Illustration by Hector Lizarraga
Virtual reality gaming is back, and thanks to the Oculus Rift headset, it might be successful this time.
Oculus Rift is a head-mounted display capable of producing an immersive virtual reality gaming environment. The device made its debut in August 2012 with a staggeringly successful Kickstarter campaign, raising over $2.4 million. Since then, it’s been steadily gaining recognition as a landmark piece of technology. It won the 2013 Game Critics award for best Hardware/Peripheral and the 2013 Develop Awards Technical Innovation prize. Many titans of the gaming industry, such as Gabe Newell of Valve, and Dean Hall of DayZ, have endorsed the device as well.
The Oculus Rift hardware currently exists as a developer’s kit, or devkit — a solidly functioning prototype aimed to acclimate game programmers with the technology. A second generation of devkit with improved hardware is expected in the coming months and the consumer edition of the device is expected to launch near the end of 2014.
The headset is currently in development by Oculus VR, an Irvine based company founded by Palmer Luckey, a 20-year-old self-taught tinkerer who spent his teenage years collecting outdated virtual reality devices. According to Eurogamer, by dissecting his collection, Luckey realized that “…the only way to make something that was really good would be to throw out the design book that everyone else had used and start from scratch.”
Oculus VR has grown well beyond the limits of a garage tinkerer’s expectations. The company recently gained $16 million in funding as well as the leadership of CTO John Carmack, one of the most well respected minds in video game hardware (and the mind behind the innovative “Doom” and “Quake” series).
The Oculus Rift display works on the principle of stereoscopy, presenting two slightly offset images to each eye. The brain then blends these two images, creating an illusion of depth. The viewer receives a very wide field of view, so there’s almost no perceptible border to the image. To make the experience more dynamic, the headset is fitted with a set of motion sensors, coordinating the users’ head movements with what they see in the device — turn left, see left, look down, see down, etc. With these basic principles the Oculus Rift is able to immerse the wearer in an unbounded virtual space.
One of the biggest obstacles that Oculus VR has yet to mount is the issue of motion sickness. In its current state of development, the display has been noted to cause nausea and disorientation in some users. This may be an inherent caveat of the technology, but Oculus VR CEO Brendan Iribe believes it’s simply a technical matter of upgrading the screen resolution and lowering image latency. “We are at the edge of bringing you no motion sickness content,” said Iribe at the 2013 Gamers Inside conference in San Francisco.
It seems that the Oculus Rift will hit the ground running with a strong list of supported games. PC developers such as Valve and Mojang Studios have shown support for the headset with several titles, including “Team Fortress 2” and “Minecraft.” Epic Games has promised integrated support with its Unreal Engine, which could potentially open the doors for many other developers. Oculus has also released a software development kit to help more independent programmers create titles for the device.
The Oculus Rift has been surround with praise and expectation since its introduction. Although the final product is expected to ship late next year, gamers are already salivating over the potential of true virtual reality.