On Monday I received my Oculus Rift. The Oculus is a headset with two screens built in. When playing a game it projects a separate image for each eye. On top of that it has sensors to detect which way you’re facing, so when you look around the game world using the Oculus you literally turn your head. Having spent some time playing with it and trying out various demos I thought I would share my impressions.

Well Designed Dev Kit

The first thing you notice about the Oculus is the case they ship it in. It’s big, sturdy, and well put together:

Oculus Rift dev kit
Oculus Rift dev kit

Inside there’s the Oculus and a host of cables. Altogether things are organized, the instructions are clear, and everything feels high quality. The dev kit does not feel like an early beta – even more impressive considering that this all started with a Kickstarter campaign.

The Experience

The Tuscany demo really impressed me. You know what to expect – you turn around and the world moves with you – still experiencing it in action was enough to put a smile on my face. The level of immersion you feel is amazing. Oftentimes I forgot I was sitting in front of a mouse and keyboard and would bump my head into the computer monitor.

All of that said, you are tied to a computer, mouse, and keyboard and I think that fact limits the power of the Oculus. In particular I am not in love with the control scheme present in most of the demos. You move with the arrow keys, rotate your body with the mouse, and move your head with the Oculus. It sounds fine but in practice I found it unnatural. Wearing the Oculus, I wanted to turn around and head in a new direction – head first, just like if I were walking – but doing so would mean turning away from the keyboard and mouse. Instead I found I often turned my head, then moved the mouse to adjust my in-game body, then turned my head back towards the computer.

Catching up on the latest fashion
Catching up on the latest fashion

Of all the demos I tried my favorite was the Tuscany one. The ones I downloaded from the developer site either suffered from a very low framerate and lots of pop-ins, or else were difficult to figure out or boring. I’ve also tried Half Life 2 with the Oculus and all-in-all the experience is great. My only complaint is that the control scheme does not take advantage of the Oculus as outlined above. Still that can be forgiven for a game released years before the Oculus even existed! Most of the demos I found involved moving around a world in the first person. Hardly surprising, but I am looking forward to playing some games which make more novel use of the Oculus.

Only the Beginning

The Oculus is still in developer preview and it is the early days of virtual reality. So I can’t be too critical of games which graft past control schemes onto the new device. Looking forward, I don’t think that all gaming in the future will be on something like the Oculus. It’s so different and out there that I imagine it won’t appeal to everyone – even among hardcore gamers. But the experience it offers is one of a kind and as a result I believe we will see a new category of gaming emerge around it. What will those games look like? I’m not entirely sure but I’m excited to find out!