Virtual reality is always depicted as some crazy futuristic shit, and Virtual reality has been tried here and there, the results tending to be permeated with failure, an amalgam of both hopes and then, inevitably, sorrow. Perhaps we simply lacked the technology to truly pull off Virtual Reality, and for the most part, we probably do still lack the technology to really thrust a player into a wholly organic virtual world of sights, smells and feeling. But, we can still get pretty damn close, at least on a visual aspect of the puzzle.
The earliest form of Virtual Reality was called an ‘Sensorama’, way back when in the 1950’s and finally built in 1962. This theater could replicate smells and touch, and of course sights and sounds. It was a ridiculously clunky piece of machinery, but relatively cheap at the time, rolling in at just over $1,000,000. Supposedly, the outlandish device actually worked. But the creator lacked the funds to really market it to a wider crowd, thus it remained a prototype, and Virtual Reality was once again left to pick up the pieces and start again.
Though, the Sensorama was primarily a movie-based medium, probably wouldn’t have been too hard to grab a controller while hooked up to the monster. But the past, is well, passed. The Military seemed to fancy VR technology, though, and even as far back as the Sensorama, and today, they still heavily utilize Virtual Reality simulations in order to more properly train troops and specialists for their duties.
Notably, just because of how spooky it looks, in 1968, one of the first Virtual Reality ‘Goggles’ were brought into existence, but it’s obvious that they’ve since faded into obscurity. Dubbed the ‘Sword of Damocles’, it was very primitive, and really wasn’t able do much. You could see wire-framed rooms, perhaps simple shapes, and all you could do to interact was look around, it featured head tracking, but the thing was so clunky it really seemed to be an antithesis of VR ‘Goggles’. It was never sold, or marketed. Perhaps it merely existed to test the limits of what man could pull into a VR world at the time.
Honestly, it seemed like we on a good path back in the 60’s when it came to Virtual reality, but interest certainly wavered over the following decades. Said interest would slowly pop up in a small manner when gaming started to get its footing in our world.
The Stuntmaster, iGlasses, and of course, the notorious Virtual Boy were some notable outings in the long awaited journey to accomplish a true VR system of gaming, they all fell short for one reason or another, a primary reason being that they were just essentially screens hooked up to your face, with no real depth of field to trick you into thinking you’re in another world. Oh, and no, iGlasses are not made by Apple, at least they were not back in the 90’s.
…And these of course, are the iGlasses, notice a lack of half-eaten apples, as well a lack of the color white.
Screw you virtual boy, nobody likes you. Oh by the way, that’s the virtual boy. But I didn’t need to tell you that.
But, we’re to be talking about the Oculus Rift, and why I certainly have high hopes for this device. Despite a rather unfortunate track record, I really do feel like the Oculus Rift is going to be the first successful venture into Virtual Reality, both financially and functionally. Why? Well the short answer is because it’s completely bad ass currently, and is only set to improve upon its full release.
In the short time I did get to use one, I found myself quickly immersed into it, despite the games available being rather sub-par, I did essentially test out those available exclusively to the system, games made to utilize the strengths of the head-tracking. Primarily I test out horror games, and these horror games were pretty unfortunate, if not for the oculus rift they wouldn’t have been rather scary — That’s a compliment by the way, towards the Rift.
Games these days, when it comes to horror have to rely on pop-up scares, and it’s not that they HAVE to rely on them, it’s just atmosphere and capable sound design are far harder to pull off than having some monster jump up out and closet. Being an avid horror game fan, I personally have found myself wholly disappointed as of late with ‘Horror’, maybe that’s because the survival aspect of horror has changed roles to action. Survival and item management bring tension, and actually make the foes terrifying to encounter, even if these foes are standing in plain sight, and don’t feel the need to sit behind a corner while giggling.
Oculus rift brings heavy hope to me that I’ll actually find copious enjoyment in horror games, and that’s really enough for me to merit a purchase. Sure, consoles are all banking on pushing out graphical capabilities and truckloads of non-gaming features to the fray, but adding the ability to watch TV, or check out the latest advertisements does nothing for gameplay, it doesn’t advance gameplay, it doesn’t change the way you play, in fact it actually detracts from the gameplay experience in some ways.
Since Oculus Rift is a PC-based device graphics won’t be an issue since PC games already sport above-average graphics compared to their console brethren. But graphics aren’t everything when it comes to gaming, that used to be the truth, but these days many claim ‘graphics don’t make a game better’, then turn around and complain about 720 resolution or shoddy shadows and other nonsense that does not detract from a game’s experience. The notion that graphics don’t matter is a contractive point many gamers bring up, even though they seem not to believe it.
Oculus Rift is actually a tangible step forward in gaming. The Xbox 360 and PS3 were also tangible steps forward in gaming, as they were the first High Definition consoles, and no, PC is not a console. The Xbox One and PS4 do not bring anything new to the table aside from more motion controls, which is by now a dead horse, as well more graphical power, graphics, graphics, graphics. Oculus Rift however is the next step in gaming, and it’s actually a rather simple idea, motion tracking. Remember that immersion was, at one point a huge deal when it came to gaming, and immersion has slowly detracted over time, with some exceptions. Though Immersion was the result of hardware that had no choice but to bank on such things, so now that you can throw explosions and backflips left and right, who needs immersion?
Head Tracking may seem like a simple thing, mundane even. But you’re wearing goggles here, they obscure your vision, you can’t look off to your side and see your cat looking up at you with a bewildered expression. No, you’ll look off to your side and see whatever the hell’s in the game. It’s an experience one can’t quite understand until they try it first-hand.
Initially, one expects there to be a rather small market of games to choose from when the Oculus drops, most of these will be made specifically for the Oculus, so their quality is iffy at best, and they will rely on the novelty of their device. PC Games will probably end up getting player-made mods to tailor them to Oculus’ technology. For all we know Oculus will fade into obscurity like so many other VR-based mediums, but Oculus certainly has the potential to change gaming in a way that will push it forwards.
Free-roaming games like Morrowind certainly would benefit from Oculus, and horror games will get an extra spook factor from it. The only real flaw of the Oculus is that it’s not designed for any game that’s not first-person, and playing a third-person game or otherwise on it would defeat the purpose and break the immersion of the experience. Though, one will see in time whether that is the case, it seems like it will be. With an overabundance of first person shooters these days, that won’t really be a huge problem at least.