I want a holodeck. I’ve always wanted to experience my favorite games as vividly as real life. Whether casting deadly spells or piloting a space fighter I want to feel the crackle of spell power in my hands or the boosters ignite as I race through an asteroid field.
But how close are we really to something like Ready Player One (if you have not already you must read through this satisfying tale of futuristic game immersion and homage to vintage gaming…seriously buy the kindle version now…I can wait).
What may have you hesitating to get too excited is the slow and painfully absent progress of new age Virtual Reality (VR). But there is hope my fellow gamers. The convergence of several promising projects, a few of which have big backing, bring us closer than ever to the event horizon – the moment we reach the possibility of fully living in the dreams of our own creation.
In the beginning…
You can go way back to the roots of VR when my fascination began with the introduction to VR was the Virtual boy (by Nintendo) back in the later 1990s. This all-red stereoscopic display was an experiment, the first pinky toe into gaming immersion. Sure, it hurt your eyes and required contortionistic skills to hold the headset into place but I was positive this was the first step toward bigger and better gear. After a few gaming sessions it collected dust in my closet. Little did I know at that time it would take two decades to get even close to what I had hoped in VR headgear.
Much later in the same pursuit I encountered the next half-hearted attempt at immersion when I investment in the Nvidia 3D Vision kit. Finally I was seeing my games, Skyrim in particular, as more immersive. But the dim glasses (Vision v2 kit was much better) and ghosted offset images all too frequently pulled me out of my bliss and back to reality. This was not the VR I was looking for – how much longer until a company would feed the hungry market that so many like myself presented? Sooner than I expected.
And then there was light…
The explosion of immersive technologies from IR trackers that measure your head orientation to Microsoft Kinect asking for my whole body to get into the game – these are worthy entries into an ever growing market to meet the pent up desire to lose oneself in immersive gaming. But it was not until the genesis of three immersive technology categories that my dream of full and believeable VR was at hand. It’s time to hope again VR fans…
Immersive Technology #1 – Oculus Rift
When I saw the Kickstarter for the Oculus Rift I thought “will someone finally capture lightning in a bottle and follow through with a huge promise?” Then when I heard that Facebook purchased the Oculus Rift for $2 billion I screamed “someone is taking this serious!” And with the Oculus consumer release expected in 2015, we can finally look forward to a product expected to delivered on VR so stunning I might just get an IV and honey bucket for Christmas (joking, but not by much) because I’m not leaving that room for awhile.
The current challenge with the Oculus Rift is how to engineer intuitive controls when you’ve got HD screens strapped over your eyes. We know the folks at Oculus are taking the maiden voyage of their first consumer VR set seriously because they know they may have only one chance to impress the fickle folks who will fund them to greater heights and change the face of computing forever.
Immersive Technology #2 – Omni
With the Oculus Rift peaking my renewed dream of truly immersive VR I could not help myself from backing the next logical kickstarter technology to accomplish the VR mission – Omni natural movement rig. Yes, it’s a little clumsy to wear strange bowling shoes on a curved floor that you’re strapped into around your waist and upper torso. Yes, this is probably more than most of you reading this will do for VR. But the Kickstarter funded at over seven times the goal proves there are many more hungry gamers out there looking for the best immersive gaming experience.
Immersive Technology #3 – Haptic Feedback Wearables
If you’ve covered visuals with Oculus Rift, sound with great headphones (maybe even surround sound headphones), and maybe even the movement with the Omni – you’re left with only tactile sensations to take it that next step (let’s not get into tasting the game; that’s a bridge too far for now). Enter Haptic feedback devices and wearables such as gloves to feel and interact with the virtual environment or a chest piece that allows you to feel the direction of the incoming bullets from enemy fire. You can’t feel that you’re in the game until you FEEL you’re in the game. This will undoubtedly be the last technology to be developed into maturity so I list it last.
For all my waiting and wishing it finally, really, REALLY feels like the next few years will deliver on a truly immersive gaming experience.
These technologies, in their infancy, will allow us to glimpse the holy grail of game immersion. Just as a single gaming console is an entertainment center, communications device, computer and gaming machine; so too will the different technologies that we will soon clad ourselves in to feel immersed in our favorite game become fewer and fewer pieces until one elegant solution provides us with the experience that we’re all waiting for – the holodeck.
Until then gunters (read Ready Player One already if you don’t get this reference), keep your eyes peeled for the next key to unlock immersive gaming nirvana – and keep backing the Kickstarters to nudge this along faster while you’re at it.