The consumer release of immersive gaming headset the Oculus Rift, expected in 2014, will be the first step on the road to creating true virtual worldsby Juan Mateos-Garcia / December 30, 2013 / Leave a comment
Virtual reality (VR)—defined by the OED as “the computer-generated simulation of a three-dimensional image or environment that can be interacted with in a seemingly real or physical way using special electronic equipment”—is a common trope in science fiction, from Neal Stephenson’s Metaverse, where users’ avatars interact with each other in a virtual world, to Star Trek’s Holodeck, a room where people and objects are simulated using holographic images, to The Matrix. VR has long represented a frontier for software engineers and digital entrepreneurs, but their attempts to take us there have been disappointing because of technological limitations.
That could be about to change. Oculus VR, a Californian company founded by 21-year-old “hardware geek” Palmer Luckey, are developing the Oculus Rift, an affordable and powerful VR headset made possible by advances in 3D printing, LCD displays, gyroscopes and accelerometers, and even crowdfunding (Kickstarter users pledged $2.4m to the project in 2012).
Last Spring, Oculus started selling $300 development kits to anyone who wanted to tinker with its 3D technology. Since then, we have seen an explosion of creativity in VR prototypes that allow their users to walk down dreamy Tuscan villas, get into interstellar dog-fights, experience the guillotine first hand, or explore the wonders of the solar system. Oculus announced that the program will also run on Android phones. Microsoft and Sony are rumoured to be developing their own VR headsets.
This combination of bottom-up creativity, hobbyist excitement and corporate interest suggests that 2014 may be the year when virtual reality finally becomes a reality; when we have a technology capable of immersing us in believable, interactive digital worlds. Venture capitalists seem to agree—in December, Oculus announced it had raised another $75m to take its technology to market.
Hurdles do remain—one important problem that developers (and users) are grappling with is a kind of motion sickness. Hardware improvements, new user interfaces and game genres are emerging to overcome this challenge.
Assuming this happens, what are the implications of the arrival of “real VR” heralded by the Oculus Rift? In the short term, it will have a huge impact on the games industry, bringing with it a multitude of creative opportunities. Eagerly awaited video games like Star Citizen and Elite: Dangerous—space trading and combat…