Last Sunday, Jeremy and I attended the SoCal VR Conference at UC Irvine. I was excited to try out some real virtual reality equipment instead of just reading about it. To be fair, I do have a Google Cardboard, but it’s just not the same thing–the sweet spot (area of the lenses that are in focus) on Cardboard is way too small to give any real immersion.
The first demo, created by Liv Erickson, used some early WebVR APIs to generate a VR scene in a browser which rendered to an Oculus Rift DK2 without positional tracking. The frame rate was a noticeable distraction for me, but it was cool to see what the future of the web may hold. I don’t really understand the use case though. Would users sit down to their computer to browse for products on Amazon and then strap on their VR headset to look at products in 3D? Will people build web games in VR? Time will tell. If you’re already a web developer, this looks like a great way to experiment with VR. Check out Liv’s blog or talk to get started.
The next demo we saw was by Gear VR game called Dandelion. Here’s a video that shows what it looks like. I found the low poly art style to work well. We talked to David, the programmer for the game, and he talked about what his team had built and what they’d like to do with it going forward. The game was a fun little experience where you are a tiny creature exploring a kid’s backyard. For movement, it used Samsung’s (xbox-like) gamepad controller. I only played for a few minutes, but was starting to get a little sim sick by the end. The nausea wasn’t very strong but it stuck with me for a good 30-45 minutes. First person artificial (not from moving your body around) movement, especially rotation, is going to be a big challenge for VR. I really like the idea of a slow-paced exploration game (maybe with some physics or logic puzzles thrown in), but that locomotion problem really needs to get figured out. Maybe Valve‘s room-scale VR is the only way to go… If so, I hope the kids don’t mind sharing a room because daddy needs to build a holodeck. 😉
We took a break to get some lunch and let my stomach settle before heading back in for another loop through the expo. This time, we were lucky to stop by Studio Transcendent‘s booth where they were showing off a beautiful history of flight air show on a DK2 with position tracking. Jer got to use the nicer station with a top-of-the-line video card and sub-woofer based floor vibration platform. Still, without that extra gear the demo ran very smoothly for me. I only noticed one point where it seemed to stutter. The demo consisted of planes from the Wright Flyer to modern jets taking off and flying over your head while you stand in the middle of a large airport runway at dusk (or dawn?). There was supposed to be some voice over narrating the experience but the volume was too low for me to hear it.
During this demo, I spent some time really noticing the pixel layout (you can totally see the pixels in the DK2). For thin lines, like the painted lines on the runway when viewed nearly edge on, you could get something like a Moiré pattern where the line could “hide” between the pixels and become extra aliased. This was especially bad for the thin lines that ran nearly horizontal through the field of view (I’m sure near vertical lines would have the same problem). Rotating my head 45 degrees to either size would smooth everything out. I wonder if the headset makers should account for this problem by creating displays where the pixel layout is rotated 45 degrees. (In games, as in the real world, many straight lines are nearly vertical [like the edge of a building] or horizontal [like the edge of a counter top].) Probably, they’ll just push for higher resolution and optics that subtly blur the pixels to solve the problem that way. We chatted with Ian and John about flight sim games and next-gen (what will be consumer) virtual reality gear. It sounds like it’s going to be amazing.
At the end of the day, I had a great time and it really sparked my interest (as if it wasn’t already) in wanting to get involved in VR in one form or another. I wouldn’t recommend the DK2 for consumers (and probably not for myself), but I think the first generation consumer hardware is going to be great (and just imagine what the 5th generation hardware will be like!). I hadn’t given much weight to the sim sickness problems before, but now I see them as being so important that I’m sure they’ll shape what genres emerge on this new medium (sorry FPS fans). I would have liked to be able to try out the HTC Vive or Oculus’s CV1 prototype, but sadly that wasn’t in the cards. Social experiences are also going to be interesting, but AltSpaceVR‘s booth was busy so we didn’t try that out.