Holodeck: Holy Grail or Hollow Promise? Part 1

Warren Spector isn't so sure the industry will be able to create a holodeck gaming experience that's actually fun

For years game developers, game players, science fiction fans (generally) and Trekkers (specifically) have been told - and have been telling themselves - that the trajectory of video game history leads inevitably to a Star Trek-inspired Holodeck.

Since first bursting onto the scene in the 1980s, Jaron Lanier, generally credited as the first person to describe the potential of "virtual reality," has argued that something like the holodeck was unavoidable. Since then, he has been one of the leading evangelists for a fully immersive future. As recently as June of this year, in New Scientist magazine, he reiterated his desire to see that dream become a reality:

"I believe that the Holodeck as Holy Grail has the potential to lead us down a blind alley toward a dead end future"

Instead of thinking of it like a very 3D movie, or a video game that you're inside, I think what virtual reality is going to be like is a new kind of a medium where you're playing with your own identity, and that's what's so interesting about it… it's almost like you're exercising these forgotten little corners of your brain, some really old corners that evolved to actually control different bodies deep, deep, deep back in our evolutionary past. And that kind of very profound, intimate sense of experience is really what virtual reality's all about.

Similarly, interactive media thinkers like Janet Murray have written persuasively about the appeal of the "Star Trek future." In her 1997 book, Hamlet on the Holodeck, she discusses the role of immersive simulation in the future of narrative laying out an explanation of, and template for, a future rich in virtual reality experiences that is still relevant 15-plus years on:

"The format that most fully exploits the properties of digital environments is not the hyper-text or the fighting game but the simulation: the virtual world full of interrelated entities, a world we can enter, manipulate, and observe in process."

If you haven't read Hamlet on the Holodeck you should probably do so - it's kind of a must-read for any game developer. I'll warn you, there are some very smart games industry folks who find the book as frustrating as it is educational! Still, a book that engenders strong feelings and gets people arguing is worth a read, right?

More recently, at USC, there's a team working on something called "The Holodeck Project". (Clearly, though smart, talented, and driven by a Star Trek inspired mission to "go where no man has gone before" they need a marketing person to work on their naming skills). Regardless, here's what they have to say about the goals they've set for their work:

The holodeck has given us woodlands and ski slopes… figures that fight… and fictional characters with whom we can interact. Or so we were promised many years ago by a certain Jean-Luc Picard. But now we actually might have an actual Holodeck to actually run around in and actually fight baddies in… [T]he Holodeck is a bit different to the [Oculus] Rift: It's not just a head mounted display, it's a full virtual reality experience.

"I have a rule that's stood me in good stead over the years - never build a game that depends on potential buyers owning a peripheral in order to play"

And finally, if anyone requires more evidence of the pervasiveness and persuasiveness of a Holodeckian future, the most recent sighting I've seen can be found in an article by Jeff Grubb, writing for the VentureBeat website:

The Holy Grail of immersive gaming is Star Trek: The Next Generation's holodeck - a room that you can enter that becomes an interactive experience and overwhelms your every sense. It's a concept so far-fetched that it still feels like we're a hundred years away from it, and we probably are… For something to qualify as a holodeck, it must trick your every sense…

I can't go where he's going, any more than I can go all the way with Lanier, Murray, and other VR/Holodeck evangelists.

In fact, I believe that the Holodeck as Holy Grail has the potential to lead us down a blind alley toward a dead end future.

I realize I'm swimming against the current here - what with the slavering anticipation for the Oculus Rift VR rig, reports of Holodeck-like projects from Sony and recent Microsoft Kinect-driven VR patents. But hear me out.

Here's my contention:

If we're careful and thoughtful in our approach to predecessor technologies like virtual reality and augmented reality, as well as to Holodeck-style full immersion down the road, we might end up in a great place - a place as compelling as the world Lanier, Murray, Grubb et al envision.

But if we're not careful, if we don't consider what VR, AR and Holodecks can and cannot do well, we'll just end up spending a lot of money and expending a lot of effort giving users something we think is cool, something those users think they want, but which will inevitably disappoint.

"Folks who go first often go bust. Players who buy early can end up broke"

This may seem obvious - do smart stuff and good things happen - but from much of what I read and hear, from all the gushing over headsets and new peripherals for interacting with things on the screen, it's obvious to me that a lot of people aren't thinking about the pitfalls ahead. For that reason, I'd like to go through some potential problems we'd better think about - and soon.

Pitfall #1: Do people really want VR, AR or Holodeck enough to buy a peripheral to experience it?

I have a rule that's stood me in good stead over the years - never build a game that depends on potential buyers owning a peripheral in order to play.

No matter how cool the game or how cool the peripheral, only a portion of the potential audience will have (or be willing to buy) something new to get the full experience of your game.

Heck, even a peripheral that's packaged with hardware can be a sales-limiting factor. Sometimes the old ways are the best ways and, today, lots of people are just fine with a keyboard or controller - no surprise given that these ways of interacting with a computer or console have been refined to razor-sharp effectiveness by thirty-plus years of use and mastery. People like a controller connected to a TV or monitor they already own. Very few, if any, "normal humans" want or need more immersion than that. Who wants to learn a whole new way of experiencing and interacting with a virtual world? By and large, people just want to play. Anything that gets in the way of that reduces the likelihood of people playing.

Clearly, there are some big hurdles to overcome here. You can say we're still in early days of gaming, let alone VR, AR and Hdeck. You can say, of course prices are going to be high and sales limited to early adopters. In other words, you can say that an audience limited by the need for a peripheral is okay - we have to start somewhere, right?

Not so right, I fear. Folks who go first often go bust (see Cybermaxx and Forte). Players who buy early can end up broke (yeah, I'm looking at all you Apple Newton owners out there). It's all too likely that the lack of a sufficiently large audience will lead to lack of developer and publisher support, which will lead to peripheral creators running into a brick wall we in the trade call "no money". And no money for anyone on the creation-distribution-play spectrum, regardless of where they fall on it, means the Holodeck (and VR and AR) may be further away than current technology would lead one to believe. They may never catch on…

In my book, when you require a peripheral "purchased separately," as they say in the commercials, you always lose. Anyone see peripheral-free VR, HR or HDeck? Uh-huh. Didn't think so.

Pitfall #2: How do you control this crazy thing?

One of many things we learned in the VR gaming circles of 20 years ago was that the range of mobility of the human neck limited a player's ability to experience even the most meticulously designed and immersive virtual world. Unless you were willing to stand while you played, or you sat in a chair that swiveled 360 degrees, VR didn't add enough to the experience of play to balance out the cost and deficiencies of the hardware. (And watch out for deadly python-like cords as you rotate to take in your oh-so-compelling virtual surroundings).

"How many people really want to walk, run and jump to navigate a virtual world?"

And that is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to interfacing with a virtual world. Falling into a 3D space… feeling like you're really there in an alternate world… In a very real sense, that's the easy illusion to deliver to users.

The problem of how you interact with an illusory immersive world? Now that is one tough problem.

Creating a good head-tracking headset, while cool, is just the first hurdle. Assuming the full immersion of a Holodeck is even possible, and it seems likely it will be, probably sooner than anyone expects, what about the interface between user and device?

In a VR world, are we supposed to use a Wii Remote or something like it? In an AR world, are we supposed to flap our arms around, looking rather foolish as we do so? In a Holodeck experience are we supposed to run, jump, kick and punch?

How do you interact with a virtual world? (Remember, your solution has to be as seamless and refined as the mouse, keyboard and/or controller…) Who among us wants to walk and run and actually swing a sword for hours? How will you ride a virtual horse, climb a wall, or pick up the inevitable crate?

Head-tracking sounds great. If you want to look up, just look up. Check out your flank and turn right or left? Totally do-able and cool. Look behind you?… Oh, wait… hm… maybe do a full Exorcist and swivel your head 180 degrees? Maybe you have to get up off the couch and turn around? Use a mouse or keyboard you can't actually see in VR - and don't want to see in AR or a Holodeck?

Put another way, how many people really - really - want to walk, run and jump to navigate a virtual world? How many people really want to swing a sword for 5-10 (or 100) hours? I think we can agree on the answer - not many, for all the enthusiasm expressed.

A TV screen, a mouse and/or a keyboard are looking a little better, aren't they? If the new VR/AR/Hdeck peripheral you have to go out and buy makes such things harder rather than easier, why bother? You might as well go join a gym and get some exercise that way.

It's tough but not impossible to imagine solutions to control/interaction problems in a VR world, but being the immersive tech that's closest to what we already have, that's not much of a surprise. AR is certainly going to be harder, UI-wise (and that's assuming you can solve all sorts of visual and occlusion problems!). In an AR environment, you start with the movement problems I already mentioned, but then you also have to deal with the problem of interacting with real objects and virtual ones (and having the virtual objects then interact themselves with the real ones!). AR kind of makes my head hurt… The Holodeck? I don't even want to think about the interface and interaction problems there.

And remember - if doing things in a VR/AR/Hdeck world is harder than it is with the tried and true of a controller refined over decades of use, what use is a Holodeck at all? An immersive experience that, thanks to clunky UI, constantly reminds you that you're in a virtual world is going to drag you in and out of the experience every few seconds. That's makes it extremely unlikely users will be able to get into the desired flow state than they can in older, seemingly less immersive virtual environments.

Check back tomorrow for part 2 of Spector's column on the Holodeck, in which he offers up the remaining pitfalls as well as a confession

Part 2 is now available - read it here

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Latest comments (23)

Jeffrey Kesselman Professor - Game Development, Daniel Webster College8 years ago
There are some more basic fallacies in the idea of a "holodeck."

The first, is that its currently technologically impossible.

Sure we are finally getting decent HMDs such as The Rift right now, and there are even some limited force feedback devices on the horizion such as the Virtuix Omini treadmill and the Novint Xio-- but these are incredibly limited as well as clumsy and awkward to get into. And there is the rub. Without the kind of magical all inclusive force feedback the mythical holodeck provides, it will never be more then a ghost world you can walk through.

VR may be a limited reality now, but "the holodeck' is a massive over-reach that may simply never be solvable. Certainly it wont be in this decade in any way that is useful and friendly to consumers.

The second, is even if we could do it, the uses are highly limited. The fact of the matter is that it takes work to move around the real world. This is what people are discovering about the Virtuix Omni. After the initial rush wears off, it is really not a whole lot of fun to actually have to walk around your vast game space. Its like taking a bird, who could fly around its world, and telling it now it has to walk everywhere.

As Loren Carpenter of Pixar once said, "Photorealism is just a convenient measure of complexity." If the goal is to layer on all the limits of reality, you can get those just by walking outside.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Jeffrey Kesselman on 31st July 2013 5:08pm

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Brian Lewis Operations Manager, PlayNext8 years ago
The issue seens to be that people are trying to build around specific technologies, rather than use the technology to build around the gameplay. This is why we are seeing such odd disconnects, and poor results. I have already seen some very good results using OLDER technologies, and low tech solutions.

Here is an example of a BF3 Simulator . This is a much better example of using technology to enhance the gameplay, rather than vice versa. As we see more examples of this type of approach, we will see much better results.
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Jed Ashforth Senior Game Designer, Immersive Technology Group, Sony Computer Entertainment Europe8 years ago
Sure there's lots of well documented roadblocks ahead, but enough people seem to want to make this journey - in fact, it's been absolutely aspirational for many users for 10-20 years now - that people WILL go there. Whether the user experience matches up to the Holodeck fantasy isn't relevant when you put the Oculus on for the first time, or even the fifty-first time, because it's the closest thing to modern magic. It's far from flawless, but that initial experience makes a huge impact in my experience. Everyone who tries my Rift, gamers and non-gamers alike, immediately asks how to buy one.

Remember, Kinect was an after-sales addition that enjoyed monstrous success, and nobody even knew they wanted one before it got hyped. A VR headset is a very different proposition - countless numbers of gamers across the world have wanted one of those for half their lifetimes, and thanks to the Oculus, are finally seeing that as imminent now.

Also, who wants to play a game when you could do real exercise? Wii Fit, Wii Sports, Dance Central, Just Dance and countless other successes would suggest plenty of people see this as a positive addition to gaming. But ultimately if people want to play games in VR without exhausting themselves, the market will find good solutions to these problems. At the end of the day even if peripheral tech never moved forward, the benefits of head-tracked wide-view immersion would still endear it to enough players to make it a marketable proposition. In my experience, TF2 VR played on a pad, or mouse and keyboard, is stillstaggeringly immersive - sure, it might be positively transcendental with full tracked motion peripherals and a treadmill, but if all I can realistically afford is staggeringly immersive, I'll still go with that. It adds huge value to the experience of playing.

Everything you identify as a problem is correct, Sir, and you're right to flag these issues up, but I'm afraid I disagree with your prognosis, simply because a lot is going to change in that space in a very short amount of time if it hits big, and I have no doubt that VR is going to be huge over the next few years. There's a ton of problems to solve, but they'll get solved, because the market for this is going to be enormous. Once you've tried it, going back to an HD screen is a significantly lesser experience.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Jed Ashforth on 31st July 2013 5:47pm

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Show all comments (23)
in 30 years from now people will look back and say, People actually sat with a keyboard and some mouse things, and looked at a 20 some inch 2 dimensional flat screen and thought that was a great gaming experience?

Of course there is going to be some pitfalls and failures, but without a doubt VR is the future of gaming, always has been. Peripherals are only peripherals until there not, once adopted they become standards. The Wii and its 100 million units of hardware sales shows people are willing to pay and adopt if you offer a cool new gaming experience.

@ Jed- very well said, I agree 100%

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Todd Weidner on 31st July 2013 5:46pm

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Chris Payne Managing Director & Founder, Quantum Soup Studios8 years ago
I think an interesting analogue is the Live Role-Playing (LRP) hobby, which faces many similar problems. Physical interaction is obviously still real, but immersion requires a LOT of accessories in the form of costume, props, and custom foam latex weapons. It also suffers a multitude of limitations due to practicality and safety considerations (eg. limited play environments and player abilities).

And yet, only this weekend I was at an event where ~2500 players paid 55 each to visit a field in Oxfordshire. Each player brought their own costume and weapons (usually 100+), many brought tents and props. And within the limitations mentioned above, we were pretty well immersed.

I don't think LRP would ever go mass-market because it requires such an investment by the players, but it's a popular enough niche to support a handful of specialist event companies and a host of accessories retailers. A holodeck experience could fill a very similar niche.
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Charles Herold Wii Games Guide, about.com8 years ago
I find the holodeck idea very appealing, but I think Spector is right. Gamers are ultimately very conservative, and hate change. Look at the reaction to the Wii, and Kinect, which were seen as cheesy gimmicks for non-gamers, and which have, for the most part, been used in ways that seemed to prove that. A holodeck would also require game developers to completely rethink how they approached game creation, and, as was also shown with the Wii and Kinect, most game developers don't have a strong interest in doing that.

If we're going to have holodeck technology, we would need non-gamers and non-game developers with no preconceptions to support the new technology.
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Richard Nunn Graphic Designer 8 years ago
Great article!

I do disagree with one thing, the assertion that people won't want to walk around or swing a weapon in a virtual world. Have you ever experienced LARPing? People already run around forests swinging swords and pretending to be Goblins. Also, there are hundreds, maybe thousands of military re-enactment groups dotted all over the country who regularly get together for large-scale battles. Moving away from swords and axes, what about all the people who go-kart every weekend at their local track? Or the huge amount of people who enjoy paintballing and laser quest - all these things and more would be amazing using a holodeck type technology.

That's just for fighting as well. What about other types of Games; like puzzle and board games, card games/gambling, mystery games, horror games (!!!), and of course the most obvious and inevitable use for a holodeck... pornographic 'games'.

People having fun while being active sounds like a major plus. Exercise is something a lot of people embrace if you make it fun, as the Wii Fit showed us all to well. I can't even hazard a guess as to how many hours I've spent flapping my arms like a maniac while playing that flipping chicken game...
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Julian Williams Founder, WIZDISH Ltd.8 years ago
VR has always suffered from people pretending we are there already. This article isn't saying VR is a bad thing but that over-hyping what is possible will cause it to fail due to the inevitable disappointment. Claims should never be made unless supported by usability testing. At least Oculus had hundreds or even thousands of members of the public try it. My hope is that they don't over-hype the HD model. If it has 1080 (HD) lines rather than current 800 (HD Ready) it will still be great but might not be the giant leap people are expecting?
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Darren Adams Managing Director, ChaosTrend8 years ago
They used to have holodecks in the 60's, but back then they called it Acid. :D
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Andrew Jakobs Lead Programmer 8 years ago
what will be a real holodeck propably a couch with a headset which directly manipulates your brain, like when you are asleep.
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People are willing to splash out for a new thing, as long as that new thing is thought to by the vast majority who try it to be worth the expense, ie if its good enough people will buy it, actually Star Trek Voyager answered the question to the likely "real" holodeck when it had that holodeck chip which you attached to the side of your neck and experienced it all in your head. It was in the episode with the 2nd Fed ship later on.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Alexander McConnell on 31st July 2013 7:04pm

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Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 8 years ago
I've been saying this for years. It's an expensive pipe dream at best. I think the Rift will be the way to go, but even that's not flawless of an experience in its current format. If anything, it'll be too expensive for the masses and would make a great exhibit in a theme park if done right. But at home, having a dedicated space will be out of the means of many (unless it's something like wearable tech).

I say just go the hell outside and play with a postcard taped to your forehead of any place you want. It's cheap, you'll get people talking and hell, at least when you get hit by a car when wearing that gear, it won't get stolen as you're sprawled out in the street...
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Paul Johnson Managing Director / Lead code monkey, Rubicon Development8 years ago
Lot of people here using the word "active" but that's the one thing these gadgets will never fix. The main problem with "being" an orc in an rpg level is that the field runs for three miles but the room you're in runs for three yards. For me it's all about the movement, not even the lack of solid objects.
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Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 8 years ago
@Paul: DING! You win this topic. That's something I've tried to articulate in conversation, but people tend to get glassy rose-eyed and hard of hearing when it comes to not letting me pop that dream bubble. Walking in place or going on rails is an illusion (and deal) breaker after a few waves of me-too experiences pop up that are basically the same idea in a different skin.

THAT said, this would work if you had, say... a huge empty warehouse or empty studio set (with modular flooring that would suggest assorted terrain changes) where you can set up a "holodeck" where people would pay to put on goggles and gear and run around a pretend scenario (as seen through those goggles). Hell, even Star Trek resorted to sets for their fake version of the future...
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Petter Solberg Freelance Writer & Artist, 8 years ago
One of the biggest challenges is not to create av FPS simulator for the masses, as most potential players have not been in battle and would not be able to compare the simulation to the real thing. One of the most difficult things to do, is create a realistic experience about real life events that most people players would be able to relate to. Until you can tell the player to smell the flowers and actually let them smell the flowers, so-called realism is miles away.

Actually, as FPS games become more detailed and evolve, I start to wonder about the future of the genre. Most people I know play these games to have fun. If someone were able to crack the code of seamless realism, where would the fun end and the terror begin? Who wants to be part of a real war anyway? If we ever reach that point, I'd rather move on to a game experience that could actually improve my life experience in some way.
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Tim Ogul Illustrator 8 years ago
With the Rift, you could make a holodeck today, at least functionally, it would just be large and expensive to make. I assume that's what the people in the picture are trying to do. It's fairly easy, we have the AV interface for it in the Rift, so that's one hurdle down (so long as you have a rig to keep the cables in check). The controls wouldn't be that hard to do, just costly. We do it all the time, it's called "real-time mo-cap." You just put a realtime mo-cap rig together like they use in the movies, and that's the interface. Even the Kinect can do that to some degree, although your room to move would be limited.

That set-up would deliver a functioning holodeck, in which you perceived an artificial world through at least two of your senses (touch would be the hardest to fake), and i which your every movement would cause equivalent interactions in the world. The only problem there is that you could not work in a room bigger than the one you're actually in (it might be possible to magnify things a bit so that a 3ft stride would carry your character 8ft, but that might be disorienting for minimal gain. Any bigger than that and you'd be bumping into walls. Treadmills could be used, you could actually make a corridor dungeon kind of game fairly easily be leading players from treadmill to treadmill set in the floor, but it is certainly a clunky solution. The sort of "baby jumper" rigs that have been discussed to suspend you just off the floor would probably be necessary for larger worlds to be controlled using the body.

But anyways, too expensive, not commercial, at least not any time soon.

That said, while I don't think there will be a Rift in every home, I do think availability will grow. It is a peripheral, but it's practically a console unto itself, opening up tons of unique game experiences (if fairly rudimentary at the moment), and enhancing many others to a degree far larger than the jump from the current console generation to the next is offering. I don't expect anyone to make a AAA game that is ONLY on the Rift at the moment, but I think it'd be foolish for any AAA devs to not have people toying with adapting their interfaces to make it work in their games, at least as best they can without otherwise harming the product for non-Rift consumers, and I would not be at all shocked to see a AAA game within the next five years that's designed to be ideal on a Rift, if perhaps also playable using other hardware.
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Murray Lorden Game Designer & Developer, MUZBOZ8 years ago
Pitfall #1: Do people really want VR, AR or Holodeck enough to buy a peripheral to experience it?

I think people will buy the Oculus Rift (I'm addressing the Oculus Rift in particular in my response, as it's here and now, and I think it's effective, and a great first step).

There's a lot of people who want a new experience, and games are getting old and tired. When first person shooters came into existence in the mid 90's, I wanted to play them all. Because they were new, they offered a new type of experience. Now they bore me.

Oculus Rift excites me, and I'm excited to see new sorts of games (or new gameplay mechanics at least) come out of it.

As was mentioned in the GAMBIT Looking Glass Podcasts (can't remember which one), back in the 90's, computer gamers were enthusiasts, excited to see a game try something exciting, and maybe even fail trying, but to try something new. (May have been Austin Grossman speaking about Trespasser, or someone talking about Underworld).

I think there's still a massive amount of buying consumers who want to see these experiments, these steps forward, and I think the Oculus Rift is doing a good job to reach a price point where it can hit a very large number of players. (Exactly how far that reach will go is hard to guess, and I suppose that's what your point was saying).

For me, I want to get one just to give me a new sense of interest and excitement in computer games. I've lost interested in them as a player, to a large extent. And yes, maybe it's through a rose colored Oculus Rift that I look forward to a new experience in gaming, and a new flavour of content from them. But even now, having only tried the Oculus briefly, it has gotten me excited, and got me thinking about new ideas as a developer and as a hungry (albeit starved) consumer.

Personally, I'd love to see some adventure / exploration games with the Oculus, as it can make simple tasks richer. I really liked the Tuscany demo, even though it's just a small tranquil house on the edge of a lake. I can imagine inhabiting such spaces, and not needing to shoot things, but focussing more on story, exploration, examination -> rich music, sound effects, art, script).

Pitfall #2: How do you control this crazy thing?

I don't think the Holodeck concept is very practical. Not in the short term, perhaps not at all. I agree there.

But I do think the Hydra controllers are a very good step in the right direction. I've seen them put to good use, even picking up and flicking through the pages of a book.

I say, let the player generally sit and use another controller that suits the game, whether it be mouse and keyboard, or an Xbox controller, or two Hydra controllers (one for each hand).

Have you used an Oculus Rift, Warren? There's something rather compelling about it. Just the experience of "looking around" to look around, is very good, and it's 3D and "surround" in a way that a monitor obviously isn't.

If they can get a good, solid piece of equipment out, for a cheap cost, I think Oculus Rift are providing a very solid and worthwhile first step towards VR. They're not trying to make a Holodeck. They're providing a platform to build upon. The Hydra integrates with it really well. Other devices can come along and augment the feature set, or better it. I'm really pleased with where it's all going, and I'm excited to make and play more Oculus Rift games, and other AR/VR technologies.

You raise the idea of joining the gym instead! I think that's a valid point. I hear that gyms are now offering devices somewhat like arcade machines, where you might sit on an exercise bike, in front of a large screen, and ride up and down mountain tracks and such. Great idea. I have some ideas along those lines too, but a bit more fantastic. I guess machines like that can be custom built to suit the purpose, and probably cost a lot to make.

I guess at the end of the day, AR/VR games using technology such as an Oculus Rift paired with a more traditional controller can work great, if they accept the set of limitations inherent to the technologies. Remember that computer games over the past 30 years have done exactly that. We don't walk up to characters in the most advanced AAA games and start a casual conversation with them, using our voice and subtle facial inflections, do we? Because a keyboard/mouse/monitor/current-tech-software is absolutely useless at providing that simulation. So developers have stabbed around trying to do conversation trees, etc, etc, but just because we are lousy at simulating conversations doesn't mean that the mouse/keyboard/monitor paradigm has failed. It just means that games focus on other gameplay elements, like shooting, jumping, driving.

I agree that the Holodeck doesn't make much sense without some sort of direct brain link up. Which, you know, doesn't seem very likely to happen any time soon.

But I think the new peripherals and technologies that are HERE NOW, are exciting, and work well, and priced to penetrate the market effectively, and will offer a new depth to experiences that already exist, and some new opportunities and ideas are already springing out of it, some fairly conservative, and fingers crossed, some quite innovative, surprising, and effecting. I hope! :)

Some examples I thought were cool to see what people are doing with the technologies...

HydraDeck: A Cover Based Shooter

Hydra hands demo at Tuscany - books, basketball, etc

Crashland (This one doesn't have much going on, it's just cool in a Trespasser way! Haha.)

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Murray Lorden on 1st August 2013 9:32am

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Interesting to see this sector grow - though I would say that this is more part of the digital out-of-home entertainment (DOE) industry, than the consumer sector. It is a factor in why we started the DNA Association to support the growth of these new approaches to public-space play, and the new venue based systems such as the hoped holodeck.
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Murray Lorden Game Designer & Developer, MUZBOZ8 years ago
Further to my point about "making games that fit the technology", it seems like games that are based in a cockpit work great for the Rift, because you're sitting down, facing fowards, with about 180 degrees of head movement, as if you were in a cockpit. You use other controllers to move your vehicle, such as flight sticks, hydra etc. So as computer games have done for decades, playing into the strengths of the format seems to help with the VR/AR gear.

Here's someone talking through War Thunder, a flying game. You get an idea by watching it how much more realistic and immersive it is to be able to sit in a cockpit, and look around completely freely, while still having full freedom with your hands to use your controllers.

Gameplay starts around 3:30.

I suppose it's got an element of "amusement arcades", just with the wow factor. But I think these things are really taking things to the next level.

How many people will actually buy them is hard to say, as you've stated. But I think their mark is already pretty huge, and they're not going to get any less popular. More and more developers and players (especially enthusiasts) seem to be jumping on the bandwagon every day.

And remember, computer games themselves started off as an enthusiast-only activity. Because it was strange to own a computer! :)
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if doing things in a VR/AR/Hdeck world is harder than it is with the tried and true of a controller refined over decades of use, what use is a Holodeck at all?
Similarly why would you buy a games console, peripherals, games, perform character setup, select your save game storage then spend your time manually controlling every movement of your character, when you could just pick up a book and turn the page every couple of minutes? The answer is "Immersion". It's a more immersive experience if in order to hit a monster with a sword, you have to stand and hit the monster with a sword as opposed to sitting down and pressing a button.

The thing to remember is that as the technology develops, they way you play and interact with it also has to develop. The main hurdle I see with AR/HD dreams is tactile feedback. Until you have that, it's little more than a glorified Kinect.
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Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing 8 years ago
There are already two places in the world which cover 99% of all used case scenarios of commercial holodeck while being cheaper than any holodeck in the foreseeable future. They are called a brothel and a shooting range.

Besides, why would you try and create an external simulation of reality to be perceived by existing human perception "hardware", when there is a whole world of direct neural interfaces to discover. Holodeck sounds nice, but my money is on live feed experience implants.

I know Kung-Fu.
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Tim Ogul Illustrator 8 years ago
I just had an idea, and peripheral makers, if you can do this, go right ahead, but basically a very simple body tracker device for use with these full immersion headsets. The goal would be to make it so that you could use a mouse and keyboard without losing tack of either, and the way to two this would be two simple watchband devices, a small device that attaches to the keyboard, and a small tag that sticks onto the mouse. The device on the keyboard could tell the relative distance to the mouse tag and wrist tags, and so you would calibrate it by placing your hands at a set position (like over asd and jkl), and then it would know more or less where your hands are at all times. Then, either through the game software or through an overlay mod, there could be a button or something that comes from the wrist band to where your thumb could reach it, and when you press the button, you see some sort of ghost interface pop up that shows a virtual keyboard and mouse, and your virtual hands in relation to them, so that if you misplace either you can see how to get back without having to fumble around too much or remove the glasses. Based on similar devices I think the whole rig could be made fairly cheaply
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Ivan Sulic Director of Marketing & Corporate Communications, Perfect World Entertainment8 years ago
Fun article!

Four points I'd like to comment on:

"Who wants to learn a whole new way of experiencing and interacting with a virtual world?"

Everyone, actually.

At first, they will be the very same people who purchased initial commercial radios... Then comic books. Then televisions. Then videogame systems.

Eventually, the rest of us will jump on-board.

Humanity has consistently proven itself compelled to seek out and learn new ways of experiencing and interacting with fiction / virtual worlds / general escapism. Since comfort surpassed survival as a species imperative, it might be one of the few things we can be absolutely counted on for.

"Players who buy early can end up broke (yeah, I'm looking at all you Apple Newton owners out there)."

Sure (I bought a 3DO). But, Newton didn't stop the iPhone or iPad.

This is a strange statement. The product evolution is apparent. It also seems like it could have been made after any poor launch, but before a successor saved the day. For example, make a similar statement after Atari nearly ruined the games industry, but before Nintendo ushered in the era of the NES.

Buyer beware always applies, naturally, but that attitude does not determine the success or viability of future product.

We cannot discount the possibility of there being commercial aircraft just because the first fixed-wing powered flight lasted three seconds and crashed after a stall, nor can we discount the possibility of there being commercial spaceflight because it was previously impossible and currently prohibitively expensive.

"In my book, when you require a peripheral "purchased separately," as they say in the commercials, you always lose."

A Holodeck is not a peripheral. It's a medium.

Think about Kinect. It was a peripheral (but still enjoyed success). Now what is it? Or, think about rumble. Starfox 64 brought it to consoles as a peripheral. Now it's a part of our experience -- an extension of the medium that allows us to better interact and enjoy virtual worlds.

Step 0.5 may be a peripheral like the Rift, aye. But it's a necessary step to achieve step 66 -- the Holodeck of 2244 that now features 100% less cancer!

Also, we don't need a separate peripheral to play Halo (we love that gamepad)... But we do need an Xbox. It's OK to accept an Xbox as a non-peripheral viable medium for attaining greater degrees of escapism, just as it's OK to accept the Holodeck.

"...what about the interface between user and device?"
Let your imagination go! In VR, I can race, fly, mech-fight, or space dogfight. Wonderful!

With a Holodeck, the nature of the medium is such that it adapts to an author's vision. If I am intended to fly, I shall. If I am intended to cast spells, I shall. Enjoying a Holodeck experience is not inherently akin to doing P90-X in fantasy-land. You ask, "How many people really want to swing a sword for 5-10 (or 100) hours?" I ask, 'How many people want to play pong for 100 hours?'

Games evolve as mediums do. Provide our creative geniuses with a Holodeck and they won't give you 100 hours of Pong or 10 hours of swinging swords.
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