Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Oculus - Underwhelmed and then Totally Sold!

So, at last... it arrived - the Oculus Rift, the gaming device I've been watching from afar like a child in Hamleys coveting all the expensive toys... waiting for the moment I could get one myself...

... that time came in August - I'd been reading up on some reviews of the latest DK2 version of the Oculus and decided that it was time to get one (not least because there was a two month waiting list and my Omni Virtuix was supposed to be arriving now as well (it has been delayed a few months, but that's another story)).  

So I put in an order and heard ... absolutely nothing for two months until a message popped up to say that the payment hadn't gone through.  My bank was being ever-vigilant and had stopped it going through fearing fraud on an international scale.  A quick email to the support team ("Kelly" in particular) and I was soon moving along again with their swift and responsive help everything was paid up and ready...

... I had thought it would be another long wait, but it wasn't and I got a "Shipping soon" message on Monday morning.  Then a "shipped" message later in the day.. with the Oculus arriving by lunchtime on Tuesday.

Typically I had "one of those days" where I was run off my feet so didn't get a chance to sit down and have a look at it until 8.30pm.

The package it arrives in is functional - you can see lots of videos showing how it looks to unbox the thing so I won't go into it... plus it's a bit boring talking about packaging and boxes and everyone is really interested in the games and what it's like.  Setting it all up is fairly straightforward and it comes with a reasonably easy to understand guide - the only thing you really need is the "Oculus runtime for X" to run on your machine to get started, but there are also a few demos that are worth looking at (more on that in a moment).  There was a wee bit of "jiggery-pokery" to get the system screen viewing OK and I got a little bit frustrated because the video output wouldn't work straight from the HDMI output (ended up having to go through a DVI to HDMI converter (which is included in the box I might add!)).

Once set up (and literally the moment it was set up) I stepped into the "Tuscany" demo to look around the villa.  Everything was working fine and the "wow" moment I was expecting didn't happen... I started to examine how everything looked inside the world and the only thing that spoilt things a bit was the fairly obvious black dots on the screen (the resolution really isn't great).  Looking around in the world was fine - there was a bit of blurring into the distance and, given I've got quite a high spec PC set up, I was totally underwhelmed by the look of the demo. 

However, the tech worked - I turn my head, the world display changes ... it works incredibly well and is super reactive.  I tried walking around by using the keyboard but that just made me feel a little bit motion sick (it really does feel odd!!)

On to the next few demos - I downloaded an excellent architecture demo that showed off a much better higher res world and wandered around in there.  Again I got the motion sickness when moving around with the mouse / keyboard.

Next I tried out a few of the rift coaster type demos - one called Atlantis:Infinite Coaster which was reasonably nice and the other was a remake (in HD) of the medieval scene / castle.  Well worth a look and this time I wasn't feeling sick at all (more about being in a chair and stationary)... although I have to be honest the "Infinite Helix" roller coaster is not an experience I'll be rushing to repeat... ever.

On to the game I'd been waiting for "Elite:Dangerous".  On loading the game it was fairly straightforward to set up the Oculus so I could see the world through the headset, but the head tracking would not turn on... I ended up scouring the net to find out how to do it.  There were lots of "just end some processes and it'll be fine" only I didn't have those processes in my task list.. :|

After some time away playing some Destiny on the PS4 I returned for another go.  This time I found a much more useful post that basically said just set these four settings and hey-presto... and they were right.  

At this point it was about midnight but I thought "well, I might as well have a quick go"... 

Late last week I bought a Hotus joystick / controller specifically for playing Elite (and I must say it works really well) so set that up in-game using the in-game menus.  The menus and text are just-about readable... sometimes you have to move your head towards them (that's right, moving closed to things with the headset zooms it in... very natural feeling!)

Then I was into the tutorials for taking off.  Except I didn't.  I just sat there and looked around - it was like I  was there... actually there, in a space ship in a hangar ready to take off.  Looking around the cockpit various menus / hud elements just pop up into existence ready to be interacted with.  You look down and you see your flight suited body... you look up and you can see outside the ship to the ceiling.  It's all very natural feeling.  Finally I got around to taking off and found the ship easy to control (well, ish, those who know me in games know that I have trouble driving, steering, flying anything and this is no different... in the infinite emptiness of space I still manage to crash into the lone floating asteroid...).  Outside the space looks great - flying about I was (in the next tutorial) directed to warp to a star that looked amazing.. and then did a bit of combat (all of this is for another post).

All I can say is that Elite:Dangerous precisely demonstrated what I have been waiting for since trying out one of those GIANT VR headsets in the early 1990s.

I'll post something more once I've clocked up a few more flying hours, in the meantime check out this video of a chap in Elite showing you what the cockpit / HUD looks like.