The Oculus Rift Diary – Part 1


Quake wasn’t playing nice with screenshots, so you don’t get any fish-eye distortion effects here. Sorry.


The thing about VR is that it puts you into a virtual world, right? So, is there a better way for me to test things out than to plug myself into the granddaddy of 3D shooters and spend an hour blasting Fiends, Shamblers, and Scrags?

This was a fucking horrible idea.

The Rift handles Quake well, thanks to the superb job Phoboslab did with making the two play nice. Mouselook is tied to the horizontal axis, with you using your head to fine-tune your aim and to look/aim up and down. You turn with the mouse, but if an enemy pops out at you from the left, you can look at it and open fire. It’s surprisingly easy to get to grips with, and makes me feel like my eyes can launch murder beams. This is a power I have wished for many times.

Quake, however, does not handle the Rift well. Or my stomach does not handle Quake well through the Rift. Something like that.

Here’s the thing: Quake is fast-paced. Really fast-paced. It might not necessarily seem that fast-paced, but your player character accelerates from zero to about 30mph instantly, which is pretty much enough to make my brain shout WHAT THE FUCK and start trying to climb out of my ears. The fact that I was sat down, but was clearly moving under my own steam (and walking, and jumping) didn’t help, nor did the fact that the mouse was also affecting my turning.

Great game, and the Rift implementation works really well. This would be fantastic if it weren’t for the fact that I barely managed to finish E1M1 before I had to go and sit in a dark room for half an hour.

Also: I never realised how big most enemies are in this. The Rottweilers in particular are bloody huge.

BLEURGH rating: bleurgh

And now back to our regularly scheduled quick looks at Rift games.


This, on the other hand, just looks much more terrifying without the Rift fish-eye effect.

AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! – A Reckless Disregard for Gravity

Because Quake wasn’t bad enough, I decided that the next thing to try (once my brain had been lulled back into a false sense of reality) was arcade-y freefalling game AaAaAA!!!. It has built in Oculus Rift support, and everything, and I can turn it off really really quickly if I need to.

This… was actually fine, which is a big surprise. I have a feeling there are a few reasons for this, though. One is that you’re pretty much only moving along one axis (horizontal) while continually looking in one direction (down). Another is that you’ve generally got a point of reference in the distance. I’m not sure about these reasons, but I’ll doubtless be touching on them again in a few weeks when I’ve got a bit more experience with what makes me ill and what doesn’t.

BLEURGH rating: 4/10. The bounce pads give a bit of a WAIT WHAT feeling, but other than that it doesn’t do much to inflict nausea… which is kinda surprising, since this is a game in which you’re falling as fast as you can and as close to buildings as you can.

Blue Marble

Oh so pretty. I keep firing this up to try it with more music, and it blows me away every time.

Blue Marble

Finally, something soothing. Blue Marble is a relaxatron: you convert an audio file into .ogg format, drop it into the directory, and then you go on a nice soothing ride though space while that music plays.

It’s… quite something. With the Oculus Rift securely strapped on and headphones attached to your ears, you do feel surprisingly like you’re in some sort of little spacecraft floating around Earth. You can look whichever way you like, and the craft will slowly turn to match your direction, while drifting along its predetermined course. You’ll drift past satellites and asteroids, watch the sun come up around the side of the Earth… it’s just lovely.

What’s also lovely is that the visuals are somewhat synced to the music, insofar as the length of the trip pretty much coincides with the length of the selected song. One I tried (The Chemical Brothers – The Private Psychedelic Reel) went on for longer than the ride, which obviously isn’t great, but then that’s 10 minutes long. Everything else worked fine. I would highly recommend Air’s Alone in Kyoto for a genuine sense of gentle wonder.

BLEURGH rating: 2/10. The very beginning, when your little pod leaves the spacecraft, can be a bit jarring. Beyond that, though, it’s smooth starsailing.



The Closing Comments

I’m simultaneously awed and disappointed in the Oculus Rift, which probably sounds confusing. I’m awed because when it works, it really is a hell of a thing. With headphones, it occasionally manages to completely fool the eyes and ears, and dropping into a completely virtual world evokes a feeling that defies description.

The disappointment mostly comes from the dev version I’m using. Right now, at least, I would highly recommend holding off for the consumer version. While the devkit is solidly built (it doesn’t feel like a prototype, at all) the low resolution is a bit of an issue, particularly when it comes to absolutely any text whatsoever. AaAaAA!!!‘s menus require a fair bit of squinting, and most of the little jokes are totally illegible. The “screen door” effect – in that you can see little dark lines in between the pixels making up the image – is in full effect, although you learn to ignore that fairly quickly. There’s usually a sense that I’m looking at the world through goggles or binoculars, mostly because of the big black outlines around my peripheral vision where the lenses don’t reach. The latter is unlikely to change, but the rest should – I’d hope – be fixed with the commercial release. This is why I was so amazed that Blocked In worked so well; despite all of these issues, I still forgot I wasn’t actually there.

In short: the potential is absolutely there. The devkit just doesn’t make the most of it right now – which isn’t a surprise. It’s a devkit.

Over the coming months I’ll continue detailing my experiences with more titles (particularly games that don’t natively support the Rift, like Far Cry 3, and games with proper built-in support, like Hawken), update you on whether the nausea with games like Quake is lessening as I adjust to the Rift, talk about anything exciting that’s happening, get other people to try it and relate their reactions and opinions, and start experimenting with what seems to be causing or reducing nausea. Stay tuned for lots more VR coverage.

If there’s anything you particularly want me to look at, examine, or comment on, post up a comment below. And yes, I’ll be taking a look at Rift horror sometime soon. You bastards.


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  • Elly

    Curious, do you ever get nausea when playing 3d games on a monitor? I’ve known people who have, especially with shooters?

    • Tim McDonald

      Generally, no. Low FOV can occasionally make me feel a little uncomfortable, but “a little uncomfortable” is about the limit of it. Black Ops 2’s opening aside, I can’t think of a single other example of a game that’s made me feel at all motion sick.

  • Asteria

    I look forward to you reviewing the horror games. mwhahahah

  • nasarius

    Adding only a joystick and no extra VR gear, it seems that the Rift would really shine in a space sim with realistic Newtonian physics. Possibly flight sims as well, but I think that the absence of g-forces would be more noticeable there.

    Or hypothetically any other sort of game where your avatar is seated and the movement isn’t too quick, but I can’t think of many examples besides the slower mech games.

    • Tim McDonald

      That would probably be the one instance when it would work flawlessly, yeah. I do think that flight sims and racing games will probably work pretty well, but I haven’t had the opportunity to try them yet; the one racing game I attempted refused to render half of the car’s interior in the right eye, which just led to a blinding headache.

      I didn’t have room to write about it here (and there’s a lot I want to say about it, so I’ll likely type words about it sometime in the future), but Lunar Flight works astonishingly well with the Rift for pretty much those reasons. You’re sat in a cockpit in a lander on the moon, and you generally rise and fall slowly enough that the lack of g-forces aren’t particularly noticeable. The devs seem to recommend playing that with a 360 controller when using the Rift, to the extent that the body of the pilot you see when you look down is actually holding a 360 controller in his hands, which makes everything just that little bit more creepy/immersive.

  • thebushytail

    I signed up for the beta of Hawken, mainly because I thought it looked badass, and the F2P model was not something I was willing to sign up for. That said, if the POV for Oculus is from the pilots head in the mech….that could really be something. If the POV is like an FPS, I think the user may suffer from the same disorienting movement issues you outlined in Quake, and that would be a shame.

    It will be interesting to read about your experience with a racing game, a genre that I find myself falling farther into each year. I think it would lend itself astonishingly well to a sim hardware setup (wheel and peddles mounted with a sim seat), namely because your physical position is the same as that of the driver’s POV and what your witnessing through the Rift.

  • Richard Amable

    Have you played any games on a three monitor setup? If so how does the Rift compare to that in the queasy scale? I get motion sickness a bit paying in my 24″x 3 setup but it goes away after a few hours of gaming.

    • Rushster

      It’s a different kind of experience when it’s strapped right on your eyeballs, it’s a lot more disorienting.

    • Tim McDonald

      Unfortunately, no – my desk barely has room on it for the one monitor!

      I’d *guess* that the Rift will be more intense. Rushster has it fairly right in that the screens in the Rift are probably only a few millimetres away from your eyes, and combining that with head-tracking can make things feel very… unusual. If you’ve got three big monitors around you then you’ve got a fairly panoramic experience, but you’ve also (presumably) still got the rest of the room in your peripheral vision.

  • sorudo

    one thing i do wonder, how does it effect your experience when you need glasses on all the time?
    if the screen is so close from your eyes, glasses might make things impossible/immersives breaking.

    • Tim McDonald

      It depends on whether you’re far-sighted or near-sighted, but either way the devkit comes with different lenses you can put in. They’re not the sort of things you’d swap out lightly (as ANY dust getting into the headset is very, very bad, obviously) but there are three different sets. The default set works for 20/20 vision or farsighted people, the second set works for moderately nearsighted types, and the third set is for very nearsighted people.

      You could also wear contact lenses and use the default Rift lenses, and you can adjust the distance the lenses are from your eyes by turning something on the side of the unit, though I’m not sure how far away you can get it. Those with serious eye problems would likely still have some trouble, too, but this does appear to be something that Oculus are taking into account.

      • Tim McDonald

        For what it’s worth, the devs have noted that – right now – this is just the devkit, and they’re planning on incorporating better options into the consumer version.

        Aaaand I just discovered that they blogged about this here: http://www.oculusvr.com/blog/behind-the-scenes-of-the-pilot-run/

        • sorudo

          the reason why i asked is because the mirror in my eyes are different from others, normal glasses simply don’t cut it for me.
          see it like this, your eyes normally keeps track on an object with the mirrors in your eyes so you see one picture, my eves however makes it 2 objects.
          so in a sense, i look at things double.
          to give you an idea how annoying this is, a normal glass costs around €80,- pp, mine costs €193,- pp.
          the lenses they show are nice for the majority but in my case they are quite useless, the only way to make this useful is when the screen adjusts to my mirror.

        • nasarius

          “If you’re farsighted, you’ll have no vision problems in the Rift because the optics are focused at infinity”

          Oooh, I didn’t realize this. Well that solves my problem at least.

  • Amanndaa

    Yea but good luck waiting for the ‘official’ version, with no updates or news and Carmack on the team its probably gonna be YEARS away, Im guessing 3-5 more years..