July 8th, 2017

The Oculus Rift Diary – Part 1


We’re told that virtual reality is the next big thing. We’re told that this is the forefront of a VR revolution. We’re told that VR is going to change everything; we’re told that games using VR will be a mind-blowing new experience; we’re told that VR is a literal game-changer.

I’m a brand-new Oculus Rift owner. In this diary series, I’m going to chronicle my thoughts and impressions as I use it, get others to use it, and watch it (and the software using it) evolve. Today, we’re going to start off with my very first impressions; I’ll tell you about how I set it up, what I tried, what amazed me, and what disappointed me. I’ll also be giving you a BLEURGH rating for everything I tried, based on how nauseous it made me feel. Zero is the “no nausea” end of the scale, while 10 is the danger zone.

I have a horrible feeling I’m going to wind up going to 11 by the time this diary series is through.

rift man
This is clearly not me, but it does show a man so immersed in the Oculus Rift that he hasn’t noticed his crotch is on fire.

The Set-Up

Setting up the Oculus Rift was astonishingly easy, which possibly shouldn’t come as much of a surprise considering that it’s mostly just a second screen. The headset is connected to a control box with power/brightness/contrast switches, and this control box connects to a power point, a USB port, and a DVI port on your video card – or possibly a DVI-D port. I get confused.

Happily, the Rift (which comes in a rather impressive black briefcase-looking box) also comes with a bunch of plug adapters for different regions; you simply replace the prong section of the plug with one of the others in the box. I say “simply.” It took me about half an hour to work out how to do this, but then again, I am Stupid.

And that, honestly, is it. Windows set it up properly pretty much immediately, and from then on I could use it as I wished. No software to install! No configurations to piss about with! Well… mostly.

oculus config
No, I’m not sure what my gender has to do with my height or IPD either.

While there’s no bundled software, and while the Rift worked fine out of the box, if you want to calibrate properly for your face you need to wander onto the developer section of the site and download a few little programs. These let you calibrate the Rift for magnetic drift (no, really) and for your interpupillary distance – the distance between your pupils.

This isn’t anywhere near as complicated as it sounds, thankfully. The former involves rolling the Rift around in your hands, and the latter is sort of like visiting an optician – you have to stare at a green line, and then move it until it’s just barely visible at the edge of your vision. Once that’s done, congratulations! Your Rift is working.

This poster would look a lot stupider if they were wearing the Rift instead of sunglasses, I have to say. Not that it looks bad, but it’s not really a fashion accessory.

The Programs

Next, I needed some software to try. There’s a big list on Wikipedia showing games with Rift support (and games planning Rift support) but, honestly, the developer forums were probably the most useful place to visit. This was where people posted up all sorts of little tech demos and artsy test programs, which means there’s plenty of stuff to pick and choose from. I’ve done a fair bit of delving, but here are a few things I fiddled with on my first day.

blocked in
The Tetris apocalypse has begun.

Blocked In (Link may or may not work; apologies)

This was the very first program I tried, and… well, despite being simple, it’s quite a thing. You’re a guy, sat on a stool in a dingy room. The radio in the corner is quietly burbling out the Tetris theme. On the desk in front of you is a dissected Tetris block, as well as a Gameboy, and a monochrome monitor showing what looks like a game of Tetris.

Then you look out the window, and see that there are Tetris blocks falling from the sky.

This is basically the entire thing – you just sit there and look around, and marvel at how everything’s in 3D. It’s a really, really good way to start off, too. Because there’s no movement (barring head tracking) there’s really very little nausea, and it gives a good sense of being somewhere entirely different. At one point I tried to reach out and touch something, and was actually surprised when A) I couldn’t see my hand, and B) I punched my window. In terms of creating an environment that feels real, this pretty much nailed it for me. That’s quite impressive, for reasons we’ll get into at the end of this diary update.

BLEURGH rating: 1/10. It’s only getting a score that high because it was the first thing I tried, so it was mildly disorienting.

Rift Coaster
This is right at the start of RiftCoaster. This is when you begin to feel a sense of impending doom.


I survived sitting down and looking around a room, but can I survive a rollercoaster? Yes. Yes I can. RiftCoaster is an on-rails rollercoaster set around the Epic Citadel. In fact, “set around” doesn’t really describe it – this is Epic Citadel, with a rollercoaster track laid out around its towers and valleys.

And bloody hell, it’s kinda weird. Despite the fact that I was sat down on my comfy chair in my room, there’s something genuinely nerve-wracking about going up a track alongside a big, big tower, and getting to the top, and just teetering over a sheer vertical drop… and then there’s a genuine sense of speed when you actually start to fall. Despite the fact that you’re sitting down in a comfy chair, not moving.

It’s a short track that just loops around on itself pretty quickly, but it’s another impressive display of the Rift technology. If nothing else, it shows that it’s pretty easy to fool the brain with expectations: it looks and sounds like you’re moving at high speed, so it’s hard not to actually feel that you’re moving at high speed.

BLEURGH rating: 3/10. There’s movement involved, but because you’re sat on a vehicle and not actually responsible for your own movement, it’s sort of like being a passenger. If you’re intolerant of rollercoasters it might be a lot higher, but this isn’t all that nausea-inducing.

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  • Tim McDonald

    Tim has been playing PC games for longer than he’s willing to admit. He’s written for a number of publications, but has been with PC Invasion – in all its various incarnations – for over a decade. When not writing things about games, Tim can occasionally be found speedrunning some really terrible ones, making people angry in Dota 2, or playing something obscure and random. He’s also weirdly proud of his status as (probably) the Isle of Man’s only professional games journalist.

    • 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: https://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..