Friday, April 26, 2013

Oculus Rift

One of the guys at YoYo got his Oculus Rift today, and as we thankfully work in an industry that's not entirely serious he spent most of the morning setting it up and letting people try out the Tuscany demo.

I tried it twice, and both times it gave me severe motion sickness.

I'm not entirely certain what the problem was, but I'm pretty sure it's one of a few prime suspects:

  1. the 3d effect;
  2. the rapid speed of movement in the environment;
  3. the sensitivity of the head tracking was too low;
  4. the lack of a frame of reference for your "body"; or
  5. the relatively low resolution or lack of focus in the lenses

The first one I tried to mitigate by playing with one eye closed, but that didn't seem to help much. I was already feeling pretty poor at that point though, so it might have been too little too late. The player's movement in the environment is severely disorienting because you're sitting still - only your head movement is being translated into the game. You're also skating around like Gordon Freeman in the original Half Life, slightly too fast compared to a natural walking speed. This also causes some tearing in the display, which doesn't help.

My head movements weren't all being translated accurately either; looking up and down (or tilting my head from side to side) seemed to be 1:1, but turning was slightly slower than my actual movement. This also ties into the lack of a frame of reference - while turning your head a little bit wouldn't change the direction of movement (much like you can walk in a line but look to the side in real life), turning too much would rotate your entire character. So you'd be travelling in one direction, then glance to the side and suddenly be travelling what felt diagonally.

The movement trouble was almost entirely eliminated in Team Fortress 2, which not only had entirely separate body and head rotation but also let you aim separately from where you're looking and allows you to see your character's body when you look down, providing a point of reference for where you're travelling if it's not the same direction as you're looking. The character's weapon also helps ground your point of view more than the Tuscany demo's disembodied viewpoint.

But while the seasickness wasn't as obvious while playing, the queasiness did kick in a few minutes after I stopped, and hasn't really gone away even now - hours after taking the headset off. All of which only makes me gladder that nobody had Mirror's Edge installed at the time.

The final problem is the low-resolution panel, which leaves your field of vision slightly blurred - not helped by the fixed-focus lenses, so you can't adjust it on the fly. Both of these might be solved in the final production model, but I'm not sure they're going to help with my nausea.

It's a promising piece of kit, although I'm not sure it's worth the current $300 price tag, and there were some truly fascinating moments while using it; I was standing up at one point while using the Tuscany demo, and turned around to talk to someone (in the real world) who was having a conversation just over my shoulder. Discovering that they weren't there was weird.

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