Oculus Rift: I’m having so much fun that I might puke

I picked up and have been playing around with an Oculus Rift VR headset. Here’s my reaction after ~2 days of having it setup/a few hours of playing.

Playing games in the Rift is.. mesmerizing. The initial demo experience, First Contact, is a tiny trailer-like workshop full of 80s-inspired electronics and a beepbooping robot friend. Super charming and immersive. The little robot friend guides you to insert game-style cartridges into a device, which turns out to be a Star Trek-inspired 3D printer. Each cartridge produces a different object, and each object has a different behavior/ability.

One is a small laser blaster that, when picked up, causes a carnival-style shooting game to begin in the workshop. Another prints some laser light show-esque butterflies that float around your head and will land on your virtual hand if you extend a single finger. The touch controls really shine here; when you squeeze the controller in a very natural feeling way, your virtual self is making a fist.If you let your index finger off the trigger, you’ll now be pointing. Relax your grip entirely, and your hands go to a more neutral position. All this is really about wowing you with the tech right out of the gate, and teaching you the controls. It succeeds at both.

I picked up the game Arizona Sunshine on a recommendation from a coworker. It’s basically a zombie apocalypse game, except set in the desert in Arizona, so the onset of the game is brightly lit and weirdly serene. The landscapes and other visuals are really sharp all around. The game looks good, if not entirely shooting for “realistic.” Kinda has a comic book-y feel to me in a way.

A brief interlude regarding character movement/control styles in VR. There are two common types of movement styles common to VR first person games. The first is the way you move in any game you’ve played (Fallout, Skyrim, Call of Duty, whatever.) You run around in a 3D space fairly unconstrained. The issue with this in VR is that, basically, it makes you sea-sick (or, VR-sick.) Your body/brain don’t like when your visual sensory input and your sense of movement are misaligned. This often causes motion sickness, although I’m told you can adapt to it over time, or get your “VR-legs.”

The other movement style is teleport-to-move. Basically you look at some spot on the ground ahead of you, push a button, and you warp there. This style is pretty common, and is available in Arizona Sunshine (in fact, is the default setting), RoboRecall, and most other games I’ve seen that have FPS elements that would not be entirely broken if you were able to teleport around.

Back to A.S.. I started playing with teleport-to-move, but I love FPS games and wanted to try the free run movement style. It feels fantastic. Your character moves fast and you quickly lose yourself in the world of the game, opening car doors, rummaging around for ammo, falling back from large swarms of zombies. Even though it’s just a game, you can feel anxiety ratcheting up a little when you fail to pick off a zombie from far away and they get close enough to be in your face. It’s so much fun.

It was great playing in the free run style.. Until after ~30 minutes when I became ridiculously nauseated and had to lie down for an hour. Some other VR players online basically say this is common and there are a mix of strategies you can employ to reduce the sick feeling. They include taking Dramamine, starting with slower games/just getting used to it over time, ensuring you have PC hardware that can handle the games as framerate drops can contribute significantly to the nauseating feeling, and even adjusting your usage of the controls (e.g. gliding only forward seems fine for some people, but its when you run backwards in a glide without moving your legs that your body gets thrown off.)

Today I switched to RoboRecall, a gorgeous Unreal Engine game that was made to demo some of the capabilities of the Oculus Touch Controls. The level of detail in the characters and environment is amazing. It feels much more real than A.S. The game play is super frantic and awesome. Basically you’re dropped in the middle of a city block, and are being swarmed by different sorts of robots (from humanoid to flying drowns and other variants.) You fight them using guns (of course), but are also able to grab them, toss them around, etc. It only (from what I can tell) supports teleport-to-move, and after 30 minutes I had no issues with feeling sick.

I’m in the market for some examples of great VR content that aren’t shooter-based, so if you have recommendations, I’ll take them. I didn’t expect to write so much about my experience so far, but I’ve really been enjoying it. I’m also excited to branch out my Unity development into 3D and put together some concepts for a VR game.

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