OK! It’s time for round two of our experience with Oculus’ CV1 – back to basics! I’m glad I reserved judgement on the CV1 hardware until today because the software choices were far more representative of what their technology is capable of. Again, I only had about fifteen minutes to work with, so I hope to be able to share a more in-depth review at a later time.
Visually, the CV1 is about on par with Crescent Bay. Whether it’s the same or a little better, I couldn’t tell you. It works, the FOV is fine as is, and the positional tracking was flawless (for the seated position I was in). At Oculus’ pre-E3 press conference, Oculus CEO Brendan Iribe boasted about the CV1’s sleek design before anything else. People joke that nobody clapped at the CV1’s first reveal, and I’d bet that Brendan was equally baffled that the reasons to be excited weren’t obvious! It’s too easy to forget that most have never owned a DK1 or a DK2. How could anyone appreciate the overwhelming and seemingly random wired mess that their developers kits represented (especially DK2). Now Oculus has it down to a science with a single camera, a deceivingly simple-looking HMD, and yes…they even threw in an XBOX controller.
The first game I tried out was Edge of Nowhere. This is a third person game where you move your character through mountainous rock-climbing disaster-avoiding terrain to get from point A to B to C. The game-play is like any other third person game, except the VR camera is behind your character and you can look around the environment as you move around. Similar to stereoscopic 3D displays, the VR added something to the game, but VR had little to no impact on how the experience was played.
The second game I tried was Airmech VR, and I was very impressed with it because the VR was an important part of how it’s played. Airmech VR is an RTS game where you have a top view 3D map of the world, and you control a giant (or not so giant!) battlemech / robot that is there to protect your base from an incoming onslaught of other robots, vehicles, and bad guys. It definitely worked for VR because you look around the map by physically moving your head and body around to not only see where enemies are coming from, but also getting a closer look at the fine details of the game characters and features. What I particularly liked about this game is that the VR wasn’t just about seeing the experience, it was a vital part of the interface as well. It wouldn’t have been nearly as memorable had it just been a traditional game.
I’ve been thinking about why Oculus went for the seated demos instead of their more recent standing or walking experiences. It’s not just their demonstrations – it’s true of all of their listed games. While it could be about safety or legal wrangling, I think it’s about something more. To my knowledge, this is the first time we are seeing full-fledged games designed for or being enhanced with virtual reality. These aren’t the 30 second experiences we have seen to date! Instead, they are committed stories with beginnings, middles, and ends – games that potentially last for hours instead of minutes. We’ll have to see what the other vendors come up with, but maybe telling longer stories are much harder when the user has the flexibility to stand up and walk around. The challenge may have nothing to do with VR safety and is instead about finding a way to keep a free flowing user in the physical world boxed in to a story track in the virtual world. Something to think about.
All in all, I think Oculus did a great job for E3 and wish them a much deserved congratulations. It’s very exciting to see all the wonderful virtual reality and immersive technology developments at the show, and there is much more to come!