More R, Less V: Oculus Upgraded, Carmack Making Games

By Nathan Grayson on January 8th, 2014 at 11:00 am.

Oculus Rift is more or less synonymous with virtual reality at this point, but that doesn’t mean Palmer Luckey and co are resting on their laurels. Heck, based on the latest Oculus upgrade, I’m pretty sure they’re melting down their laurels and fashioning them into the borderline-magical doodads that make these goggles tick. In short, Oculus can now track forward and backward movements – once something that required a pairing with the Razer Hydra – all by its lonesome. Also, while former id Software tech legend John Carmack is still plugging away on hardware, he’s also helping out with Oculus’ own internal game development initiative.

Engadget blew CES wide open and assembled new Rift impressions and an interview from the pieces. In said interview, CEO Brendan Iribe announced that Oculus has its own internal game development branch, and John Carmack’s playing a big role.

“He’s working on a lot of exciting tech. But his heart and soul and history certainly lies in the game-development side.”

“It’s certainly been id’s philosophy [with new tech] in the past. It’s been John Carmack’s philosophy – you gotta eat your own dog food here, and develop internal content also. We’ll see where it goes, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we didn’t do more and more internal development.”

That said, Oculus still plans to work very closely with third-party developers as well, so probably don’t fear an iron-fisted VR dominion just yet. And obviously, Carmack’s good, but he’s no one-man show. Not in this day and age, anyway. Oculus is still very much in the process of assembling a team.

Regardless, the future is getting closer every day, and now if you lean forward, you can see it a little better. How’s it looking from where you’re sitting?

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78 Comments »

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  1. AshRolls says:

    Really, REALLY, looking forward to getting a Rift. Once my wife learns how to spoon-feed and sponge-bath me I’ll never need to take it off again. I’m sure she won’t mind.

  2. yhalothar says:

    By Zeus’ giant blue balls, release this thing already. If the OR is half as awesome as everyone says, I probably won’t leave my room for a month.

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      Bugamn says:

      Given Zeus’ heritage, I doubt he would have blue balls.

      • misterT0AST says:

        They’re not his, they are his father’s (Father Sky), but he definitely has a pair of huge blue balls freshly cut. I bet he nailed them to the kitchen wall.

  3. FF56 says:

    “you gotta eat your own dog food here” Okay…. I’m assuming that’s not literal but I’ve never heard that expression before Oo

    • obowersa says:

      Reasonably common expression in software development:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eating_your_own_dog_food

      Despite all of the faff and management time invested into such things, it often boils down to ‘If it’s not good enough for you to use yourself, then chances are no one else is going too’

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      stahlwerk says:

      While we’re on the subject of food based english idioms, I never really got what “Having your cake and eating it, too” means. Surely to eat a cake you would have to be in some kind of possession of it, wouldn’t you?

      I think I get what it expresses, though, reaching a goal with minimal compromises.

      • Text_Fish says:

        I’ve always assumed it means you want to have it AS WELL as eating it. I.E. You eat it all but it’s still somehow there to be eaten again and again. Devil Cake, basically.

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        basilisk says:

        It’s actually got a Wikipedia entry, but the simplest explanation is that it basically should read “keep your cake and eat your cake”, i.e. want two things that are mutually exclusive.

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          stahlwerk says:

          Thanks for that link, the other languages versions are great, I dig those with fed wolves vs. unharmed lambs / sheep / goats especially.

          • Retro says:

            ‘to have the barrel full and the wife drunk.’ is my favourite

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            basilisk says:

            My language uses the wolf-and-goat saying, but it actually means something slightly different. You’d generally use that only in positive contexts, to describe a “win-win” situation in which you managed to pull off something seemingly impossible, which is not how the cake eating phrase is usually employed (at least I think it isn’t, but I’m not a native speaker).

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            JamesTheNumberless says:

            It’s just currently more popularly used to emphasize that two things are mutually exclusive. However, someone can say “I’m having my cake and eating it right now” as a reaction to having had two things go their way when they had thought they were facing a dilemma.

            I’d say the phrase doesn’t really apply to a classic “win-win scenario”, in which two opposing parties mutually benefit from an outcome. Having ones cake and eating it is purely about oneself.

        • DanMan says:

          Or in other words: “good for you, but we don’t want any of this”.

        • Reefpirate says:

          Interesting… For some reason I always associated the expression with the famous, “Let them eat cake”. I figured it was like ‘well we’ll let them have cake, and I guess they can eat it too’ as in you’re given something obviously meant for eating and your overlords will allow you to eat it as well.

      • Kollega says:

        Yeah, as people above say, it basically means “still having your cake after eating it”.

        • Dugular says:

          Wow. Thanks guys! It’s nice to know that my procrastination on RPS occasionally results in general education. I now feel that this time was not wasted and I am slightly more knowledgable.

    • Warduke says:

      I was going to say the same thing.. eat your own dog food is not one I’ve heard before… brings up mixed images

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        JamesTheNumberless says:

        It’s unpleasant isn’t it? I’ve always stuck with “practice what you preach” – i.e. if you have a software company selling generic CRM software but you use Excel for all your internal admin, then something seems slightly amiss :)

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    stahlwerk says:

    I don’t know if I’m disappointed or glad that they abandoned the accelerometer-only based head tracking for a more traditional infrared based tracking, requiring an external camera, but if it’s that much better and also supports full head movement tracking, I guess I won’t complain about yet another WiiMote / SensorBar / eyeToy / Kinect thing polluting the already crowded IR environment in front of the gaming TV.

    About the switch from (I assume) IPS-TFT to OLED on the other hand I’m a bit more skeptical, with the longevity issues still not solved.

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      phuzz says:

      From what I read elsewhere, the camera works in conjunction with the built in accelerometers.
      Haven’t they been using OLED screens in mobile phones for ages now?

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        stahlwerk says:

        Yes, they have been in mobile phones of course, but that’s an area where a color tint and worn out pixels after two-to-three years are deemed acceptable if not gladly accepted by the OEMs, since it means they can sell you a new one, because the new one will make your old one look like crap in comparison. And arguably, if you’re the kind of person who worries about stuff like screen color reproduction, you don’t own a phone for more than two years, anyway.
        OLED wear increases with temperature and humidity, both of which I’d guess will be worse in the oculus rift than in a phone.

    • quintesse says:

      As far as I understand only OLED can currently provide what is needed for a good VR experience, LCD just has too much persistence resulting in smearing when you move your head.

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        stahlwerk says:

        The way I read it, the problem with smearing was solved by strobing the OLEDs in a much shorter pulse, and wouldn’t that also be possible with an ordinary LED-backlit LCD? I guess they’d have to create a lot of custom hardware for that, when off-the-shelf OLEDs can be pulsed however you like to. Maybe when it goes beyond the prototype stage.

        • lhl says:

          Even w/ backlit strobing w/ an LCD screen, the response time w/ OLEDs are still several magnitudes (microseconds vs milliseconds) faster. I haven’t seen details about their low persistence implementation, but even at a “regular” 120-Hz (8ms) LightBoost-style strobing you’d still get ghosting w/ LCDs.

          OLEDs also have significantly better contrast ratio and black levels and color saturation that make it pretty well suited for gaming.

          The main drawbacks: color accuracy, sunlight performance, and limited lifespan (5yr) aren’t really a huge problem – the assumption being that there going to be some huge generational jumps and everyone’s going to want to upgrade anyway.

    • Janichsan says:

      The longevity issues of OLEDs aren’t really much of a problem nowadays. Modern OLEDs have a lifetime that surpasses the lifetime the devices they are used in by quite a margin. To get any noteworthy degradation, you’d have to leave your OLED display running uninterruptedly for something like 5 years, 24 hours a day, at full brightness.

      The real problems with OLEDs currently lie in the manufacturing and the cost.

    • Geebs says:

      Why would you set up the rift in front of your tv? Is is just so you could not use the Tv in a really pointed manner?

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        xao says:

        Hypothetically, it could be where your computer is if it’s already hooked to the TV, and it’s often where people have their surround sound systems centered.

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          stahlwerk says:

          Research indicates this hypothesis to be spot on.

        • Press X to Gary Busey says:

          Wouldn’t speakers be a really bad idea for VR? You’d lose the sound perspective as you turn your head. If that makes sense.
          But yeah, the vicinity of the TV is where the sofa or armchair is if you want to be comfy while VR’ing.

  5. Text_Fish says:

    Do we know how much it’s going to cost yet? I need to know whether to chop off my arm as well as my leg.

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      stahlwerk says:

      IIRC during the kickstarted, the target was set at $300, but there have been whisperings about a tiered product line, so this may well be the price point of the no-frills version (maybe the IR tracking demoed at CES is a feature exclusive to the higher tiers? Resolution could be another obvious differentiator).

      • Text_Fish says:

        Hmmm. Only one and a half limbs then. Thanks for the infos.

      • Kitsunin says:

        Damn, I just don’t think this is the type of thing I could stand having an incomplete version of. My monies…

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    Don Reba says:

    Is Carmack also involved with Occulus’ space initiatives?

  7. Retro says:

    Hmm not sure I’m that happy

    1) maybe I’m paranoid but I don’t have a webcam in my laptop (I made the manufacturer remove it) and I’m not looking forward to having a camera stare at me whole day long (even – or especially if – it’s a IR one.. nope I don’t want to play arousal chicken with Cara..)
    2) TrackIR is using the same approach, and with that one I had issues while sitting in a bright room (sun was shining, reflecting off all kinds of things in the background, confusing the IR tracker so the generated position would jitter (at best) or stop working (at worst)). The workaround was to draw the shades whch sucks since I couldn't see a thing in the dark (and I like sitting in a bright room, plus it's one more step away from the impulsive 'let's play a game' action)
    3) what happens if I turn around 180 degrees (or look up >90 degrees)? The camera can’t track anything? Again, with TIR this was a non-issue since you HAD to still look at the screen, but with the rift that’s not required..

    So hopefully this is only an intermediary solution (that being said, I get instant nausea with the rift if I move my body and the in-game position does not change so it IS a huge improvement)

    • SIDD says:

      In regard to your second point, if IR tracking isn’t your thing, there’s a surprisingly functional alternative called Facetrack No IR which of course isn’t great when you’re sitting in a poorly lit room. However for your situation, it seems to be pretty damn near spot on: http://facetracknoir.sourceforge.net/home/default.htm

    • Stupoider says:

      Couldn’t you strap a bit of masking tape over the laptop webcam if you were worried about being spied on?

      • Text_Fish says:

        My thoughts exactly … and probably those of the manufacturer. I wouldn’t be surprised if if they just said “Er, of course Mr. Retro wed be happy to remove it for you” and then didn’t touch it. Not to make you even more paranoid or anything Mr. Retro.

        • Retro says:

          I’m looking at the hole the cam’s supposed to reside in 8 hours a day, so I’m content ;)

          ..but maybe they just moved the cam (just because you’re not paranoid etc..)

      • Reapy says:

        You know, this does a bit concern me, if only sometimes by accident having the webcam and audio accessed by a program.

        I have left a webcam hooked up on the main TV when doing web chat with distant relatives and the kids, but then later trying out a few random games, like awesomenots. It took a while but I realized that by default the game just uses the mic off the webcam and was broadcasting it in the game. Luckily I was just playing solo when I figured it out, but I could have unintentionally been broadcasting my living room to anybody else in the game.

        Still, if I had a webcam or mic I tend to just unplug it when not in use to avoid this, though I guess you can’t do it with a laptop having a built in one. Even if you tape up the webcam you still have the mic capable of picking everything up.

        I do hope in the future we just hit this point where if for some reason you have a webcam shot of you picking your nose or whatever else everyone does in their house, it won’t be a big deal. Like oh, yeah, look, guy reads his laptop on the toilet, ha ha, not really funny, on to the next story.

    • Post-Internet Syndrome says:

      Well, with the rift on your face, how well lit the room is shouldn’t be relevant. :P

      • Retro says:

        Nope since you might have to look at the keyboard once in a while (one of the unsolved problems with the rift IMO – especially with more involved simulation games with hundreds of shortcuts), or want to grab that sandwich/soda/…

        In addition, not everyone ‘games’ in a secluded room so other persons might be in it (requiring light)

        • LionsPhil says:

          I’m not sure VR of any kind is really going to work outside of the level of dedication in which you have a personal safe space reserved for flailing around with a lunchbox strapped to your head and are prepared to strap yourself into the Gaming Zone before play.

          For quick rounds of UT or whatnot, I can’t see that it can ever possibly be suitable.

        • frightlever says:

          The keyboard thing is something I hadn’t thought about. Might have to bring my Logitech G13 gameboard out of retirement – never took to it, but never really gave it a chance.

          I expect there will be a million Youtube videos documenting Occulus Rift hilarity and maimings.

        • Reapy says:

          The guy that did the kinect picture to 3d model solved it. He brings in a kinect scan of his hands and desks with a touch of a button and overlays it on the picture. Pretty ‘next gen’ looking to be honest.

          Right here

        • silentdan says:

          Yeah, for quite some time now, I’ve been thinking of the Rift as “that expensive blindfold that everyone thinks is the future.” I’m sure the issue will be addressed to the satisfaction of some, but probably not me. I’ve heard talk about putting a camera on the front of the Rift, so if you want to see your surroundings, you just have to push a button — but currently, I can see without pushing a button, and I think I prefer that. Also, it might be that I want to push a button on my keyboard to make something happen … and so, all I have to do is push the “see” button, so I can see my keyboard to push the … dammit, I can’t remember what keyboard button I wanted to push. Perhaps it was pause. Or maybe Alt-F4.

          I certainly don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade, and I hope current and future Rift owners enjoy their gadgets as much as possible, but I … I just don’t see myself ever owning one of those things. It looks great on paper. It looks even better in short, controller-based demos. It looks not so appealing for longer keyboard-based play sessions. At this point, I think I’ll stick with TrackIR for at least another three or four years.

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      stahlwerk says:

      Re 3): there’s an IR-LED at the back of the headband, so turning your head 360° degrees will not disrupt your playing experience.

      Err.

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      JamesTheNumberless says:

      Hey, if they want to watch me wanking over Europa Universalis, it’s their loss.

    • lhl says:

      The positional tracking is in addition to the existing internal relative tracking sensors. When the positional tracking loses track of you it switches back to the existing head and neck model. The easiest/cheapest way to extend tracking 360 would be w/ additional cameras but that seems like overkill for a consumer setup.

      Positional tracking is a must for avoiding simulation sickness, and there are only so many ways to do it – the Crystal Cove prototype is showing the most robust/cost effective way they’ve developed so far. It’d be a nice surprise if they ended up releasing something using a more interesting approach, but IMO, it’s a bit academic as long as the tracking works well enough.

  8. cpy says:

    I really want to get full HD one maybe 4k version? But i want to try how it feels, i don’t want to get sick or wear heavy armor helmet all the time.

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    Gap Gen says:

    “he’s also helping out with Oculus’ own internal game development initiative”

    Is anyone a little worried about this? I’d rather they focus on making amazing tech rather than spreading themselves too thin and risking investment on game development. Not that I have any stake in their business, so I could be full of shit.

    • Sharlie Shaplin says:

      They probably have more money to burn than they need, they raised something like $94 million so far.

    • LionsPhil says:

      I would hope that with Carmack there, what they’d make is the engine and bones of a great game, possibly even open-source, as an example of how to do the technical side correctly, that modders and other creative game design types can then build on to go wild with. The Quake of Oculus, if you will.

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      Craig Pearson says:

      But it’s Carmack, so he’s probably solving a billion different problems for them while does it.

    • Faxanadu says:

      I knew it!

      I knew Carmack would bring in some evil-corporate stuff! I said so in the article RPS first mentioned him! And how he’s gonna, like, do all that evil stuff, that I feared! Boooh!

      Anyway, I want my Oculus already. :l And without a silly camera. :l

    • Geebs says:

      As long as they don’t hire Willitts, they’re golden

    • Reefpirate says:

      From what I gathered, doing some small scale game development on the hardware you’re also developing would really help to inform. Basically it will give the Occulus developers a better idea of what game developers will want and need when making games with the platform and inform development of the hardware.

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        Gap Gen says:

        Well, OK, if the SDK is better because of it, then great.

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        darkChozo says:

        I’d imagine that they’d have to do game development anyway to have anything resembling internal QA. User tests only go so far. Think of it as something similar to the tech demos that Nvidia and AMD put out, though it might be a bit of Google’s four-hours-to-work-on-personal-projects thing as well.

  10. Keyrock says:

    This is exciting stuff. As with any type of new tech, it will likely be wise to skip the initial offering and wait for for the second of third iteration offered to the market. I’ll let others beta test this, then scoop it up when it’s cheaper and has less crickets in it.

  11. michailnenkov says:

    I’m not happy about this move. As an owner of the original devkit, I was looking forward to positional tracking, because the lack of it was causing me (and I assume others too) the motion sickness they experienced…. this solution solves that alright, but it limits the rift greatly. With the original, you could turn around as much as you wanted and it didn’t matter if you were seated or in any other position, the Rift was a self-contained unit and all the movements were relative to it. Now you have a camera, that means you get one position (probably seated) and a limited angle of operation (which means that you’d HAVE to turn around with a controller. Also there’s the issue that all computer vision solutions have – once you drop out of the frame, everything goes to shit.

    What they originally talked about was a solution with a magnetometer, which has it bugs as well (good relative, but bad absolute positioning in 3d space, meaning it’s prone to drifting) but it retains the original self-contained paradigm. I’ve read on engadget, I think, that IR tracking is only a temporary prototyping solution and I certainly hope so.

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      darkChozo says:

      It could be a three tiered solution. Accelerometer for quick estimations of movement, gyro and/or magnetometer for a fallback when you lose IR tracking, IR tracking for when you have it. The Wiimote Motionplus actually has a pretty similar set up and it works pretty well.

  12. Janichsan says:

    As impressive as the Oculus Rift promises to be, I remain skeptical that strapping a medium sized toaster to your face to play games is really something that will catch on. I’m pretty sure this will remain a niche product.

    • Sharlie Shaplin says:

      It may be toaster sized now, but I imagine in the future this kind of tech will be much smaller. Look at mobile phones and computers.

      • Janichsan says:

        No doubt about that. The question is the timeframe for that. In the last 20 years at least, VR headsets haven’t become much smaller. There’s probably a certain minimum size, though, since you wouldn’t able to properly focus your eyes on the screens.

        • lhl says:

          The main reason that you haven’t seen a lot of miniaturization in VR headsets is because the consumer demand hasn’t been there, but w/ the new push in VR/AR that’s pretty quickly changing.

          The minimum size will be smaller than you expect I think, even in the near future. A lot of companies have been playing around with light guides of various types for quite a while which allows moving the source to the sides (see various AR displays) and if HMDs take off, I wouldn’t doubt that consumer laser/direct retina displays will be out sooner rather than later. Most of the tech is there in prototype/industrial form already.

          While not as revolutionary as the Rift (limited FOV, no tracking), I’m looking forward to what Avegant is doing using DLPs – I’m not sure about the Glyph form factor, but their prototypes are already pretty compact.

  13. jimmydean239 says:

    As awesome as this thing looks, I somehow wish that somebody would invoke a total media blackout on it until it’s released. Reading about how great it is for over a year and not being able to buy in its finished state is like being the poor kid looking through the toy shop window at Christmas. Just stop talking about it damn you!

    • Flank Sinatra says:

      Agreed. I’m sick of hearing about how great this thing is and how I HAVE to experience it but don’t buy it yet because it’s not finished but it’s amazing! I feel like I’m missing out. It’s driving me nuts!
      Just tell me when I can pick the thing up on Amazon and then we’ll talk about how great it is. Until then I’m gonna save my money for a new gaming rig capable of running RIFT + Star Citizen.
      I’m gonna give up on real life completely once I’m in the VR cockpit of a starfighter.

  14. DanMan says:

    “I wouldn’t be surprised if we didn’t do more and more internal development”

    Ok, that’s double negation, so what he really said is: “I would be surprised if we did more and more internal development”, right? Is that also what he meant? I’m confused.

  15. Misha says:

    As awesome as this thing looks, I somehow wish that somebody would invoke a total media blackout on it until it’s released. Reading about how great it is for over a year and not being able to buy in its finished state is like being the poor kid looking through the toy shop window at Christmas. Just stop talking about it damn you!

    Thank you, kind Sir. And it’s been only a year of hyperventilation, endless “any day now” announcements and “OMG it’s like the best since… since EVERYTHING”? Seems to me it’s been much, much longer.

    Anyway… Lemme know when it hits shelves, because at this point the Oculus Any Day Now is just about the textbook definition of Mission Creep.

    I’ll buy it then, oh boy will I ever. I’ll beat down hordes of little old ladies and young women with prams to get there first, but until then I’d much rather not hear about How Great It’s Going to Be™.

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    DrScuttles says:

    Holy shit I’m so ready to party like it’s 1993 and I’m in the Cyberzone. Yes, that’s right. The one with Craig Charles.

  17. engion3 says:

    Pretty awesome news. I love Carmack and enjoyed Rage, but it’s obvious that Carmack’s strong suit is creating/refining new technologies and educating people on the best way to utilize them rather than dedicating his time to a single title for years. I’m definitely excited.

  18. Severn2j says:

    While awesome, wouldn’t it make sense to have two cameras on the Rift itself to give positional tracking, but with the added bonus of being able to selectively display the real world (when you pause the game, for example), so you don’t have to keep removing the headset to know what’s going on “outside”..