VorpX is a new, commercial 3D driver which promises to unlock the virtual reality potential in your existing games library. We talk to its creator, Ralf Ostertag, to find out more.
“On the personal level, I’m — of course — a nerd”
We’ve had our hands on the beta version of vorpX for a couple of weeks now and are busy putting the finishing touches to the first part of our in-depth preview, due to land later this week. In the mean time, we wanted to know a little bit more about the man behind the vorpX project, so we spoke to Ralf Ostertag and asked him to fill us in.
Road to VR: Tell us a little about yourself.
Ralf: Professionally I’m what can be best described as a self-employed technical 3d artist, which means I’m doing content creation as well as programming work. Usually nothing gaming related, mostly product vizualization, cars, machinery that kind of stuff. Programming wise projects are mostly related to this work, quite specialized plugins for renderers and 3d-applications.
On the personal level, I’m — of course — a nerd, like most people doing jobs similar to mine. From time to time though I need a little break from being nerdy. When that’s the case, I jog a few miles or go windsurfing (greatest sport in the world by the way, everybody should try it!). And when I’m in the mood, I occasionally torture a piano.
Road to VR: Would you call yourself a VR enthusiast? What made you begin developing for the Rift?
Ralf: My story in this regard is most likely pretty similar to many of the slightly older guys who are interested in the Rift: I was quite intrigued by the idea of VR in the early- to mid-ninetees, when first (quite horrible) attempts where made to create VR consumer products. Then I nearly forgot about it, until last year a now well known young Californian came up with a slick low cost design made of mobile phone tech to make history.
Road to VR: Are you a gamer yourself?
Ralf: I’m a gamer for a pretty long time. My first real gaming computer was an Amiga, before that I owned a pre-historic console that most people won’t know about today, a Phillips G7000 (Odyssey 2 in the U.S.). That must have been in the early bronze age or so. At least gaming wise. Fortunately games weren’t as good as they are today, which is why I also started doing something productive with the machine. So, I never was a hardcore gamer who played dozens of hours a week, but I always loved (and love) to play role playing games of all kinds. A little shooter from time to time can’t hurt either, of course. Todays Bethesda-style first person RPGs are pretty close to what we dreamed of back in the day by the way. If only they would spend a little more development time for things beyond fighting…
Road to VR: How did vorpX come to be?
Ralf: vorpX started as a small image duplication + warping shader project that I hacked together directly after backing the Rift-Kickstarter. No 3D, no headtracking, just something I did to play a few classic games I wanted to try on the DIY-Rift I had built. But since I’m seldomly perfectly satisfied with anything I do, I started to add more and more functionality until eventually I realized that I invested too much time into the project to give it away for free. Since then it is called vorpX.
Road to VR: How much will vorpX go on sale for? What does your money buy you?
Ralf: Let’s first start with [what] vorpX does not buy you. I said that in quite a few discussions half a year ago, and I think it’s important to stick to the truth in this regard: vorpX does not magically convert any existing game into the 100% perfect VR experience. No driver for older games will do that, it’s up to games designed with VR in mind to deliver that experience.
That being said, what vorpX does buy you is the opportunity to play games you already own on the Rift right now in the best possible way. And by that I don’t mean just making a game ‘3D’. That’s important, but it’s not the most important thing when it comes to playing games beyond short tests. There is much more to consider. One example that I already talked about earlier: vorpX has a built in VR-menu, which let’s you map keyboard actions to a floating in-game menu that is operated by simply looking at ‘buttons’ you want to ‘press’. Think of it as a kind of augmented reality interface inside VR. That is not only pretty cool, it’s also a important thing for many games that use more (or more complex) keyboard shortcuts than just WASD.
There are quite a few features of this kind, dealing with UI problems, nausea inducing fixed cameras in cutscenes and so on.
So, all in all vorpX buys you a solid package that allows you to really play existing games on the Rift right now. About 80 DX9-DX11 games are supported in Stereo-3D, many more will just run without being officially supported. Only thing missing in unsupported games is Stereo-3D, but that works still pretty well.
As for the price: In the introduction period vorpX will be sold for 40$/35€, or roughly 50 cents for each supported game.
Road to VR: Are titles graded according to their compatibility and features?
Ralf: Yes, there is some kind of grading system, although I wouldn’t really call it this way. vorpX shows a short message on startup whenever it has something useful to say. This may be a compatibility hint, something a user should do to get the most out of the game or whatever else might make sense.
Road to VR: What overhead does vorpX add? Any significant performance penalties?
Ralf: That question is a bit hard to answer. vorpX’s standard Z-Buffer reconstruction only has a negligible performance penalty. There are a few optional features like autofocus with depth of field for example that increase this penalty slightly, but with standard settings it’s only 5-10%. So you will be able to play nearly all games at full and steady 60fps without the need for a high end gaming rig. It can’t be stressed enough how important that is on the Rift. Overall it’s clearly the most important thing. Everyone who got his/her Rift already will know this by now.
I realize though that there are a few 3D-enthusiasts with very high standards and beefy machines out there for whom Z-Buffer 3D might not be what they expect, so vorpX also has an additional mode that renders two distinctive views. As of now this is true for about half of the supported games. The performance penalty in this mode is the same as with all drivers that render two views: about 50%.
Road to VR: What are your future plans for developing vorpX?
Ralf: Besides adding more games, there are quite a few ideas. One for example is a built in community-module that will allow users to share settings, tips etc., which will further reduce the need for fiddling around with settings and give people even more time to actually play. Something that is one of the main goals of vorpX, by the way. Even now you have to setup next to nothing when starting a new game.
And of course there are even more ideas. But that’s nothing I can talk of right now (I-will-get-shot-if-I-tell-stu
Thanks to Ralf for taking the time to talk to us. We’ll be posting Part 1 of our extensive preview of vorpX early next week. In the mean time, read more about vorpX over at the official website here.