The Oculus Rift was by far the coolest thing we saw at CES this year, so getting some eyes-on time with the latest prototype was near the top of our list of priorities here at E3. The version that everyone's been playing with up until now has a 720p screen, and since the Rift works by splitting one screen into two sections (one for each eye), that means the resolution is effectively halved. It's noticeable: you can definitely see the pixels, which is visually unsatisfying. The prototype Oculus showed us yesterday had a new HD screen in it, with an overall resolution of 1080p. It makes a huge difference: technically, it's something like 500% better, but what matters is that you don't immediately notice the pixelation, making it far easier to get immersed in the virtual reality experience. It's glorious.
We spent a lot time with the Rift at E3: CCP had a fairly awesome first-person space fighter game demo in the EVE universe, where you go 3V3 in an asteroid field against the humans sitting next to you in the real world. From the cockpit of your virtual fighter sitting in a virtual launch tube, you can look down and see your virtual body, look ahead and see control panels, and look behind and see the headrest on your seat. After getting shot out in to space (a virtual thrill ride in of itself), the object is to seek out and destroy enemy fighters using missiles, switching to guns when you get too close. KABLAM! For the record, I scored 285 points, and Ray ended up in the negative.
In some ways, a demo where you can roll, pitch, and yaw in a tiny ship in 3D space would seem to be best case a little dizzying, and worst case instantly barf-inducing. And to be honest, I was expecting to have some issues. I had no trouble, though, which was a nice surprise, because I've had some, um, uncomfortable experiences with the Rift recently.
I've checked out a reasonable variety of Rift demos, including the original citadel castle, a Tuscan villa, a helicopter piloting simulator, and a virtual roller coaster, among others. The last two made me nauseus enough that within five minutes (or about 30 seconds in the case of the coaster), I broke out in a cold sweat and had to take the Rift off and sit down and take deep breaths so as not to throw up. I tend to be susceptible to motion sickness, but this is by no means an unusual reaction for Rift users: in fact, based on what I've seen and heard, motion sickness is a very common (even typical) reaction to using the headset. And potentially, this is a serious problem, because it makes it basically impossible to use the thing. Some people succumb instantly, some people can last a few minutes, some people get over it with practice, and some people can't seem to get past it at all.
I thought it was a little weird that (at least for me) some Rift demos seemed to immediately induce nausea, while others did not, even if they seemed like they should. I brought this up with the Oculus guys, and basically, their comment was this: virtual reality is hard. Or more specifically, virtual reality is easy to do badly, and hard to do well. It's entirely possible to hack together a VR demo that mostly works, but the whole point of VR is to fool your brain, and our brains are smart enough that it's often hard to fool them, especially when it comes to basic functions like vision and motion. So, there are lots of little things having to do with the input from the sensors and the output on the screens that developers have to absolutely nail when they write software for Rift, because if they don't absolutely nail them, our brains are all like "WTF IS THIS!?!!" Especially for independent developers, figuring these little things out takes practice and experience, and those things take time. And in general, the Rift simply hasn't been around long enough for all these demos to be totally up to snuff.
This is part of the reason why the Rift isn't available yet, and likely won't be for a year or more: we're just experiencing the very first tentative spurts of content, and there needs to be a lot more of it, in a much more polished form, before the Rift (even in its present hardware incarnation) would be ready for consumers. Based on my (admittedly limited) experience with the Rift thus far, though, I'm optimistic that when the consumer version does come out, motion sickness won't be nearly as much of an issue as it is now.
The other part of the reason why the Rift isn't available yet is that the hardware is still being tweaked, often quite aggressively. The developers are actively swapping new parts in and out of the dev kits, and although the only one they were able to show us was the HD screen, we've been assured that a lot of work is still going on. There's even a rumor of a second (updated) dev kit coming out in Q4 of this year. I'm no dev, but I'm seriously considering buying one if they end up selling another batch with HD screens or something: I want one of these things. Badly.
Via Oculus Rift