How Oculus VR is building the future we were promised

The CCP developer slips a noise-cancelling headset over my ears. The chatter in the packed media lobby goes silent. I look around.

I’m in a starfighter, waiting in the launch tube like the Viper pilots of Battlestar Galactica. Everything is quiet except for the faint hissing of hydraulics and hum of the engines on standby. Then the launch sequence starts, the engines get louder, and suddenly I’m accelerating through the tube. An instant later I’m ejected into the star-dusted night of space. Above and to my right, I see my wingman rocketing out of the carrier, backlit by the glow of a distant planet.

A minute later, my missiles begin acquiring a target. The missile targeter tracks my head movement, the reticle pinned to a space roughly in line with my gaze, so I make sure to keep glaring at the incoming flight of bandits as I twist and corkscrew through my attack run. Below, my wingmen are flying straight and level, opening fire with guns. I get the lock tone and release the trigger; they go spiraling after their prey. A second later my own missile-warning light grabs my attention, burning red on the cockpit frame. I stomp on the thruster and dive, twisting furiously in my seat to spot the missiles.

There, coming in from directly above, almost into my cockpit. I hammer down on the retro rockets and the ship lurches. Never taking my eyes off the missiles, I hit the left rudder pedal, slewing the ship in that direction, and pull into a climb. The missiles don’t make the turn and go streaking past my cockpit window, vanishing over my right shoulder. Then an enemy fighter goes streaking past, chasing one of my wingmen, and I bank to follow him. I don’t get motion-sick, but it’s getting disorienting as the stars twist and turn around our chase. At one point we hug the contours of a huge asteroid, yo-yoing around it. As thebandit begins his climb, I cut it closer to the asteroid and manage to lead him with my guns. He vanishes in a fireball.

I look around at the space battle that surrounds me. The Oculus Rift is not even released, but it has already made one dream come true. I would say I never imagined something like this, but that would be a lie. I always imagined this, from the moment I first played X-Wing.

I just never expected it.

“With VR you can tap into those human sensations of falling and depth and speed,” Nate Mitchell, Oculus VR’s VP of product, tells me later. “All your emotions are enhanced, like fear, you’re that much more panicked and that sort of thing. All that stuff makes the gaming experience that much more real. And it’s sort of like an empty canvas for game devs to step in and do incredible exciting new things with.”

I’ve just come back from my visit with CCP’s Oculus-enabled space shooter, EVR, and Mitchell and Oculus VR founder Palmer Luckey are telling me about the strides they’ve made in the last year of working on the Oculus Rift.

Mitchell and Luckey are tech entrepreneurs straight from central casting: young, charismatic, and so enthusiastic about their work that they have trouble staying on-topic. Throughout our interview, they keep detouring into asides and even begin reopening old arguments. It might almost feel like shtick, the Absentminded Professors, except they are so evidently engaged with the topic. It’s suddenly clear why they are running almost an hour behind schedule.

A year ago, things were very different. They tell me about traveling to Gamescom with an early prototype, trying to get people to pay attention to a device that kept breaking down and looked like it was largely made out of electrical tape and exposed wiring.

“And we were demoing an early version of Doom 3 with the Rift, and we had a monitor that we brought,” Mitchell tells me. “And we opened it up at the show and it was shattered, and the first time that we plugged in the Rift, the power supply exploded because we didn't have an adapter!” He grins. “Palmer and I were having an awesome time. It was a good trip, good memories.”

Now they have a suite of rooms at E3 and Peter Molyneux is being kept waiting outside, where he’s trying to get a look at the Oculus.

“Wait, who’s outside?” Mitchell asks, when another developers comes in and whispers the news to him.

“—r Molyneux,” in an undertone.

Luckey looks confused. “Did he have an appointment?”

The developer waves his arms helplessly. “He just dropped by.”

Mitchell and Luckey look at each other, wearing matching expressions of pain and excitement. Mitchell looks at his phone, “Can he wait? Ask him if we can wait. Tell him we really want to get him in here today. But we’re behind. But we really want to show him it!”

It might not matter for Peter Molyneux, but Mitchell assures me that the Oculus Rift hasn’t set anyone’s hair on fire in ages. Palmer adds that, “We haven't blown up any power supplies in a while,” and then the two fall to arguing about whether a laser power supply counts. Because in that case, something exploded just last week.

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subedii avatarTim Edwards avatarxprez avatar
subedii Avatar
4 Years ago

"As I’m leaving, I ask them whether they ever discuss, in the blue-est of blue-sky conversations, going in some Snow Crash directions with Oculus. Palmer smiles, “I don’t see us building the Metaverse.”"

Ah, but he's not ruling out mind-altering computer viruses, so that's something.

Tim Edwards Avatar
4 Years ago

Well played, sir. 

xprez Avatar
4 Years ago

We need some serious founding into vr and get us a true nervegear, my mind screams that a true vrmmorpg whould be awesome.