You look down along a rock and face hundreds of feet above the massive gorge deep in the Grand Canyon. Taking a breath, you reach out a hand to the next ledge and pull yourself another few inches to reach the top.
Your floating gloves may not have arms attached to them, but they’re still your hands. And after spending a few minutes in this inspired rendering of the Grand Canyon, with textures, warm orange and brown hues, and realistic nature sounds, you almost forget you’re wearing a headset and using a controller. It almost makes it worth the hefty price tag.
Using the virtual reality Oculus Rift headset, gamers can now enjoy more than 100 immersive 3D experiences, such as ‘The Climb’ mentioned above, all from the comfort of sitting at home on their couch. With an OLED display that offers a 1080 x 1200 resolution per eye, 90 Hz refresh rate, and a 110-degree field of view, the Rift has a proprietary positional tracking system that uses a stationary infrared sensor (mounted somewhere across the room, like on a desk or shelf) to pick up light emitted by the head-mounted display. These sensors help track movement and interpret them into real motions in the game — such as when a player reaches forward to climb up the side of a mountain. The trick is not only for the game to translate big elements, like motion, but for small things, such as textures.
“That element of storytelling through assets is especially important in VR. It’s not just about making something look detailed, it’s about making it fit, consistently, in the world you’ve created,” writes Tom Deerberg, Lead 3D Artist for ‘The Climb.’ “It’s when the details stick out as inconsistent that your presence and immersion is broken. And when you look at the details in the near-field view, your brain more readily accepts that the other assets in the world are as detailed too, amplifying the [effect]. It makes our vistas much more powerful; you feel that everything in the world is similarly authentic and realistic. With any luck, you’ll forget you’re at home.
Gameplay on the Oculus Rift naturally lends itself to first-person shooters or racing games, but we’re fascinated by the idea of attempting other extreme sports in your living room, among other uses. Imagine riding a BMX bike down along a cliff face, or street luging through the hilly streets of San Francisco. We want to go kayaking across rushing rapids and ice canoeing through the Arctic. Luckily these possibilities, like the sights in the Rift viewer, don’t look too far away.