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Virtual Reality: Round 2!

Back in the early 90s the future of gaming was all about Virtual Reality. Nintendo dabbled in it with their attempt of the Virtual Boy, a pre-James Bond - Pierce Brosnan was braving a helmet for The Lawnmower Man film, and Dominic Diamond had contestants on Gamesmaster stepping into giant pods (the pods were just for show by the way) to go head to head in a very blocky virtual world. The problem was it was all rather, as Mr Diamond would once say...pants!

The world just wasn’t ready for virtual reality and neither was your wallet! The technology wasn’t there for a start. The eye pieces were all low resolution, there was no motion technology like we have today and the highest rate of graphics we had back then was about 16bit; the virtual world was far from reality! Thanks but no thanks; I’ll stick with this blue hedgehog fellow for now.

It was all rather expensive too! Nintendo’s Virtual Boy crashed and burned, having the unfortunate experience of putting one on (or better described as bowing my head down into one), the graphics resembled the original Gameboy, except it was red and black and made you feel like you were about to have a seizure. But the main issue was the price, it was far too expensive for what at the time was just a gimmick – think of it as today’s Samsung gear; a pointless and expensive accessory, that makes you look ridiculous!

Eventually during the mid-nineties this so called virtual reality seemed to disappear along with its Hollywood box office flops Lawnmower Man 2 and Disclosure. But slowly and surely throughout the years its presence has lingered and as other gimmicks such as 3D have made a money making come back and the arise of motion technology such as Nintendo’s Wii and Microsoft’s Kinect; it was inevitable that Virtual Reality would make its return and this time take no prisoners, including myself, surprisingly.

I have never been one to jump on the bandwagon of what I believe to be over popularised pap! Take the iPhone for example, why would I want an expensive piece of hardware when I can buy a Samsung device that’s half the price and does twice as much – “oh but this time we have a fingerprint scanner!” Well, see this middle finger right here – scan this! 3D was something else that I never bought into! Yes it was pretty cool watching my first film in 3D, but after watching the 300th film that was in 3D completely unnecessarily (I’m looking at you Green Hornet) and paying twice as much for a ticket, I soon grew a hatred towards this false dimension and boycotted places like the Odeon for the indie cinemas instead. Then there’s my favourite piece of kit that makes you look like Tom Cruise straight out of Minority Report, minus the annoying grin – the Kinect. The casual gaming masses lapped it up for all about the two minutes of play time it was worth, the hardcore gamers like me, will stick with a gamepad in hand, sprawled out on the couch in just our gruds thanks. The future potential of the Kinect is what interests me though and with the rise of a certain device called the Oculus Rift; the true future of gaming is upon us.

The Oculus Rift is an upcoming virtual reality head-mounted display that began life as a Kickstarter campaign that raised a whooping 2 million dollars on Kickstarter alone. If this wasn’t a sign that the world was finally ready for Virtual Reality, the company behind the Oculus Rift vowed that the final consumer product would be affordable to all. They have claimed that it will be no more than £300 and with the rumours of the final product having a 4K resolution that is a true bargain indeed.

In the mean time, while the final product approaches its late 2014 release schedule we have the first development kits available and having the privilege of popping one on, I can safely say that I’m already sold.
I truly found myself in virtual worlds, from riding rollercoasters, driving F1 cars, to sitting in a spaceship cockpit on a journey through our solar system. Turning left and right and looking behind, no longer meant turning away from the screen to see your nagging other half moaning to you that you spend too much time playing Call of Duty, you were now in that virtual world!

The most interesting part of my time with the Oculus Rift was discovering how the brain works. The virtual world almost fools your brain, with the body not moving at all, long drops on the rollercoaster still made me feel nauseous and in cases of others I have watched – almost fall over. Sitting in the cockpit of my spaceship, I could see my virtual arms resting on my knees and when I rested my real arms in the same position, my brain instantly switched to thinking those virtual arms were my own, it was a very eerie yet strangely satisfying feeling.

Software wise, it already has heavy support. A lot of third party programs are already available, the adult market is already salivating over the future potential of the hardware (the adult market is quite a dominate force with pushing new technology, i.e. VHS and Blu-ray), and Steam have added Oculus Rift support to a selection of games on their network, including Skyrim and this is all still with just the development kits available.

The resolution was the only issue I had with the first prototype; it wasn’t that great but with the announcement of the second development kit titled Oculus Rift: Crystal Cove having an OLED 1080p display, with motion technology included, the future of the virtual world is looking very rosy.

Forget those ugly boxes Xbox One and  Playstation 4; the Oculus Rift is the true next generation of gaming and for someone as pessimistic as me to say so, that must only be a good sign of things to come.

Tom France

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