Timing is everything—even in virtual reality.
Less than three months ago, Facebook bought Oculus VR, best known as the company behind the virtual reality gaming headset Oculus Rift, for $2 billion.
So at this week's Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles, many eyes not masked in headseats turned toward Oculus to see what this newly flushed state could bring to the world's consumers. Some observers expected Oculus to reveal further details about the first consumer version Rift headset, CV1. The company's silence on the hardware, however, suggests that the Rift likely won't be released in 2014.
So what exactly was Oculus up to at E3?
"The real highlight here is the content that developers are able to make," Oculus VR’s CEO, Brendan Iribe, tells Fast Company. "This content is starting to be really polished for VR. We need more content. That’s up to the ecosystem, the community, third-party developers. And we announced we are going to make games ourselves."
As Oculus prepares the final features and specs of the Rift, the company is moving to insure that there will be great content available when it does launch. Oculus recently announced it hired veteran game designer Jason Rubin, creator of the Crash Bandicoot series, to create games in-house. Oculus also said at E3 that it's entering a partnership with Playful, a game development studio led by Paul Bettner, one of the creators of Words With Friends.
The first game to come out of this collaboration is Lucky's Tale. Imagine a colorful, toy-like world that you are looking down upon, with simply colored hills and trees. You look over this world with your virtual eyes and control a fox named Lucky. You move him from hill to hill, tree to tree. The goal, like many games of the platform genre such as Super Mario, is to survive until the end. As many VR games and demos out now feature dark palettes and realistic, first-person games, a bright, cartoon world is a nice change of pace.
"We built 30 little prototypes before we got to Lucky," says Paul Bettner. "I remember first seeing it and it looked like any other platformer I have played, but then I realized I could look up and see the whole level stretching out. I got really attached to that and had to do that game."
It's not all fun and cartoon games. One of those darker FPS games is Alien: Isolation, Sega's creepy horror game based on the film franchise. This time a single alien is stalking you through a space station and it is sometimes more prudent to run and hide than to fight. Rift support for the PC version was recently announced. The demo provided by Oculus shows that VR will be effective in delivering scares to a player.
Other demos Oculus has shown this week include an indie game called Super Hot, where time only moves while you do, allowing you to see bullets coming and then dodge them. There is also Oculus's mainstay Eve: Valkyrie from CCP, showing a new level of polish for the sci-fi spaceship shooter. There is even a demo of a virtual reality opera, with fantastical images that the "player" can look around in as the music plays. And there are even stranger experiences to be had, with indie developers using the first Development Kit (DK1) released last year to craft a myriad of virtual experiences.
So what does Oculus have to say to those who feel that these game announcements aren't enough? And to those that are impatient for final hardware? Iribe points to the improved development kit (DK2) shipping in July. "It’s incredible," he says. "And it’s a big step forward. It’s the result of two years of R&D. It’s the best VR available now."
And that much-anticipated consumer Rift?
"Oculus is committed to not being another company that hyped up VR but didn’t really deliver on the dream that people had in their head, that sci-fi idea of being transported somewhere else," says Bettner. "I don’t know when it’s going to come out. But I do know they are going to get it right. And it will be worth it."
[Image: Flickr user Sergey Galyonkin]