The Road to VR

A month after I wrote about John Carmack, he left id Software to become the CTO of Oculus. This was big news for two reasons:

This is a companion discussion topic for the original blog entry at:

I wondered what would it be like to use one of those prototypes and from your description, It’s kind of a disappointment but I’m not letting my hopes down just yet.

“VR” will become a marketing term used to sell clunky headache-inducing “3D” hardware for consumption of Big Media offerings. It’s the next logical stage after 3D goggles – 3D goggles that let you turn your head and “look” at things, sort of.

Real VR – fully-immersive VR that touches all five senses with hardware that stays out of your way – is still a pipe dream. 200 years could go by and it could still be a pipedream. And that’s probably a good thing.

You mentioned playing it Dactyl Nightmare at a storefront - why not have VR arcades? Is that so old-fashioned? It would feel more safe, too, because totally locking yourself away from vision and sound in an apartment or house makes you ripe for burglary and rape.

Or perhaps, instead of awesome positional audio setup, we simply need a pair of in-ear headphones with some advanced software that simulates the Head-Related Transfer Function.

We only have two “sensors” for receiving all that positional audio; there is no reason why you need more than two emitters to recreate the experience.

Examples of this are really rather amazing, but only really work if you put on some in-ear headphones:

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This blog post nearly summarizes a bunch of conversations I’ve had recently after receiving my Oculus dev kit. Especially love the dactyl nightmare reference :stuck_out_tongue:

I work at a 3d printing company (Shapeways) and we are constantly having similar discussions: ‘when will 3d printing be ready for mainstream adoption?’ What I’ve realized is that ‘mainstream adoption’ or in other words, the tech being ready, is entirely application-specific.

For example, we have people making UAV/drone landing gear out of nylon-based plastic. For those users, the 3D printed part is everything they want: light, flexible but strong, and inexpensive. Others, like action figure makers, feel that the plastic is not smooth enough to rival injection molding, isn’t watertight, and most likely is not safe if a kid puts it in their mouth.

I use these examples because I believe they’re incredibly applicable to VR. When I first strapped on my Rift and loaded up riftcoaster, I was expecting graphics comparable to 640x480 GLquake. Instead, I got sub-300x200 and was quite disappointed. I tried a variety of games and had a similar experience - something just felt ‘off’ and my brain couldn’t get into it.

However, there was one game that blew me away. It wasn’t a big-budget shooter, or even one of the more highly rated rift demos. It was an incredibly low-poly racing game that loosely resembled the old game ‘Stunts’ that made rounds in the msdos shareware days.

What this game nailed was a combo of graphics that were simple enough to appear ‘normal’ within this low-res world, controls that felt smooth, and above all else: absolutely perfect head tracking. It’s crazy how much of a difference being able to look slightly left makes when taking a left hand turn… Or the moment when you’re launched up in the air from a huge ramp and look behind you to see the ground as it quickly approaches.

Abrash constantly refers to ‘immersion’ and this demo made me understand why. Some percentage of aspects of the world around you must feel ‘real’ in order for your brain to believe the trick.

The most interesting question in VR today is not: ‘can the hardware and tech be built?’ With carmack and abrash on the case, I have no doubts.

The real question is… Who is VR’s Romero?

Many of the challenges the VR industry faces are design problems, not fears of engineering. We’re talking about making something ‘feel’ real.

The same designer/engineering balance described in Masters of Doom needs to take place again, or else we’ll end up with clunky, high-tech systems that don’t feel human.

I really think that John is working on creating cyberspace right now. Something like second life that doesn’t suck so bad. He’s wanted to do this even back in the quake days.

I did not find the PDF interesting. When can I expect you at my house? I am so excited to meet you!

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It’s interesting how refresh rate at least of 95 Hz is good for VR due to low-persitence requirement. Remindes the headache that low Hz gave on CRTs.

I’m cheering for Occulus Rift, but a recent visit to Orlando showed me that I can’t tolerate simulation rides any more. One ride on the Harry Potter attraction and I was out of it for the rest of the day. If a VR revolution does come around soon, people like me will probably be left out at first. Too bad, because I loved the Occulus demo of Mirror’s Edge. Maybe there will be room for another product to address this.

I’m surprised that you see VR as a anti-social hobby. All the past experiences I had in VR apps with friends were always fantastic because we were… kind of feeling what the one with the Oculus was experiencing. I assumed it was the same for many :confused:
The fact that we couldn’t play simultaneously didn’t stop us from enjoying the experience.

An article on my favorite tech by one of my favorite tech writers!

You didn’t cover VR Sickness or the the marketing friendly term “comfort” is one of the major hurdles that you did not cover.

Crystal Cove is a prototype only, Oculus have stated that the consumer release, know as CK1, will be far above and beyond the Crystal Cove prototype, which is not for sale.

I know you’re a big racing sim fan, a lot of current big name racing sim titles have rift support in one way or another. Playing Dirt3 in the Rift is a pretty amazing experience. Did you give any racing sims a go?

There is a good WebGL simulator that lets you get a sense of how much better the consumer version will be than the dev kit:

The experience of the Rift is pretty subjective, but I’m not surprised that some people (like Jon) used to the current generation of super high resolution monitors and mobile devices might find the dev kit underwhelming. That’s probably the reason that Valve invested in their prototype, so that they can start targeting experiences towards the kind of hardware that will be available. We can’t all afford several thousand dollars of custom hardware, so you just have to use your imagination. :slight_smile:

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perhaps an omnidirectional treadmill

Oculus Rift + Eye tracking for traversal - Non-gamers

There were two consumer level eye trackers that were demoed at CES 2014. Integrating an eye tracker into the Oculus Rift could really help with traversing around. Look where you want to go, then press a button to auto move to that location.

I’m sure a lot of people have seen that people of all ages can enjoy something like the roller coaster demo. And there was that video of the 90-year-old grandmother (watch?v=pAC5SeNH8jw) being absolutely in love with the Oculus Rift. A family member was controlling her character in the virtual world. What if she wanted to move around by herself? Both the Virtuix Omni treadmill, and a game controller would be way too difficult for someone like her to use.

Oh… I know what it is to “watch another person sit down, strap on a headset, and have an extended VR ‘experience’.”. In fact, I know what it is to watch Jeff have that “VR Experience”, right in front of my eyes…

I was so bored I even took a few pics of him…

Ready Player One is a terrible, terrible book. I’m as nostalgic for the 80s as the next guy, but between the tongue bathing of that time and the general Marty Stu-ism, forget it. Redeemed only somewhat by the big battles at the end.

Jeff, have you seen the CastAR?

I haven’t yet tried it my self, but from what I’ve seen and herd from others using it some of your issues with the Oculus Rift may have been solved.

  • Even their pre-kickstarter prototype was tiny compared to the Oculus Rift, although they didn’t have a solution to the cable tether problem last time I saw a demo.
  • I don’t think there is a solution to the software problem that any VR/AR hardware maker can themselves fix. Remember it took John Carmack building a version of Quake for his SGI workstation, and 3dFX making a bastardised half functional OpenGL driver that ran GLQuake to really kickoff the 3D hardware revolution. Now I don’t think I can find a $5 graphics card that won’t have better 3D than my Voodoo 2.
  • CastAR is using two 720p projectors, one for each eye. And as a bonus since the images are projected and reflected back your eyes can focus at a distance more natural for the images your viewing.
  • I think this is one of the keys to why something like CastAR has a chance to be so much more that closed display like Oculus Rift. In a few of their interviews/demos they have discussed the idea of multiple people using the same display surface each with their own glasses, and therefore each with their own view of the game world. Think of playing a table top RPG where the GM has a full view of the game map, but each player can only see what is visible to their character. In their Kickstarter video they briefly show a GM making a dungeon, and later show a player open a door, revealing the monsters on the other side.
  • This is probably still true of CastAR, but maybe less so, with the goal of pulling the game world into our world instead of moving us to a game world some of the more extreme end of the accessories may not be needed, but just about ever interview has asked if you could wallpaper a room in the display surface and make a holodeck, so you could still spend your money on that.


Ugh, I really don’t like TypePad comments, when I log in they asked me for access to “Manage [my] Google+ profile”, I can’t fathom why they should have that level of access for me to post a comment here.
I’ve heard of this really great comment system from, maybe you should see if they will let you use it on your blog.

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Jeff, guessing from today’s news it looks like Mark Zuckerberg is reading your blog.