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Month: September 2015

First impressions with VR (via Oculus Dev Kit 2)

OculusDK2

A few days ago, I finally got my hands on the Oculus Rift Dev Kit 2, and I’m already loving it. It did take a few hours to get it working; I had to change the lenses for my nearsightedness, calibrate the distance of my uneven eyes, and my PC needed new drivers that Nvidia’s auto-update wouldn’t download. Anyway, I haven’t actually done much with it yet besides try out a few demos. A lot of demos out there are unfortunately outdated now and won’t work with the Oculus’s latest software (Runtime 0.7). But I’ve been impressed with what I’ve seen so far, and I’m very excited for the possibilities VR holds, in gaming and beyond. This thing is AWESOME.

First, the cons. The Dev Kit 2 is a bit clunky; it’s not the most comfortable thing to wear. The resolution is also pretty low; it’s a bit like looking at an old standard definition TV up close, where you can see all the pixels. They mesh nicely together, so it’s not like everything’s pixelated like an old DOS game or anything, but that “pixel grid” is still clearly visible. Small text is practically impossible to make out, for example. It’s like you’re looking at the world through an old TV screen.

Another annoying thing about DK2 is the smell. That new electronics smell isn’t bad in and of itself, but when it’s pressed to your face and you’re smelling it for a while, it can get annoying. And you know what they say: Neurons that fire together, conspire together. (Actually, they say “wire together”, but I think “conspire” is more poetic.) When you start associating the smell with VR sickness, it can be extra annoying.

And the biggest problem for me at the moment is VR sickness. I don’t usually get very motion sick, so I didn’t think it would be too much of a problem for me, but VR sickness, though related, is actually a bit different than motion sickness, as there’s really no motion involved. Rather your eyes tell you that you’re moving, yet you feel no forces acting upon you, and the result is nausea. Some movements in VR are completely unnatural as well. In the real world, unless you’ve been hit with a force strong enough to injure you, you cannot go from resting to moving forward at a constant velocity instantly. You’ll accelerate first, and your body naturally expects to feel that acceleration, even if you’re just walking. Some of the most sickening moments in VR for me happen when the acceleration, or lack thereof, just feels completely unnatural.

I also suspect the sickness may have something to do with the motion the eyes detect in their peripheral vision rather than what’s right in front of them. This would explain why we don’t get VR sickness with games on TV; the lack of motion around the TV “grounds” us. Also, I’ve found that VR experiences that put the player in a cockpit or something are much more comfortable; they keep the motion out in front while the walls on the side keep you feeling “grounded.”

Another thing that may help, but that I haven’t seen in a demo yet, is BLUR! Someone needs to try it. Blur the quick movement, especially on the edges of peripheral vision, like in Batman: Arkham Knight. In the real world, things moving quickly past our peripheral vision will blur. I’m guessing that’s not going to happen in a game unless it’s actually programmed to render. It could also help with quick head movements. I was very impressed with its implementation in the Batman game; I’d be interested to see how that sort of thing might look in a VR experience. I’ll have to search around; surely someone’s tried it somewhere…

I suppose this VR sickness issue is a testament to how convincing the 3D VR world can seem, but I think it will require: 1) developers to pay far more attention to movement control; what you can get away with on a TV screen or monitor you just can’t away with in VR. (I wonder if the mouse or the Oculus Touch controls might also be able to help with this? Maybe if the movement of the world could be linked to the motion of one’s hand, one might have an easier time with it?) And it will require: 2) consumers to ease into the VR experience with simple demos first, rather than jumping right into some fast-paced action game. I have read that VR sickness can be like sea-sickness. That is, one can adapt to it, just as one can adapt to the feel of a boat beneath one’s feet. I hope this is true. Guess I’ll have to wait and see.

Sitting in place in a virtual world still offers many possibilities, though; so far the best demos I’ve tried out kept the player in one position. Here are the demos I’ve tried so far:

SightLine: The Chair

SightLine

This demo just involves sitting in a chair and looking around. When you’re not looking at something, it’ll change, so the demo keeps you looking around, passing you through a variety of environments. It’s a neat intro to the VR experience, taking you from the claustrophobic feel that the walls are closing in, to the awe of floating in the vastness of space with the surface of a planet thousands of miles below.

Staring up at tall buildings or peering over vast heights are definitely some of the most awesome things to experience in VR. You really get a sense of size; it really feels like you’re staring up at something immense or down far below. The sense of scale is just amazing. You can’t get the feeling in any other way besides the real thing; it’s something pictures on a TV screen just can’t do. So I’m not worried too much about VR sickness; there are plenty of VR possibilities to explore with just a static viewpoint. I could easily play a shooter game or puzzle game or virtual board game, etc., all day long with a static viewpoint, and the VR would still be worth the cost.

Anyway, SightLine was a great demo!

I Expect You To Die

IEYTD

This mini-game also gives the player a static viewpoint. You play a sort of lighthearted James Bond-ish spy that’s trapped in a villain’s car and you need to escape. To do so, you must explore the small world around you, using the mouse to grab, move, and use items. It’s a very short game, but the controls are intuitive, further illustrating how a static viewpoint alone has plenty to offer. It would be awesome to see this expanded into a collection of puzzle scenarios; I could definitely play a game like this for many hours.

Mythos of the World Axis

Mythos

This is yet another static-viewpoint game, but this one’s in third person. You look down (or up or sideways or whatever) at a miniature world and control a small character in front of you. I suspect games like this will become very popular; indeed, this is the sort of game I think I’d like to develop myself. In a way, it’s a bit like playing with toys, only your action figures move and the world is alive. While I found it a bit annoying to have to keep resetting the view in this demo, the style of gameplay is very promising. This demo didn’t even involve much; you just move a character around a small level. And yet it’s addicting and fun. (The end of the demo also offered a brilliant little creative twist!) I’m hoping there’ll be a lot of games like this!

Darkfield Alpha: Sneak Peek

Darkfield

A sci-fi demo in which you shoot robots and stuff. It lacked a bit of polish, unfortunately, and the movement in the 3rd person perspective was a bit jarring, almost inducing some VR sickness, but the first-person shooter style and the spaceship flying definitely looked promising. Space battles in a spaceship cockpit will certainly be a popular VR gaming genre. Getting that sense of the immense size of the ships in front of you along with the vastness of outerspace… it really brings the simulation to life in an amazing way. A bit of VR sickness is possible, however, when you turn your ship too much, but I imagine this will subside with experience. I can’t wait for a fully-fleshed out space-battle game!

Windlands

Windlands

In Windlands, you explore an immense world and collect golden coins or whatever. I thought the movement control in this first-person game was pretty comfortable. You slow in and out of moving rather than just jolting ahead instantly, which definitely helps. And, again, it’s awesome to really see and feel the immense size of an immense world like this. Looking up at giant floating islands in the distance is just fantastic. Unfortunately the gameplay itself kinda bored me after a bit, but the smooth movement control definitely holds promise. If there were more to actually do in the world, perhaps solve Myst-like puzzles or talk to Monkey Island-like characters, this game would be easily enthralling, and I’m sure those sort of games are on their way!

Virtual Desktop

Not a game or a demo, but just an application, Virtual Desktop allows you to see your computer’s desktop in your VR, allowing you to blow it up to an insane size, as if you’re viewing your desktop on a grand movie screen. The resolution isn’t great though, so it’s still a bit impractical for web browsing, for instance. But streaming Netflix in your own personal VR theater is fantastic; one of my favorite VR experiences. It really feels like you’ve got a huge screen to watch a movie on. It’s less than DVD quality though, so I’m not going to stop watching blu-rays any time soon, but still, I love it. It may definitely become something I use regularly. (As if I’m not already unproductive enough.)

So there you have it; my first VR experiences. There’s plenty to explore, and I can’t wait to start my own VR projects this week.

Kickstarter

My Kickstarter is failing miserably at the moment, and now being excited about VR, I’m honestly not that inspired to continue advertising it at the moment, for better or worse. It’s also amazing how much spam you get when you start a Kickstarter. All these offers to help you market your Kickstarter. Sorry, but if I need to spend money on marketing to raise $9K, then I’m not sure my project really deserves $9K in the first place.

(I really hate that about marketing; it’s hard to learn about it objectively because there are so many making too much money off of telling others how to make money. It makes it hard to find the useful information because so many are in the business to take advantage of others. There’s a lot of money in it, I’m sure, but it’s such a vacuous, soulless market.)

Theme update

Finally, I hope you like the new blog theme! I was getting sick of looking at the other one, which I had kept for several years. Four or five years, I think. Maybe even six or seven? Anyway, I hope this one looks a bit more modern and polished.

Trying a Kickstarter sometime soon…

I’ve been in a bleak creative rut lately. I feel like doing nothing creative at all. I’ve had no inspiration, interest, or will to do anything. Go to work, come home, eat, and waste time watching movies and surfing the web. A dull, boring, purposeless, vacuous existence.

So in an effort to give myself a bit of purpose, I’ve been working on putting together a Kickstarter campaign called “Give me some money to smile again.”

OK, it’s not called that… it’s actually fundraising for that book on melody that I’ve been writing on and off for years. The Secrets of Melody. It details my theory of melody, including how my melody generators work. Basically, if I can raise the funds, I can finish it by March 2016. Of course, I have hardly any online following, so I know it’s a long shot. Seems worth a try though, especially as I feel no great desire to do much else at the moment.

And if I fail to raise the funds, I’m going to go ahead buy an Oculus Rift dev kit and start having some fun with it to make myself feel better. So it’s a win-win for me. And I might buy one regardless because I’ve been dreaming of VR and I’ve got some fun ideas for projects I’d like to try with it. But if there’s enough interest for my book on melody, I’d love to make that a priority.

Anyway, I just have to make the Kickstarter video, which is hard because I’m the self-conscious type who hates looking at a video of himself. But I’ll try anyway.

So look out for that sometime this week.