Valve VR Demo

Thursday, January 23, 2014

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 The texture was an out of date webpage.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.
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