Nick Tan: More than a year ago, I reported on the Oculus Rift as having reached their $250,000 goal on Kickstarter in a single day. Any hardware attempting to bring virtual reality to the home, though, immediately catches skepticism, and I was rolling my eyes as the months past by until Jonathan Leack wrote about his hands-on experience playing CCP's EVR with the Oculus Rift at E3. I knew I wanted this thing on my head, and I got that very chance last week. I'm still dazed from the experience.
While I didn't get to man the cockpit of a space fighter, I was more than happy to man the cockpit of a giant mech in Hawken. Strapping on the giant goggles was at first difficult, smushing my glasses into my face. The retail release, I was told, would provide various lenses for farsightedness and nearsightedness so that it could be worn without glasses. Satisfying everyone is going to be tough considering that different people have different eye prescriptions, but at least they're doing it.
The developer carefully placed my hands on the WASD keys and the mouse (since I might as well be blind), and then I was on my way shooting rival mechs, dashing forward, hovering into the air, and surveying the canyon base and the clear sky simply by moving my head. As I expected, the experience was disorienting and my stomach compelled me to quit by spewing bursts of nausea, but I trudged on for around ten minutes before I handed my turn over to Jessica. All in all, I'm hoping that mutliple developers will integrate the Oculus Rift into their games, especially Valve since Portal would be the perfect scientific experiment. I hear that there would be cake too.
Vincent Ingenito: “Look, Nick! I'm flying, I'm flying!” Okay, I didn't actually say that while looking (actually looking!) down at my foes from high above the battlefield in my hovering mecha, but my inner Kate Winslet was wailing it. Yeah, that's right, I've got an inner Kate Winslet, and she found playing Hawken with the Oculus Rift to be “pretty dope.” Because that's how inner Kate Winslet talks. Deal with it.
But in all seriousness, this was my first time getting to try the Rift, and it left me thunderstruck. I've been against pretty much every initiative companies have taken to offer “new experiences” by way of motion. To me, something as literal as swinging a controller to swing a virtual bat does more to rob games of their magic than enhance it, but the Rift is something different entirely.
Playing Hawken with it was a powerful proof of concept and felt in line with the natural progression of control sophistication we've seen over the years. The D-pad got shifted over for the analog stick, and then we realized adding another to manipulate movement and orientation at once made sense. Now it's time for this: one set of controls for movement, a second for precise interaction/aiming, and a VR headset for independent vision control.
Once you've looked around a game world as naturally as you do in the real one, without any interruptions or compromises to the rest of the mechanics, there's just no going back. I've circle-strafed by incoming rockets while in a controlled descent down a five-story-high tower, with time between jukes to look up and smile at the sun. Most everything besides the Rift is simply offering so-called “immersion” at the expense of player agency. But if I can have both… why would I choose?
Jessica Vazquez: The musical stylings of Sugar Ray were about the only thing running through my mind as I stepped into the 3D reality of the Oculus Rift.
"Put a Mech around me, baby,
I'll be flyin' and shootin' crazy…."
I remember my dad taking me to an arcade in New York when I was little that had virtual-reality games like hang-gliding and things of that nature. Playing Hawken with the Oculus Rift was like reliving my youth, but a million times better of course. After blindly getting used to the WASD for basic movements I was able to start really testing the boundaries of the hardware.
I was surprised by how well it tracked my movements when I moved my head. It was really like I was commanding a giant hunk of machinery, checking from side to side as I patrolled the battlefield. Not having a HUD was a little odd because I don't normally play Hawken so I wasn't great going into it, but I understand why it is necessary. If I had a HUD and crosshairs on the screen while using this device, it would have ruined the entire experience for me.
As soon as I figured out how to shoot myself into the air and fly around the battlefield, that's about all I did. When I fell back to the ground, my stomach turned a bit, the way it does when you go down a steep roller coaster. I remember giggling a lot as I shot rockets down at enemies below me, which is about all I really wanted to do. The complete immersion really distracts you from the fact that you're playing a video game. It was weird taking the goggles off and realizing I wasn't a mech-driving war machine. The only downside was having to blindly control the game when I couldn't see my hands.
Most people may prefer to play Oculus Rift games with some form of USB controller, like the 360 controller. Or they can wait till the Oculus Rift manufactures learn how to integrate telekinesis into their design.