Virtually the Best Thing Ever!

Oculus Rift is a virtual reality headset offering high performance, affordable virtual reality. Oculus VR initially raised $91 million USD for the development of the Rift through a Kickstarter campaign and selling Developer Kits. For the past 2 years Oculus has been (literally) turning heads at every electronic convention to rave reviews. In 2014 Facebook announced that it would pay 2 billion dollars for Oculus in Cash and Stocks.

This is is a big deal.

For a kid who grew up in the 90’s. My aesthetic tastes and imagination were moulded by technology and the culture around computer games. It was even the catalyst of my career in graphic design. Every Guild or Clan needed a cool website with image maps and excessive use of Exocet (Diablo Font). I played every computer game that could my hands on. I particularly loved roll playing games or flight sims. We all love to pretend to be someone or something else.

Virtual reality started to appear in pop culture, in movies like Tron, Stephen Kings Lawnmower Man, Strange Days, The Matrix and in TV shows like Star Trek: the Next Generation with it’s famous Holodeck. I grew up in a small town, there wasn’t much to do. I fell in love with the idea instantly. I wanted so badly to transport myself into the two dimensional worlds of my computer games. I wanted to escape!

During the 90’s, many companies experimented with the idea and technology and promised virtual realities. It become apparent though that the technology didn’t yet exist to do it right. The first few commercial attempts were prohibitively expensive or physically uncomfortable. All were met with a lot of anticipation; but after the novelty wore off quickly faded into obscurity.

One of the more successful attempts, with “successful” being a relative term, was Dactyl Nightmare. First appearing in 1990, Dactyl Nightmare was a stand alone unit that retailed for 60,000 dollars. Gameplay was slow, topping out at 20 Frames Per Second. The premise was a death-match between polygonal avatars chasing after each other on floating platforms. A circling Pterodactyl would randomly swoop down and pick up an unsuspecting avatar and drop them to their death. Graphics were terrible, gameplay was slow and controls were laughably bad.

VirtualBoyIn 1995 Nintendo announced Virtual Boy. A table top unit that you set on a tripod in front of you and held your face up to. Nintendo’s method of overcoming processor limitations and keep production cost down was to use red LEDS. Unfortunately the monochrome palette and dual screens induced migraines often caused sore necks and back aches. In early 1996 Nintendo discontinued the unit.

20 years later processor speeds have increased exponentially, chip sizes and power requirements have reduced. There are advancements in display technology; decreasing their size, lowering their cost and increasing their resolution. The average home computer is more powerful than was ever thought possible in the 90’s. Now was the time to revisit a consumer accessible virtual reality.

Enter Palmer Lucky and his Oculus Rift.

After successfully funding his Kickstarter campaign and recruiting some of the greatest minds in the software business, including John Carmack the creator of Doom and founder of Id Software, and being backed by Facebook, a cultural and financial powerhouse, Virtual Reality finally has a great shot to reach that magical tipping point of market penetration and cultural adoption to succeed.

Finally! I will have my chance to explore fantasy worlds with full situational awareness. Swing swords, fly spaceships and wage all-out warfare with against my closest friends.

Nerd gamer aside, there are other applications that will have a huge impact on society. Imagine meeting with clients in a virtual boardroom where body language and behaviours are just as discernible as the sound of someone’s voice. Suddenly we have a greater ability to break down barriers, shrink distances and bring people and ideas together.

Even now, you are reading this blog post on screen, a small window into my mind. Imagine if this screen were all encompassing. How would that change the way you interacted with these words? What tricks could I employ to better emphasize my ideas? What tools could you use to interact with these thoughts? Would you need a mouse and keyboard?

There is still a long way to go for much of this to happen; But with the first retail version of Oculus Rift slated to launch in late 2014 or early 2015 for around $300, we are closer now then we have ever been!

What do you think of Virtual Reality? Are you going to buy one? I know I am.


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