We asked some developers who were early to join the VR bandwagon to share memories of their first experiences with the new wave of VR technology represented by the Oculus Rift DK1, what it meant to them and where their it eventually led them.
You may have noticed we’re feeling a little nostalgic here at Road to VR today as people await the delivery of the consumer Oculus Rift. The same excitement we once felt to finally get our hands on the (now rudimentary) Rift DK1 back in 2013 will be shared by many more people around the world today as the first consumer Rift headsets begin to arrive.
To continue the theme, we reached out to developers whose work helped define the early days of the VR revolution and asked them for their retrospectives on their first foray into virtual reality with the DK1.
Daniel Ernst (The Shoebox Diorama) – Developer of Blocked In, The Marchland
It was somewhere in May 2013 I believe when my DK1 arrived. I did not open it right away, I always wait a day or two before opening something I have been anticipating for a long time it to let it sink in.
The big black box looked marvelous and I can still remember the smell of the DK1. I decided to skip the Tuscany demo and jump straight into Half Life 2 … I probably should have read the manual first, but I couldn’t help myself!
The first 5 minutes were of the rare sort of experiencing something new something that broadened your perspective. The last time I had that feeling was when I moved from SNES to the N64 and played Super Mario 64. And I had it when I stepped out of the train into the train station of City 17 in VR. A little security bot flew in front of my face and flashed me, the scale of the train station was palpable, I was there. Unfortunately after 5 minutes or so walking around my left and right eye started moving in separate directions, I did not even know that was physically possible. I spend the rest of the day in bed…
When the DK1 kickstarter was announced I taught myself how to code so I could start creating content right away. I was originally an artist & game designer. My first app was my stereo photo viewer app, a hobby project to hone my coding skills and have something to watch my stereo photos on. And soon after I started on ‘Blocked’ In and I was trying to find out how VR worked, how to do texturing how to to spatial audio and so on.
I created ‘Der Grosse Gottlieb‘ to play around with the positional tracking and now I have almost finished ‘The Marchland‘ and implemented motion controls on the HTC Vive. With each improvement of the tech I created a diorama to try and grasp the possibilities. And 3+ years later and the launch is almost here. A date I have been working towards and perhaps even feared a little for quite some time. It feels like an end of some sorts, and in a symbolical way it is, VR will be for everyone. But the truth is that it’s only just the beginning.
Justin Moravetz (Zero Transform) – Developer of Proton Pulse
The Oculus Rift DK1 is special to me for sparking my love for VR development. The very first thing I did with the HMD was get it running in Unity. I had a VERY early version of Proton Pulse waiting for the HMD to arrive. Before the DK1, the game worked just fine with mouse controls but in my mind, it was always intended for VR.
I mentally prepared myself for a long weekend of troubleshooting the DK1 SDK only to find that it was exceedingly quick and easy to use. I had Proton Pulse working with full input in less than an hour from the moment I unboxed the HMD. I was very happy since this allowed me to focus more on polish than trial and error. I added things like a menu, pause screen, and a method for calibration.
I decided to share my build on the oculus forum after tinkering around with the game for a few days. The forum thread started to grow much to my surprise. It was then that I knew I had to finish this title.
Here I am, nearly three years later and the game is finally ready to launch with the consumer Oculus Rift. The game has come a long way with many improvements over the years. Since then I’ve developed other titles like Pulsar Arena and Vanguard V, but Proton Pulse will always have a special place in my heart for being my first VR title.
Learn more about Justin’s company Zero Transform and their work in VR here. Proton Pulse will be available on Oculus Home at launch and is coming April 5th for the HTC Vive via Steam.
E McNeill – Developer of Darknet
I first got to try the Oculus Rift DK1 on the expo floor of GDC 2013, where I flew a mech through a futuristic cityscape in Hawken. I had heard a lot of good things about the headset, and my demo confirmed that yes, this thing worked, and VR was finally on its way.
That said, I take pride in being the wet blanket of VR devs, so it’s worth noting that I went into that demo with high expectations and a healthy dose of skepticism. My first experience showed me that the DK1 was promising, but flawed in some important ways.
When I built the original prototype of Darknet for the Oculus VR Jam later that year, I think that keeping a close eye on the device’s limitations led me to design a better game. Yes, it took some measure of audacity to get into VR development that early, but I think it was helpful to be a little circumspect as well. :)
E McNeill’s game Darknet will be launched alongside the Oculus Rift consumer edition, you can learn more about it by heading here.
Sean Edwards (Shovsoft) – Developer of Lunar Flight
I backed the DK1 as backer 2000 or there abouts. My first real moment where I felt VR was going to be a big deal was with an early demo called ‘Heli Hell’. It was a cockpit experience and was the catalyst that drove me to completely overhaul Lunar Flight for VR. It was an exciting time that reinvigorated me as slightly jaded developer having spent years in working on consoles. Lunar Flight sat at the #1 spot on Oculus share for close to 6 months and I estimate to have sold some 20,000+ units to VR enthusiasts.
The UI and UX work I did on Lunar Flight is something I am proud of as it helped to establish a lot of the best practices at the time. I invested everything I was earning off Lunar Flight into the VR conversion because I was pretty much convinced that VR was where I wanted to be.
Following the DK1 release I partnered with some friends to Kickstart a Zombie shooter called ZVR which I invested 9 months of time into. Sadly we were unsuccessful and we went our separate ways and I took a day job making mobile games to pay the bills.
I struggled with follow up releases as the SDKs evolved and over time Lunar Flight has slipped into obscurity, only remembered by most of the early pioneers and enthusiasts. Unfortunately, despite the critical acclaim it received it has not been something Oculus has shown much interest in. In fact it’s possible Lunar Flight may not see an official Oculus Home release in the foreseeable future for reasons I am not able to discuss at this time.
In the last few months I contracted a new artist to completely redo the cockpit to AAA standards and I am in the middle of a complete overhaul of the UI again to make everything contextually gaze based complete with full input configuration. We’re aiming for mid May release on Steam for HTC Vive and can’t wait to show everyone!
Look out for Lunar Flight’s return on SteamVR and HTC Vive in May this year.
Blair Renaud (IRIS VR) – Developer of Technolust
My first experience with the DK1 was awesome. At the time I was working as a Security Guard and had very little money. I convinced my wife that it was worth spending money I had accumulated selling Second Life assets on it. I spent the month or so after ordering it watching videos and downloading all of the demos I wanted to load up when it arrived. Here is my first post on the Oculus Forums asking “Where’s the cyberpunk love?”. I had never used Unity before that point.
When it arrived, I think I skipped Tuscany altogether for a while and went straight for Blue Marble, Titans of Space, Greebles and Blocked-In. My mind was blown. I of course got pretty sick without positional tracking and was depressed about it for a while. Then I dove into Unity. I saw the potential, I knew what I wanted from VR, and it’s all thanks to that awful little black tissue-box looking thing in the fancy case, living under my desk.
Tomáš Mariančík, (Solirax) – Developer of Sightline
When I tried Tuscany with the DK1 for the first time, it was an amazing surprise. I was already sold on the idea of being inside of virtual worlds, but actually experiencing it was something entirely different.
In the first few days, I played through the entire Half Life 2 series in VR and in the following months spent dozens, perhaps hundreds of hours in VR with my DK1 (most of it in TF2 and Minecrift). That’s how much I loved the new medium.It means to me a lot. When I got DK1, I was 21 and it was shortly after I left university, because I wanted to start something of my own and follow my own dreams and projects. It was difficult to get support from the beginning, even after winning a few awards and releasing SightLine: The Chair.
I hoped Oculus might help me out focus on VR fulltime since they talked about funding developers, but eventually the help came out of the blue from the Rothenberg Ventures, who invited me (and my colleague) to the first River VR and it’s thanks to their funding and support that I now spend my every day building awesome stuff for VR. Sometimes I think that I’m very lucky, since VR came just at the start of my career, so it definitely means a lot to me.
You can check out Tomas’ work over at his website here.