Two cents blog

Oculus Rift: The software is hard core

by Anna Smith on 24 November 2014

Now that we’ve got our Oculus Rift virtual reality headset up and running, it was time we took it for a serious test drive. We just needed some software to make our virtual reality experience come to life. So, we’ve had our heads down and our Oculus ‘up’, working through the growing number of exciting demos that are available for the DK2.

There are lots of free software demos that around, and they offer some great insight into what the Oculus and virtual reality has in store for the future. Whether its jumping off a giant space platform, calmly strolling around a Tuscan villa, or sitting terrified in a basement immersed in a horror movie, the DK2 has hit on what early virtual reality technology of the past missed – an experience that both gamers and non-gamers can genuinely get excited about.

There are two categories that the demos fall into, gaming and experiential. The team at BCM have been trialling both to gain as much insight as possible into the technology.

To ease the user into the experience, many of the available programs, such as one demo we’ve been experimenting with called ‘Sightline: The Chair’, begins with you sitting down.

It kicks off with you sitting at a simulated desk complete with a keyboard, mouse and monitor. A short video from the developer (playing on the virtual computer on your virtual desk) introduces you to the simple concept behind this experience. To ‘play’, you must break your line of sight with objects; doing so causes them to change. You’re encouraged to turn your head to look at the lamp to your left, for example, and when you look back at your computer … it’s changed slightly. Then turn back to the lamp, and it’s floating about the desk. Things get progressively weirder as you go along.

Sightline can also take you on a seated journey to mysterious medieval lands, scary shrinking rooms, deep space, to the top of skyscrapers and beyond. The illusion, however, is never wholly convincing even when it’s mirroring realistic environments – but that doesn’t mean to say it’s not a fun experience.

This video from ‘vlogger’ Jacksepticeye is a hilarious example of Sightline in use:

 

Another program called ‘11:57’ is a good example of just how far the Oculus can take interactive experiences. As the first of its kind, 11:57 sets out to offer a 360-degree ‘nightmare’ by making the Oculus wearer the main character of a horror film. This means that rather than just watching, you become part of the actual set as the action revolves around you. Again, a chair is used as a grounding point for the demo.

For fans of the horror genre, this experience is what you’d expect. The atmosphere is perfect, and with headphones plugged in you are completely separated from the real world. The ‘jump’ scares feel real. You become so immersed in the environment, that once the demo is over, your eyes take a while to adjust to the light.

Check out this demo of the 11:57 game for a laugh:

 

Other software we tested also provided a very good virtual reality experience.

Whilst this VR technology has some way to go, it’s really starting to deliver what VR has promised for so long.

So, it’s becoming a lot clearer why an organisation like Facebook purchased Oculus. There can be little doubt that VR has the potential to revolutionise the way we play, work, learn and communicate. But it’s going to take time and an awful lot of money to make it work.

Some say that Facebook as a platform has peaked; and unlike companies such as Google, Facebook hasn’t diversified to quite same level. Perhaps the people at Facebook see Oculus as a folly; a fun technology that will get them some press. It would certainly be an expensive folly at US$2 billion! Maybe they believe that Oculus will make them a lot of money in its own right. Or, perhaps they have plans that will see Oculus as the basis of a new generation of social media.

Who knows what Facebook is up to with Oculus? But it’s worth noting that all the major consumer electronics companies (Sony, Microsoft, Apple and Samsung) are also dabbling with VR technology.

Our conclusion … watch this (virtual) space.

Anna Smith is a Digital Producer at BCM.  

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