“So do you guys have, um, any screenshots of this stuff?” I asked, in what was clearly the most professional possible way after getting a demo of EVE: Valkyrie from the Oculus Rift team at GDC.
Of course the game is by CCP, and CCP is the one that gave me the press demo appointment, so the Oculus team members all shrugged at the question and said they’d get back to me.
There are screenshots of Valkyrie! I never officially got them, but they look like this:
I needed them because that’s a lot cooler than what you look like playing the game. When you’re playing the game, you look like this:
Ha ha, look at those Oculus Rift dorks! Though I did happen to catch the rare snap of what appears to be a non-white dude wearing the Oculus Rift, which if you believe tumblr is a rare sight in the wild. For one brief moment, I was a woman wearing an Oculus Rift. Whoa.
I tried Valkyrie on Thursday, and I was struggling with how to write anything very substantial about the experience because the demo was so short. There was a long line to try it, so it’s reasonable that it was a short experience in order to keep everything moving. But from the perspective of a player, it was over too quickly. It was a lot like a theme park roller coaster that way, so I guess it’s good that the worst thing I can really say about the Valkyrie demo is I wanted it to be longer.
In EVE: Valkyrie, I’m the pilot of a space fighter. If I look down, I can see controls, and then my feet. If I look up, I can see the universe. If I die, there’s a small break while I’m “recloned,” and then I can start again. I’ve written before that I occasionally struggle with simulator sickness, but I didn’t feel that during the Valkyrie demo. It’s possible that this is primarily because the demo was short, but the new Oculus does a pretty good job of stabilizing the visual field and corresponding my head motions to what I see in the viewer.
It’s a dizzying and exciting experience. It’s going to tie in with the EVE Online universe, much like Dust 514 before it, offering a new experience for people who want to experience that world in a more interactive way than the notorious “spreadsheets in space” MMO provides.
It’s an absolute killer app for the Oculus Rift.
It’s also probably one of the only really viable uses of the darn thing. There are a lot of first-person simulations coming out for the Oculus but many of them have the same fundamental problem. Your avatar is walking, but your ass is sitting. This may not seem like an insurmountable problem – we play games in first person sitting down all the time. But the situation feels different when you embody an avatar that’s doing something that’s different from what you’re doing. It takes some getting used to. Having a seated avatar is a good solution: you pilot a space ship, or a giant robot, and so does the person you embody, a smooth one-to-one.
And just while I was thinking, I can’t see too many other great uses for this device, and I was struggling with how to write anything else interesting….
and it’s like… what? It’s not April first yet is it?
It’s funny because I had a conversation with people after trying Valkyrie that amounted to: well, Oculus is an interesting toy, but it’ll never really take off until someone finds some kind of non-game use for it. And now Mark Zuckerberg is all “Imagine enjoying a court side seat at a game, studying in a classroom of students and teachers all over the world or consulting with a doctor …” which seems to be proposing just that, all the non-game uses. And then Notch is all “Facebook creeps me out” so later guys and Wall Street was like noooooooo and the comments sections of things are nothing but animated gifs.
So obviously you care what a writer from Tap-Repeatedly has to say about all this. Well, I’ve played with Rift and I’m on Facebook, so…
I think cashing out for Facebook money was probably a smart move for the Rift team. I mean that may seem shallow, but who doesn’t want two billion dollars? And they’ve done a pretty good job handling their affairs so far.
As for the device itself, well…
So in the real world there’s this annoying, but still-regretfully-impossible-to-breach divide between “gamers” and people who just play games. The ESA wants for us to believe that the average gamer is age thirty and that forty-five percent of gamers are women. And I think that this is technically true statistically, but not as a matter of self-identification. If you asked a lot of women my age if they “are gamers” they will say “no.” They just play hours of whatever casual game is popular and on their smartphone. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this and I am not judging them in any way. But that device that they’re holding is, to them, their phone, even if its primary function turns out to be three daily hours of Candy Crush Saga. On the flipside I am a HARDCORE GAMER YO and there have been plenty of weeks where I was too busy to be a hardcore gamer and the only reason I booted up the XBox 360 was because I can watch Netflix on it. What I’m getting at here is: there’s a difference between the reason someone buys a device, and what their usage pattern with the device turns into. What matters here is a crossover between consumer perception of a device, and perception of themselves: ie, am I a consumer who buys this device?
So if I’m a gamer, then, heck yeah, I will buy Rift, because I want to be a fighter pilot in space.
If I’m a non-gamer (ie someone who doesn’t self-identify as a gamer) I’m not sure why I’d want to get Rift to do those non-gamer tasks. That’s the perception that Facebook is going to have to overcome if it wants to put these in more homes for non-gamer uses: Oculus’s legacy as a gaming device.
Not only that, but, you can’t really multi-task from the Rift. Or at least it’s very hard to do so. You are embodied in a virtual space, and that space requires your full attention. In many ways it requires more attention than real life, so you don’t lose track of your body in the real world while you’re in a virtual one. Ironically enough, “checking your Facebook” has become the media shorthand for the thing you’re doing when you’re multi-tasking and supposed to be doing something else. So can I check my Facebook while I’m on the Rift? I probably won’t want to. I’ll probably fall down. And though I can check my phone for a couple of minutes and then get back to what I was doing, putting that headset on requires a level of commitment.
I do understand Facebook’s place in this. Social networks have been around for a long time on the internet – we just didn’t call them that until more recently. Teenagers seem to be gravitating these days toward tumblr, which is the new LiveJournal, which was the new Myspace. Facebook is nice and all, but your families are on it now, which makes it less cool for teens. Anyone who wanted to have a Facebook already has one; lots of people who don’t want them anymore have quit Facebook. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of room for the social network to grow in its current form. Maybe it’s just trying to figure out what it could be before it becomes a fossil.
I see an alternate future for the Oculus, a future in which it was an incredibly successful consumer device. That would have involved it taking the same path that made the nascent internet what it is today. It would have involved the content that allowed VHS to kill Betamax in the 80s. It would have involved the type of media that’s slowly propelling the adoption of ebooks over paper formats. But every Oculus in the wild right now is a devkit, so there’s still time to use it for interesting things before Facebook tries to lock it down. More specifically: there’s still time to use it for porn. Whoever discovers the way to easily distribute porn will “win” VR. I’m not sure that that will be Facebook.
But hey, I’m no futurist, so I’m prepared to be surprised. John Carmack seems to believe in the device, and the device itself is pretty good. Is it good enough that everyone will want one, the way everyone seemed to want a Facebook? That will be the question.
In the mean time, the space ship game is pretty cool.
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