There have been a number of watershed moments in video gaming over the past few decades. Third-generation systems in the mid-1980s introduced us to some of gaming’s most iconic characters…Mario, Luigi, Zelda, Donkey Kong, and others. Sixth-generation systems – PlayStation 2, Xbox, GameCube – sparked the big console wars at the turn of the century, leading up to the last big showdown just two years ago.
That’s when we were eyeing some added competition in the market, with newcomers trying their hand at developing new machines – most of which have been quiet of late.
Today, virtual reality has become this market’s latest game changer. Visionary/Technologist Palmer Luckey set the gears in motion when he began working on the Oculus Rift head-mounted display, with others following suit. Palmer recognized the need for an inexpensive device that would open the doors for VR usage.
Just recently, the user stampede began for pre-orders of the Rift and, likely soon, pre-orders of the HTC Vive for use on Valve’s SteamVR. In the near future, users will be stepping into the realm of virtual reality like never before, battling aliens, creating, interacting with fellow VR junkies, and watching movies and 360-degree entertainment from within a virtual cinema. (See Head’s Up! on page 18 for a showcase of the VR HMDs presently in the spotlight.)
For those who could not wait for these two anticipated offerings, there is the rudimentary Google Cardboard and the robust Samsung Gear VR goggles that have quickly pushed this new trend into motion. And developers have been quick to respond with content – in fact, many of these earlier experiences could be tried at last year’s SIGGRAPH. However, more (and presumably better ones) are just on the horizon, as updated development kits for the HMDs became available. Some of the HMD manufacturers have been working closely with developers (some even providing funding) to ensure that content will be available for the displays.
But hold on! Not so fast. VR is a fantastic technology for entertainment, learning, science, medicine, and so much more. But we need to be sure that this time around, as opposed to VR’s last surge in the early 1990s, we are indeed ready to embrace VR as it is meant to be. This means that content creators need the necessary tools to create exciting experiences that will amaze us. This also means hardware that can process the high-resolution stereo imagery at 90 fps minimum with no latency for a responsive, immersive feel. (See the Viewpoint “Being the Hero in VR” on page 6, as Epic’s Ray Davis gives his take on the new world of VR gaming.)
For most new users, this means a new PC, one specifically tuned to handle VR. This caveat could be a boon for PC makers, which have experienced a slump in recent months. It should also mean a boost for high-end GPUs from AMD and Nvidia, a requirement for these new PCs. So in the end, that $600 Rift could end up costing you $1,600 once you get that new computer to power it.
As for the displays that are geared specifically for a particular game system, well, expect a nice but somewhat limited experience – the VR display is dependent on the power of the console or, in the case of Samsung’s Gear VR, the smartphone being used.
Despite these hurdles, VR is exciting. It opens new windows of opportunity for content creators and users. Indeed, 2016 is the year of virtual reality. When will you step into this new VR world?