimize the effects in the way the game is designed. But for me at least, it seems to wear off and I can play longer sessions every time.
I for one cannot wait to see what comes next, and is very eager to develop my own games with Virtual Reality in mind.
Thanks for reading.