Virtual reality is the holy grail of gaming. Even back before video games, in the times of Dungeons and Dragons, players wanted a way to play in an altered reality where they could live out their fantasies in a safe but still exciting way. Whether it’s dragons and goblins, or a sniper rifle and the Taliban, gaming and altered-reality desires are far from dead. And, now, virtual reality is on the cusp of becoming a real option for gamers.
It started with the Wii back in 2006, but virtual reality has come a long way since then. NVIDIA’s GRID game streaming service and the new tech built into the PlayStation 4 promise to advance VR to the next level.
But, the cutting edge stuff uses headsets that do away with traditional controllers, either by way of LEDs and tiny mirrors that bounce light right into your retina or by using new display technologies.
Putting on a decent VR headset should make you feel like you’re being sucked into a different world. But, nothing will snap you back to reality faster than a complicated inventory menu or a long loading screen. Sure, when you’re downloading open source games using software from Vuze.com to play on your PC, you don’t mind stuff like that. But, old-school games aren’t VR either.
One of the things game manufacturers have to conquer is the traditional game setup. People who want to play virtual reality don’t want to have the experience broken up. In the real world, you don’t have a “menu.” You don’t have to wait for the street to load when you turn the corner.
Right now, a lot of first-person games aren’t built to scale. You’re basically a disembodied camera with a gun or some other weapon that floats 4 feet off the ground. For VR to take off, developers need to think more carefully about proportions and scale. Otherwise, everyone will end up playing as either a child or a small person.
The Oculus Rift is one of the first really serious attempts at making a no-compromise virtual reality gaming center. It is essentially an omnidirectional treadmill that works with the main rig to give you the freedom to move in 360 degrees – something a VR headset is supposed to afford.
Basically, once you get the headset on and the treadmill set up, you’re not pressing the “W” key on your keyboard to walk around. You physically walk around on the treadmill. And, while the Virtualizer treadmill isn’t available for sale yet, its competitor, the Omni, is on presale. You’ll have to fork out $499 for it though and another $299 for the Oculus Rift.
It sounds like this is a pretty expensive setup, but a top of the line gamine computer, like Alienware 18, can cost you $5,000. This is a drop in the bucket, comparatively. Also, if you’re even thinking of spending $800 on a gaming computer system, you’ve probably planned for the expense already. Oh yeah, ditch the furniture in the room. This rig can’t be positioned near the computer, so your room will probably need to be a gaming room.
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Ben Woods has a serious passion for gaming. He often blogs about revolutionary technology and emerging trends in the industry.