If the recent Game Developers Conference in San Francisco showed us anything, it’s that we’re now one step closer to virtual reality (VR). The main player, which exhibited its latest VR ‘development kit’ at the conference, is Oculus VR. This week, Facebook announced it had bought Oculus VR for a cool $2 billion. Meanwhile, Sony has finally announced its competitor VR product for the PS4, currently known as ‘Project Morpheus’.
Last year, I got my first taste of VR after I ordered the first Oculus Rift development kit – which, not a game in itself, is marketed to games developers to help them produce VR games for Oculus technology. The Rift’s display fits into what look like ski goggles that fit over your eyes, completely blocking out the real world. It has a wide field-of-view, meaning the display takes up almost all of your vision, rather than creating the effect, as past models have, of looking at the world through toilet rolls. A different image is seen by each eye, giving a stereoscopic 3D experience unlike anything you’ve seen in a cinema. Having a 3D world wrapping around your field-of-vision makes things feel more real, giving a genuine sense of depth.
The real show-stopper for Oculus’ second development kit is the improved head tracking. When you put the first Rift on you could simply look around you, but the new kit takes this a step further. If you peer forwards you can look closer at a far-off object, or even around corners. It makes you feel like you’ve stepped into another world. Oculus call this ‘presence’: the feeling you get when technology comes together in such a way that, although you know you’re in a game, your body tells you that it’s real. Most of the current VR demo games are simple and gimmicky, but despite this you still have glimpses of the VR experience. Even with one of the first Rift’s more straightforward demos – in which you ride a rollercoaster built inside a medieval castle – users have screamed and felt sinking feelings as they roll along the virtual track.
Gaming has grown up in recent years. A renaissance of new indie developers has allowed for new experiences to be had. Gone are the days when gaming was merely about killing bad guys. Nowadays, the focus is on exploration of an environment and more compelling emotional responses – all of which go hand-in-hand with the VR experience. Indeed, running about, spinning in circles, strafing and blowing things up, as you would in a bog-standard action game, would probably make you nauseous as VR becomes more lifelike.
For VR, technology, content and will are finally coming together, leaving us waiting with bated breath for the VR-experience games have always dreamt of.