Like all good gaming expos, SXSW is packed full of excited individuals running the rule over the latest releases and battling it out on the classics in pop-up tournaments. Still, at the SXSW gaming expo, there was something that was grabbing the attention and imagination of people much more than the rest. Seasoned veterans and pioneers of the industry alike can be reduced to little more than adolescent fans when confronted with the almost unlimited possibilities of the Oculus Rift. The wild dreams and visions these legends held as fresh-faced designers are fast becoming a reality, and it’s these possibilities that’s gotten everyone at SXSW very excited. Could VR gaming be as big as everyone imagines it can? Is this the future of gaming, and the first signs of a matrix-like world of liquidated humans and loadable super powers?
Gears of War designer Cliff Bleszinski certainly thinks it is, “There are two types of people when it comes to the Oculus Rift…There are those that haven’t seen it and those that have seen it and believe”. Those are fighting words if ever I heard them, and joined by Wing Commander creator Chris Roberts, Words With Friends co-creator Paul Bettner and the creator himself – Oculus founder Palmer Luckey – they formed the panel ‘Virtual Reality: The Holy Grail of Gaming’ to make believers out of everyone.
Verse Inc. CEO Paul Bettner said, “We are not going to be building games. We’ll be building dreams and creating worlds”.
“When you’re wearing the Rift you get a real sense of scale and distance”, Said Chris Roberts, currently working on Star Citizen, a space based MMO which plans to launch with full compatibility with the Oculus Rift. “When I fired up my cockpit and the HUD popped up things in 3D like in Iron Man, I was like ‘Oh my god’”. Let’s be honest, who hasn’t dreamt of playing with technology that would be right at home in the labs of Stark Enterprises.
You won’t be playing a game; you will actually feel like you are in the game. The 1280×800 screen sits inches from your eyes, displaying full stereoscopic 3D images which create the impression that you are actually part of the game. What this now gives game developers is the opportunity to exploit other human emotions previously impossible to access with old technology: primarily fear.
Bettner explains, “I’m hoping what this gives us is the same experience as a teenager in a haunted house with your friends…You’re finally going to have a portal to a million other worlds that you can breathe and experience, like a dream”. Horror games might be a step too far for first-time users but it is that immersive experience that will allow developers to tap into a whole sea of fantasies and emotions that have previously been unattainable.
One of the keys to the Rift is peripherals, more specifically; the impact the Rift will have on them. “It doesn’t make sense to have a gamepad or mouse when creating a realistic environment…These are superhuman interfaces that allow you to do things you couldn’t in real life” Creator Palmer Luckey said. In FPS games, switching between guns and items can be done simply with hotkeys or simply a weapon-switch button; this isn’t possible in real life. Likewise, the mechanics of movement in games will have to evolve with the Rift as well. Bettner adds, “In a FPS, you’re moving or strafing around at 35 miles per hour and that makes you sick (while wearing the rift)…We’ll have to rethink that”.
They all talk about the potential solutions and possible evolution that the gaming industry might take to get the most of this technology. “With a little bit of prediction and misdirection you can make people feel like they are in an infinite space” says Luckey. There is the very likely possibility that technology like this could see the rise of the beloved arcade again. Omni-directional treadmills and rooms that you would occupy both in reality and virtual reality could become the norm, “maybe we’ll see laser tag where you have people running around in a virtual space (with walls, rooms and obstacles)…that you’ll wire yourself into for a few bucks an hour” Luckey said. The pacing of games will obviously be an issue but when ultra-realism is the end goal, it is going to have to be tackled eventually.
It might just be that for true fans of next-gen gaming, this technology and the promise for the future couldn’t be in better hands, Luckey isn’t around for the quick buck, “I didn’t create the Rift because I wanted to build a VR company…I created it because I wanted VR to be a thing that actually happened”. This is more than a game for Luckey; he sees this as the next inevitable step of human communication and interaction.
“What keeps people playing MMOs is not the gameplay or the graphics…it’s the shared experience…all these people in the same space experiencing the same thing”. Let’s be realistic here, MMOs are hugely popular even with horrendous graphics so imagine how popular they would be when they are truly life like. Bleszinski puts it best when he said, “When you go from seeing a 5-pixel tall character and then I’m seeing you in front of me and a dragon swoops down and bites your head off, I’m thinking ‘Holy shit Paul!’, that level of impact is much more real. People are going to wind up becoming best friends in this thing”.
This leads to a natural conclusion that we all know is coming: VR will be better than real life and VR relationships will be better than real life relationships.
“I think we are going to hit that point real fast” Luckey prophesized.
Shotgun being Neo when it all goes down.