Oculus Rift! I got to try one! It pays to know people who know people who buy things like this.
The Rift itself is basically a huge visor thing you strap to your face. Full panoramic views await you without even moving your head, which then give way to a full-on 360 degree view completely encompassing you as your noggin begins to wander. It’s pretty comfy, actually, and didn’t feel too heavy or constricting. I couldn’t wear my glasses (and I don’t do contacts), so I had to use the “nearsighted” lenses that come with it, despite them not being my actual prescription. That coupled with the fairly low-res video capability of the current DevKit made things kind of fuzzy for me. Watching other people use it and move their head around was as humorous as you might think, but when you’re “inside” it, it’s a slice of crazy awesome.
I played three demos: a space exploration ride where you’re in a cockpit of sorts, slowly flying around space and looking at planets and info about them, a first-person rollercoaster, and a playful on-rails first-person elephant game where your head has a trunk you can swing around to hit things.
The third one was definitely the most fun, mainly because of the action you can do, but imagining yourself as a large, lumbering animal, swinging its mighty appendage at random Katamari-esque objects in a weird cartoonish land helped a lot, too. The rollercoaster demo was cool, and did a good job of making you feel like you were actually on one, but I wished for the visceral “shaking” feeling you get while seated in the bucket chair of a real ride, the wind blowing against your face, and all that. It’s a step in the right direction, though. Space exploration was nice and slow and really let you take in your surroundings whilst craning your neck around to see all the planets and stars as you woosh around them.
My favorite part about the Oculus is definitely the immersion. I mean, obviously the idea is to immerse the user in a fully 360 degree world. With headphones on and the Rift sucking my face, this was pretty well achieved. No matter how close to a conventional screen you sit in front of, it can’t compare to something like the Rift. You can look all around you and every inch of the “inside” world is visible. In the rollercoaster demo I was able to achieve slight nausea just by looking around as I “moved forward”, which while being unpleasant, is kind of amazing when I was never actually moving.
The aforementioned nausea was not great, but it really only happened in the rollercoaster demo (and I egged it on by looking around crazily while going around curves). However, I couldn’t get totally past how the graphics of that demo were pretty sparse and detracted from the overall realism. The text was really hard to read in the space demo, too. In general, the resolution being low is my main complaint about the current DevKit, so I hope to check out a newer version when they improve that. Finally, the device is not crazy expensive, but still out of the reach of most people’s budgets.
FOR THE ROAD
The Oculus Rift is 360 degree VR from the 1990s in a package usable by consumers. The graphics may be better than that of some arcade I tested this kind of thing out on 20+ years ago, but they’re still not as good as I’d like them to be. Still, what is available now is totally worth experiencing because it’s a blast and a unique ride.