Oculus Rift creator Palmer Luckey opened Evolve 2012 by telling the assembled attendees that games are being held back by current display technology, and that virtual reality will be the biggest jump in gaming since 3D graphics. The virtual reality expert was clearly nervous – apologising to the audience in advance for being more of a “tech guy than a talker” – but this was an infectiously enthusiastic keynote on the why he believes virtual reality is the holy grail of gaming.
Luckey ran through the evolution of hardware which put into believable context his confidence that now is finally the right time for virtual reality, a technology which has had several false starts over the years. The display technology market has become stagnant, in his opinion, despite the increasing resolution of TVs and 3D displays.
A combination of powerful graphics hardware, high-density mobile screens which can display wide fields of view, high-performance precision motion tracking and low-cost components, he said, mean that functional head-mounted displays are now cost-effective. He pointed to simpler factors, too, such as wireless technology, which neatly sidesteps most accidental garroting scenarios.
But what of the audience? Luckey pointed to the wealth of high-profile Rift backers like John Carmack, and increasing acceptance by players of alternative interfaces such as motion control, as evidence that the market was in sync with hardware’s readiness.
“Everyone wants this,” he said. “What gamer isn’t enamoured with the idea of virtual reality? I think its clear that a reboot for VR is coming, if not for me, then definitely from somebody else. I think it’s going to change gaming.”
But developers will face serious challenges at first, he warned. The need to render two scenes at once will put pressure on GPUs – stereo rendering is expensive – and a high frame rate is critical to avoid disorientation. While 60fps is currently considered high, though, Luckey says that should be the just the starting point.
“High framerates are critical to avoid disorientation,” he explained. “The faster the game runs the easier it is to trick the brain, and developers are going to have to find ways to make hardware perform better.”
Luckey wrapped up his session by considering where virtual reality will go next, highlighting galvanic vestibular stimulation – where electrodes are used to interact with the inner ear in order to produce the sensation of inertia – as one possibility. It might not be quite as far away as we think, either. Luckey is, at least in terms of public awareness, leading the charge for virtual reality headsets, and he’s already turning his attention to GVS.
“It’s really cool, and I’ve put some GVS systems together myself,” he enthuses with the wide-eyed smile of someone who’s less bothered about his own safety than others. “The problem is, it’s not particularly safe. I mean, there’s no evidence that it’s bad for you to hook up electrodes behind your ear and send shocks into the body… but there’s no evidence that it isn’t, either…”
Main image courtesy of Dan Griliopoulos