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Oculus in "cloudy phase," aims to attract more content with new dev kit

Nate Mitchell discusses the "historic challenge" that Rift is facing

While Sony was preparing to launch its assault on the VR market at GDC with its new Morpheus headset, the folks at Oculus quietly made their next move, showcasing Development Kit 2 (DK2) to the media at a closed-door event. Pre-orders start today for $350 and the units are expected to ship on a first-come, first-serve basis starting in July. DK2 features a low persistence OLED Display, 6DOF (degrees of freedom) positional tracking and a resolution of 960x1080 per eye. GamesIndustry International sat down with CEO Brendan Iribe and vice president of product and co-founder Nate Mitchell to discuss DK2 and the road ahead for Oculus.

"This is a huge, massive leap forward in technology and in the virtual reality experience," boasted Iribe. "One of the really fundamental components is low persistence... What that means is the image persists on your eye for a short amount of time. Essentially it's this insanely high re-updating to your eye. What we found is that as you're moving around the image on your eye needs to be there for somewhere around 2-3 milliseconds, which is like 500Hz and is a little too fast for any given hardware. So there's actually a trick you can do with low persistence where you leave it on for 2-3 seconds and then you turn it off. And then you don't turn it back on until the image is fully updated. If you do that fast enough, you can eliminate flicker," Iribe explained.

"You're probably not going to forget that you have the DK2 on your face but you will with the consumer version"

Brendan Iribe

"With low persistence you eliminate motion blur and that's the big thing. Naturally you're just always moving around, your head is always moving. In DK1 while your head was moving the whole world blurs and it's very stressful and unnatural, but with low persistence you can just move around and it doesn't blur," he continued.

With DK2 Oculus is one step closer towards realizing its vision for a viable consumer VR product, but the company still isn't quite there. There are some technical upgrades on the way, but more importantly, the company simply must lock down more made-for-VR software.

"What we're showing here today is good enough for developers to make content that will be compatible with that consumer version. You're probably not going to forget that you have the DK2 on your face but you will with the consumer version," Iribe said hinting at a much improved form factor.

"We do still need content... we need the community and other developers to show up with really great content. And we need to give them the second developer kit and enough time to make great content. So [we will ship a consumer version] soon. I think Palmer [Luckey] has been quoted as saying if we haven't shipped by the end of 2015, then we know there's a problem. So it's sooner than that but we're not ready to say the exact date. It'll be worth the wait," Iribe added.

Mitchell was forthright in assessing the content conundrum. "I don't think we're there yet in terms of content. It's one reason DK2 is not the consumer product," he said. "If you bought it today and you go home, there's literally no software in existence today that works with DK2 except Oculus demos. So we are trying to get that pipeline set up; it's not just about launch content, it's about having content post-launch that continues to drive [players back to the platform]. It's a really big focus for us. It's a historic challenge. It's sort of the catch-22 of the industry. PS3 suffered for years because they just couldn't get AAA content on the platform. Once they got a ton of first-party stuff on the platform it made sense to get a PS3. We have to get it all lined up first. There's a bunch of great stuff in the pipeline, we're talking to everyone, there's an incredible amount of momentum, but I'd be lying if I said launch lineup is finalized and it's going to be awesome."

""How do you de-risk it? If there's no audience there's no one to sell your game to. And if there's no games, there's no audience"

Nate Mitchell

One way that Oculus is getting more content is by co-publishing certain games. Mitchell pointed to the indie scene as a vibrant one that's driving innovation in the VR space, but for many, the risk is still too high. "How do you de-risk it? If there's no audience there's no one to sell your game to. And if there's no games, there's no audience. We're helping to de-risk the situation with some of those guys and really get some great made-for-VR content out there that defines the platform and helps get people excited," Mitchell said.

He added that it's even tougher to convince AAA publishers: "On the AAA side there's less of a need for real publishing dollars because if you're an EA or an Activision you don't want Oculus really co-publishing because you're publishing. For them it's really about audience. Can we make an ROI and how big will it be? It's hard for EA or Activision to invest in VR so heavily right now when there's just 50,000 users to sell your game to."

Ultimately, Oculus needs its own "Wii Sports," a game or set of games that will truly sell the VR concept to the masses. If that happens, VR could take off. "Once you have the content and people experience it, they get it. Right now, we're in this very cloudy phase. You really need those experiences to help people understand - most people just can't suspend disbelief," Mitchell acknowledged.

The demos we played with at the press event were definitely fun and immersive in their own way. One simple demo put you in a virtual room with a coffee table in front of you. Characters with a sword and shield are placed on the table, and they are controllable for a multiplayer battle. By the time we finished the demo we had the instinct to actually put the controller down on the table... except that table doesn't exist in real life!

"That's a glimpse of the presence we're striving for. That's what we're trying to achieve 100 percent of the time with the Oculus Rift," Mitchell said with a grin.

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James Brightman

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James Brightman has been covering the games industry since 2003 and has been an avid gamer since the days of Atari and Intellivision. He was previously EIC and co-founder of IndustryGamers and spent several years leading GameDaily Biz at AOL prior to that.

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