At this years Global Game Jam I had the opportunity to try out the Oculus Rift DK2 (development kit version 2). I had tested out the original Oculus dev kit last year, and while the experience was striking, a few minutes was about my limit.
I’m not someone who is prone to motion sickness. I like roller coasters and theme park rides. The most disoriented I can remember a ride making me feel was the Orange Team version of Mission Space at Disney World. The one that spins you up to 2.5G and then bounces you a round for a little while. Even after that ride, I was only dizzy for a bit during the disembarking stage, where they have you walk down a long air conditioned hall likely as a counter to these effects, before you are herded back out into the oppressive Florida heat. I wouldn’t want to ride it several times in a row, but It was pretty easy to shake off the effects before lining up to ride Test Track for maybe the third time that day. Test Track is really really fun.
I didn’t say all that so that you would think that I was some tough manly man. Far from it. My body has a reaction to over consuming alcohol that I would classify as violent. My tolerance for poisoning is very low, but my reaction to motion induced poison simulation is mild. I just wanted to lay out a baseline measurement of potential nausea. The first time I tried the Oculus version 1, while sitting stark still in an office chair for maybe less than 5 minutes was about the same a riding the Orange Team side of Mission Space. I was fine, but a few minutes more and I probably wouldn’t have been.
When I first tried the DK2 it was with a demo that didn’t use the new positional tracking that was added to this version. The original headset tracks the rotation of your head around an axis that the simulation assumes is your neck, but not your position is space. This new one can track both. That demo left me feeling that same sort of disorientation, but maybe softened slightly by the increased resolution and response time of the display. Once we got the thing running with the new positional tracking though, it was like the thing came with it’s own gravol.
Every person is going to react to these head mounted displays differently, but whatever the disconnect my brain was experiencing without the addition of positional tracking, that just evaporated as soon as it was turned on. Everything in the virtual world I was experiencing seemed locked into place. The first demo was a lazy, drifting flight experience over a medieval town. This one was AaAaAA!!! - A Reckless Disregard for Gravity, a hyperactive base jumping game where you plummet at high speed through a floating city. This a game that makes people sick when they play it on a screen. All I felt was joy.
According to Oculus, the worst culprits causing motion sickness are latency and persistence, or how fast the device reacts to your movements and displays the right information and how quickly the display can react to the information the computer is sending it. Smeary ghosting images and laggy input are apparently in full effect in the DK2 prototype. The newest version of the headset has, by all accounts, solved these issues. They don’t even seem to be problems that bothered me, but hell, better is better right. I was pretty sure I wanted to get one of these things when the eventual full retail version is available, but now that I know I won’t have to use it while chewing on ginger root, I’m double or maybe even triple sold.