Tunnel Vision: Non-Oculus Games On The Oculus

My VR column returns! Now that my Oculus DK1 is replaced by a less nauseasome DK2 at last, the pressing problem is less “ooh, me poor peepers” and more “so, er, what is there to actually play?” The stark fact of the matter is that very few developers have yet included meaningful Oculus support, because this is not yet a consumer device. This is very much the case at a software level as well as a hardware one.

In the next column I’ll do a round-up of some of the more interesting experiments doing the rounds for DK2, but today I want to talk about VorpX. It’s a name that sounds like an ill-advised sci-fi remake of Jabberwocky, but actually it’s paid software which forcibly injects VR support into all kinds of PC games that don’t otherwise support it.

Important update: Alien Isolation now working. Aaaaaaah.

In theory, any PC game. In practice… well. Not exactly.

I’ve spent a worrying portion of my life over the past week trying to get VorpX to do its thing successfully. I’d by lying if I said that I’d eventually triumphed. So hey, Downer Column alert, I guess. Browsing the VorpX forums is a grim business, as it’s full of people happily reporting that they’ve got a BioShock to work or how wonderful The Vanishing Of Ethan Carter looks on a Rift.

Me, I’ve got BioShock 1 to work but only in 2D and horribly distorted. Same for Ethan Carter, but the head-tracking wouldn’t work either. This morning I was overjoyed to discover that Alien: Isolation would load using it, but I had to play it with one eye closed half the timeas it was simply rendering as split across the two Oculus lenses. Still, the bigness of it all seemed so well suited to this particular game, so I’ll keep plugging away at various possible fixes. (The VorpX dev is working on an Alien-specific profile, so fingers crossed. I’d rather eat my own ears than test the already existent Colonial Marines support, however.) I was enormously disappointed to discover that A:I’s ‘official’ support for the DK2 is, for the time being at least, merely an internal test build, so for now VorpX would appear to be the best bet. I’m holding off on playing A:I until better support is available, or it clearly runs aground.

IMPORTANT UPDATE: Rift support added to Alien Isolation via ini file tweaks. I’ve tested it here and it works (though I actually had to follow the instructions in this follow-up post rather than the first). More thoughts soon. Oh my gaaaaaaawd

After many hours and many gigabytes of downloads, I finally struck gold with Batman Arkham Asylum. It still required fiddling with ini files to set a custom FOV, and there are some control issues – the camera will often take itself to odd angles – but Christ alive, it’s working and maybe I haven’t wasted my time after all.

As a third- rather than first-person game it’s not the ideal fit in some ways, but it does look magnificent nevertheless. The HL2-aping intro, in which you tour the asylum as the apparently chained-down Joker is wheeled to his cell, really sells the vast and oppressive design of the place, while Killer Croc in VR is no longer just a big guy with a green face, but a hulking, terrifying thing that I really did not want to get too close to. Arkham feels like a place, rather than an image on my screen, and that’s really why I signed up for this whole VR thing. If my head wasn’t quite so messed up from hours of failed experiments, I’d have been performing cartwheels.

So far, £25 for an old Batman game is not the best £25 I’ve ever spent – but on the other hand, it’s very early days, the dev seems active on the forums and there’s still plenty of hope that the tool will come along leaps and bounds in the months to come.

When it did work, even partially (as in BioShock), it even had VorpX-specific features such as clicking the middle-mouse button to enable an ‘edge peek’ mode which means you can pan around the screen in menus or cutscenes, rather than just have the periphery cut off, as is the norm. That sort of stuff might be redempetive, in terms of not having to take the headset off or go on guesswork to change settings or watch FMV.

While so far it’s mostly not worked out, I love the concept of VorpX, and I think a third-party app that can lend VR support to most any game is going to be critical to VR gaming’s future. Whether it’ll be this one, I don’t know, but right now it’s the best we’ve got and I’ll be following it closely.

In any griping about game/software support for the Rift, it’s worth bearing in mind that Oculus’ own driver/app is especially reliable at the moment. For instance, its direct-to-HMD mode (intended to save fiddling around with setting the OR up as a second screen) essentially does not work with anything other than Oculus’ own demo, and in second screen mode I have to set its orientation to Landscape – Flipped in Windows’ resolution settings. It’s just a headache from the off, sadly enough.

But all this raises the central concern about the Rift for me, and perhaps for Zuckerberg and chums too. Even on games which do fully support it, such as Elite, there’s been a ton tinkering necessary first. Can we really get to the point where using a Rift is simply a matter of plug it in and it works, or is this whole thing going to by stymied by the fact that there’s so much need to fiddle to get even basic functionality working? I wonder if the key will be native support at an operating system level, but I don’t really see Microsoft or Apple bending over backwards to help a company that’s probably now considered a rival.

Empty speculation, of course. I’m sorry, you find in a downbeat mood, as right now the great dream of VR is steadily being evaporated by barely getting anywhere. If VorpX can get Alien Isolation support sorted though, my tune is going to be very, very different. Meantime, what’s up, Bats?

In happier news, the DK2 is perfectly happy running on the Windows 10 beta. More on the latter soon, actually.

40 Comments

  1. borso says:

    To enable the official oculus rift support in Alien, you might want to check this out:
    link to neogaf.com

  2. fearian says:

    I’m pretty sure it’s unfair to describe the future of VR as concerning because “there’s so much need to fiddle to get even basic functionality working”.

    Let’s refresh that you are using the Developer Kit. To play unsupported games. I know you know this and we all know this, but it really does bear repeating.

    Game’s take many years to develop, and without so much as a date for the CV1 there is not enough of a market to justify DK2 support. The Astronauts developed Rift support into Ethan Carter, but dropped it before release for such reasons. There’s nothing to stop them patching in official support when time allows and the userbase is there and I suspect we will see that with many games currently in development.

    • Diziet Sma says:

      For some reason I was hoping that was a link to a video of an Ursus with hiccups.

      • Gap Gen says:

        Up top. *raises palm*

      • fearian says:

        If someone can cut together a repeating 2 second loop of a bear making …eh, any kind of noise and put it on youtube, I will use that terrible joke for the rest of my bloody life!

    • HadToLogin says:

      Main reason to describe OR future as concerning is that it won’t work on consoles, so it might get as much developer support as PhysX…
      Well, there’s Sony VR, but AFAIK it won’t work on XB1, so either only PS4 exclusives will get it, or it will be “DLC exclusive” for Playstation.

    • manny says:

      Also it’s kind of immoral for game developers to push an immature overpriced tech like the developer rift onto players.

  3. golem09 says:

    Guess the tinkering is still as horrible as a year ago, when I had my DK1.
    Got to say, one of the best experiences, desipite it being 2D and slighty distorted, was Condemned. Sadly the game crashed 10 minutes in with vorpx.
    Did you try Skyrim though, Alec? I heard vorpx even supports the positional tracking of the DK2.

  4. WhatKateDoes says:

    “Tunnel Vision: Non-Oculus Games On The Oculus”….

    ….doesen’t bear thinking about. At least from my experiences so far! Too much of a kludge in most games. Especially in FPS games where the view is attached to a gun. But then so much of it is also down to the as yet undeveloped first-person walking motion-sickness syndrome. They need to figure out a way to combat that – especially the horizontal turning. A few indie projects have found it more easy on the stomach to do 45-degree jump-shift turns, but that’s still jarring.

    I look forward to trying out Alien: Isolation nonetheless, tho the game creeps me out enough already!

    It should be noted tho – that Elite: Dangerous now does effectively work plug and play with the Rift, at least in terms of the extended/secondary display method. If they sort out direct-to-rift, then we’re starting to finally see plug-n-play right enough :)

    • Baines says:

      To be fair, in many FPS games the view isn’t attached to the gun, rather the gun is attached to the view. That is why bullets fire from the head in Call of Duty.

      As for motion sickness, if using 3D in and of itself doesn’t solve it, then it might never be solved because different people experience it for different reasons. More likely, 3D might help some people while introducing others into the wonderful world of finding games that they cannot play for extended periods of time.

      • FriendlyFire says:

        I’d hope that with the arrival of VR we could have “realistic” shooters, ie. having the gun in a normal position while still having the camera at eye level. Just model the body of the player character and have the gun behave realistically, the large FOV and head tracking of the Rift will do the trick.

        Having the camera in the chest or having the gun model float above the head has always felt weird to me.

        • Wolvaroo says:

          ARMA has been doing this since it was Operation: Flashpoint.

          I suggest looking in to ARMA 3, a surprisingly competent balance between military sim and console shooter.
          In fact Arma 3 and Morrowind are the two most promising VR games to me right now.

          I don’t know about all these people having trouble with “direct to rift mode” because so far for me it’s worked for every game sans 2 that had to be “open on oculus rift” which is an equally easy option.

  5. Surlywombat says:

    I’ve tried both dev kits and not for long in either case, and I do think it is something special. However in both cases I was playing early versions of games specifically made for VR. Yes there are some genres which can be more suited for VR than others, but just trying to wedge VR into any game with shiny graphics is not going to work.

    Personally I’d like to see how something where you are essentially a free camera works, such as an RTS or something like Rollercoaster Tycoon 3. Being able to fly over the map, watching your tanks rumble over the hills, or flying up high while building a coaster then coming down and actually riding it in VR sounds to me like a much better fit than a third person game.

  6. Premium User Badge

    Harlander says:

    How’s the ArmA series play on the Rift, anyone tried it?

    • King_Rocket says:

      I tried ARMA2 on my DK1, it was really quite excellent. I used tridef but that hasn’t been updated for the DK2 so I haven yet tried my DK2 with ARMA3

      • slerbal says:

        oooh…. oh that makes me salivate. Arma would be amazing with VR.

  7. jerf says:

    “I don’t really see Microsoft or Apple bending over backwards to help a company that’s probably now considered a rival.”
    Fortunately, we have SteamOS, and soon we won’t need the help of these greedy bastards.

    • Geebs says:

      More to the point, Apple are never going to get their display drivers in a condition which will allow reliable 75Hz updates in anything even remotely contemporary.

      Not holding my breath for SteamOS either though.

  8. Gog Magog says:

    And still I can’t find it in me to be interested in VR tech in general, or the Occultus in particular (IT’S SATEN U C).

    Immersion is the last thing on my mind when I’m immersed in a game.

  9. ZombieJ says:

    I get about a 2/3 working hit rate on DK2 demos via Direct to Rift. It appears to be due to the firewall config you have, many of the demos that work at home for me fail without error when I attempt to run them on my work pc. Obviously the firewall at work is much more restrictive. I’ve tested it too: blocking all ports at home causes previously working demos to fail.

    I’d say that 66% is still a good rate of demos being playable ‘out of the box’, without excessive tinkering, especially when they are made by bedroom devs and using dev kit HW.

  10. King_Rocket says:

    Grid Autosport will have a native Oculus Mode this week. link to blog.codemasters.com

    • th3mute says:

      Excellent!

      I’ve been fighting trying to get the original Race Driver: GRID to work with VorpX and having something newer and with native support will be superb… Damn it, yet more spending coming – if only there was an imminent Steam sale!

  11. jonfitt says:

    I can see Steam adding “Oculus Enabled” much like its “Controller Enabled” icon to game listings which will help with visibility. I can also see maybe Valve adding some Steam API support to make things easier as far as it can, and probably Nvidia and or ATI adding something to their driver bundle to provide an easy way to get new and legacy games to use it.

  12. Premium User Badge

    phuzz says:

    I’m guessing that the extended mode works much better if you have a 1920×1080 screen you can mirror to, because I’m stuck having to remove the lenses on the DK2 in order to see the screen to start a game, then screw them back in to play the damn thing. Oh, and there’s no way for anyone else to see what you see.

  13. th3mute says:

    I’ve got VorpX working in Skyrim – Which is frankly ridiculously good. The sheer scale of the mountains alone makes me feel pretty awestruck. There ARE issues; like you have to resize the UI and getting some mods to work with it can be tricky. I also had to reduce my IPD measurements in VorpX itself, to about 6mm less than the rift calibrated measurements. However, it’s worth the small amount of hassle…

    VorpX & Mirrors Edge. Well… I have pretty chronic vertigo and this is unlikely to cure me of that! I was blasé about the heights issue when playing it on a monitor; now it makes me feel funny just looking down, never mind throwing myself building to building!

    I’ve also spent a bit of time in Live For Speed, which although it isn’t the prettiest game around, works incredibly well in Oculus with only a patch and quick change of 3D mode in the ingame menus. Love it and now considering buying the full game.

    Euro Truck Simulator. This has flawless Oculus support (add -oculus to the games launch options, after choosing beta entry in the games properties), and is really quite stunning. It makes driving SO much easier and feels completely natural. Just the difference in looking over at each actual mirror instead of overlays adds a lot of immersion, but everything has been well implemented right through to the changed menu layout.

    I’m really loving the DK2 – Sure it reminds me of fighting with getting games to work in the 90’s era; editing .ini files and so on, but for those people who don’t mind a little bit of manual labour before getting your game to run at it’s optimum, it’s ridiculously cool. I’ve let 4 or 5 friends try it and every single person is completely stunned by it. Given another year of development time; I can see this changing the gaming landscape for ever.

  14. tk421242 says:

    Has there been any reports of people using this to play Deus Ex: Human Revolution? There are not many games I have enjoyed so much that I would consider buying this simply to revisit them again, but DX:HR is one of those rare games where I would consider it.

  15. Don Whitaker says:

    Here’s a handy list of demos and games that have native support for the DK2. 123 of ’em at the moment. link to theriftarcade.com

    The DK2 had a rough start for devs (and players) with the big changes to the SDK and the new display drivers. I can’t even imagine trying to write a display driver for Windows – how could you possibly plan for so many possible hardware configurations? It seems like things have evened out a bit now, even though some people are still having trouble getting things to work.

    I’ve updated my game, Crashed Lander, to the DK2. After working out the kinks through a couple updates of the Oculus SDK, I’d guess that about 10% of players had trouble getting it to work. Most (if not all) of those problems were caused by the wrong version of the DK2 drivers or other configuration errors.

    • th3mute says:

      I’m downloading your demo for DK2 just now Don.

      I like the look of this; kind of reminds me of the old Virus game by David Braben. I spent many happy an hour mastering the flight control and just drifting/speeding around…

      You’ll know if I liked it as you’ll get a sale ;) Though I’ll post my comments (constructive criticism at worst) here either way.

      • Don Whitaker says:

        Cool, I’m always looking for more feedback on the game. It’s been especially helpful on this newest version since I only have a DK1. I still haven’t even seen a DK2. o.O

        • th3mute says:

          First impressions really good!
          Very slick UI and the control system is good. Haven’t tried it on hard mode yet… I played it on a 360 pad.
          The graphics and sound are all above par for the current Oculus demos/games, apart from the stuff that’s been wrapped by VorpX obviously.

          Gonna have another play around over the weekend, but I think you’ve got a purchase here :)

          Didn’t encounter any bugs, other than a second worth of lag once the 2nd level loaded and the camera was still in fixed pan as my craft appeared (which felt a little odd for the second it lasted). That’s it however!
          Oh, you could maybe add the controls list to the readme file?

          Nice work Don!

      • Don Whitaker says:

        Excellent! Glad it works well for you and that you are enjoying yourself. Thanks for the feedback.

        The hard mode is a lot of fun once you get the hang of it. It tried converting the hard controls to the gamepad, but they were just too awkward. Crashed Lander started as a QWOP-like experiment, then grew into a small game, then grew again into this full, VR-enabled game. It was a great learning experience and I’m pretty proud to have it as my first big game release.

        I should totally have the key controls in the readme, not sure why I never put them in. I know what you mean about that short bit of lag on the second level. It has more game assets than most of the other levels and just isn’t quite ready to go when the level starts. One other thing I need to fix in the VR version is the ‘Transporting’ loading message. It is disorienting to have it ‘stuck to your face’ like that. A totally blank screen would be better. Otherwise I’m pretty happy with the interface. That was one of the biggest challenges when re-designing it for VR.

  16. racccoon says:

    Keep checking the mirror for your up n coming boss eyes.
    link to sr.photos2.fotosearch.com

  17. cw8 says:

    Does Vorpx work with Rollercoaster Tycoon 3?

  18. snowgim says:

    As someone who now owns a DK2 with Unreal Engine 4, I can say that they work perfectly together. Any project you open in UE4 can be run in a standalone window, and if that window is fullscreened with a rift attached, it automatically goes to the rift and enables all the 3D and head-tracking stuff required, no problems, no messing around.
    Whether that will apply to all future UE4 games, I’m not sure, but it’s a promising start.

  19. psuedonymous says:

    Vireio generally seems to work better than VorpX when it comes to actually having the FoV and distortion set up correctly.

  20. PandaPants says:

    Can’t wait for all this to become more ‘standard’ in the industry. The immersion levels must be crazy. Sadly never experienced it yet!