Tunnel Vision: Actual Games

By Alec Meer on August 5th, 2014 at 7:00 pm.

I’m three columns into this series of Oculus Rift round-ups, and it’s telling that so far I haven’t covered anything that would fit the formalist description of a game. No, I’m not getting involved in anyone’s tiresome war about Proteus or Gone Home, but sticking to a more universal whipping boy – the first-gen Oculus’ issues with readable text, usable HUDs and motion sickness. Clearly VR still being the wild west plays a major role in keeping devs from making large-scale games for it, as does there being a limited install base for now, but the real problem is getting any of this stuff past experiment status. Let’s look at some of the games which try to regardless.

Windlands

First-person grappling hook platformer (sort of) Windlands understands that the first step that must be taken for any gen-1 Oculus game is to remove all trace of HUD. This means there’s not much in the way of objective, but there’s also no impediment to just getting on with bouncing around a vaguely Minecraftsome rural landscape, replete with wall-jumping, rope-swinging and teleportation. Strange and sad to think that, where this a full-scale game, those three transport abilities would be trickled out and metered. Here, they’re there from the off. The camera’s controlled by your head – which also plays a functional role in teleportation, as you gaze at a particular spot to then lob your beacon at it – and after a time you’re flicking your skull around as you bounce and swing merrily across the treetops. It’s not quite Spider-Man, but it’s certainly spiderish. And now I’m just thinking “Mirror’s Edge 2 on Oculus Rift DK2? Yummy, yes please.”

Anyway, let’s not undersell Windlands: while it might not have the high concept of many VR experiments, it works hard to get the mechanics of movement and interaction right.

Half-Life 2

You might have heard of this, if you’re one of those indie scene hipsters. A combination of official support and mods results in what might just be one of the most essential Oculus Rift experiences, even though there’s no way my poor eyes could stand to run City 17′s entire gauntlet this way. The first section, the train station and the initial foray into the city, is a true mind-blower though. It doubles down on the importance of Viktor Antonov’s archtitectural contribution – the part-gutted, part-gleaming fusion of Eastern European decay and monolithic otherness towers over and oppresses the player. The video billboards of Doctor Breen’s faux-pleasantries are now as vast as they were intended to be, making them less Minority Report and more a sinister symbol of one man’s god complex. VR is going to work best in games where the world-building is meticulous, and Half-Life 2 remains a landmark in that respect.

Shooting mens is just about shooty-possible too, but only if you’ve got Half-Life 2 programmed into your muscle memory. Which weapon follows which on the mouse wheel, what 0 zero HEV armour looks like through prescription-grade beer goggles, that sort of thing. You can do it, but you’re going to pratfall, Gordon. Nevertheless, other than Elite: Dangerous this for my money remains the essential Oculus endeavour.

Crashed Lander

OK, I haven’t actually played this one yet, and a spontaneous tidy-up yesterday saw me foolishly pile every one of the several dozen cables in sight into a box and now I don’t have the will to disentangle the three wires necessary to connect up my Rift (I’ll do it before the next column, honest), but Crashed Lander is very much on the list. Space exploration! Shouts to Space Taxi and QWOP! Landscapes which recall Morrowind’s mushroomy bits! Looks like this!

Kairo

Similar case with this one, but a great many people have told me this is one of those games where post-release Rift support. You may already be familiar with Richard Perrin’s wondrous and esoteric exploration-puzzler Kairo (John rather liked it), but last year he dropped an update into the Steam version of the game. No fuss, no mess, full support, it’s all right there in settings.

Buuuuut if I’m honest, I’m waiting for the DK2 before I go too deep any of this. Mine’s due to arrive in September, so I’m counting the days and eyeing my DK1 with grumpy suspicion until that point, which is why this fortnight’s column is perhaps a little less spirited than previously. I know I’m going to get hands and knackered eyeballs on by what most accounts is a huge step forwards for VR in a matter of weeks, and using the DK1 one now feels like the last few days of staying in a bedsit before I get the keys to my own house. Soon! Soon. I can’t wait.

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26 Comments »

  1. shaydeeadi says:

    I am desperately tempted to get one but will force myself to wait until consumer version before I pony up, need to get a flight stick in the meantime anyway. That Windlands sounds like a nice bit of fun perfectly suited to the rift.

    What kind of hardware do you need to run games well on a DK2 currently if anybody has one?

    • Jorum says:

      Has there been any news on estimated launch of consumer?
      Like is it year(s) away or they just have no idea at the moment?

      • CookPassBabtridge says:

        Last I heard was 2015.

        There are however barriers to how popular the consumer version will be, because you need some serious hardware to run full games at 75 frames per second and 1080p. This is necessary for full low-persistence and preventing tearing, things which I understand can contribute to nausea as well as ruining the experience.

        I have a feeling NVidia is going to be shifting a lot of high end cards sometime soon.

        EDIT: Guys on the Oculus forums with DK2′s are running high end cards like the 780ti and older 680′s. I have seen a couple of power latops runnings things like 8 series mobile cards. VR is not going to be cheap.

        EDIT 2: https://developer.oculusvr.com/forums/viewtopic.php?f=26&t=11948 Good discussion here from a dev (I think).

        • shaydeeadi says:

          Thanks, looks like my 770 will be good to go with a few things turned down. Interesting to see how the head tracking seems to be causing the biggest performance hit currently.

        • King_Rocket says:

          My 660ti has been knocking everything out of the park so far, DK2 isn’t so bad. The reason people are buying such high end cards now is they were trying to future proof their rigs and CV1 is going to need a monster.

        • avrus96 says:

          Worth clarifying here (from the linked forum post) that the 75 fps @ 1080p requirement for 3D scene is equivalent to rendering a 2D 1080p scene at 150 fps.

  2. Vorrin says:

    Hi Alec, this column is cool!
    Did you ever have a look to Lunar Flight with the rift? It supports it and though I’ve yet to try that(no OC for me yet), I’d like to hear someone else’s opinions on it

    • Koshinator says:

      Lunar Flight on the DK1 is amazing.. but Sh0v (the dev) is still working on implementing the DK2 into the game – Shouldn’t be too long though.

    • Armante says:

      A guy I know has a DK1 and hadn’t played Lunar Flight, so I gave him a copy. When he tried it this is what he said:

      “I just played it, and it is amazing. Never felt a better sensation when it came to virtual reality. It just feels so real with lunar flight. I actually cried, because it just felt like I’m in space.”

      Sounds like a ringing endorsement to me :D

      And I’m pining for the day I can buy a consumer OR, a Saitek X52 or X55, and Elite: Dangerous.
      SO JEALOUS of you Alec. AAAAaaargh :(

    • King_Rocket says:

      Lunar flight is hands down one of the best experiences for the rift, I played that game from start to finish in the DK1 and I plan to do the same with my DK2 as soon as a compatible version is released.

      It is quite simply Lunar Lander (1979) in VR form and I love it with all my heart.

    • Premium User Badge

      Henke says:

      Yes Lunar Flight is _the_ best Oculus Rift game, in my opinion. It’s integration is not some simple hack either, but rather the dev completely revamped the game to fit the Rift. You need to actually look around in the cockpit at the various instruments to use them, and it just feels super-imersive. When you hit the thrusters and blast off from the lauchpad for the first time? It’s just… I’m having a hard time finding the words to even describe what it feels like. Dizzying. Terrifying. Exhilarating! I was just peering out of the window at the ground floating away below and thinking “Jesus I’m high up right now!”. :D

    • Vorrin says:

      argh, why did I start this, now I really want to buy a dk2 and try play this :D

  3. CookPassBabtridge says:

    You may be waiting longer than September for it. At risk of dragging the Oculus forum arguments into this comment thread, Oculus have apparently struggled to deliver even half of the first day’s orders throughout July, and there seems to be a hush over any announcements as to when people can expect their units. Lots of cross people, lots of people saying “shut up, cross people”, lots of people saying “shan’t” back to them, and then Hitler. Or Entitlement. I forget which standard internet rut it goes down.

    Personally mine was slated for delivery in August, so there is still ample time, but if they are struggling to get past day one then there may be further slips expected. There was a previous delay for Oculus to tweak the SDK, but they said that would only affect the first batch. I am hoping I will be like some guy on Reddit who went to lunch and came back to find a mysterious box on his desk :)

    Re: Titles, some of the games I have seen people run with the DK2 are:
    DCS World (orgiastic apparently)
    Skyrim
    HL2 (obv)
    Elite (apparently has moved some people to nerd-tears)

    There’s a YouTuber called JackSepticEye who got the DK1 to run with Mirror’s edge. He has a fear of heights and nearly had an aneurysm.

    • Koshinator says:

      Skyrim for the DK2 isn’t quite ready yet – the vid you saw was using a beta version of the VorpX third-party injection driver (which isn’t released yet)
      Elite is however one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had in computer games… DK2 + HOTAS + Elite = Nerd-gasm.
      It is early days though, and there’s much, much more coming…

    • bj says:

      I’m not sure struggling is the right word, there were just a ton of orders. The number of units shipped has already surpassed the original Kickstarter, and another batch just went out in the US which included some people who ordered on day two.

    • King_Rocket says:

      There are only two titles that “Work” with the DK2 (the built in office demo and Tuscany) all the rest will run on the DK2 but you wills need to spend a fair bit of time just trying to get each of them going. Not to mention The lack of Direct HMD access and the juddering issues which is a huge turn off right now is a software issue.

      One developers start recompiling with the new SDK things will get better but right now your not missing much.

    • Don Whitaker says:

      Crashed Lander is working on DK2 – I posted an updated version yesterday. Some folks are having trouble running it (like every other DK2 app), but it’s working as well as can be expected considering the growing pains with the new driver software. I’m sure Oculus will gets things sorted out soon.

  4. CookPassBabtridge says:

    Edit: Post fail

  5. Premium User Badge

    liquidsoap89 says:

    Have fun getting your DK2 to do anything! I’m struggling immensely to have it work as intended, and I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ll probably need to wait for a software update before stuff is fixed. I didn’t realize at the time but the drivers and stuff were released at the same time the DK2 was released (as far as I know the DK1 didn’t need any of that), so all the issues that new software comes with, is now being combined with all the issues new hardware comes with.

    But those demos sure are cool!

  6. Premium User Badge

    Mungrul says:

    A guy at work’s DK2 recently arrived, and he was decent enough to give us all a go.
    I was incredibly impressed with VR, but at the same time this was enough to demonstrate to me that the Rift really still is in the prototyping stage, and it’s not quite where I’d expect the commercial release to be.
    However, the only thing convincing me of this was the coarseness of the image.
    Bear in mind, this was my first experience with Oculus and VR in general, but I found the image too low res for my liking.
    Of course, this probably means that to run final release Oculus games at an acceptable resolution and framerate is going to require a beast of a machine, but I can deal with that.

    And this also makes me suspicious of Sony’s Morpheus. We’re fairly certain at this stage that this device is going to be PS4 exclusive.
    But I’m pretty sure that due to the PS4′s lack of power compared to even current gen PCs, the games are going to either be incredibly lo-fi compared to normal screen based PS4 games, or run at a low resolution in order to keep the FPS up, neither of which seem acceptable to me.
    Either would compromise the experience. I’m thinking we’ll be lucky to get PS3 era visual fidelity out of PS4 Morpheus games.

  7. Premium User Badge

    PikaBot says:

    I’m friends with one of the fellows making Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes, and on the eve of them receiving their DK2, I got to help playtest the DK1 version. It’s shapiong up pretty nicely, although there’s still clearly a ways to go in terms of readability and comprehensibility of some of the puzzles.

  8. SpinalJack says:

    If you’re writing about VR games then you should look at my game about being a Chicken :)

    https://share.oculusvr.com/app/chicken-walk

  9. PopeRatzo says:

    I want VR, but I’ve got a feeling that when it comes, it won’t be an Oculus Rift. And it certain won’t be any Sony product.

    Keep working. I want to play Half-Life 3 on a VR headset.

  10. fish99 says:

    I’ve got nvidia 3D Vision and want to ‘upgrade’ to a DK2, but it looks like there’s little to play on it right now. Elite isn’t really my thing, I only have a passing interest in flight sims, so it’d just be racing sims, which I don’t really play that often these days either.

    Looking through my list of 400 Steam games, the chances of more than a handful of these already released games getting Rift support patched in seems very low to me. Then you have future AAA multiplatform releases, again I don’t see Rift support being common in games that are mainly made for PS4/Xbone and ported onto PC as an afterthought. So how many AAA quality games is there going to be with Rift support until the install base get’s a lot bigger? The good thing about 3D Vision is it already has a big library of working games (thanks to community fixes).

    Also head tracking doesn’t add much to 3rd person games, and probably more than half the games I’ve played in the last 5 years have been 3rd person – like the Arkham or Souls games. Then there’s the low pixel density, the control issues etc…. put it all together and it feels like it’ll still be 3 years minimum for one to be worth owning, for me at least.

  11. Phasma Felis says:

    I wish to God someone would figure out a way to show me Rift games on a standard monitor that doesn’t make me feel like a crazy person. I’d even settle for just showing one of the two goggle-views centered in the display, with the double-vision effect removed. A lot of people are interested in the Rift but don’t have one yet, guys! If you want to sell me on it, I need to be able to evaluate your games as games.