Not Rocket Science: Carmack’s Virtual Reality Helmet

Hot hot.
PCG has the news on Carmack’s latest side-project, which is making a VR kit. Carmack showed it off behind closed doors at E3, allowing people to play Doom 3, with full-on surround-o-vision. Carmack says: “This is literally held together with duct tape, but the guts of this is going to be made available as a kit for around $500.” (Update: Apparently this guy is also responsible for a lot of what they’re up to.)

So not a commercial thing, but a do-it-yourself VR system with Carmack’s brain behind the gadgetry. I’m getting one. For research and development purposes, you understand. Anyone else?


  1. HexagonalBolts says:

    But… it’s just a screen eye-burningly close to his face and some fancy headphones…

    • somini says:

      The duct tape seals the deal.

    • Dana says:

      Eye-Burningly ? This is not 60’s and VR Helmet is not a CRTube.

      • AmateurScience says:

        In my mind I now have an image of some poor broken-necked chap with two CRT displays taped to his face. Early VR was brutalising, man.

        • roryok says:

          how is it so huge? if you took two retina displays from two iphones it’d be paperthin. The front of that thing looks about 2 inches thick

          • zino says:

            There is optics to make use of more pixels for the center of the eye and a case that hasn’t been optimized by the finest minds in design and material science. Yet.

          • iainl says:

            Zino – the point is you could literally put two current model (so Retina) iPod Touches in front of the user’s face, coordinating over Bluetooth with the rest of the hardware; the GPU is good enough for most work.

            Although a quick test with the one I’m typing on suggests that holding one close enough to fill my vision is painful to try to focus on. A single iPad and clever lenses might be better.

          • jezcentral says:

            @iainl, The problem is that you are trying to focus both eyes on a nearby object, something that really strains the eye muscles due to the triangulation involved. This isn’t an issue when the eyes are each looking at a different object.

    • Hoaxfish says:

      apparently there’s some sort of head-tracking thing based on rocket-guidance as well

    • Cinnamon says:

      What you have described is at least 50% of why people love PC gaming.

    • Eclipse says:

      you are completely wrong dude

    • treat says:

      Those headphones are logitech G930’s, and they are fancy indeed.

      • WeHeartKatamari says:

        I’m pretty sure they’re Logitech G35s. I’ve got a pair on right now, and they look identical from what I can see.

    • Wanderer89 says:

      There is a much more in depth overview of what they’re trying to accomplish over at the verge:

      link to

  2. roryok says:

    oh my god it’s 1991 again

    • Nemon says:

      Let’s warn people about 9/11, the tsunami and Justin Bieber then. Also you need another w.

      • Njordsk says:

        and the banks please, so we avoid all that.

        • roryok says:

          Once we elect Gore he should sort out the bank stuff. If he wants our money to get re-elected

      • roryok says:

        No-one will listen to an 11 year old kid though. We better get super rich first by investing in Apple and Google stock (and Valve for a laugh), and inventing Facebook before Zuckerberg. Then we can use our wealth to ensure Al Gore gets elected in 2000, prevent 9/11, build a tsunami warning system in the pacific and lobby the Japanese to build a bigger wall around fukushima.

        Of course once we stop 9/11 all bets are off on other human events even actually happening, but at least we can count on and warn people against any natural disasters we can remember

      • Eddy9000 says:

        Would be a great set up in a film, a time traveller warning a young CIA agent named Donald Rumsfeld about 9/11 to have him stroke his chin and say “so the attack on the world trade centre legitimised the occupation of a major oil producing country by the USA? Interesting…”

      • Sinomatic says:

        Let’s warn them about CyberZone too

  3. Echo Black says:

    Does Carmack age at all? He looks like he did in the early id days, just with a different haircut

    • myaltisa says:

      Carmack is a machine, the hair changes are just to lure you into a false sense of security… and he won’t rest until the machines take over!!

      • Drayk says:

        He’s just 42 and the lighting flattens features. But yeah he still looks young.

        • Kadayi says:

          Years of avoiding direct sunlight keep him super young. :)

          • wodin says:

            I’m forty and look younger, purely down to this very reason.

        • elmo.dudd says:

          I know when he was younger he was into martial arts, I wonder if maybe he still does light training? I wager it helps clear his mind.

    • Michael Hoss says:

      He has a good engine. Selfcoded and stuff.

  4. Lord Byte says:

    Great. After buying it you’ll realise the strap to attach it to your head cannot be lengthened or shortened. After lots of complaints a new version will be issued that allows you to change the strap length, but still doesn’t allow it to ACTUALLY DISPLAY 3D images. Then no more fixes will be released.
    Well that’s what happened with RAGE, his most recent release.

  5. Drayk says:

    I’ll still wait a bit for this but I am waiting for VR since i am 10. At the time I thought it would come soon. 20 years later i am still waiting but we’ll get there. Motion capture progress + google.

    Wild prediction: first mainstream VR games in 10 years ?

  6. Culby says:

    I’m just glad someone’s taking on video latency issues.

  7. Tyshalle says:

    I don’t understand the point anymore. Does seeing the outline of your monitor and your computer room really hurt immersion that much that we still care about stuff like this? I’ll pass. Wake me up when we have holodecks or when we can jack into the Matrix.

    • roryok says:

      I read that last bit wrong. yuck

      • sbs says:

        William Gibsons first title for Neuromancer was “Jacked In” but Terry Carr demanded he changed it because of, well, that.

        • roryok says:

          sometimes life works out well. I would not have read Neuromancer if it was called ‘Jacked In’.

    • Wisq says:

      There are far more purposes to HMDs than just hiding the room around you. 3D vision, head tracking, and having the screen stay in front of you are the big ones.

      We’ve solved some of these problems individually, but rarely all at once. 3D monitors, TrackIR, personal eyeglass-style DVD players, etc. But speaking personally, as a TrackIR user (flight sims), the need for exaggerated tracking sensitivity (so you can look all around in-game but keep your eyes pointed at the screen) and straining to look at the screen out of the corner of my eyes does damage the experience to some degree.

      Would love for someone to finally solve all these things at once, properly.

  8. Network Crayon says:

    Will it come in cat size?

  9. db1331 says:

    I’ll get one if you can use it with porn.

    • golem09 says:

      only japanese porn GAMES

    • roryok says:

      seriously though, how long before someone makes unreal engine porn

      • db1331 says:

        Less than a month after release. It won’t quite be “Nude mods for an Elder Scrolls game” fast, but it will come close.

      • roryok says:

        in fairness those usually get released before I even have a chance to buy the latest elder scrolls game. That or I don’t buy it until there’s a boob mod. take your pick.

  10. Nighthood says:

    Honestly, I’d get one if I could remove the “move your head to look in different directions” aspect.

    I just like mouse and keyboard control. They’ve served me better than my head ever will. But I like the immersion aspect.

    • AmateurScience says:

      All you need to do is hold your head very very very still and job’s a good ‘un. From the looks of things this uses normal input (gamepad/keyb+mouse) in any case.

    • PopeJamal says:

      I’m with you on that request.
      My understanding is that the head tracking is handled by a separate module, so if this is indeed a DIY kit, then that might not be difficult to accomplish.

    • Zenicetus says:

      Head tracking doesn’t take long to get used to. People have used it in flight sims for years. Depending on the setup, there can be a scaling factor so you need only tiny motions for your main field of view, and larger motions only when you’re making more drastic view changes.

      The only place I’ve used it outside of flight sims is in the walk-around bits in the Take On Helicopters game. That did feel weird at first (since I haven’t played the Arma games), but again, I got used to it quickly.

      Also, obligatory “I can’t believe it’s been this many years and we still don’t have this as a polished, affordable hardware accessory.” Damn.

  11. Kunal says:

    I’d like to point out that a lot of the gadgetry is being done by a guy – Lucky Palmer (who started the project, and then Carmack joined later). it would be cool if you guys mentioned his name in the post. The PCG article doesn’t seem to mention his name either.

    link to

    • Sparkasaurusmex says:

      Kudos for this comment. It’s nice to see credit going where it is deserved.
      (they’ve tacked on a link in the article)

  12. Lev Astov says:

    Sign me up! As long as it has some lenses to allow you to focus that close, I’ll be all over it.

    PhaseSpace came to show off some of their wares at work the other day and had an AR helmet made out of two Nexus phones strapped to your forehead reflecting off of clear glass panels in front of your eyes. It was rather ghetto, but at the same time quite a clever use of existing technology. I’d buy one.

    • FCA says:

      As long as the lenses are optional (or removable) that’d be fine for me. Without glasses, my farthest focus point is around 7 cms from my eyes. I’ve been waiting for affordable VR since forever. My glasses weigh almost the same as thesese helmets anyway, and the focusing is fine by me.

      P.S. This also means I can see the tip of my nose focused… It’s not very useful, I just get the need to scratch it very often.

      • Lev Astov says:

        Hah, that’s only a bit worse than my eyes! I can’t see past the length of my hand when I hold it up to my nose. I really can’t maintain focus at that distance for more than a few minutes before it becomes uncomfortable, though, but man, when I do I can see the tiniest things without any need for a magnifying glass.

        The point of the lenses in an HMD is to make it feel like naturally looking around you. It wouldn’t do to be focused so close.

  13. AmateurScience says:

    There was a write-up about this over on Eurogamer, looks really cool. As an alternative to having a gagillion eyefinity displays this has legs.

    Combine this with a purpose made HID (i’m thinking something like two wii nunchucks here) something that will allow you to move your hands independently but still give you analogue movement controls +buttons +motion control, maybe even with a kinect-style sensor and you could have something seriously cool.

  14. Erim says:

    This stuff already kind of exists.

    Get a regular pair of headphones,
    Set up Freetrack and the headset for it,
    Get a Sony HMZ-T1 and a game that’s compatible with it (virtually none so far)

    and you’re all set! Enjoy herniating disks in your neck though!

  15. Maldomel says:

    I’m not really convinced by the way it looks right now, but I guess this could be a next step in gaming. In a few years, that is.

  16. faelnor says:

    By the way, will be the place where you can follow the project as soon as the website is up (again). Bookmark it now!

  17. neolith says:

    It didn’t make any sense whatsoever to play games with a VR helmet in 1996 and I don’t see any more use for it with modern games.

    So the question is: Why, Carmack, why?

    • roryok says:

      Maybe he’s realised he can’t make decent games, so he’s decided to try peripherals.

    • ResonanceCascade says:

      Because everyone who uses the thing says the technology is infinitely better now and actually enhances the experience?

      Really, that’s like saying the CGI in Terminator 2 looked a bit shit, so why bother doing CGI now?

  18. kikito says:

    I think Google’s glasses (whatever their marketing name was) will eat this with chips, unless they screw it up big time.

  19. Timthos says:

    John Carmack is like a mad scientist.

  20. LincolnSmash says:

    I see the immersive fallacy is still floating around.

    • Jackablade says:

      I believe I need to find a way to use the term “immersive fallacy” in a pick-up line.

      • Jimbo says:

        You can immerse MY fallacy any time, girrrrrl! Whaaaat, fo’ real!

        That’s how I’d do it.

    • Beelzebud says:

      I heard that word from Bethesda so much, when they were making Fallout 3, i cringe when I see people repeat it over and over again now.

  21. Reapy says:

    Pretty cool. I imagine that this would sort of be the next level of trackIR. I was very doubtful of face tracking with a monitor, but the immersion in a flight sim was amazing. Strapping yourself into the monitor in a way would be pretty cool.

    The downside to me though is just TOO MUCH immersion, sometimes you need to be aware of what is going on in your house and can’t indulge overmuch in getting lost in your pc. Also, motion sickness.

  22. Grayvern says:

    Technically there is some rocket science, Carmack apparently used elements of software from his rocketry company to refine the head tracking, the one he showed off anyway. (Last day of E3 eurogamer podcast if you’re wondering)

  23. RegisteredUser says:

    This may make me weird or come as a shock to some, but I kinda prefer the fantasy immersion to the actual, total immersion into “another reality”.

    I kinda like being at least a little bit distanced to shooting limbs off of people, having stuff blow up in front of me, etc.

    I worry slightly that this is going to end up refining what is already far past crack-cocaine addiction levels to something even more sinister. Maybe creating new endless hordes of “helmet kids of the 21st century”; retarded on a whole new level.
    And I say this as someone who grew up addicted to this stuff without VR already. It was quite bad when it was blocky gfx still(lack of sleep, fuck playing outside, I’ve a level to finish. What do you mean socialize, I can just play my games. Etc), I don’t want to know where this goes when its all true “plug in, zone out”.

  24. SiHy_ says:

    I can’t wait for the homebrew people to get their hands on this.

  25. Blizniak says:

    It seems like the asking price on the upcoming kickstarter will be around $800 for the whole shebang with headtracking and wireless video link so I guess I’ll pass for now and wait for further improvements and hopefully some proper commercial products out of it.

  26. wuwul says:

    Do these things actually work?

    That is, assuming photorealistic rendering, does the viewer really perceive the 3D scene as if it was his actual surroundings?