10 Months a VR Developer, 10 Days a VR User

Saturday, October 04, 2014

We've seen a LOT of first impressions posts for the DK2, so one from me may not be all that interesting at this point. But I do have 1 unique perspective though. I've been a fan of the Rift since the Kickstarter, and a dev since the end of last year. However, I have not used a Rift at all yet. That's crazy right? How could I believe in the Rift enough to dev for it for almost 10 months but have never put on on my head? How can I even do it at all without a Rift for testing on? I'll answer these questions, and more. I'll also try to take you on a journey through what lead me to this day. And finally, yes, give you some first impressions.

Keep in mind, I wrote this intending to just let my thoughts flow freely and edit later. But after delays in finishing this up, I decided to just post it as is rather then wait any longer and maybe never posting it. It's a little long, so you can skip some things if if you want.

A Little Backstory

I'll start with VR for me up until the Rift Kickstarter. Before then my only VR experiences were a Virtual Boy and a Virtual Systems at a hotel attraction in my home town of Las Vegas.

The Virtual Boy experience was probably about as good as you can imagine. I don't remember what I even played, just that I'm sure I tried it when I worked at a used video game store. The other experience was more memorable, but not a to much more. I don't remember for certain what game I played. I think Duke Nukem, but others have suggested it might have been Rise of the Triad which I've never heard of otherwise. It was fun and worth the $5. But it didn't quite make the long lasting impressions you might expect of someone who's a VR fan right now. It was a crude low quality experience as you might expect. I saw the potential for VR, but it was so far away from that potential it wasn't worth thinking about very much.

What it did help do is cause me to fall into/for the hype of the Nintendo On hoax years later. Imagining better than GameCube graphics in a HMD, one that had to be loads better then what I used years before, and naturally my interest grew. So much so that when the eventual disappointment of the hoax was revealed, it caused me to start looking around online and researching HMDs and the state of VR.

At that time, VR still wasn't ready. Especially not for consumers. While what I could find seemed better in terms of resolution, I was able to see through the presentation and gather from the stats that it wasn't going to be good. And for that experience, it was going to cost a not very consumer friendly price. Closer to consumer friendly, yes, but not close enough.

From that point, I'd check every year or 2 to see if there had been any significant developments in VR. The potential of VR was stuck in me from that point, so I just had to wait. This part of the story eventually leads to me finding out about the Rift Kickstarter 2 years ago.

So why was I a dev for most of this past year, but not a Rift owner or user even once?

Well. I needed a new hobby. I did various coding projects as a hobby for years, and at the end of last year I just needed to move onto something different. I wasn't getting what I needed out of my old projects. The Rift hype had hooked me for over a year at that point. I knew of newbie approachable game development software like Unity, and figured I could try to parlay my coding experience into scripting for it, and learn the rest. What also drove me is my disconnect from modern gaming. Outside of MMO's like EverQuest and World of Warcraft, most modern games haven't appealed to me. I still consider myself a gamer, and games do come along that I enjoy. Just not to many. I came to the conclusion that if I want there to be games in VR that I enjoy, I shouldn't just hope someone makes them. If I can't try making games I like myself, then maybe I shouldn't complain. =/

I'm not interested in making general monitor/TV games. Just VR. But I couldn't afford a Rift. I'm isolated from other devs/enthusiasts, and know of no others where I live. I can't afford to travel to meetups elsewhere either. And the only time conventions would come my way, I just couldn't attend. I had the drive to develop, but not the hardware or experience. But I still wanted to move forward and do the best I could. I tried to use my imagination as best as I could, and learn as much as I could from impressions from actual Rift users, in order to try and make/keep the experience VR optimal. I'd try not to over extend myself and risk making VR experiences worse, and rely on the default Oculus character controller in Unity as much as possible, and whatever feedback people sent my way.

But of course the limits are going to get in the way at some point, which is why some of my projects have been delayed beyond what I expected, or lost my interest altogether.

Present Day

This brings me to now. I have my very own dev kit. Skipping completely over the DK1, my first experience will be with the DK2. What will I play first? Will it live up to my imagination? How much will issues like FOV and SDE bother me? Will I get sick easily or at all? Will I lose my self in immersion, or will I feel like I'm still in my room with a screen strapped to my face? What experiences will I like the most? Will I like experiences that didn't interest me at all? Will I not like experiences that did interest me? Lets find out...

My tiled wallpaper

This was what I first noticed. I was seeing my wallpaper just fine in the Rift, and was confused that normal wallpapers were supposed to look weird. I then figure out that it tiles itself in just the right way that the different tiles of the image in each eye line up.

Oculus Desk demo

I chose to start with this first, rather then my own, due to it probably being a much more reliable first experience.

Immediately I noticed how well the left and the right views line up, with no effort on my part. I've spent the better part of the last couple years doing the cross-eyed thing to get a semblance of 3D from things. This just worked. No effort.

Next, the pixel size and SDE. I've heard a lot about these, and was worried. But honestly, my first impressions were that both weren't to bad. Clearly better would be more desirable, but as is its fine.

The FOV. I can see the right and left borders. Of course I would like more HFOV, but what I was seeing wasn't as detracting from the experience as I feared.

One of the first things I noticed was how weird it felt to be sitting half under my seat. It took me a minute to realize there wasn't a recenter button, but instead a on screen option to recenter.

Once I got the centering issue fixed, I was ready to examine the experience and the 3d. It was cool. I was getting the 3D effect. I had issues with the camera positioning and range preventing me from leaning in very much. But once I adjusted things, it was nice to lean around and look at things. It sold the 3D much better.

No nausea yet. Felt perfectly fine. Onto my demo!

Kokiri Forest

This is where the headache of getting things displaying on the DK2 comes in. I resigned myself already to skip bothering with direct mode, and just use extended.

I got the demo displaying on the DK2, and my controller decided to not work right for some reason. I may not have ported the input script/changes for this build of my demo. Once I gave up on that, taking a real look at the scene in front of me. Man, I'm so short! And the brightness just seems weird/dark!

Seeing the Deku Tree was awesome. It looks so big! The signs seem huge too! Walking on the bridges didn't have a remotely troubling feeling of heights/vertigo like I thought. I figured I'd go to the boulder/sword area and check that out. On my way, and by the time I got in, I was starting to feel the nausea. I persisted, but figured I'd stand still a moment and check out the boulder as it rolls by. It scares or startles many people, but of course I knew to expect it. But it was cool seeing it rolling around. Finally, the chest. Wow that thing is big!

Now that I have the DK2, I need to re-evaluate the character height. See if it really fits what I intended. I meant for it to be a kids perspective, but it was feeling TO short to me at the time.

Virtual Desktop

I've been looking forward to trying this program. Once loaded up, my view was once again rotated, and I was scrambling to figure out how to recenter. Once I did, I noticed it was really choppy. Judder? I didn't see it in the 2 previous demos, but it was certainly present here. I tried reading some Skype window messages, and couldn't. But realized I could adjust the DK2 on my head and it would become readable. I wasn't in the sweet spot.

I didn't take much of a break between my demo and this, and was still feeling queezy. So I figured I'd just give a try at loading up a 2D video, holding my head still and, see how I liked watching a vid. It was easy to do in the program. However the video was noticeably choppy. I'm not sure if it was the 20fps frame rate of the video, or the 40-50fps of VD. Maybe both. Whatever it was, it was interesting but not to special. So I moved on.


I figured I'd give a try and see how a real 3D video played. So I loaded up whirligig since I have it installed. I first noticed the default image I installed to it. A HQ SBS rendering of someones custom modeling of a room from Majora's Mask. It was cool seeing it. But not as cool as I thought. I think the pixels were being a issue with it. I changed to the Solar picture. Wow. it actually looked round! Next, I had a clip of Avatar 3D, so I watched 10m of that. It was interesting. Some parts the 3D didn't seem to great, while others were fine. I gave up after 10m because it wasn't helping get rid of the nausea feeling I've been retaining, and I was getting sick of fighting it constantly wanting to drift off center when I wasn't even moving.

Sightline the Chair

I really wanted to try this one, but I thought my GFX card couldn't take it. Particularly that forest scene. I was right! The forest scene lagged my poor old 560ti pretty hard. I made it through the street scene, but had to stop there due to nausea.

Following Days

In the following days  I went back and played through more of my PJO scenes, a little Minecrift, some test scenes of mine, movie players, and a couple other misc demos. I learned to switch to direct mode, turn of aero, make my Rift the primary, and to stand up. These all helped a LOT with keeping nausea away. One surprising bit is, I stumbled upon the F1 key. Pressing it seems to magically fix the brightness issue I noticed back in my own demo. Pressing it and brightening up the scene made it much more enjoyable, and really helped keep me from getting nauseous. Whats surprising is that I learned this magical feature isn't just a brightness toggle. It's low persistence mode, and the darker more nausea inducing state is low persistence turned ON. That's the opposite of how it should be! I'm not saying it will be this way for everyone, and that they should do it too. But for me it helped.

After just a couple days I'm able to stay in the Rift much longer. I've done 2 hours a couple times now. I still get a little nauseous, but it's much more minor now. Now that I've learned what to do and not do.

Final thoughts

While I would love more HFOV, it's not as huge of an issue as I thought. I hope Oculus doesn't keep sacrificing more and more FOV like they did with DK1->DK2->GearVR. If CV1 has a lower FOV it would suck! But the FOV in DK2 atm, despite my ability to see the sides/top/bottom, isn't the problem some were trying to lead people to believe. It probably decreases immersion, but it doesn't decrease the ability to enjoy the experience.

The SDE isn't as big as a problem either. I'd like it to be less, but as-is the experience is enjoyable. Not consumer ready, for sure. But perfectly fine for development.

The positional tracking, well, sucks. The camera range is to damn picky and finicky. It's a struggle for me to position the camera far enough away, not be obstructed, and for me to remain comfortable. Atm, the only way I can get it to work reasonably reliable is while standing, and even then it craps out here and there and is jarring seeing the floor/objects tilt with my head for even a moment.

I don't see anyone talk about this, but my god! The brightness! This is my biggest issue. There really needs to be a way to keep low persistence and full brightness. And sadly, I think the only way is probably going to be more fps/refresh rate. I didn't think it was going to be needed before, but 90hz is a must! If only to hopefully see the display end up brighter!

The combinations of the low persistence lack of brightness and current SDE effect are keeping this from being consumer viable. Both need to be improved for CV1, and I'm sure they will be. If the improvement is enough, I can't say right now. Hopefully I'll get to test the Crescent Bay prototype in January at CES and be able to gauge a better opinion on that.

After over a week of using it, the nausea is still a huge issue for me. I'm not sure if my experiences with nausea are normal, or I'm particularly susceptible to sim sickness. Either way, from my perspective more work needs to be done to eliminate it.

Some of it revolves around movement and turning. So for now I have to adjust myself to do such things in ways that don't induce nausea. But the positional tracking setup sucks. It's so picky, and even when setup right I find the tracking cutting out and the world around me holding still as I move my head. That adds to nausea. Judder, to low refresh rate (75hz), lack of brightness, lack of motion controls, etc. It probably all adds together for nausea, and Oculus needs to keep continuing to do what that can to improve in those areas.

I hate saying it, but this needs to be marketed as a high end PC gamer experience. At least at the start. And that's because of the nausea concerns combined with the high frame rate requirements. Sure, not all experience need to be cutting edge graphics. Some mid-range setups will be able to play some things. But those need to be the exceptions. Labeling VR for now as requiring a expensive computer sucks for mass adoption. But not as much as to many people getting sick to easily. It should be much easier for VR to recover from the price stigma over time then one about sickness. I would personally like to see VR be a mid-range computer thing, but that's just to costly of a goal for now. Not until we get quality foveated rendering.

In closing, I'm definitely looking forward to working with VR more. I have a ton of ideas for different games/demos in mind as my development skills grow. It's going to be fun! =)


Post a Comment