Your fearless editor is today nursing a bucket and some herbal tea, because yesterday I went a round with the Oculus Rift gaming headset. Sure, it’s a whole lot of future that you can strap to your goddamn head, but it might just be too much future, too fast and now I need a lie-down.
If you’ve never heard of the Oculus Rift before, that’s ok. It’s still in the development phase.
The Oculus Rift is a device that attaches to your head and sits in front of your eyes. It has two screens inside a black box that act as a head mounted, stereoscopic display. The great thing about the Rift is that wherever you look, that’s where your character looks in the virtual world. It looks like Google Glass on steroids: a giant black box attached to ski goggles strapped onto your head. You don’t look fetching in this, trust me.
The upside is that there’s no more moving the mouse around to reorient your character. Just look and move. It’s true immersion in a game, and it’s pretty incredible.
The Oculus Rift is yet another success story out of the crowdfunding supermarket, Kickstarter. Posted in August last year with a funding target of $US250,000, the Rift went on to be one of the most successful projects, finally getting funded in September 2012 with almost $US2.5 million in backing.
It went on to win a bunch of awards, despite not being a full retail product just yet, and already developers are hacking it with other technologies to further change the way people video games. Needless to say, we were pretty excited to get our hands on it and test.
It’s pretty confronting putting what feels like two giant screens in front of your face, especially combined with the sensory depravation that goes along with completely covering your eyes. Once you get used to that, you’re then bombarded by the stereoscopic display in front of you and you struggle to adjust.
We didn’t actually play any games on the Rift — for that you can check out Kotaku’s hands-on with Team Fortress — instead we did a virtual walkaround of the Rift’s demo environment.
The strangest part by far is holding your hands up in front of your face or looking down at your feet and not actually seeing your extremities. You’re a floating head in space. Climbing stairs, looking out over vistas, even walking up to a roaring fireplace made my head spin, not because of the 3D, but because your brain tells you that you should be feeling all the sensations that go along with the various external stimuli.
You walk up to a fire and put your hands out instinctively to warm yourself, you walk up stairs but don’t feel any effort or strain in your legs, you don’t squint at the light of the sun, feel yourself fall or smell anything. Your brain goes one of two ways with this: it reconciles that you’re in the Matrix, and that’s fine, or it freaks out, and you’re left with a strange buzzing in the back of your head for days. I am the latter.
The Oculus Rift is amazing, but it’s also the most polarising product I have ever used.
I’m off to lie-down again now.