What do games developers think about the Oculus? Find out inside.
By Bennett Ring on May 16, 2013 at 1:45 pm
In part two of our interview with Nate Mitchell, VP of Product at Oculus Rift, we discuss upcoming resolution improvements to bring the tech into HD, how the reaction has been from both indie and major developers, and how they’re dealing with simulation sickness issues.
Catch up with part one of our massive Oculus Rift interview here.
GON: You’ve mentioned that you’re focusing on one single kind of Rift for the consumer launch. Can you explain the reasoning behind that? Some might argue that there’s another niche of older, cashed-up hardcore gamers who would be happy to pay two grand for a really high-end version, on top of the consumer version? Isn’t it just a software issue, as the biggest difference would probably be resolution?
Nate Mitchell: There’s two main reasons. One is that we want game developers to only have to target one version. We want them to be able to say ‘ok this build of the game runs at 60 frames per second, at this one resolution, and it’s perfect for the Rift’. Having that is crucial for game developers; they don’t like developing for multiple specs. That’s one of the biggest problems with gaming on the PC, it’s so fragmented that there are all sorts of weird problems. That’s part of the beauty of the iPhone, the consoles – they’re single hardware specs.
GON: But PC devs are used to developing games that support multiple resolutions?
Nate Mitchell: That’s true, but the second point I want to make is that we haven’t sorted out all of the details there. There’s the whole question of how does the form factor of the Rift change with different LCD panels. There’s an incredibly amount of hardware decision making that goes into the Rift design using the panel that we use. It’s not like we can use the same exact panel, but at higher resolution. It’d require a full redesign from the ground up to go with a different panel. So for right now we need to stay laser focused on shipping one design, one Rift. In the future, if we turn into a billion dollar company manufacturing our own displays, I’d be happy to offer a deluxe version of the Rift with a higher def screen and all the bells and whistles, but these screens cost millions of dollars to develop. It’s out of our scope right now, we’re very much piggybacking off all of the display manufacturers, using their technology for our product.
GON: Do you think Oculus will ever develop and release input devices for VR, or are you always going to stick entirely with the HMD?
Nate Mitchell: We are incredibly interested in human-computer interaction. There’s a couple of our guys here that focus all their R&D on researching and evaluating what the best input device for VR is. The dream, when you imagine VR, is being able to look down and see your hands, see your fingers and interact with the world as you would naturally. We’re not necessarily there today but there is Microsoft’s Kinect, and the Leap Motion, and a number of other companies in that space doing some incredibly interesting things. We really believe that the future of VR gaming as a platform will go in that direction. So the short answer is no comment at this time, the long answer is it’s a super-interesting topic and we’re constantly researching it.
GON: Is input a harder challenge than the headset challenge?
Nate Mitchell: I wouldn’t say it’s harder – I would say it’s different.
GON: On to the subject of simulator sickness, what are you doing to minimise this?
Nate Mitchell: Man, that could be a whole interview by itself. It’s impossible to talk about all of it. For the most part, we need a couple of things. We need positional tracking, that’s a major potential factor right now as we don’t have it yet. From there we’re going to continue to improve the SDK, adding things like hopefully positional tracking, more predictive tracking, head and neck modelling, all those tiny features make a huge difference. The final step is the content. We’re working with game developers endlessly – a huge portion of my GDC talk was specifically dedicated to what devs can do to avoid simulator sickness. We’re developing a best practices guide that outlines a bunch of this stuff. For example, right now, any positional tracking movements that you encourage in the game can create some sensory conflict. For example, having a lot of computer screens that look like the user is supposed to bend down to read. Also, moving the player backwards through space at high speeds seems to have a pretty negative effect on people. Taking away camera control for a cut-scene and removing head tracking is no good. Having the camera move in a way that isn’t related to head movement is a sure fire way of making someone feel simulator sick.
It’s a matter of educating developers – I was just talking to DICE yesterday and they’re super excited by the challenges. But they don’t see them as show stoppers, they see them as “how can we design the game to lend itself really well to VR”. We’ve already seen developers tap into this. The CCP guys developed EVR, this VIR space sim, and did this incredible job where they took all the things we’ve been talking about and applied them to their game. You’ll notice if you have a chance to play EVR – you can only move forward in space, all of the cut-scenes and UI are integrated into the game world, the player never loses control, there’s always head tracking. There’s even a great visual identity with the player’s body sitting in the cockpit. When you combine all that you get this really cohesive experience, and your brain says “wow, I’m really piloting a space ship”. It feels awesome.
GON: Big budget developers are really risk averse – they’re spending hundreds of millions of dollars so have to be sure their game will sell. Rift is still going to be quite niche for at least the next five or so years, do you foresee that most of your software support will come from the indie market? Or is it that these big budget guys are so incredibly excited about VR, you know personally passionate about it, that we’ll see a Rift mode sneak into the bigger titles? You were just at Dice, is that what you saw?
Nate Mitchell: It’s impossible to say. Let me just answer a couple of things that you said. First of all, we don’t believe that Rift is a niche product at all. In fact we believe that it has an incredible attractiveness to the mass market. It all depends on content. If you ship only Battlefield 3 on the Rift then yes, it’ll only attract the hardcore gamers. Which isn’t necessarily niche, but let’s say it is for argument’s sake. If you have Minecraft on the Rift, that’s a very different market segment that’s going to want to try Minecraft VR.
I certainly think that in the beginning, a lot of the excitement and new experiences will come straight from the indie community. We’re doing a lot to support the Indie community, with Unity integration, the SDK, and we’re going to continue to do what we can to make it as frictionless a platform as possible. Even if you’re not a developer, if you buy our dev kit you can develop something, share that with people and get involved with the magic of VR.
I think what you said though is absolutely true, the reason that Hawken is coming to Rift is that we walked in and showed them the Rift and they were like “Wow, you’ve done it – how can we use this with Hawken, this will be so cool”. We hear that over and over and over. Take John Carmack – John wasn’t thinking there’s money to be made in VR, he was thinking “this is incredible, I want to step inside Doom”. What we hope is there’s a couple of Rift evangelists at every company that push for, even unofficial, Rift integration. That’s all we need.
GON: Anything else you’d like to add?
Nate Mitchell: Yeah, what do you think of the Dev kit?
GON: I’m a graphics whore by nature, and have tested a lot of VR headsets. It’s definitely the best I’ve seen by far, but resolution is a huge issue. Today’s games are so detailed due to HD screens, and all that detail gets lost in the low resolution panel. So games with simpler, sparser environments tend to look better. I’m not even sure 1080p will be enough – the immersion comes at the cost of clarity. It’ll be interesting to see if people find that trade off acceptable. I also found scale in games rather strange – proportions of landscapes and objects that look fine in 2D suddenly look really fake in 3D. So devs will need to start using more realistic scales and proportions.
Nate Mitchell: I promise you that we’ll be fixing that (resolution) in the near future. We’re also working with more developers so there should be more made-for-VR stuff in the near future. Two quick points. One is that Vireio Perception is not the way it’s meant to be used. We’re not against it, but we do stress that driver-based VR is not the best experience. Also, give us the benefit of the doubt – this first version is a tool for developers. When we do, if we do, show a higher resolution display, I’d be really excited to hear your thoughts. I think you will be impressed.