The New Oculus Rift: What You Need To Know
After listening to Oculus talk for almost an hour about its latest version of the Rift and its accessories, it’s becoming clear to me that the other players in this field have a lot of work to do to compete. Despite the increased investment from other companies like HTC, Valve, and Sony and even after actually assisting with Samsung’s Gear VR project, Oculus is still miles ahead of the competition; they did have a considerable head start after all. Crucially, they seem to have fully recognized that the defining feature of this technology will be its games, and for that you need developers.
Oculus has already partnered with a number of well established gaming studios but will also reportedly be investing 10 million dollars into independent game developers and start ups, and has paid increased attention to its propriety game-publishing platform, Oculus Share. Along with this, the Oculus rift is compatible with the popular Unity 5 and Unreal 4 engines, and with Windows 10 and Direct X 12. These kind of options should not only make it easier to create an application for the Rift from the ground up, but also make advances into the important world of porting games on to the platform. You’re even able to stream Xbox One games straight to the headset, although the experience does look a little odd, placing you in a 3D living room with your game taking up a virtual screen on your virtual wall. Their newly announced partnership with Microsoft has enabled Oculus to include the well established Xbox One controller by default as part of the Rift package, meaning that every game designer now knows that his customer will be interacting with their virtual world in the same way that they are, a huge advantage in terms of simplicity and development times. That is of course, unless the consumer in question has purchased an Oculus Touch. More on that, later.
In terms of software, Oculus Home is the company’s answer to the UX solutions on the Xbox One and Playstation 4, but it comes in both 3D and 2D versions. Scope looks a little limited at the moment, with focus on your installed games, the online marketplace, and quick links to your friends and what they’re currently playing, but this is sure to expand as the platform matures. Speaking of games, we did get to see a number of trailers for those that will be available at launch, and especially those that have been specifically designed from scratch for the Rift. Notably CCP, the studio responsible for the massive 2003 hit Eve Online, had a lengthy demo of their new effort Eve Valkyrie, which puts the player in the cockpit of a futuristic space-fighter and lets them loose. It looks engaging and fun for the most part, but once you’re over the initial experience I would worry about how much time you’d want to spend looking around at the inside of your shiny vessel, when really you should be concentrating on the enemy ships. Other titles include RPG labyrinth-crawler Chronos from Gunfire Games, and Insomniac Games’ arctic adventure, Edge of Nowhere. More are apparently in the works and will be announced at next week’s E3, where Oculus will be demoing all of their new kit.
Focusing on the headset itself, the unit will feature two OLED screens giving the wearer a resolution of 1080×1200 per eye, with an ultra-high refresh rate to try to convince your brain that you’re actually somewhere you’re not. To make the most of this set-up, the displays can now be altered to match the distance between your eyes, hopefully ensuring that everyone can have the same stereoscopic experience. Oculus has now finalised the design of the Rift, paying particular attention to the way it feels on your head. They’ve reduced the overall weight, improved the balance, attempted to make the strap as comfortable as possible, and even made room within the unit to fit a pair of glasses. The included headphones are actually removable, in case you’d prefer to use a pair of your own to experience the company’s ‘VR Audio’ design, that’s intended to replicate sounds in direct relation to what’s being displayed.
But, in a shameless Apple styled ‘One more thing…’ announcement, excitable Oculus founder Palmer Luckey revealed something completely new, just as we were expecting the event to wrap up. The typically named Oculus Touch is the company’s answer to almost every user’s first reaction when putting on a VR headset; that is, to try to reach out and touch what they’re seeing. It takes the form of two symmetrical circular controllers that wrap around the wearer’s hands, providing a mixture of traditional controls in the form of analogue sticks and triggers, along with innovative support for natural gestures. Sensors along the inside of the device can recognise actions like pointing, or a thumbs up for example, providing players with not only a unique way of interacting with their games, but also with each other. In the future we’ll see multiplayer experiences that allow you to communicate with your teammates through these visual cues, enabling your avatar onscreen to echo your movements and direct your friends to elements within your shared virtual world. The Oculus Touch system also makes use of the existing Constellation motion tracking method incorporated into the headset, so thankfully no other hardware should be needed to enable the use of these wireless controllers. There was no word of final pricing for these or the rest of the Rift package, but the expected release date is still pegged for the admittedly vague Q1 2016.
So, that just about brings us to a close for the most important elements of today’s press event. Have you seen something that’s sparked your interest? Let us know what you think of the new Oculus Rift in the comments!