Disclaimer: Cheap humour may cause more nausea than rollercoaster simulator on generation 1.
Spockulus Gift : The future is here.
So it seems as if our 20th century visions are to become a reality. Virtually-created environments capable of producing a sense of presence reminiscent of a Star Trek Holodeck are soon to be upon us. Virtual reality just got a lot more real. This isn’t the first time but something about the cumulative traction of Facebook’s Oculus VR acquisition, Oculus and Valve’s FTW mentality as well as renewed vigour from the Sony camp have given us an (almost) assured realisation of the future. Oculus’s Rift is by all accounts taking point on the most immersive and presence-inducing feature set, with lightning-fast responses and tracking going under your conscious mind’s radar to insert you into a fantasy realm of your choice.
There is huge global investment in many complementary industries as the gold-rush of virgin territory starts to take hold on the collective conscious. Quite where this is going is impossible to tell, but it is becoming clear that a combination of technology and enthusiasm, anything is possible.
Sockulus Whift : I smelt your presence!
Smelly socks smite sense of presence. Or ‘how base-reality factors can drag you out of the zone’. I believe that this is something that will cause increasing frustration in serious gamers, as we get deeper down the rabbit hole, anything that wrenches us back or tickles our suspicion that we need to come back to broadcast depth is going to be a nuisance.
Things that are not currently catered for on the roadmaps of VR tech are: smell, taste and skin sensations that can’t be created via pressure. A dog licking your hand, burning toast and your mate’s beer farts are all going to yank you out of your avatar like a tooth attached to a rapidly closing door. Of course, it’s important we come back sometimes (see Red Dwarf’s Better Than Life), but presence has taken 20+ years and billions in investment to attain, so we owe it some quality time.
Voculus Lift : I rift my pants
OK, so it turns out that the whole ‘presence’ thing makes scary games like 10 TIMES MORE FRICKING SCARY!!! It’s all well and good when you’re being hunted by head-crabs from the safety of your own desktop monitor (even when you play it in a dark room with a vat of coffee). But when you are surrounded by 360 degrees of Black Mesa and several kilometres of the earth’s crust, within which warped creatures from a hellish dimension are mad keen on your grisly demise you start to lose your oh-so comfortable grip on your cosy ‘base reality’ conditions.
Which is awesome.
So awesome, I screamed like a girl. With thrills at first, but then genuine terror.. and then thrills again. It was a nail-biting experience during which I never felt safe but always felt completely engrossed. In fact, I had to switch to Portal for a while, just so my palms could recover and dry enough to handle the controllers. Which brings me back to emerging from presence – your own well-being may be the biggest reason to un-plug (but we already knew that).
Cochleus Mift : On balance, fall over.
One thing that I really want to see is more up-right physical challenges, where you aren’t locked into a seated position for something where your avatar is walking or running around. This is an obvious way to break immersion as the discontinuity between your virtar’s limbs and your awareness of your own will have you constantly try to manage the ghostly set you see in your VR space. It can be fun, but the clashing information can cause upset, literally [link to roller-coaster sim people falling over]. The brain uses all sorts of information to figure out which way you are facing, but the vestibular system can only go so far and if the signals don’t agree then expect to get a wobble on.
The 2nd generation kits have greatly reduce latency and optimised orientation so you’ll have a much better handle on things, but it’s up to the software devs to make sure the in-app limbs are yours and not belonging to some freakish marionette. One factor that we’ll be bringing to our reviews is the level of integration between controllers and virtar’s. Precision and synchronicity are the key players here and they are paramount to the sense of presence and stepping through into the game.
Pimp Your Presence
We’ll be running a series of articles on ideas for ways to improve presence, so watch out for our DOSIMO category, where we’ll be describing the dreams our stuff is made of. Anything from giant hamster balls made from graphene that allow your to roam freely around your virtual worlds while safe in the comfort of your own living room, to the last word in interface design where ‘portal-like’ transitions leave you lost in a maze of applications akin to the dream-mazes of inception. If your brain isn’t already firing wildly with the possibilities then follow us on social media to stay abreast of the accelerating pace of presence.