3D Gaming Tech and Speculations

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

I didn't plan to write another follow up on the subject, but I've now recently watched the Oculus Rift KickStarter project end at almost 10 times its funding goals, and feel the significance of that warrants mentioning. It shows the demand for this type of hardware that until now we have had nothing concrete to raise our voice in support of.

Now, looking to the future with advancements in projects like the Oculus Rift and the Euclideon Unlimited Detail engine, what can we expect next? And when?

The Oculus Rift previously seemed to have been indicated for a early 2013 release of a consumer model, and with a higher res display. But in reading recent interviews and Q&As it now seems like it's slated for a Q3-Q4 2013 release. It's sad to have to wait longer for this dream hardware, but there's probably no helping it. After wading through pointless question after pointless question, or the same questions getting asked several times, finally there has been some light shed on the question of how much the consumer version will cost. But that light is kind of dim. I'm sure it has been assumed by many like me that the $300 price tag of the KickStarter dev units was going to be the price for the consumer project as well. But as far as the team behind it indicates, that price does not reflect the price of the consumer model. This could mean it would be cheaper, but it's far more likely going the other way. They're generating hype with a lower price, and will probably jack it up on us just assuming we won't mind. Now the consumer model will have better hardware inside of it, seemingly warranting a bigger price. But that would be approaching the situation with HMD's wrong. The problem with HMD tech until now was it being outside of the consumer price range for anything decent. Anything higher then $300 for this thing will keep it marketed for a very slim crowd. Not all of us like paying more then that for our gadgets. Just hardcore computer geeks with no girlfriends/wives spending money on things like unnecessary video cards and CPU's, maybe family's on a TV that several people can enjoy at once, and a few idiots with smart phones. $300 for this type of gadget is the most reasonable price, and what HMD's really need. Great effort should be made to make sure the consumer model goes no higher to make sure it's as successful and popular as it could be.

But realistically, I think they will try selling it for around $400-$500 based on the higher resolution display. And it's already been stated they are not going to make different models for different price ranges/resolutions. So we won't have any tiered options to look forward to. The feedback from people who have used this has been strong (and in no way seems like filtered praise or people getting paid to say positive things). But that can only go so far. The truth is, this tech doesn't show very well in pics and videos. So it has a huge marketing hurdle to try and convince people that $400-$500 for something completely unseen before by most people, and something that video/picture does not do justice, is worth it.

So it will ether come out around this time next year with a $400-$500 price tag, far less fanfare then it deserves, with higher resolution screens, and be basically only purchased by a smaller fraction of the users who would be interested. Or it will be bumped up to $350 with its current screens, and draw more attention than it would have otherwise and probably everyone will have at least a friend of a friend with one. I tacked on an extra $50 just because I think they will that. They claim they're barely breaking even on the dev units right now.

Well, with Euclideons Unlimited Detail engine, its been over a year now, and still nothing. Well, almost nothing. They recently finally added content to their website. But to every gamers surprise, they make no mention of video games at all. Anywhere. Their entire site seems to be about some geological mapping BS that 99% of their fans and critics alike, couldn't care less about. It would seem like they decided to screw over gamers and refocus the tech just for that. But I don't think it's the case. There are reports that they're just branching out the engine into other fields as they add the staff to do so. The engine as it exist now lacks things needed for gaming, like anything related to motion of the graphics. At this stage the engine is better suited for something like this geological stuff that doesn't need motion. So it makes sense for a eager new company to be wanting to put their tech into use in anyway, as early as possible and possibly start earning money as such.

So with that said, why the silence still on the gaming front? Well, besides their arrogant power position of dangling the carrot on a stick for us, and them honestly having no obligation to supply us with any info. They're probably gearing up for something significant to show from the techs advancement in the past year. Most likely it's either a new, and downloadable demo like we were sort of promised for this year, or motion support. Other but unlikely candidates are higher frame rates, something about their "compaction" methods, better shadowing or who knows. I'll stick to talking about the main 2 possibility's.

With a downloadable demo, it's risky. There are tons of talented hackers out there ready to rip apart their code just to see how it's done, I'm sure. Maybe they don't care though. Assuming they don't, what might we see? Well, I doubt that with all the new staff they acquired that they got a new, real artist. So we would likely see a rehash of the same old island demo we've seen before. What would be amazing of them is to release something that demonstrates the ease of converting polygon models into their atom models. Preferably being able to do a whole scene. Let the real, amateur artists showcase their techs abilities for them in YouTube videos or downloadable files to run on it. I doubt that would happen though, as much as it would be nice.

The more likely update I would expect is a video showing some motion. Motion at the least from scenery. But we could see some crude scripted animation from some lifeless dull character walking around on their unmoving island demo. Probably relying on the practiced line that they're just programmers, not animators. I'm being a bit negative I suppose, but while I think the company is legit, I just don't trust them much to show much of anything off. Watching/reading the interviews with their project head, I'm just left with the feeling that they're enjoying the backlash to much, almost like trolls themselves, purposely trying to instigate people into hating them. The "any sort of a attention is good attention" type of stuff. When they have the spotlight on them they're going to milk it in any way they can.

So to sum up my speculation:

Oculus Rift - Q4 2013, $400-$500, 1 step up in resolution from the dev build.
Unlimited Detail Engine - Crummy video in the next 2 months, showing either basic scenery animation or crude character animation.

Worth mentioning in this follow up is another piece of new hardware being developed. I haven't looked into it as extensively as the other projects, but it does seem interesting and worth mentioning. It's called LeapMotion.

I know. Sounds like a stupid name. I don't understand it either. Anyway, what this hardware is, is a replacement for things like a mouse, keyboard, and gamepad. It's a type of camera that tracks the details of your hands and fingers at very fast speeds and at very fine precision. Along side the Oculus Rift, this really makes you feel like that future that movies have always made it seem like we were heading for, is finally near.

There are a few videos demoing this on YouTube, but others don't really showcase much different. And the only gaming it's shown with is cheap trendy type stuff. Not real video games. So who knows how hard they are working on adapting this for gaming or anything outside of useless novelty stuff that doesn't do much beyond what you could do with a mouse.

Personally, I don't think this tech is to near ready. The fact that it needs to be below your monitor to track movement above it rather then the other way around (maybe it supports both, I haven't read about it though.) and its limited field of tracking make its use kind of limited. I don't think it needs to be some sort of gimmicky Kinect BS, tracking entire body movement, just a larger area then the couple feet in front of your monitor.

If this tech can evolve more and more as time goes by, it can show real promise though. It could move on to maybe 2-3 sensors allowing 360 degree full body tracking, maybe see some facial detail tracking, or who knows. Such things could really allow for some amazing new control interfacing for standard computer use, and go well beyond the capabilities of current motion detection game interfaces.

But thinking about this, if the drivers and software that go along with it are as good as could be hoped, controls could be amazing if you could use hand gestures, like sign language or some sort of spell casting. The range of such gestures is enormous, and could be used as shortcuts for a lot of basic computer actions or gaming controls.

I could theorize its capabilities all day long, but won't. This is defiantly another piece of tech to keep our eyes on though, and see what evolves with it.


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