It’s all in the name, really. If Oculus Rift is the Silicon Valley-style adaptation of the VR dream to fit sensible concepts like ‘commercial realities’ and ‘available technology’, Project Holodeck is the undiluted vision made real, for good or ill - a full-body motion reverie to be played out in your garage or living room.
Don’t mistake the two projects for rivals, though. Holodeck actually incorporates the Rift into its heads-up display, and its team have been working closely with Oculus founder Lucky Palmer. The Rift forms the centrepiece of a kit pieced together from DIY off-the-shelf peripherals, including a hat fashioned from a PS Move and two handheld controllers - Razer Hydras - not dissimilar in appearance to Nintendo’s nunchucks.
WildSkies is the game Holodeck’s team are creating to demonstrate all this - a fantasy steampunk affair in which two players fight to steer a nuclear-powered airship through hostile clouds. Both players will move about the ship at the same time, and be represented by full, lip-synced, blinking avatars.
“To dodge bullets,” says project director Nathan Burba, “you’ll actually have to move your body. You’ll have to actually duck down inside of the ship and react to things. You’ll have to look over your shoulder to make sure something isn’t coming after you. You’ll actually have to look around as if you were in reality. This is full-blown virtual reality - this isn’t just a first-person shooter with a heads-up display.”
In short: heads will collide.
The project is part of the USC Games program, a joint effort between the Interactive Media Division (IMD) at the USC School of Cinematic Arts (SCA) and the Department of Computer Science at the Viterbi School of Engineering.
It’s a long way from reaching its “affordable” commercial endpoint. And the Holodeck’s team - all of whom are terribly, impressively young - are going to have to work hard to steer their airship out of the uncanny valley. But it’s all looking very promising, no?