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Hands On With Oculus Rift At PAX East

I take a hands on look with the Oculus Rift and a sneak peak how its changing at PAX East 2015

There have been announcements of all kinds when it comes to virtual reality headsets, but Oculus has managed to stay ahead of the industry when it comes to 3D technology. At PAX East, Oculus Rift had a very different set up compared to others. The entire booth was sealed away, with nothing viewable from the outside except for a few windows. The inside consisted of a lobby-like area with 6 Gear VR headsets, and private rooms on the outside walls to try Oculus Rift.

Inside the rooms, it is easy to immediately forget that you’re in the middle of the PAX East show floor. The demo was a one-on-one talk with a developer. There was sound-proofing on the walls, so the outside sound became just a delicate rumble. The setup was a simple monitor on the wall, a soft raised floor mat, and the Oculus Rift Unit ready to go.

This newest version of the Rift was much easier to put on than earlier models, and had speakers built into the head unit. It was also much lighter. Previously, one had to strap the head unit on and had to adjust it from there. The new one simply pops on your head. You pull the head unit towards your eyes, velcro it into place, and pull down the speaker flaps for your ears. It took seconds to put on - quite an improvement compared to the previous models, which took more set up time.

The first tech demos I got to witness were simple, but they got much more complex later on. The first scene was dinosaur standing in front of you, breathing and looking around. The next demo showed a basic isometric environment with a fox and deer eating at your feet and trees in the background.

The next setup was very bizarre. It had the player on another planet, with an alien standing directly in front of you and a spaceship in the background. I got a great sense of scale and a bit of fear as the alien attempted to communicate with me. This was very odd, as I knew this was just a tech demo, but in my brain I could get a sense of scale and felt that this alien had to be about 350 lbs. It was easy to lose myself in the experience and wonder about what might happen next. 

The next demo was a great opportunity to test the new tracking on the headset. All I could see in front of me was a small miniature model town, complete with cars moving around on roads and kids playing in front of a house. However, I could lean down and peer into the windows of the house and see the people inside of them. 

Oculus’ next demo was set in a Gotham-style metropolis with Zeppelins moving in the air, floating clouds, and skyscrapers everywhere. However, once I looked down, I found out that I was placed on the edge of a building. It had an instinctual feeling to step back, as the sense of depth hit very hard and very fast. After a moment, once I convinced my mind that this was all fake, I was able to continue back to looking around the backdrop that was presented to me.

The next demo definitely showed off how Oculus Rift could be used as a way to instill fear with the device. I was placed in a large hallway museum. It looked old and wasn’t completely lit, but I could see a T-Rex skull on a display. Then a very large Tyrannosaurus Rex came around the corner and looked at me and then walked towards me. It was surreal - this giant dinosaur had a skull the size of my body and it was looking right at me, but then proceeded to walk over me and into the darkness. While this demo was short, it has firmly planted in my mind that someone will need to make a Jurassic Park game for this device.

The last tech demo was a game demonstration using the Unreal 4 engine. I was placed in a shootout between 4-5 soldiers on a street fighting their way to a giant robot at the end. The demo ran in slow motion as I moved through the squad of soldiers fighting to the giant robot. I could see bullets slowly fly by in a Matrix style. When a car exploded in front of me and rolled above my head, I was able to duck and peer into the windows to see a person still inside the vehicle. At one point, an Oculus-branded soda can flew by and I was able to move my head all the way around to see every angle of it.

All in all, this was a great show for Oculus Rift and what they have planned for the device. I had originally not touched one since the first iteration, and I am liking how it is moving along. There are many games here at PAX East 2015 for the Oculus Rift, but the real question is: when will we be able to get a retail version at home? I, for one, am hoping that it will be sooner rather than later.

Published Mar. 7th 2015

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