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.