I just got my Oculus Rift development kit in the mail yesterday. Some friends and I tried the configuration demo a bit on a laptop, and were pretty blown away by just sitting at a simple 3D desk render, looking around into an endless, blue matrix. The mind quickly grabs on after about 30 seconds and starts to interpret what it’s seeing (no matter how simplistic the graphics are) as being real.
Fast forward to getting the Rift set up around 4 am on my home desktop (it has a lot of trouble with multiple monitor setups). I finally got to play a basic tech demo that came with the SDK, which allows you to move around freely in a small environment.
Unexpectedly, after only a minute of this, I began to feel violently ill. My brain was convinced I was there, but when you subtract the physical feeling of real movement (especially going down stairs — barf-tastic), the body doesn’t handle it too well. I could even see seasoned FPS veterans end up with “VR sickeness.”
Supposedly, you get used to it over time and build up a tolerance, but my current state of “VR hangover” is less than pleasant, and kind of disturbing; just looking at my monitor right now without the headset, it’s “ballooning” out at me. Going back and forth between virtual space and real space is pretty jarring.
Regardless of how seamless the shift from the real world to VR is made as the technology is fine-tuned, I think Oculus VR would benefit greatly if consideration is put into developing and packaging a basic “VR Training” app with the consumer version, to lead new users through the process slowly; VR sickness could be a big barrier to entry for early adopters, much like it was for non-gamers moving to early FPS games. The only real way to overcome it is to allow the mind time to adjust and cope with a new mode of perception (that is, complete visual integration with an environment, minus the physical sensation of being there).
VR sickness isn’t a show-stopper, mind you: This is happening, and it’ll become a new way of experiencing life in general. I could eventually imagine people not even bothering with the standard multi-monitor setup; VR introduces a more natural, relaxed viewing experience that places less strain on the eyes (if you’ve configured your headset properly). You no longer fixate on a single point in front of you, which is more in line with how our ancestors experienced the world. Once a more wireless setup is developed, it can become portable. It would almost have to; who wants to constantly configure a new headset when they go between home and work, or go to play games at a friend’s house?
I particularly like the idea of being able to lay back on my bed, lock the motion controls, and read a book, or watch a movie, at any angle.
The VR experience is spectacular, and going to be a real game changer in how we experience things over the next few years to come. Film makers are already investing in VR cameras to create fully immersive 3D scenes. A new artform will have to arise, as quick camera shifts and scene transitions are very disruptive to the casual VR view. The potential for therapeutic uses is also extremely high for both visual-spatial training and treating numerous psychological disorders, potentially even being useful for rebuilding crumbling relationships; imagine a setup where you and your significant other, both equipped with 3D camera/VR headset combos, interact from opposite visual viewpoints — you actually seeing yourself from their point of view, and vice versa.
Oh, and don’t even get me started on porn. That’s a given. If new tech gets picked up by the porn industry, you can bet your ass it’s worth investing in. Curious to see what happens there.
I’ll be making a best effort to be on board this train before it leaves the station, and the consumer version of the Oculus Rift ships. Oculus VR has gone through great pains to make the SDK’s simple to integrate into Unity and Unreal Engine, so it isn’t too difficult to jump right in and get your feet wet. As libraries for handling VR display and input become more available and easy to use, the potential for just about any kind of desktop (or mobile) application explodes. I’m really looking forward to what savvy developers come up with.