Oculus Rift preview

3D gaming has come a long way in the past 30 years, developing from games such as Elite to what present day franchises like Battlefield and Crysis show us. The next leap in 3D gaming is upon us with the re-invention of 3D virtual reality helmets. The Oculus Rift, now enjoying the support from industry legend John Carmack, is arguably the most promising initiative in this field. We took a developer kit for a test flight recently and couldn’t help be impressed.

The problem with 3D virtual reality helmets has, for a long time, been the technology. You might remember initiatives from the early 90s that were bulky and couldn’t deliver a convincing enough 3D world – never elevating the concept beyond that of a mere novelty or gadget. The Oculus Rift is set to change that by offering a feeling of immersiveness that is hard to rival. And it doesn’t require you to strap a 10 pound monitor to your face either.

The Oculus Rift is worn using a rubber stretchband that keeps the device in place on your head, and is surprisingly comfortable (at least for the duration of the demo we had). The device weighs less than 400 grams (less than a pound) and requires games to include the appropriate software libraries to be able to display anything. So while you’re waiting for your game to load up, you see…. nothing.

We were shown what the Oculus Rift can do using the upcoming IL-2 Sturmovik: Battle of Stalingrad game. While wearing the Oculus device, the game was loaded up for us as we sat in total darkness (and anticipation). Then, all of a sudden…. you’re in a plane cockpit. It’s almost impossible to describe the feeling without experiencing it first-hand, but looking around I couldn’t help thinking “no way”. Looking over your shoulder and actually seeing a plane approach and pass you is so much more immersive than doing the same by moving your mouse to the right, and the device does a great job at creating the illusion that you’re actually in a different place.

An earlier mockup - the version we tried is the dev kit pictured above
An earlier mockup – the version we tried is the dev kit pictured above

Trying to find flaws, I found myself looking all around the cockpit and outside all my windows, but everything was seamless. I even felt the urge to get up and look around to see if I could see the seat I was sitting on, before realizing how silly that must have looked to onlookers. What’s interesting is that the Oculus Rift, in its current version, manages to create this effect using a resolution of 640×800 per eye. Because of this, the image isn’t as crystal clear as you’d expect on a regular monitor, but they’re hoping to ramp this up to at least Full HD at the time of release.

Obivously a device like the Oculus Rift is limited in its application and (by definition) only really useful in first person games. Just imagine what physically leaning around a corner can do for the way we experience a first person shooter though… this could be the next big evolution for the genre, and it will be here in just a couple of months. We can’t wait to have another go and will report back when we do.

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