Tunnel Vision: Alien Eyes Sore Jubilation

Tunnel Vision is a fortnightly series about VR gaming.

In space no-one can hear you no no no do not start an article about an Alien game that way, Meer. You’re better than that, dammit.

Straight to business instead: as mentioned in the last Tunnel Vision, it didn’t take long for folk to work out that a simple ini tweak would reinstate Alien Isolation’s missing Oculus Rift support. I say ‘missing’, but the reality is that it was only ever an experimental mode left in for internal and promotional mucking-about-with.

Disclaimer – a couple of friends of mine now work at The Creative Assembly, and for that reason I have not published my opinions of CA games for quite a while now. This post is purely to discuss Alien Isolation’s unofficial VR support, not the game itself, but please seek alternative coverage if you are concerned.

The Oculus Rift DK2 support works. There are surprisingly few issues that concern the game’s support for VR, though there are many concerning the limitations of the DK2 hardware. The Oculus and the game feel like a natural fit, and I really hope someone’s able to finesse the VR support a little more.

Hell, I’m just going to do a list for this. This is what worked best:

  • Leaning. Physically leaning to see what’s going on – and what might be approaching you – is a hell of a thing for a stealth game, and I’m almost more excited about this aspect of wearable gaming tech than I am the supergiant 3D image side of things. Alien Isolation is a game about hiding, and hiding almost always involves trying to surreptitiously peek out of that hiding place.
  • Just looking around the environment. I’m talking particularly about the earlier section of the games, before the beast makes itself known, where there’s a great deal of opportunity to simply soak up what’s around me. The initial ship is based heavily on the Alien’s Nostromo, and it’s a peculiar thrill – a sort of near-physical, sustained deja vu – to wander around something that is so familiar. It’s like someone made an Alien exhibition. Then you look out through the window into space and you’re not in Museum Kansas anymore, Toto.

  • Legs! Alien Isolation already did legs of course, but the act of moving my head downwards and seeing my own legs – albeit in a very different position to my actual legs, is thrilling. I kept on doing it. I do the same thing in Elite: Dangerous. I really hope the VR age means more legs in games. Legs as far as the artifically-manipulated eye can see.

  • Darkness. It’s darkness with depth now, and that encourages so much more worrying about what might be at the end of that poorly-lit corridor.
  • Face-munching. Yeah, it’s pretty horrific when it seems to loom at you from a 3D rather than 2D plane. There’s that sense of something massive springing towards you at speed, and then…

What didn’t really work:

  • The VR mod is incompatible with several of the graphics settings, so some of the prettiness – in terms of lighting, ambient occlusion and anisotropic filtering – is lost. You can turn it all back on, but it massively ramps up the shimmer and judder, and gave me a right old sore head. To be honest the DK2’s image quality handicaps to some degree mask this anyway, but it seems a shame.
  • There is shimmer and judder whatever, and I couldn’t play for more than 20 or 30 minutes without feeling pretty ropey.
  • You need to hack the FOV too for anything like a comfortable experience, but as A:I uses vertical rather than horizontal FOV there’s not far you can go in this regard until the screen looks really messed up.
  • Certain UI stuff – like the health metre and buttons on the computer terminals – either display incorrectly or require too much squinting to deal with on a longish-term basis.
  • I’ve started seeing the DK2’s ever-present screen door effect in my dreams. A higher resolution is needed.

However, it is playable, and not just on a ‘if you really, really force yourself’ basis. I reckon I could play the game through this way, if I took regular breaks/lie downs, and if it wasn’t for the fact that looking after a toddler when you’ve got eyestrain and motion sickness is about as much fun as a theme park on a hangover, I probably would do it. As it is, it’s a massive disappointment to go back to playing the game on a flat surface. It feels so damned wrong. There’s a hell of a lot of distance left for VR to cover, but I cannot wait for it to be the default way I play 3D-rendered PC games.

 

For the record, here’s what I did to get the Rift support working:

 

 

  1. Go to your Alien Isolation install folder, find the DATA folder, open ENGINE_SETTINGS.XML in Notepad or whatever, change/add this:
    <Setting name=”Stereo Mode”>
    <Quality name=”Rift” precedence=”4″/>
    </Setting>
  2. Set your Oculus DK to Extended mode.
  3. Pause the Oculus Service.
  4. Put your monitor, not the Rift, as your main screen.
  5. Load game.

 

Best played with a gamepad, both because it’s easier to find the right buttons and because you can hit Left Bumper + Right Bumper simulataneously to recentre the view at any point (it falls out of whack fairly often).

 

This is what I changed (again in the engine_settings file) to sort out the FOV. Again, you can go higher, but you’ll lose the character’s body.

 

<Setting name=”Field Of View”>
<Quality name=”70″ float=”43.0″ precedence=”1″/>
<Quality name=”75″ float=”47.0″ precedence=”2″/>
<Quality name=”80″ float=”51.0″ precedence=”3″/>
<Quality name=”85″ float=”55.0″ precedence=”4″/>
</Setting>

26 Comments

  1. MuscleHorse says:

    ‘The initial ship is based heavily on the Alien’s Nostromo, and it’s a peculiar thrill – a sort of near-physical, sustained deja vu – to wander around something that is so familiar.’

    One thing I’m quite excited about is the idea of people recreating film and show sets to wonder about. Someone make me a Deadwood so I can sit in The Gem please.

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      DelrueOfDetroit says:

      Complete with wax museum quality Al Swearenger calling you a cocksucker.

  2. Tinotoin says:

    “Alien Isolation already did legs”.

    Did it? I was playing it only last night and was lamenting a lack of visibility of lower appendages – especially when random items appear to move on their own…

    Mind you I only adjusted the FOV in the in game options. So if I increase it in the config files the extremities will be visible?

    • Beowulf says:

      As far as I’m informed, setting your FOV higher than 55 (vertical) will make your legs vanish, a sour reminder of the future to come, when you will be devoured by the Alien.

    • Vandelay says:

      Raising the fov above 55 in the settings makes the body disappear, unfortunately. Personally, I found 55 to be quite comfortable (that is vertical FoV, so not as low as it sounds,) but it is a going to vary from person to person, equipment to equipment whether that will suit. For comparison, I believe 55 works out to be around 85 horizontal FoV (I think the ini changes Alec makes in the article is to convert them.)

  3. RARARA says:

    Man, I’m just hoping Super Hexagon gets VR support.

    And motion controls.

  4. Geebs says:

    I guess SSAO would inevitably look terrible in VR, which also rules out some versions of cheap “global illumination” fakery.

    Speaking of which, can anybody who has used the Rift comment on whether depth-of-field effects work on it? I can’t figure out if I think it would be horrible, or actually somehow better.

    • Wedge says:

      Unless there was actual tracking of your eyes to see where they are looking, I don’t see how DoF would make any sort of sense in VR.

    • Axess Denyd says:

      No depth of field at this time.

      In theory the “Magic Leap” technology that Google has been investing in might allow that, but they are being very tight-lipped about the details and everything is NDAed out the wazoo right now.

    • gmillar says:

      I haven’t used an Oculus myself, but I thought the whole point was that your own eyes provide the depth of field? You know, like in real life? Versus how in 3D movies, the forced depth of field causes eye strain. The depth of field present in, for example, ENB for Skyrim, is just a photographic effect and has no place in virtual reality.

      • Rhygadon says:

        Human binocular depth perception is only useful out to about 7 meters; beyond that, the distance between your eyes is too small to make an appreciable difference in the position of objects. At greater distances, the brain uses other cues to estimate distance. One such cue is the loss of focus that “depth of field” effects simulate — so it should be just about as useful in VR as on monitors. Or, to put it the other way: the things that DoF applies to are far enough away that binocularity wouldn’t help anyway.

  5. Vandelay says:

    I already find the Alien terrifying when it has grabbed you and the death animation is playing out. I still feel a physical jolt as its mouth is about to shoot out at me. Even after a few deaths and decades of it being in popular culture, the power of that classic imagery is still horrific.

    I can only imagine how much that is amplified in VR!

    • Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

      It really is quite something. The Alien once kept me up at night in fear (I watched it too young, of course), but I thought I had made my peace with it two decades ago. To find myself literally frozen with fear, as an adult, playing a game, was worth the price of admission alone.

  6. Synesthesia says:

    What is this shimmer effect you mention?

    • Geebs says:

      Effects in screen space, such as a lot of the effects Alec mentioned are often very clever but very dirty hacks which can fool the eye in 2D but don’t correlate properly in 3D; so you might, for example, see ambient occlusion in one eye’s view but not the other, where a properly modelled occlusion effect would work. Unfortunately, “real” occlusion effects would nearly require you to raytrace the whole scene twice, so you’d get nowhere near the required 75Hz

      You’d also get shimmer from poorly antialiased narrow details or poorly filtered textures without the benefit of AA, or from one of those new-fangled edge-detection AAs which, again, wouldn’t be eye correct.

      So, basically, aliasing, either between eyes or within one view.

      • CookPassBabtridge says:

        This has been perplexing me for some time. Thanks Geebs :)

      • Synesthesia says:

        That’s very cool, thanks for the answer. Being that a solution would be a complete raytrace of the scene, which wont happen anytime soon, will these sort of artifacts be around for the first consumer versions of the occulus and such?

        • Geebs says:

          I’d imagine that aliasing of objects, or texture details, which are smaller than one pixel will continue to be a problem because the solution would be crazy high screen resolution in the Rift, which would mean that you’d need an incredibly fast GPU to cope with 75 Hz.

          On the other hand, if the Rift really takes off, you might see GPUs and engine pipelines move away from their current state of “render as little geometry as possible and then fake all of the detail with fragment shaders” to “render details as real geometry”; rasterising real geometry would work fine in 3D and with sufficiently high vertex counts you could use per-vertex ambient occlusion, which would have to be pre-calculated but would be a lot cheaper than raytracing.

          Basically, if the Rift is popular some clever chap will make a workaround :)

  7. jajajaja says:

    I’m waiting for an apology from you guys. This game was a horrible disappointment. I haven’t been this disappointed since Prometheus, or even Phantom Menace. And you recommended it.

    • iyokus says:

      It’s not like they told you Colonial Marines was a great game so you bought it and got stung. Isolation is a good game, you just didn’t like it.

      Prometheus is fucking awful, though.

    • Deathmaster says:

      Oh right, blame the reviewer for your own lack of taste.

  8. DanielBrauer says:

    You need to hack the FOV too for anything like a comfortable experience, but as A:I uses vertical rather than horizontal FOV there’s not far you can go in this regard until the screen looks really messed up

    Can you explain this one in more detail? Measuring FOV in one dimension or the other shouldn’t change anything but the numbers involved. Or are you saying that the FOV is non-uniform across X and Y?

  9. caff says:

    I played the intro to this using my DK2 afresh, not having played the game before.

    Pretty stunning attempt, but as you say – not properly implemented. The crafting menu didn’t seem to work at all when I came across it.

    As a game, you traverse the corridors quite slowly, because you’re looking at things in detail. This is good from an “appreciate the level design” point of view, but it also means the pacing of the game is much slower than if you were just whizzing around with your finger permanently on the W key like you are in most games.

  10. CookPassBabtridge says:

    If you don’t want to use hacks, if you download Bilago’s Tool (hehe) from the Oculus Forums, this fine gentleman has automated the whole process for you. Worked just LUVLEE on my machine. Its worth getting that tool anyway because is makes all that faff with setting primary etc go away completely.

    I would be interested to know the spec of the machine the review was done on. I have an ageing gaming laptop with a GTX460M and i7-2630QM, and am waiting until I get my new rig before jumping into this. The judder IIRC is very much frame rate dependent, so if you are getting dips into sub-75 then you are going to judder like juddering is on special deal at Sainsbury’s. That said the new version of the tool has a “CoreParking” function which apparently can help in AI.

    Can’t say as I have experienced the persistent screen door effect yet, but I know some people have been reporting it. The only side effect I ever had was normal monitors went through a phase of looking 3D. That was weird.

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    G-Lord says:

    I was surprised how well the game works with DK2. Played through the whole game with it, with the downside that I couldn’t really read the logs on the PCs.

  12. Tallfeather says:

    They should make a VR headset shaped like a facehugger in a collectors edition of the game.