Project Holodeck producer James Iliff and lead developer Alex Silkin are wandering about onstage, completely blind to their audience. Both men sport an Oculus Rift head-mounted display, allowing them to physically look around in their virtual world. Two peripherals sit in each of their hands – that’s the Razer Hydra, providing optical tracking for their position in virtual space. A white orb, that of the Razer Hydra, protrudes from the top of their headsets, giving them the appearance of bobbies on some far-future beat. Both have a laptop strapped to their back, presumably to tie all of their expensive attire together.
They look absolutely ridiculous. But they’re flying an airship.
The project is a collaboration 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, and consequently a long way from commercial release. But it’s a working, full-body VR kit. What more excuse do we need?
You’ll have to be a little patient with the game the team are using to demonstrate the kit – Wild Skies. Its premise is totally sound, all nuclear airships and space pirate boardings, but the execution leaves a little to be desired. Ambitious environments are hampered by ugly, turn-of-the-century texturing, and an apparent calibration error leaves one of the player avatars with an uncanny spinal injury.
Even so, some of the mechanical possibilities on show are entirely new. Players can fire a gun with one flick of a finger and pick up an object with another, or use a twist of their palm to steer a ship. I’d quite like to try my hand at that, as it were. What about you?