Valve VR Demo

A lot of people asked me to post about what happened in the VR demo. Valve say it’s cool to talk about.. so here we go.

I was initially under the impression that the demo took place in a wardrobe because they had a black curtained off area about that size with VR ROOM written on it. But when Atman took me inside there was a door that lead to a slightly bigger room with barcodes all over the wall, and a carpet in the middle. He told me I was OK as long as I stayed on the carpet. The carpet was about the size of a full sized snooker table. The barcodes all over the wall are just something the headset uses to track its position. They use it because it works, but don’t expect that the actual units will use them.

The headset looked a bit like the rift, but had exposed circuit boards. I was kind of dreading the demo because the Rift makes me feel sick. To the point where even thinking of putting it on my head makes me nauseous. Atman said a lot of people who get motion sickness on the rift don’t get it on this one (better response, head movement etc).

So the first demo started up. It was like a grid of textured cubes going for as far as you could see. The texture was an out of date webpage. The cubes were about a foot in size. I could move my head up close to the cubes and almost read the text. I could walk around the cubes and look at the other side. I asked if the screen was higher resolution than the Rift. It was higher resolution, but not by much, apparently it seems clearer because there was a lot less ghosting.

The second demo was a cube with a platform. I think you’re meant to be scared of heights and be scared to step off it. I think my brain had kind of learned to know the difference, because even though I could appreciate the height it didn’t really bother me to be floating about. Although I always felt the need to get return to the playform after I’d gotten off.

For the next demo some headphones were placed on my head. There was a cube bouncing around, when it hit a wall it made a beep. It’s hard to explain but it really did sound and feel like it was bouncing around me. I don’t know whether this is some kind of special 3D sound, but I have had 5.1 headphones and speakers and I have never before felt the ability to pinpoint where a sound was coming from. Maybe it’s because you can turn your head while the sound is playing and kind of triangulate it.

There was a demo where a smaller ball was rotating around a larger ball. The larger ball was kind of a mirror. I felt the need to move out of the way when the smaller ball came around.

There was a demo where there was a mirror cube, and you could see your own face. Not actually your own face, it was like a cube based face. But even though it wasn’t my real face, it was kind of instantly identifiable as my own face. I felt myself closing my eyes to see if the reflection’s eyes closed too. I couldn’t see if they did because my eyes were closed.

There were a few of modelled scene demos. Some kind of basement, some Portal robots of differing sizes, the portal turret building animation (which actually made me feel a bit sick (which was the first and only time in the entire demo)). There was a portal office scene which I mentioned in my last blog. There was a scene with a hole in the floor that looked like you could jump down it. The kind of hole that you’d normally jump down in a game like HL2, like a 8 foot drop. But there was no way I was jumping down there in VR. It felt dangerous.

There was a demo in a spaceship, you could look around and see all the controls, and peer out of the windows.

The last demo was a scene demo where you were floating around the world, with a bunch of stuff changing shape. It was the only demo where you moved around not under your own control, so I expected to feel a bit sick. But I didn’t.

I was really impressed with how well it all worked. It’s hard to kind of shout about it because you’re basically just saying “it was like being in a different room” over and over again. I can only imagine the work involved in getting it to feel authentic, in making it fit on your head. I mean, our brains are smart. There’s probably a hundred different things that you have to get perfect for it to feel like this. It made the Rift we’ve got at the office feel like a torture device.

It seemed like the only missing link is some kind of input. Luckily the last 10 years have kind of already bought us all the input technology we need, with the kinect, the move and the wii. It felt a lot like a couple of move controllers would have been great to interact with the world.

I can imagine having a virtual room in my house. Putting on a wireless headset, putting on some kind of game claw and shooting some pool against abusive children on the internet. A month ago I would have said this idea was a couple of decades from happening. Now I’d say it’s less than 3 years away.

20 thoughts on “Valve VR Demo

  1. Wait… Does Garry’s Mod have Occulus Support??? If you’ve added Kinect, why not take another step in adding immersion? I can just imagine holding the physgun with my bare hands, that’s so much power… I don’t think I can handle that. The only thing that worries me is: If you add Occulus support… Are those perverted morons going to start “getting it on” with the ragdolls? Of course they will, there’s no denying that (sigh).

  2. The audio in the demo could have been using binaural panning, which is a technique that filters sound using impulse responses based on an actual head (These are called Head Related Transfer Functions). It means you get subtle timing differences between the sound reaching your individual ears, and different filtering depending on how the shape of your head and ears reflect sound waves.

    Compared to stereo or 5.1 renditions — which give you a sense of direction with a granularity of about “oh, er, that’s from the left I think” — binaural renditions can sometimes give your that pinpoint accuracy that you have in real life.

    It’s has its problems, since everyone’s head and ears are shaped in slightly different ways, but the effects can be uncanny sometimes. Plus, I suspect visual correlation (from the Rift, say) can help you identify sound sources where binaural sound alone might leave you guessing.

    The plus is that you don’t necessarily need expensive and dedicated hardware to render and listen to binaural audio; any decent pair of headphones will work okay, and the CPUs and GPUs of today are powerful enough.

    I hope resurgence of interest in VR also leads to wider experimentation with binaural filtering, but we’ll see. :)

    Anyway, listen to this famous demo (with headphones) and prepare to feel all kinds of uncanny: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IUDTlvagjJA

    • I believe AMD added a dedicated chip on their latest line of GPUs and called the tech “TrueAudio”. No doubt tech like that will take off when the VR market starts to grow.

  3. I never get nauseous from my Rift anymore.. Once you get acclimated to it, and avoid playing games with shitty Frame Rates or other isses, the Dev Kit isn’t half bad.

    It might not be an ideal way to play for some people.. But it works for some too. I’ve played through HL2, EP1 and 2, a couple times through, using my Rift Dev Kit. And can go for hours without stopping.

    I really REALLY wish more source games worked with it tho.. I mean, the menus in Garry’s Mod are probably not compatible, but there are plenty of other things in the game which would be fun to experience.

    Heck, I really can’t wait for the Portal games to have support! :D

  4. Oh, btw Garry, with any luck the, the Consumer version of the Rift should be just about as good as Valve’s VR demo. Although it will focus on seated VR, more than standing in a room VR.

  5. This sounds incredible… but all I can think about while reading the article is the “OASIS” in the book “Ready Player One.” With all the news about Valve, Oculus, and now Sony making virtual reality headsets, I feel like we’re rapidly approaching something like the OASIS in real life.

  6. So, with the Rust relaunch looking better every day, and especially since I read about the procedural caves that may make it into the game: Are you considering adding support for the DK2 to the new experimental rust branch? I think it could be fantastic, especially if there are servers with only VR players.

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