Some of you have seen the video on Youtube and have come here, for those that haven’t click the following link to watch me turn into a child who was given the best Christmas present ever!
Indie Developers Llamasoft were at PlayExpo Blackpool showing off their Oculus Rift enabled game Minotaur Rescue. It was a great opportunity for us to chat with Llamasoft and for me to finally see if the Oculus Rift was all it’s cracked up to be. All movie references intended… “Oculus Rift, we put their name to the test!”
When they first put the goggles in my hand it did not feel like a heavy piece of kit. It was lightweight and I was more worried that I was going to break it! That wasn’t the case. When I placed it on my head the straps felt a little small like it was set for a smaller head. I chose not to adjust it because there was a large queue behind me and I didn’t want to waste time.
With the goggles on my head the weight felt evenly distributed. Imagine it like someone balancing a book on your head, you can feel the weight there but your head doesn’t feel like it’s being pulled in any particular direction. The straps on attaching the goggles to my head did not rub because of the padding on the straps. The padding contacting the goggles to the front of my face was also comfortable. On the whole wearing the goggles was very very comfortable.
The goggles are designed to stay in place and I’ll explain that in the Control section. Also it is designed to allow you to wear any headphones/earphones without discomfort and I’ll talk about that in the Immersion section.
My eyes didn’t need to adjust in order to see the game clearly, if they did I couldn’t feel it. What I know is it did not feel like I was staring at a screen millimetres away from my face. In fact it didn’t even feel like I was staring at the screen on my desk 6 inches away! It genuinely felt my eyes were looking at an object that was a small distance in front of me… But it was much better than that!
The Oculus Rift intends to fill your peripheral vision and it does the job exceedingly well. When you turn your eyes to see more of the world you can see far more than you can see on your normal screen. You can prove this by adjusting your Field Of View (FOV) in FPS games. Increasing it will allow you to see more stuff on the screen at once. The screens are designed to display in a circle so that it naturally fits all the angles that your eyes can see. You can see the edge of the goggle’s FOV without straining the eye.
Minotaur Rescue does not use a controller. Your spaceship automatically and continuously shoots. In the center of your FOV is a cross hair which the ship flies to. So to move your ship and control its shooting direction is basically move your head. The further away from the ship you move your head, the faster it accelerates to catch the cross hair. The challenge is that the ship has physics which cause it to “rubberband” as it decelerates. So if you whip your head to get out of danger you then have to make sure the ship isn’t going to fly into a stray asteroid.
It felt completely natural to me. It was just like changing from a Nintendo 64 controller over to an old original Xbox controller. The game was designed really well so that you weren’t going to break your neck trying to avoid asteroids. Even using quick motions to move my head the goggles stayed firmly in place. It did not feel like the goggles slid around my head nor did they need readjusting every time I tried to dodge an asteroid.
Hats off to Llamasoft because this is an ingenious way to play games with the Oculus Rift. You don’t need to use any sort of controller and the control mechanisms are completely natural. Controlling the ship was just an extension of your own body’s capabilities.
This is what the Oculus Rift is designed to do. Instead of looking at a window to another world, it’s designed to put your eyes directly into the world. For the first three levels of the game Llamasoft deliberately left the headphones off my head. Between the third and fourth level the headphones came on and then I was zoned out from the “real-world”.
It was an awesome experience but the impression I got was that prolonged use will lead to a disconnection from reality. It’s not a negative aspect and I’ll explain exactly what was going through my mind. Normally when playing games I tend to lose track of exactly what my hands and rest of my body is doing. Sitting back and seeing the edge of my screen reminds me that I’m looking at a window into a virtual world. The Oculus Rift removes this window aspect and completely removes the rest of the world from view. Once the headphones are on the ambient sound from the world is also removed.
This is a good thing because your senses are not distracted by ambient sights and sounds which means your full audio and visual reaction speeds are increased. I believe that this actually improves your performance in-game. Of course I did say that prolonged use will create a disconnection and you have to remember that health and safety recommendations for playing any game is to have a 15 minute break after every hour of play. I won’t say more on the matter because I have been known to go 5+ hours straight on Call of Duty or Skyrim so I’m doomed when the Oculus Rift hits the shelves!
There is only one physical downside that I came across and it is mainly heat dispersion. When you’re wearing the goggles, the space between your eyes is in a concealed unit. Whether it was the heat from myself or the heat from the screen I can say my eyes felt warm. They weren’t hot or intense or dry, but I can sense that playing it for over an hour may dry your eyes out. That is the only flaw I could see.
Talking with my friends we discussed the subject of disorientation and nausea. Apparently the version 1.0 of the Oculus Rift has a lot of latency between head movement and in-game response. This comes from the game needing to draw everything twice. With the nVidia glasses the games will draw once and then switch eye for the next frame. Oculus Rift supported games MUST draw both eyes at the same time.
Llamasoft did something very clever to remove the latency problem so I didn’t feel sick in any way. The physics of the ship invite latency. The ship has to accelerate to top speed so your mind ignores the latency because you’re expecting a delay between your movement and the ship hitting top speed. According to the Oculus team, the Oculus Rift 2.0 has significant improvements in latency and there has a huge reduction in nausea.
JoypadAndMe founder Graham Coe discussed “returning to the real-world”. If you remove the goggles and headphones right away then it creates a small shock to your system because you suddenly have to adjust to looking around in a different way. To compensate for this the developers removed the headphones first so that your hearing can adjust to the ambient sounds and remind the brain we’re in reality. Then they take the goggles off.