tl;dr Summary: I was never impressed by the Oculus, but after experiencing the recent improvements that the gadget has undergone, I can boldly say that this is shaping up to be more than just another game peripheral!
I’ve always been extremely pessimistic in regard to virtual reality. It all started watching this sex scene in the movie Demolition Man between Sandra Bullock and Sylvester Stallone, in which they strapped on these goofy VR headpieces in order to make love to one another. Man, that was bollocks if there ever was such a thing. The intermingling of body parts is a pretty awesome thing, isn’t it? Why on earth would anyone trade the good ole “bump and grind” for an artificial frolic fest instituted by a clunky head contraption?
I carried similar incredulity towards VR over to my gaming experiences leading up to now, and even after several run-ins with the Oculus Rift since it first surfaced on the gaming scene back in 2012, I had never left any of the demonstrations excited about it. Can you blame me for my skepticism? I was around during the age of Virtual Boy, arguably the most notable failed attempt at home VR gaming to date. Not to mention that, like most gamers, I’ve been growing more accustomed to the traditional, seamless, and simple console-to-display gaming experience since the days of setting your television to channel 3 or 4. There needed to be a more-than-practical reason for me to accept the idea of abandoning my TV to wear heavy ass headgear consistently while gaming. I wasn’t going to be easily sold on the Oculus just because everyone else on earth (mainly the Kickstarter backers) had been raving about it.
But keeping an open mind as I always like to do, I went in with my friend Armi Lyn to try out the Oculus Rift once again last week during CES, where the team was showing off the device’s most recent build, the Crystal Cove prototype. One thing I can say about the folks at Oculus VR is that they’ve been very consistent as far improving the gadget, with each demonstration showing a vast leap forward in promise from the previous. Perhaps this gave me hope in the back of my mind that at some point, they’d make a far enough leap to finally warm me up to their virtual reality initiative, and, folks, that’s exactly what ended up happening.
The differences between previous builds of the Oculus and the Crystal Cove prototype were noticeable almost immediately after sitting down in the demo chair. As Oculus VR rep Joseph Chen grabbed the slimmer and sleeker model of the head piece to help me fasten it onto my cranium, I noticed that the picture in the game on the television was moving closer and further away depending on the location of the device. It was an absurdly accurate and latency free recreation of the movements being made with the headset, and it instantly warranted a double-take glance of joyous inquisitiveness from yours truly.
The Crystal Cove prototype introduces something new and groundbreaking for the Oculus Rift: depth perception. While in previous builds I was limited to simply turning my head and looking around, I now found that I could move deeper and further within the playing field by positioning myself closer or farther away from a sensor that was attached to the demo display. The precision of my movements was captivating and made for the most immersive VR experience I’d ever been a part of in my life. I was left nothing short of awestruck. Not only was I not expecting this addition going into the demonstration, but it worked incredibly well. This feature has undoubtedly upped the appeal of the Oculus Rift by a significant amount.
In the past, motion blur was an experience-breaking hurdle that the Oculus team would eventually have to overcome. Headset visuals were always amazing when I kept my head stationary, but suffered from an annoying fuzziness when my head was in motion. The Oculus’ new low persistence mode corrects this, flashing incoming frames briefly while blanking the display in between. This resulted in smoother movement without my eyes perceiving any instability from the frames being displayed continually until a fresh one appeared. Easy-mode version: Low persistence made movements in the Oculus significantly less blurry than they were before, hence making the headset’s environment feel considerably more authentic.
There were two games on display for the Crystal Cove prototype, the first of which was a month-long developed tower defense game made in conjunction with Epic Games running on Unreal Engine 4. The other was the sci-fi aerial combat simulator EVE Valkyrie. Both games operated marvelously, with EVE Valkyrie really winning me over after my short time playing. Glancing out of the top right window of my spaceship and watching as ally vehicles soared above me sent chills down my spine. You’ll notice my amazement-induced silence during the demonstration in the video below:
Needless to say, the Oculus has finally won me over with its latest iteration. After being a potent naysayer of anything VR for eons, this is the first time I’ve felt excited and open to what the genre has to offer. That’s right, I said genre. Despite how magnificent the Oculus is turning out to be, I don’t think VR will ever be a standard or something that can replace the traditional gaming set up. However, after my eyes-on with the Crystal Cove prototype, I can boldly say that there is a market for Oculus and a place for it in everyone’s gaming/entertainment set up. There’s no reason virtual reality shouldn’t be able to coexist with traditional gaming if it’s done this well, especially when considering how long the VR Troopers coexisted during the era of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. Okay, maybe the VR Troopers have nothing to do with anything (It was a ripoff, but it was good) but either way, you should definitely keep a close eye on the Oculus Rift moving forward, Ladies and gents, they’ve got something very remarkable in store for the world of gaming.
Special thanks to my friend Armi Lyn for helping me capture footage and photos of the demonstration. If you have any questions about my experience with the Oculus Rift, feel free to shoot me a tweet over at @Malik4Play. Oh, and as always, thanks for reading!