The Oculus Rift is at GDC 2013 this week. Earlier today I met with the Oculus team and got to test out he developer kit with the brand new Hawken, TF2, and DriVR and more. I also sat down for an interview with Oculus’ Palmer Luckey and Nate Mitchell which will come in due time. For now, take a look at the latest Oculus Rift demos:
The first thing you’ll notice when you put the Oculus Rift developer kit on your head is the low resolution. The second might be the ghosting that occurs when you rotate your head. This is, by all accounts, a developer kit that is not made for consumers. Oculus has said this time and again, and I want to reiterate it here. However, I have to say that once you start to move around, you lose sight of the ghosting and the low resolution and you start to become immersed in the world.
Both of the above mentioned ills will almost certainly be cured for the launch of the Oculus Rift consumer version; the company is well aware of which direction the hardware needs to go. The good news is that the developer kit should be sufficient for devs to get a head start on Oculus Rift development and — dare I say — even at this point it’s quite possible to have fun with the Rift.
Today was the first day that the company demoed Hawken with the Oculus Rift. They dropped me into a map populated by bots. Around you is a highly compelling and immersive cockpit. The Hakwen team has built out a 360 degree cockpit. The back of it behind your seat is understandably dull, but the controls up front make you want to reach out and touch them. I can already see someone building a cockpit simulator for Hawken and the Rift. When I looked down I was confused to not find my own two legs; it seems like they should just be there, because your brain is telling you that you’re inside the cockpit of a mech.
In front of you is the game world, but you are protected from it by the glass of the cockpit. Scratches on the glass give an incredible sense of depth. It really looks like that windshield is a few feet in front of you. To the right and left you can see your mechs arms/weapons. Also on the right is some dust on the glass that, again, really drove home the depth effect.
I started cruising around in my mech and shooting at enemies. There’s no reticle at the moment, but it was easy enough to feel where your weapons would land. I’m thinking that a virtual HUD (fighter pilot-style) projected onto the mech’s windshield might work really well for Hawken.
One fun thing to do was to fly up as high as possible, look straight down, and then drop to the ground. Not only do you get a satisfying ‘smash’ into the ground, but the feeling of actually falling is nearly present.
Combat wasn’t significantly more compelling than vanilla Hawken, but the sense of depth definitely helps immerse you into the game. A pair of surround-sound headphones and some careful sound design to complement the VR visuals would make for an incredible experience.
After about 10 minutes in Hawken I started to feel a bit dizzy. I took the Oculus Rift off for a minute or two before jumping into the next demo and fortunately the feeling didn’t return for any of them. It seems some games might be more prone to this than others.
DriVR is a virtual reality racing game that Oculus put together in Unity with some pre-made assets. Although it’s just a tech demo, it’s damn fun. Maybe more fun than Hakwen… that said, I only played for a few minutes. Part of the fun might have been from the force-feedback wheel that Oculus had me using.
In the game you are sitting in the driver’s seat of a red car. There’s almost no HUD, but if you look glance up through the big sunroof, you’ll see a virtual clock which I imagine will be used for lap times.
The car was placeholder art and had nothing more than a bland steering wheel inside. There’s obvious promise of how cool it would look to be inside once it is fully developed with gauges, pedals, and levers.
In the game you just cruise around and drift through turns with ease. After a few crashes into the wall, I got the hang of the drifting and it felt really cool to fly around the turns just right. I really hope that they continue to work on DriVR for the Oculus Rift!
Team Fortress 2
I didn’t have a chance to play TF2 myself, though I watched a few others take a stab at it. The control scheme looked like it would take some getting used to. Valve has programmed some 8 or so experimental control schemes so finding your ideal one might be part of it as well.
The game is what you expect out of TF2 except you are inside of your character. Valve still has some things to fix and update, such as preventing a third-person view when the player dies (as it can cause some weird feelings to suddenly be yanked out of first person). Valve is known to issue tons of updates to TF2 though so it’s likely that we’ll see continuous tweaks.
Epic Citadel has been shown before. It is the Unreal Engine showcase and although I spent the least amount of time in it of any of the demos, it left me wanting much more.
The game is much slower paced than the other demos. Instead of boosting around in a mech, cruising around in a car, or rocket jumping in TF2, you are slowly strolling around a detailed medieval castle. Snow falls around the landscape and each flake is a discernible distance from you thanks to the great 3D.
As I wandered down a slim alley, I looked up toward the enclosing buildings and really felt their scale. It wasn’t that they were extremely tall or anything, but the tops of the buildings actually felt far above me. The towering chapel gave the same great effect.
I can’t wait to see someone turn this space, or a similar one, into a puzzle/adventure game. The methodical exploration of a detail environment like Epic Citadel could be the first big thing for virtual reality gaming with the Oculus Rift.