Designing for VR

If you visit this blog regularly or follow me on twitter @alexanderkline , you know I have been raving about the Oculus Rift. I finally had a chance to finally use one, special thanks to @iheartinternets for setting up the nerd home office invasion.

SDK

First Impressions

The headset is remarkably light and unobtrusive. It’s relatively innocuous looking and honestly I would feel comfortable wearing it for extended periods of time, even in front of other people.

We loaded up the Tuscany demo, and boy, this thing is a trip!  It’s hard to describe in words what the experience is like. Close your eyes and imagine you could peer into another world, the world would look slightly pixelated and you would definitely perceive it to feel like being inside a video game. There is no lag when you move your head and look around which really provides the through the looking glass experience.

It actually takes a moment to get used to the fact that you can look around freely (lag free). When you start to look up and down, around and  behind you, you start to realize how confining looking straight at your monitor has made every digital experience you’ve ever had up until now.

neo

The whole experience is not without flaws. The pixel density although satisfactory, could definitely be higher. This will just be matter of time as miniaturization moves forward and costs come down, in fact the consumer version is said to be targeting higher resolutions in a year or so when the Oculus hits the mass market.

That being said, the SDK version is entirely serviceable and gives you a sense of how far this tech could go. Anyone who uses one of these things will immediately have gameplay scenario ideas and unique uses come to mind.

IMG_7876

Check out the guillotine simulator (link)

 VR User Experience Design

A key element of getting VR right will be designing experiences around the unique properties and scenarios this technology can offer. Right off the bat, I did feel a bit queasy jumping in and moving around too quickly while snapping my in-game body left and right using the mouse.  To ease the transition perhaps games can tie a calibration sequence into the introduction to get the player used to the headset  and controls while making it part of the narrative.

Another aspect of the VR experience is the feeling of being disembodied in the world. Developers will have to create “virtual bodies” for players as you will expect to see when you look down. Along with this are the needs for proportionate movement speed, architecture and scenery that need to be scaled to approximate reality.

leapy

Being able to see your own hands in the VR world would be incredible. I can see this could being accomplished with systems from Leap Motion or even the Microsoft Kinect device. When control sticks are needed the  Razer Hydra sticks seem to be the best option.

It was a bit jarring to see a giant floating mouse cursor when hitting the wrong button on the keyboard. User information will need to be centralized and overlaid in a way that is unobtrusive rather than the traditional dashboard hub, unless it is a driving or flying sim with working gauges (as per the helicopter demo).

Finally, if you are looking for the full on VR experience you need to be able to move your whole body. Check out the Omni directional treadmill , it already works with Team Fortress 2, Crysis and Skyrim.

omniy

Afterthoughts

This is exciting stuff that will only get better with time as the development kit improves and support for more devices is added and refined. I think a lot of people will be pre-ordering the consumer version of the Oculus and I’m glad to see game developers jumping on board. I recently helped fund one that is taking advantage of the unique experience provided by the Oculus called  The Gallery : Six Elements.

galleryy

The Second Coming of VR

I remember a time when a Virtual Reality business setup shop in my hometown of Victoria, BC, inside Hillside mall. Run like a futuristic arcade, you stepped into booth and put a clunky headset on, you were given some kind of joystick and told you would experience virtual reality for a couple dollars a minute.

I loaded up Duke Nukem 3d (must have been around 1999) and was very aware of how much this VR experience was like pressing my face up against a large curved monitor, to make matters worse, the head tracking was laggy and the game experience was disjointed and awkward.

The VR shop closed down within a month or two, I walked away disappointed, wondering when or if we would see VR in our lifetime.

tumblr_m9v2ckNU2t1qg0qp5o1_500

It seemed like so many movies that had represented VR in the past(Lawnmower Man, Johnny Mnemonic, and even newer ones like the Matrix) were way off the mark and the dream of true virtual reality would never be realized until the Oculus Rift appeared.

19931

The founder of the Rift, a young man named Lucky Palmer didn’t want to live in a world that couldn’t conceive of proper VR headset. He saw that graphics and processing power of modern computers were simulating more realistic environments, that the pixel density of smart phone screens were increasing. Meanwhile  sensors were getting cheaper and the advent of 3d printing converged to make it feasible to prototype a commercial device that could change the way people game, learn and even interact.
oculus-rift-ifixit

The Oculus is revolutionary in that it simulates a field of view akin to what you are used to seeing out of your own eyes with lag-free head tracking that essentially tricks your mind into thinking you are having a valid experience. I haven’t yet experienced it for myself , but there is a litany of videos of people trying it that all seem genuinely blown away

[youtube=http://youtu.be/uso6vxZ5O4c]
From  urban youth to grandmothers and the all-important game development community, everyone is hailing it as the next big thing in interactive entertainment.
There is a case to be made for simulation and training of professionals as well as therapeutic uses and a place for it in a clinicians setting as well. This is a technology to keep your eyes on.

johnny-mnemonic-big