I just received my Oculus Rift dev kit today. I'd been waiting for about a week, excited and impatient, to get my grubby little face in that thing. I played around with it at PAX this year and was blown away by how it imparted a sense of scale and place on me, going so far as to make me feel a sense of vertigo or giving me an intense sensation of butterflies in my stomach as I rolled and looped through the air over a tropical island. I knew immediately that the Rift would be awesome, but I didn't know how it'd apply to the industry as a whole or what role it would play, for a few reasons.
For one, would the consumer version ever mature enough to be a viable starting point? The 800p, high persistence, partially motion tracked nature of the current dev kit leaves a lot to be desired. ESPECIALLY in cases like those shown off at PAX; those demos rarely had anti-aliasing and were running natively at 1280x800, and at low/inconsistent framerates. This threw every issue at once into the face of the user. It was still a hell of an experience but it was not one that could replace a monitor, for example.
For another, I was never even entirely sold on the idea that an HMD would be applicable to all or even most genres and styles of games. While it would be awesome in your ArmAs and your Mirror's Edges and your Journeys of the world, I was fairly certain that games like Call of Duty, Unreal Tournament, Star Craft would be no better on Rift than they would be on a monitor. Possible even worse. Such twitch based, fast paced, motion-sickness packed games seemed doomed on the Rift.
Finally, who will develop for it? Even ArmA 3 has yet to get support for the device, despite being the game universally hailed as the potential killer app for the system, and the developers have said little about if or when support will be added. And we haven't exactly seen a lot of actual games announced for the Rift. A lot of small scale demos with little insight into what a full experience would be like, but no games.
Despite my reservations, I was always 100% on board with VR. I fell in love with the idea of virtual worlds a long time ago and VR has always been a dream of mine. So I bought my Rift (too impatient to wait for any vaguely future-based second DK) and quickly set it up to play with. I spent quite a lot of time trying to coerce ArmA to work, but could get neither of the most recent additions to the series to work. I tried a few small demos which were neat, but far from extra-ordinary and never really "games." Malfunction is quite impressive, but between the language barrier and lack of content, it was little more than a glimpse at what really great animation in a realistic setting does in the Rift. Which is quite a lot, but that may be a topic for another time.
The game that really shows off the Rift best (at least in my opinion), was really unexpected for me. I was curious about the premise, but had instant reservations as the one image I saw of the game looked very much like an iPhone/Android first person shooter. The game in question is called "Time Rifters." It's a first person shooter that brings elements of Super Time Force and old arcade shooters like Space Invaders together in a wonderfully unique VR experience. It has the fast motion and twitchy, precise action of an Unreal Tournament or Quake, but rather than fall on it's face it actually excels at those aspects. The game is exceptionally easy to pick up. You aim with your view, which in the case of the Rift means you aim by looking around (although you can adjust your left and right facing with the mouse/right joystick). This actually gives you a lot of control over where you are putting shots, letting you place pretty accurate shots even when having to lead for fairly slow projectiles early on. And when I say pretty accurate I mean at least as accurate as I could with a mouse, if not a bit more accurate when I really needed. Even in later levels, where the action picks up significantly, it's a joy to control. Snapping around between targets is actually really intuitive and downright fun. I regularly got so into shooting some writhing mass of blocks as it ran/flew around that I'd turn all the way around, staring at the ceiling as I tracked him around and above me.
Now, I know all of this sounds great but it's not really the complete package, is it? VR is about more than just moving your head around accurately. It needs to immerse you, even with something as abstract and arcadey as Time Rifters. And you know what? I think Time Rifters actually made me feel MORE immersed than most other demos I've experienced so far. Perhaps it was because after spending over an hour in the Rift without a break I got so used to being in the world of Time Rifters, but regardless of the reasons, I felt like the little starting area where you wait for other "players" to buy upgrades and select a weapon was basically a starting area for laser tag. Glancing around felt very natural, and the 3D/ FoV filling nature of the experience gave it a very weirdly grounded feel. It felt real in a sense, and that really impressed me. And running around in the levels had the same sort of feeling. It gave leaping through the air (and even more so: falling back down) a rush of excitement that even the most outrageous of games don't quite achieve. In fact, at one point, I was playing with the super jump ability to try and get out of the area that serves as a main menu. I ended up getting on top of the structure around the outside that formed a wall around the player, and began to jump and scurry my way from piece to piece to get at some weird little easter egg on the other side of the level. And it was an incredibly tense experience, thanks to the sense of height and risk that the Oculus gave. I'm not even scared of heights, and I got a little tense every time I looked down.
Because of my experience with the game, I realized that if done right, VR could easily work in nearly any genre or style. And it wouldn't be just a tacked on novelty, it has the potential to totally change the way that games feel. Had I played Time Rifters on a normal monitor with a keyboard and mouse, it would have been a well made, but relatively uninteresting game. But because of the faux-social aspects, the VR based gameplay, the immersion, and a dash of who-knows-what, it was a striking and extremely fun proof of concept for a lot of cool things to come.
Ultimately, Time Rifters is the only traditional video-game ass video game I've really played on the Rift. And man am I excited that it was such a pleasure to play, even for hours at a time. Not to mention that it was so easy to stay in the Rift for so long, especially in such an active game, without feeling any ill effects other than the skin on my face getting a touch irritated.
Do people think that VR is the next big thing in video games? Do you have something else you're waiting on, hoping for, or have been convinced will play a major role in the evolution of "The Video Game?" I'd love to know what you think! I've always been excited and intrigued by the future of this little hobby of ours :)
Or, do you guys have any other kind of game that you wouldn't have expected to see on Rift come about? We've seen a lot of exploration and creepy naked scans of dancers and stuff, but what else do you guys want to see out of the VR community in the coming months?