What's all this hullabaloo about virtual reality in gaming?
It all started back in 2012 with the release of the original developer's kit for the Oculus Rift after a very successful Kickstarter campaign. The internet was abuzz with talk of the new VR headset. Just a few weeks ago, Sony announced its own virtual reality headset, called Project Morpheus, and the internet was, once again, abuzz with questions. The most pertinent of which was: Is Virtual Reality in gaming just a gimmick, or does it have the potential to be revolutionary? In this lens, I will attempt to answer that question.
The Oculus Rift's Roots
The Rise and Fall of the Virtual Boy
I was first introduced to virtual reality technology in 1995, the year Virtual Boy appeared on the market. Only one of my friends could afford the Virtual Boy, so the rest of us would take turns using it. The best way I can describe the Virtual Boy experience to someone who has not used it is this: a lot of red on black, coupled with a headache after ten minutes of use. Needless to say, Virtual Reality in gaming had humble beginnings.
With the hype over the Virtual Boy and its ultimate failure, no well-thought out VR gaming technology appeared on the market for the next decade. I thought that my dream of true immersion was dead. That is, until I saw the Kickstarter Campaign for the Oculus Rift.
Let's take a look at a real gimmick from the past: motion controls.
Why the Wii was an ultimate failure.
When I first got my Wii console, I loved it. The motion controls felt fresh, albeit somewhat clunky, and Nintendo's game lineup was superb (can't beat Mario Kart). After a few weeks, however, the motion controls started to feel a bit stale and the clunky-ness became more apparent. In Wii Sports tennis, you didn't even have to swing the Wii remote to swing you racket, you could just flick it. In many games, the motion controls felt tacked on and I wondered if the game would have player just as well, if not better, with a standard controller. Because of these faults, my Wii sits in my closet most of the time, collecting dust, only removed from its dungeon on the off chance that I get a hankering for Mario Kart.
My point is that the Wii's motion controls ended up being a simple gimmick, a needless add-on created just to boost sales. And sales were great! If you look at the numbers alone, Nintendo's Wii console was an obvious success. However, if you took a poll on the percentage of people who actually still use their Wii systems, it would show that the Wii did fail in the end. Nearly all of my friends who bought the Wii, even those that were extremely excited for it, stopping using it regularly only months after the purchase.
So will the game thing happen to the Rift or to Sony's Project Morpheus? Will VR just be the new gimmick?
My conclusion: VR will not be a gimmick.
Why I think the Rift and Project Morpheus will revolutionize gaming.
The one thing that separates today's virtual reality gaming technology from the Wii's lackluster motion controls is immersion. With clunky controls, even with the "WiiMotionPlus" attachment, the Wiimote simply detracted from the gaming experience. In most games, I preferred to use a regular Gamecube controller over the motion controls.
Virtual realty headsets, on the other hand, offer amazing immersion and they are only getting better. I've only tried the original Oculus Developer's Kit, but even with the 720p screens showing their pixels, I really enjoyed the experience. The ability to turn your head to look around you in games might seem gimmicky, but I assure you that it adds s huge level of immersion to games.
From what I watched online about the new Oculus Dev-Kit, the company seems to have made great improvements over the original, including the addition of 1080p screens to reduce pixelation. I'm excited to try out the new Rift and I'm even more excited about the future of gaming.
We are in the midst of a gaming revolution led by Oculus Rift into virtual reality, and I can't wait to see what they come up with next.