Day three of PAX, wading through a sea of humanity, I began to question why I do this. Eight hours of meetings, four hours total travel time, and as much time as I can stay awake working to write about what I’ve seen… each day, for the entirety of the show. Those are some long days. I find myself shambling toward meeting room 2A or 4c, I’m not sure, it’s not important. My feet and back are screaming, begging for respite, like a man in the desert seeking water so my body sought a chair. Just a little further. There must be a seat in this meeting room, right? The spirit of PAX and the wide-eyed wonder it inspires is wrestling with the cold logic in the back of my mind. “The Oculus Rift is going to be awesome. They wouldn’t bring a crappy product to show. Finally a VR headset that is gonna rock!” my over eager PAX spirit affected optimism called out, pumping his fists and dancing a little jig. “No. Don’t be stupid. VR headsets don’t work, never have. This one will be no different. This thing we’re going to to see is going to be the tech equivalent of a turd rolled in glitter. Oh, yeah it’ll be sparkly alright.” retorted the Spock part of my brain.
Stumbling into the meeting room I’m greeted by a couple of chipper men before being ushered into what amounts to a large closet constructed of false walls sectioning some space off from the other companies sharing the room. Entering the room within a room I wont lie to you I noticed the chair first. In addition to the chair, that I swear was glowing with s strange aura of comfort, there are two things of note: the first, a man who seems much more interested in his phone than anything else around him. The second: a gaffer taped box with the strap from a pair ski goggles (maybe a paintball mask) sticking out of the back, and a fat cord sticking out of the top arching back running down through the strap. There is a soft glow coming from the open side of this box. This is it. This is the Oculus Rift. Somehow I’m both deflated and vindicated as I sink into the chair. I’m told that I’ll have a chance to use the thing and ask any questions I have after. Before I know it these two men descend upon me attaching goggles to my face and a strap around my head. Being blinded in a room with only strangers is more than a little awkward.
Doom 3 blasts through the two screen in front of my eyes in all three of the D’s. Looking around, with my head, I noticed that the 3D technology in this box attached to my face is better than the 3D TV/3D glasses that Bethesda is showing the same game with on the show floor. A good example of the difference is in the laser pointer on the end of your in game gun. On the show floor using 3D glasses the laser beam is hollow and has no substance, so to speak, it doesn’t make contact with anything and looks like glare on the screen. In the Oculus Rift however, this laser beam made contact and when moving it from an object closer to me to one further away there was a noticeable length difference. I’m not a 3D technical specialist and therefore can’t explain the phenomena, but there is something about the 3D tech in the Rift that doesn’t give that sea sick feeling. In short it looks good and it’s pretty light, so I guess it feels good too.
The Oculus Rift uses the same basic hardware that phones and tablet PCs use to sense motion, just oriented differently to track your head’s movement. It isn’t exactly counter intuitive but the Rift does force you to fight your instincts and keep your thumb off the right stick. I didn’t notice it but there was some talk about the latency in the head tracking. The real limitation of the unit was my neck, it would be so much easier to use if my head could move as if disconnected from my body. We could spend a bunch of time discussing tech specs but we’re talking about a hand made prototype, tech specs can wait, the important thing is whether or not it works. Work it does, well in fact.
Standing from my meeting shaking hands and thanking these two for their time, the elation was back. I haven’t felt this good about PAX since the day before its start. Knowing that someone somewhere is out there working to push this medium forward creates this warm fuzziness inside me (maybe I’ve got Con SARS or PAX pox). To put my head inside the fruits of those someones labor was awesome. I can’t wait to put my head back in these guys fruits.