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GDC 2013 in 3D, Part I

Virtual Reality: The Holy Grail of Gaming
Palmer Luckey (Oculus VR, Inc.)
DESCRIPTION: For years, developers have strived to make immersive virtual worlds, and gamers have spent countless billions on the systems that play them best. Software, hardware, and input devices have all leapt forward, but the connection between the player and the virtual world has remained limited. We've dreamed of stepping inside of our games, but the best we've been able to do is puppet characters through a tiny window! Technological progress in a variety of fields has finally brought immersive virtual reality within reach of gamers. We'll discuss VR's false starts, what's different this time, and why virtual reality is poised to revolutionize the way we play games.

Palmer's session was great in terms of conveying the obvious enthusiasm and excitement he has for virtual reality, applying that within the context of video games to push the medium forward into new territory.

From his point of view, gaming is about sharing experiences. We do have other mediums for sharing experiences: literature, music, theater, film and television. The example he used to talk about how they all work is trying to share the experience of skydiving. He could talk to you about skydiving, write a book, make a movie or even make a game about it. Each would be effective at conveying different parts of the experience and let you know something about what it was like but none of them would give you a feeling of what it really is. But a virtual reality simulation of skydiving could transcend the limitations of the other mediums and start to let you experience things much closer to first hand.

In all creative mediums, content innovation is driven by technology innovation. Conventional game design is limited by the technology. Traditional games are comprised of rectangular flat screens, abstract input devices and puppet characters. Virtual reality gaming has the potential to be the ultimate medium. Books can't reach out and touch you. Movies can not react to you. Traditional games can not put you into the world. Virtual reality opens new doors for sharing experiences.

What new tools/possibilities should game designers be excited for? That's really the question for the developers here at GDC. So far the effort within Oculus has been to develop the Rift devkit, and it's the game developers who are getting their hands on them now who are going to have the creative input on designing the experiences and gameplay in virtual reality.

From what we see so far with the first demos and ports is that there are many areas that have been touched on by games already, but are open for much more in virtual realty: immersion, sensations (falling, space, scale, flying), and emotions.

Games designed for VR will change the way we think about gaming as a medium. The VR technology itself is in its infancy. Great VR is uncharted territory. There is a great deal of work to be done, hard problems we already know about, and challenges we have yet to expose – but all of this is super exciting!

What emotions do you want your games to invoke?  Happiness, exhilaration, fear, panic?

The game developers of today will be the first developers with the opportunity to explore VR.

More GDC 2013 coverage to come!  Please comment and visit regularly!