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My Oculus Arrives

Funny enough, my first exposure with a motion-tracking head mounted display (HMD) was back in high school, about 20 years ago.  Of course, there was not nearly as much graphical firepower for PCs of the day, but the technology was still accessible enough for my high school tech teacher to be able to invite over some graduate school geeks to show it off.  A lot of time has passed since then, and it's safe to say that VR is now something that nearly every consumer can finally get their hands on.

To these ends, if Facebook was hoping to increase the consumer base for its acquired Oculus Rift hardware by running a summer sale, subjective evidence from my house indicates they may well have succeeded.  By dropping the price of headset and touch controller a full 33%, to $400, they convinced me that it was now accessible enough for me to take the plunge.  What's $400 in 2017 money anyway, a month of fast food?
So far, I'm somewhat glad I splurged.  I say "somewhat" because, lets face it, an HMD is a bit of an accessory right now.  Most apps and games I play are going to remain firmly on my boring old 2D display.  Using the VR was a really cool experience, but I still chose to log into (non-VR-compatible) The Secret World: Legends to do my daily bonus activities, and I sort of wish I had spent a lot more time dabbling with my feeble indie game development than screwing around with my fancy new headset.

As I prepare to turn in this evening for another work week, lets commit to record what I did with the VR since I received it yesterday afternoon:

Played Elite: Dangerous.

This was the primary game I figured I would be playing on the Oculus Rift, but it turned out to be one of the less compatible ones.  The ships are oddly flat-looking when viewed at a distance, I am not entirely sure they're getting properly presented in true 3D.
That said, the illusion weaved by Elite: Dangerous's attention to immersion is still significant.  The special effects bedazzle all the more when displayed in glorious OLED color contrast.  Of particular note is the lovingly modeled interior of the ships' cockpits, perhaps a little spartan, but you can appreciate those interiors all the more when you can get up from your chair in meatspace, turn around, and take it all in.  You are literally inside the cockpit, and being able to literally stick your head in places is part of what's so cool about VR.

The lead problem with Elite: Dangerous's VR presentation is the text is so small and difficult to read.  For some reason, Frontier has kept those text displays rather small, so I have to squint or lean in to read them at times.  Raising the super-sampling level helps, but not as much as it should: they need to thicken up the font weight.  I don't think my slightly nearsighted eyes are the problem, since the actual display inside of the Oculus Rift is mere inches from my eyes, but perhaps I am wrong about that?

Experienced Alteration:

Much of what's offered on the Oculus store right now are not games, but rather "experiences," passive events where you can look about but otherwise not interact with them.   One such experience, called Alteration, is a VR film about a young man who takes part in an experiment. 
Alteration is raised above the level of a standard VR film via software tricks to augment various scenes.  I can't say too much about what transpires in this decidedly indie scene storyline without spoiling it, so lets just say it was short, but satisfying.

Played Lucky's Tale:

Think along the lines of any 3D platformer with a lovable mascot and you have the basic meat of Lucky's Tale, but that formula by itself just isn't enough anymore.  Conker's Bad Fur Day found itself facing a lukewarm reception for that, and found a way out by being crass and edgy.  Lucky's Tale kept its cute innocence, and instead made itself into a VR game.
Lucky's Tale is a tragic lesson in how cameras won't work in VR.  The camera basically follows Lucky from the perspective of a disembodied third person camera, which means our head is doing that independent of our bodies, while we pivot our real life neck about in order to supervise a fast-moving cute little fox character.  It would have worked better if the camera stayed in one place, perhaps every scene more of a diorama centering on the camera.  With the camera slowly moving to stay in view of Lucky, it brings about moderate but consistent VR nausea.

Despite the absolutely adorable characters with breathtaking environments, I don't know if I'll be coming back to Lucky's Tale.  There's less stomach churning ways to access platforming gameplay.

Played Subnautica:

Subnautica was my second and only major problem with VR nausea.  That's a shame, because it looks wonderful in VR, a lovely undersea exploration game where the VR headset produces a genuine sense of immersion beneath the waves.
Like Lucky's Tale, we're a head floating about being moved about through space, but this time we have a polygonal body attached to that head.  Instead of being a disconnected camera slowly following Lucky, my perspective is from the diver, rapidly diving and ascending through the water to the direct and spastic gyrations of my gamepad.

The nausea was worse.  As the seabed rushes to and fro about me, my eyes are in disagreement with my inner ear and my brain isn't happy with the result.  Maybe I just need to get my sea legs.  Fortunately, the game is plenty playable in on the monitor, as Subnautica is a fantastic experience in the survival builder genre.

Experienced Fantasynth:

It's probably more of a tech demo, but you could certainly call Fantasynth a proper music video.
You're basically just slowly moving through mostly-black space enjoying the cool particle effects while, all around you, patterns are animating on polygons in sync with the music.  Though the constant slow movement forward creates was some mild confusion when your body is staying put, the perils of motion sickness are largely avoided with the steadiness of it and the mostly-dark backgrounds.

I absolutely did not lose my time, but I could see how this is more of a proof of concept that could be a lot more extravagant with a bigger budget.


Tried Bigscreen:

Bigscreen simply takes your desktop and projects it inside of the 3D goggles in such a way that it appears to be either a screen hovering in front of you, or on a wall of some of the many environments you can choose.
The fuzziness of the text came back pretty hard here, owed to the fact that my desktop (at 2560x1080) is considerably larger than what can actually be displayed on the inside of the Oculus Rift's OLED display (1080x1200 per eye).  Perhaps if I upped my system font to something a lot thicker, this would not be as much of an issue.

As for playing games on it, BigScreen is no substitute for a nice big G-sync monitor in meatspace, as it lacks the sharpness or responsiveness.  But at least it can create the illusion of playing it on a huge screen, which is great if you feel movie screens are the best way to play a game.

Not every game is compatible, though, as I discovered when Capcom's Dead Rising 2:Off The Record just flat out stole the entire video feed, leaving BigScreen in the dark.  Anything that can run in a borderless window is probably fine.

But there is something oddly satisfying about setting the room to be a movie theater and then projecting the contents of my monitor up on the virtual screen.  You can also invite friends over to your lobby and watch it with them, for a virtual LAN party wherever you are.  There is a definite niche for Bigscreen.

Porn:

Am I a desperate horny asshole with needs?  Well, not really.  Honestly, I'm old enough now that the libido doesn't have as much of a hold on me as when I was a younger man, and I am glad for that.  I'm a logical fellow, and I resent the interference.  But nevertheless, there was a definite temptation on the table that had to be addressed: with a real 3D display on my head, how is the porn?

Well, VR porn is basically split into two categories: 3D rendering (via polygons), and 3D movies (actual films filmed with advanced VR techniques).

For 3D rendering, I tried out "Waifu Sex Simulator."  Hurray, my favorite anime heroines!  You can set them up to dance for your amusement, complete with realistic boob physics or... well, you can straight up pretend having sex with them too.  What are waifus for?
Pic link leads to animation, possibly NSFW.
The nice thing about a real 3D rendering engine is it could potentially be interactive, so you could slap around the air with a touch controller and watch the boob physics react.  I don't have a touch controller yet, and seeing polygons jiggle in a stereoscopic display is not a whole lot more satisfying than seeing the same on a flat monitor.  Maybe if they had some kind of intelligent, immersive behavior... but they just don't.  The part of the human brain that can tell the difference between life and an animation is not fooled.  You're playing with dolls, really cool virtual reality dolls, but dolls nonetheless.

As for the 3D porn movies, those are on a whole other level, despite not being interactive.  In ways not applicable to watching it on a screen, true 3D captures the sheen of a lady's skin, the texture of their intimate contours.  It's typically presented from a point of one of the participants, but VR removes the boundaries of your monitor, the head-tracking allowing you to look where you want, and your virtual partner appears large as life.  You are there.  Even though you can't really reach out and touch it or smell it, the audio and visual stimuli is about as real, it's quite vivid...
We're one piece of butt floss away from this being a gynecology simulator.
...and a bit hideous.  It's a little too real.

Fantasy trumps reality, it's why we fantasize at all.  Even loaded with endorphins heavily incentivizing us towards genetic perpetuity, our rational minds still require fantasy to process how the mere physical act of sex makes sense in the greater scope of our lives.  Romance, poetic interpretations, or something else: 21st-century advertising and programming practically assails with artful examples of sex as fantasy, enough to stimulate the libido, but not reality.

What's being displayed on a 3D porn film of a real subject is not the fantasy of sex, nor the reality of sex, but rather the reality of whoring.  At a distance, such as through a monitor window or in the pages of a magazine, a sex worker is mysterious and intriguing.  Up close and very personal, the details it would be advantageous for a pornographer to hide become that much more evident, the true nature of the beast emerges from the cracks in the performance, and you realize what little it has to offer.  The fantasy evaporates.  They don't call it virtual reality for nothing.

It gives one pause for thought as to the potential VR has for film in general.  Today we are granted a look from inside of a porn studio, but tomorrow it could be the front lines of a warzone.  VR transports you there, perhaps much closer than your real life preference, the head tracking inviting you to stare at whatever you like.  But, if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.

Overall impression:

I think that the single coolest thing about VR is that the polygons can appear to be larger than you are.  When I saw that alien standing in front of me in Dreamdeck (essentially a showroom demo app) I was floored by the realization that there was a man-sized polygon in the room with me.  Then Dreamdeck opened up the next scene, and it was a tyrannosaurus sized tyrannosaurus.
That's pretty awesome, and every time I sit inside my cockpit in Elite: Dangerous or even chill out in a virtual environment, the illusion of "being there" is basically owed to the fact that now polygons have no monitor boundaries to hold them in.

To witness this firsthand with present-day technology, there is no doubt in my mind that VR is indeed the future, the next step in digital entertainment.  This is the whole reason why we went 3D to begin with.  Time will tell if reality permits this kind of fantasy to come to fruition.

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