Virtual reality has been something I’ve been dreaming about since I was just a lad. The concept is something that I’m still just absolutely fascinated with. Put this crazy helmet on and you are transported into a world that is completely indiscernible from reality. You could do anything, be anyone, be anywhere, do virtually anything, the only limits are your imagination. Companies have made attempts at producing the hardware in the past. I think we all remember, or have at least seen pictures of Nintendo’s “Virtual Boy.”
The console promised “true 3-D graphics.” Keep in mind, this was released in 1995 and this was what 3-D graphics meant. Just looking at that image gives me a headache. It appears to be the same kind of technology used in 3-D films today. Two images superimposed to create the illusion of depth. If you hadn’t already guessed, the console was a complete failure. A high price point, poor marketing campaign, and general discomfort while playing, doomed the Virtual Boy as soon as it left the assembly line.
I wasn’t really aware of the Virtual Boy when I was a kid but I can imagine that I would have been crushed by disappointment. Nintendo was badass back then. They were what you thought of when you thought of video games. They were responsible for Super Mario for God’s sake. How could such an innovative company screw up such an amazing concept? When would I get to know what it’s like to be Mario? To jump insane distances? To stomp goombas? To shoot fireballs out of my hands? Well, I’m proud to say that it’s coming folks. Major strides in the commercial virtual reality market have been taken. The future is upon us and it’s called The Occulus Rift.
This is the first step towards perfect reality simulation. It started as a Kickstarter campaign, and it has quickly grown into one of the most captivating pieces of modern technology. This helmet is an incredibly well designed, effective, and relatively inexpensive, virtual reality experience. It uses two screens, one for each eye. The two images are positioned in such a way that your eyes blend them into one. It’s a lot like how the mechanics behind your actual eyeball work. Within the helmet are gyroscopes. These are fairly standard motion tracking devices. They’re in your phone, they’re in a Wii remote, and they’re also in heat seeking missiles. The gyroscopes continually send information based on position and speed. These are used to track your head movements and it’s really damn accurate. Check out this dude and see for yourself.
It seems like fear is the easiest emotion to elicit in virtual reality. A lot of the early games have been haunted house/dungeon/forest simulations where you simply wander around an area and have stuff scare the crap out of you. Keep in mind that while playing these games, you see only what the developers want you to. You may hear something behind you through your headset, but you won’t be able to tell what that thing is until you physically turn your head and look. Obviously that gives game developers some pretty good opportunities to illicit some pretty intense horror in people.
It’s not all about scaring people though. Occulus Rift has been integrated into some of the most popular mainstream games for PC/Xbox/Playstation. A particular one that comes to mind is Skyrim. Check out the footage here. Anyone who’s ever played the game wants to experience this. Actually, everyone in the world wants to experience this, even if they don’t know it. Skyrim is one of the ultimate exploration games. It gives you total free reign of a MASSIVE virtual world. That mountain hundreds of miles away? You can totally climb it and will most likely fight a dragon at the top. Now, imagine you’re fighting that dragon, only you don’t see your television. All you see is the world of Skyrim and a massive flying lizard that’s trying to incinerate you. Now that’s a game I want to play.
If you thought that was cool, you might want to sit down if you’re reading this. Occulus Rift addresses the visual part of VR, but what about movement? If I’m playing Call of Duty and I’m using my actual head to line up my shots, it’s going to feel a little strange to control my characters movements with a controller. The solution seems to be an omni-directional treadmill. Something that will track your movement direction and speed, but keep you stationary to avoid destroying your entire living room. That’s at least a decade away right? Uh-uh. Check this.
It’s coming folks. The technology is only improving from here. What’s even more fascinating is how the Occulus Rift will be implemented for uses outside of gaming. This has the potential to change people’s lives, for better or for worse. Make no mistake, technologies like those fantasied in James Cameron’s Avatar are coming. One day, we won’t send actual people into battle, we’ll hook them up to the latest Occulus Rift technology and they will control a super powered, gun toting robot that will march into battle. It may seem crazy, but so did the idea of a universal web of communication before it became the new standard. It’s scary, it’s exciting, but most of all it’s captivating. I’m continually blown away by what we are able to create as humans. I’m incredibly humbled to see this amazing technology grow and it sends my head spinning with possibilities. Now someone tell me when I get my Occulus Rift plug-in for Premiere.