Oculus VR’s new 3D video game headset — the Oculus Rift “Crystal Cove” — is going to be a giant headache for journalists all over the world. It is one of those rare products where describing it in mere words doesn’t come anywhere near to realistically depicting how incredible the experience of wearing one is.
Two-dimensional photos and videos are a poor substitute, too.
It’s one of the most completely bizarre, wonderful, unique, laugh-out-loud, holy cow! video experiences I have ever had.
The reason I’m so blown away by this product — by far the most impressive thing I’ve witnessed at CES, the giant electronics show in Las Vegas, this year — is due to some impressive technical improvements the company made over the last version. Basically, they’ve gotten rid of the slightly jerky way the landscape moves around as you turn your head, and they’ve added an increased level of “positional tracking” so that the game reacts when you lean close or pull away from an object.
The result is a level of virtual 3D reality that reacts so naturally to what the user does that you actually get motion sickness when you stop playing, because your body has been convinced that it was moving around.
Again, this sounds like a mere technicality until you see it for yourself — lean forward to look at a cockpit dashboard in the game, and the gauges and displays loom toward you with natural clarity just as they would in real life. It’s disconcertingly good — the internal 3D world moves as convincingly as the real one.
The context here is that video games bore me. I’ve owned a PlayStation and a Wii, both of which had long careers as dust collectors in my living room. I am just not interested in sitting on the sofa for hours at a stretch, playing advanced versions of Space Invaders.
Yet within seconds of donning the new headset I knew this was a (non-cliched) game changer, in the sense that it will literally change games forever. Once the goggles were in place — and they fit over your glasses, if you wear them! — I was instantly inside the cockpit of a military space fighter, launching into a gloomy, asteroid-filled galaxy of hostile aliens and impossibly vast ships. (The game was Eve Valkyrie, see video below.)
But the game itself is actually the least interesting part of the experience. It’s the fact that when you look at your feet, you see a pair of feet at the pedals of a beat-up fighter ship. Turn around to look behind you and you can see the leather cushion on the back of your seat. Check out the ceiling. Look out the side windows. Whatever you want to do. (The level of detail is helped by a high-definition OLED screen display.)
The Crystal Cove version of the Oculus rift is currently only a prototype that game developers can buy and experiment with. There about 50,000 of them out there. It is not available at retail yet, and the number of top-quality games you can play on it is limited.
So gamers will have to wait.
I left the Oculus booth in Las Vegas completely convinced that it’s the future. Oculus games make Grand Theft Auto or Call of Duty played on a TV look like Pong.
There was just one question in my head: Why does this company still exist? It should have been acquired by Microsoft or Sony or Nintendo or EA or Take Two or any of the other large gaming companies months ago.
The firm has taken about $US115 million in funding from investors like Andreessen Horowitz and backers on Kickstarter. That sum would imply a valuation in the billions.
One can only assume they’ve been saying “no” a lot.