And why it’s still important.
I’ll never forgot the moment five months ago when my Oculus Rift arrived in the mail. Putting it on, I was amazed that Virtual Reality technology had advanced so far and instantly knew it was the future. The entire experience was amazingly immersive and I quickly went through all the Oculus tech demos amazed at every one.
So why is not worth it?
Unless you’re Warren Buffet, spending $500 on the Rift as well as the cost of having a computer that could run it is incredibly expensive. Add in the cost of the touch controllers for the full experience and it’s really up there. After purchasing it, you’re not eager to spend even more.
There are some great free experiences on the Rift like BigScreen VR. It transports you into a virtual world with others with your computer on a big screen in a variety of environments, such as a movie theater or posh apartment. But, it’s soon apparent that you’ll have to spend a lot more on the Oculus Store to get games and get any value out of your purchase.
What you’ll quickly realize is the vast majority of the games not made by a big studio or a rare quality indie developer, are essentially low-quality tech demos. They feel like something one could whip together in a few hours in Unity. You’re transported from the sleek, polished, graphics of the official tech demos to the world reminiscent of Golden Eye from 20 years ago.
The difference being of course that Golden Eye was pure fun while these are essentially an hour of content showing off a specific tech concept.
There are, however, some well made immersive games. My Rift arrived several weeks before the Touch Controllers came out. The game I played the most during this time was The Climb.
This game is incredibly beautiful and truly shows you the potential of VR. Unfortunately, after hours in virtual reality the initial high from the flashy visuals and new interface wears off and you’re left with the stark truth: there is no substance. As it stands today, virtual reality is a brilliant new interface with no compelling reason to use it. It’s as if developers were so focused on making their games beautiful and thinking of novel ways to use the interface, they forgot that games need to be fun. Even games that are supposed to have stories are very shallow and often times can be played through in 15 hours or less.
When the Touch Controllers were finally released, I had a lot of hope in the platform having new life. However, the high from using the new interface lasted even shorter than when I initially got the Oculus. The fundamental problems still exist.
The Technical and Practical Issues
Remember earlier when I mentioned BigScreen VR and how you could project your computer screen onto a massive screen? This is such a killer feature and I’d sell my computer monitors and use it 24/7 if not for a problem: God Rays.
Whenever you have black text on a white background (99 pct of websites), it becomes unreadable with God Rays. And from reading online, many movies become unwatchable. Oculus has inexplicably chosen to make their loading screen black and white so you’re constantly reminded of the issue.
The other elephant in the room? Motion Sickness. This problem is self-explanatory so I won’t go into too much. But, I doubt there exists a human who could play first person Minecraft on their Oculus without throwing up within 10 minutes.
The final major issue with the Oculus is that it just a hassle to use. Do you have room for three sensors and a big headset to sit around when you’re not using them? What about a room where you can walk around without running into anything? What about extra HDMI ports and five open USB3 ports? If not, have fun setting that all up every time you want to use your Oculus.
Why the Oculus Rift is Still Important
I have yet to mention the main competitors to Oculus: the HTC Vive and Playstation VR. Each of these devices occupies a unique space in the VR market and they’re all important in order for VR to reach it’s potential.
The Vive is really important both for indie developers and developing the technology for room scale VR. It can leverage the power of Steam to empower indie developers and reach PC gamers who have used Steam for years.
The Playstation VR is considerably cheaper and low end compared to both the Vive and Rift. However, Sony has something that neither of the other companies do: relationships with large developers whom they’ve worked with for decades. If anyone is going to convince large developers to create quality VR content, it will be Sony. Even now, the Playstation VR has quality stories and substance in their games despite the technology lagging behind. They also have the trust of the consumer into whose homes they’ve shipped tens of millions of consoles.
Finally, Oculus has all the might of a 400 billion dollar company behind them. We need Oculus to continue investing and pushing the limits of the technology of VR. While the other companies are in a great position to bring on developers and users to VR, Oculus is in a unique position to really push the technology further. The games made by Oculus are amazing in the way they push graphics and methods of interaction. They’ve already been able to cut the cost of their product considerably. As VR technology presses forward, its clear the future lies in the combined strengths of all three of the current generation devices.