September 23 / 2013

Causing a Rift

This is an article that Patrick wrote for Develop Magazine in 2013 about our journey so far with the Oculus Rift, and why he believes that VR is going to be much bigger than you can imagine!

Many people in the industry have fond but raw memories of the VR ‘buzz’ back in the 1990’s, when companies like Virtuality promised, yet failed to deliver, amazing virtual experiences. We could sense the potential, but the hardware just wasn’t good enough.

If you haven’t tried on a VR headset, you may well be wondering what all the excitement is about. You’ve seen (and no doubt been slightly underwhelmed by) 3D movies and TVs, and you don’t particularly fancy the idea of looking like an idiot with a heavy box on your head. But you’re missing out on a truly incredible experience.

It’s all about one important word: Immersion. When you’re able to look around, turn your head and be ‘inside’ a truly 3D world, rather than staring at one from the outside, suddenly that feeling of immersion is taken to the next level. Whilst immersion isn’t key for some game genres (such as puzzle games and snackable mobile titles), it is absolutely vital for narrative-based games, adventure games and most 3D worlds. Make the player believe that he’s really there, and every emotion is heightened. Being inside an Oculus and exploring a 3D world really can take gaming to a completely new level. It’s as simple as that.

Where 1990’s headsets had lag, poor quality visuals, and headache-inducing flicker, the Oculus Rift manages to avoid all of these, even in its original Kickstarter flavour. And the Oculus Rift creates a huge buzz wherever it goes. People want to have a go, and more importantly, they want to keep having a go. It wins awards. VR is finally working.

We started playing around with the Oculus Rift a few months ago, and had a few games up and running on it very quickly. There are definitely game design challenges, such as on-screen displays, how to show cut-scenes and how to use the Rift with third-person cameras, but we’ve thoroughly enjoyed our time with it so far. The initial reactions based on the original Kickstarter hardware version was ‘oh my god, that’s amazing’, followed by ‘it’s a shame that it’s a little blurry’, followed by squeals of joy/laughter/fear depending on what demo they’re playing.

We’ve had many amazing moments – watching the fear as they head towards a huge drop on a roller coaster, seeing people physically flinch from virtual fire, or tapping someone on the head at the same moment that they hit the ground at terminal velocity in our skydiving demo.

I was fortunate enough to get a look at the new HD version of the Oculus Rift, and I think the ‘blurry’ issue has been solved. The new resolution allows for lots of detail and the textures and detail mapping looked amazing. Apparently, Oculus are also aiming to implement accurate positional tracking on the headset (it currently tracks the angle of your head perfectly, but not the position, so if you move your head sideways to look around something, it isn’t reflected by what you are seeing).

With all this in mind, I believe Oculus has a huge future, and I think anyone that writes it off as a low-volume PC novelty is mistaken. I hope we’ll see them partner with a company who can drive the cost of the headset down, and get it into the hands of many millions of consumers.

A link up with a company like Google, Apple, Valve, Sony or Microsoft would be a great strategic move and help avoid the marketing challenges that companies like Ouya are facing. Oculus have talked about their desire to ‘go mobile’, and a wireless video link to a mobile device could change it from being a cool PC peripheral to a mass-market must-have piece of hardware. Promise me that if nothing else, you’ll give it a try and see what all the fuss is about.

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