The glasses for the perfect virtual world
The airlock opens, the music swells. Classic is just right for the exit maneuver. A satellite flies by. The astronaut turns his head: there it is, the Earth. Lonely, in front of the black nothingness of infinite space. The heart beats faster, an old dream comes true – and everything seems damn real. One is alone, alone in space.
The download for this demo is only a few megabytes in size, the effect is all the more dramatic. The experience of being in space and looking down on Earth is now experienced by everyone-with the help of virtual reality. A buzzword that has been haunting the computer industry since computers came into existence.
In recent years, games on computers and consoles have made great strides: photorealistic landscapes, artificial intelligence that recognizes complex relationships or physical laws that reflect reality. But until now, the user was always staring at a screen.
Holy Grail of the gaming industry
So far, the characters, avatars, have marched through the games. The player himself always sat in this world. For years, real ” virtual gaming “has always been something like the” Holy Grail ” of the gaming industry. Virtual reality is about replacing reality with a virtual, but equally credible, world in which you can look around and move just as naturally.
There have been several attempts to make virtual reality possible, but often the necessary devices were bulky, you had to put huge shapeless structures on your head or the display quality was too poor.
But now the breakthrough seems to be imminent: Oculus Rift is the name of the headset, which has been causing enthusiasm in the hands of many developers and game enthusiasts since the beginning of the year. It is striped over the head similar to ski goggles. Then you look at two small monitors, which are installed in these glasses.
Complete field of view
A magnification effect is created by upstream lenses, which ensures that the entire field of view is filled – and you feel like you are in the middle of the virtual world. This is made possible above all by the development of small high-performance monitors, such as have been available in smartphones for a few years.
What professional developers have been biting their teeth at for decades, apparently succeeds a 20-year-old American. Palmer Luckey from California developed Oculus Rift in his garage last year, initially out of a personal need to be able to immerse himself in “real virtual realities”.
But it quickly became apparent that he hit the nerve of the computer player par excellence. Through a so-called”Kickstarter” campaign, in which the money is collected directly from potential buyers, he was able to collect 2.5 million dollars within months, meanwhile, a venture capitalist has entered with another 16 million dollars to ensure that there will also be a finished retail device.
Resolution is still coarse-grained
The target is the end of 2014, after all, the previous device, which is delivered to everyone, has not yet reached the final maturity: The resolution is still quite coarse – grained, you can recognize individual pixels and even the pixel grid stands out-you still have the feeling of looking through a fine fly screen.
However, this does not detract from the gaming experience itself, and the feeling of being in the middle of a strange world seems unreal and yet real at the same time. For example, in the fantasy role-playing game “Skyrim” you can walk through medieval worlds.
You turn your head, and the image naturally rotates with you, as if you were also looking around in reality. Dragons, the main characters of the game, circle almost lifelike over their own heads. This is made possible by a” headtracker”, which detects the movements of the head and transmits them into the game.
However: So far, the glasses only register movements in three spatial axes, you can not bend down, for example, because the glasses then lack the reference point to reality to adjust the image correctly.
Fans develop games for glasses
Nevertheless, the glasses and everything that seems to be possible with them have sparked a storm of enthusiasm among fans in recent months. For example, game fans on the Internet are currently forming a community that publishes new demos and game content for the new virtual reality glasses almost daily.
After over the past few years something like boredom had spread through repeatedly warmed up game principles and despite always perfect graphics, the mood now has something of departure. For the first time, the Oculus Rift really gives you the feeling of being in the middle of another world.
The five-minute horror game “Alone in the Rift”, which is included in the demo kit, has an extremely oppressive effect with these glasses. It shows the possibilities of Oculus Rift: suspenseful games automatically create much more atmosphere, because the pixel world suddenly seems authentic. You get a realistic impression of spatiality, distances and size ratios, abysses, for example, actually cause fear of heights.
Nausea effect like on the high seas
The impression is quite getting used to and not for weak stomachs: Again and again players report that they feel nauseous. If you seem to be walking through pixel landscapes, even though you are sitting on a chair at the same time, contradictory information is signaled to the brain – the result is dizziness like on the high seas.
After a little practice, however, this settles. Various tests also show: In general, the glasses are more suitable for simulations in which the player sits in a cockpit, such as space games, flight simulations or car racing games. Fast shooters, in which you have to turn your head jerkily, also work, but rather create nausea.
But the technology is not only suitable for players: Tour operators could use the glasses to show potential customers holiday resorts in previously unknown realism. Doctors could treat phobias like claustrophobia and architects could guide their buyers through their future homes.
Only one thing is still missing: Anyone who moves in the virtual world should do so in this world, in which he moves his feet and legs. A solution that will be offered from next year is “Omni”, a kind of running cage in which the player moves with special shoes.
Oculus Rift and Omni together lead to a perfect impression of movement in virtual reality – the holodeck, as it is known from “Star Trek”films, will be within reach from next year. Virtual worlds almost become reality.