Oculus first impressions

Nikolas getting almost the first go in Oculus VR
Nikolas getting almost the first go in Oculus VR

So my long awaited Oculus Rift arrived over the summer. I had to wait a bit to get it going cos I didn’t have a good enough computer, but finally succumbed to a PC with latest GeForce 1070 graphics card, and was all set.

After a pretty simple and flaw free set-up I finally got into the Rift and… wow!
Although I have tried many Rift set-ups at Meet-ups in Oslo recently and also the Vive with its slightly improved location tracking features, I was not really prepared for actually HOW immersive it is. The field of view basically covering your vision completely and the indistinguishable head tracking means that looking around in a room, is quite a surreal experience. I immediately downloaded all that was free from the Oculus Store. Almost the best example is in fact the “Luckys Tale” kids game, I was expecting the best experiences from 1st person things, but in Luckys tale you play a little fox as a 3rd person character. There was no sickness feeling as you maneuvered him around the jumping and fighting platform game, and the look is extremely realistic, if a cartoon can be considered realistic. Its almost as if you are “playing” with plastic or wooden things.
Many of the free games are very short, very beautiful, and trying to be emotional. A few criticisms were the Abe VR… gory and grotesque.. removed it immediately…  going for shock value, and Eve… Felt sick within seconds, and cannot really stay in that one for longer than 5 minutes before feeling very queasy… OK.. in that one you can bank and dive your spaceship in all directions and of course, that probably IS pretty queasy. But then I noticed… there’s NOTHING (free) on the store with simple walking around in an environment. Almost all examples are static, with “head-look”… and that works very well…

So what of movement?

With relatively little hassle I got a version of my The Window project working, originally for Google cardboard, with Gaze look controls for walking and interacting. Theres some work to do there, I had to look a little obliquely at buttons to get them to fire, but Ill probably sort that out. Again, headlook works great.. BUT.. as soon as I move around… quease… nausea… sick!

I was quite disappointed by this. It can be that movement needs to be VERY carefully tweaked, with some easing in and out of movement.. my basic Unity player controller with VR enabled does not have this, its stop start.. and quite brutal movement. I generally DON’T like easing on normal 1st person games, they feel laggy, but I think it might be needed in VR. This needs some reading up.

I am very excited about what I will do in VR, I have many plans and experiments to do… Im generally NOT impressed by architectural walkthroughs, which appears to be the only genuine “monetization” ideas anyone seems to have… as the actor playing Mark Zuckerberg says in “The Social Network”… “We don’t even know WHAT this is yet!!!”
If the nausea is a default with VR, and not fixable, it’s NOT going to take over and be “Virtual Reality” as the Matrix or Cyberpunk authors would have us believe, maybe 360 degree movies, ARE the way ahead after all? Do we NEED to be able to physically “walk around, in the room, like Vive offers?

I don’t think so…

Sitting as I am at home, I generally do NOT want to leap out of my chair and stand as some of the demos suggest I do… let alone walk about in a virtual space at home, (although this is probably very interesting as gallery/museum installations) and I DON’T want to have to crane my head around behind me to follow the “action” in a  360 degree, but fixed position piece, no… I want to be able to “walk, while sat, staring roughly straight ahead, looking about of course, but move.. through an environment, through rooms, down roads. However I DO like the body positioning the oculus sensor affords. That I could sit down on the floor and examine the carpet, or stand up and peer over things was nice.

I’m looking forward to my The Valley piece in VR, where the idea is that movement around the environment will allow you to explore, but sitting (maybe even lying) still will encourage wildlife to come out and approach you, but movement will scare them off.
(S0 its time to go off and trawl the Unity app store for VR ready player characters with easing and controller support… making your own is so time consuming and tiresome…)

All in all, I’m excited where this will go, especially as I can already appreciate some of the challenges that VR will pose, especially in extended use. I am far from being experienced in this yet, but i do feel that the future I envisioned in 1989 on the Southsea Fairground flying game (a cumbersome helmet with blocky and laggy graphics) is finally here… and its up to artists and storytellers to grasp this new medium before the big boys (to paraphrase Marisa Tomei in “My Cousin Vinnie”) “… fuck it up!”

 

 

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