Major investments are being made in virtual reality by companies like Facebook (which acquired the Oculus Rift's developer for $2 billion) and Sony (with Project Morpheus), but not everyone is convinced VR is the future. Doom and Wolfenstein 3D designer John Romero was "blown away" by the Oculus Rift when he first tried it, but he remains unconvinced that VR as it currently exists is the next major innovation.
"Before using Oculus, I heard lots of vets in the industry saying this is not like anything we've seen before. This is not the crap we saw back in the late '80s," he told GamesIndustry International. "I was excited to check it out and I was just blown away by just how amazing it was to just be in an environment and moving my head was just like mouse-look. I thought that was really great but when I kind of step back and look at it, I just don't see a real good future for the way VR is right now.
Romero, who co-founded id Software and now works at the Universe of California, Santa Cruz, believes "minimal input for maximum output" is the ideal design for games. He points to the example of someone playing with a keyboard and mouse--and how little they move compared with what's happening on-screen--as the preferable method for playing games. "Everyone always goes for the path of least resistance and that kind of input is it," he said. "Until it can fix the path of least resistance, I can't see how VR is going to be something that's popular."
Another major challenge is the issue of install base. Electronic Arts has indicated it's intrigued by VR but doesn't plan on investing heavily until there is a sizable enough audience. Romero believes the "only way to hope that it'll be popular" is to have a VR device included with every computer, which is unlikely given the computer business' fragmented nature. "I can't see VR being the next big thing for games because we've had many of these peripherals that were non-standard come through--the early '90s until now there's always a weird peripheral to do something," he said.
Another major publisher, Take-Two, has labeled the Oculus "anti-social," another sentiment Romero seems to agree with. "VR is going away from the way games are being developed and pushed as they go back into multiplayer and social stuff," he said. "VR is kind of a step back, it's a fad. Maybe in the future there will be a better VR that gets you out of isolation mode."
"The fact that it encloses you or makes you do something different than what you're used to naturally doing also makes it a hard thing to adopt," he continued. "Even though I'm excited about VR and how cool games look, I can't see it becoming the way people always play games.
"I can see it being like Steel Battalion--if I'm going to play that game I'm only playing it with that controller... I can't see every game being able to translate that experience to VR, because VR right now works best if you're just sitting. If you're inside of a cockpit, that's cool, but if you're supposed to be running around a world and you can't physically run but you can look around, it's a weird disconnect and it doesn't feel right. I think we're still waiting for the holodeck."
Oculus VR, the company responsible for the Oculus Rift, is currently embroiled in a lawsuit with Bethesda parent company ZeniMax, which alleges Oculus is using its technology. Neither Oculus nor Sony have announced when their respective VR headsets will be made available to consumers. Oculus does sell a version of the Rift intended for use in development that anyone can purchase, but only after indicating they are aware it's a model not meant for consumers.
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