Fun fact about me: I didn’t understand the appeal of the View-Master toy for most of my life. The reason was that rather than trying to focus my eyes through the viewer, I would always shut one for insta-clarity. And yet I had no idea – none – that in doing so, I was negating the 3D effect that was the main selling point of the thing.
No such mistakes with the Oculus Rift. Holy balls, is this thing amazing. And I say this after experiencing a three-minute “on rails” experience with no gaming element whatsoever.
First, you strap on the headset and headphones at once. The entire outside world shuts out, and you’re in a fully rendered 3D replica of the spaceship in Interstellar (it was recreated using reference photos, not scans). You can look anywhere – including out the window, where you’ll see that your vehicle is spinning, in orbit around Saturn.
And then a voice tells you that the artificial gravity is about to be turned off. Not only are you now floating, and being moved by the demo through conduits that keep changing your perspective on which way is up, but you’re doing so in a ship that is spinning, as evidenced by Saturn going around and around outside. I was reminded of the first time I ever saw an Imax movie, back when they were only shown in science museums and called Omnimax, as I gripped the handles of the real-world seat I was in so as not to fall.
I’m told that the version of this simulator which will be touring Imax AMCs will actually have a motion-simulator element as well. I hope they’re prepared to clean the pukestains.
Is it completely realistic? Not yet. In the virtual world, some of the borders to things have a shiny quality, like light is penetrating from another dimension. But then a journal will float by your face, and when you look at it closely, the texture of the leather is there. Or you’ll turn to see a laptop beside you, and you can read the viewscreen perfectly.
Most technology in my lifetime has developed gradually, and barely noticeably, but this felt like a science fiction contraption had become real. Once they make interactive gloves or weapons for simulators like this, it’s going to be a whole new type of play, and your skill at handling two joysticks will be as useless as I am when I even attempt that. I can also see the potential for non-gaming applications, like helping people get over fear of heights.
How they’ll make movies for it, unless shot with Google Glass, I know not. But those are happening.
And unrelatedly, I learned that the spaceship model used for Interstellar that was on display was only for overhead shots. Because it has nothing underneath.