The Experience of Oculus Rift

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I bumped into Captain Oculus, a relatively new resident of Second Life©, a few weeks ago. We chatted about this and that and also about Oculus Rift and it immediately became apparent that he was quite taken by it. We agreed that he would write about the experience using Oculus Rift visiting a Second Life location (I provided him with a few choices) and I would then post his write-up here. So, as promised a while ago, below please find the guest blogger Captain Oculus’ contribution. And thanks Mister Oculus for sharing your thoughts on this blog!

A Brief Look at Stylistic Choices and Their Effects Inside the Oculus Rift Development Kit 2,

by Captain Oculus

My Second Life name is Captain Oculus and I am a Software Developer who spends free time in Second Life with the Oculus Rift Developer Kit 2 (DK2). I am not affiliated with Oculus, Facebook, or Linden Labs in any way, and merely provide a third party opinion about various things in the virtual reality. Having spent nearly seven months in Second Life, I was running low on places to visit and wanted to see something new. I volunteered my services to this blog and was given a list of places to experience. I say experience because if a place I visit is compelling enough to etch a lasting memory, or convince me that I am somewhere else (in virtual reality this is referred to as presence), it is worthy of being described as an actual experience I had, and not simply “this place or thing I saw on the internet one time.” My first visit was to Memento Mori. While programming and computer sciences are ultimately my bread and butter, I have also taken a full year of traditional Art History at the University of Cincinnati via the College of Design Art Architecture and Planning (DAAP). Also of note, I grew up during what is considered the golden renaissance of video games. A game that I remember from my teenage years was the survival horror classic, Resident Evil. My opinion of the franchise is irrelevant; but what is important is the feeling I remember having of being ALONE in the environment. Memento Mori was unpopulated at the time of my walkthrough, and this brought back those same feelings deep in my core. I was alone. The music of the environment also helps set the mood. There is a piano playing in the background but not in a traditional sense. Meaning, that there isn’t a song or melody, just notes being struck on the keys; almost at random, but with enough thought to create an almost anxious ambiance. To describe it in terms perhaps more familiar to film, the music is less like the piano tune from the film Halloween but certainly not upbeat by any stretch of the word. It’s a tad eerie, and I loved it.

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If heaven does indeed have a stairway; it probably looks just like this. 

Upon initial teleportation, I waited a few moments to allow the scene to finish rendering. Even with a strong PC running dual SLI, the user must be patient. As with many of the places I’ve been in SL, if you give the computer just a minute or two to catch up it will be well worth the wait. At one point I looked over my shoulder in the hopes of seeing something to break the immersion. When I did that, it only affirmed my original assumption that I had in fact died and was facing the only direction to go. Up.

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As a Real Life pilot I can confirm the clouds seemed more than believable. The relative velocity between the building and the clouds was on par with my expectations. Very cool effect. (looking over right shoulder; arms crossed)

It was only until I started moving my head to look at the massive vertical pillars did I catch something that seemed to distract from the immersion. Most everyone has seen optical illusions of stationary lines that appear to shift and move around. There is a famous still image that creates the illusion that the picture is boiling. This can happen in virtual reality and unfortunately, it is extremely distracting. It’s not the fault of the artist; it is inherent to the technology and is only prevalent with closely spaced vertical lines. It doesn’t happen horizontally (stairs in green) only vertically (pillars in yellow). The creators of virtual worlds can combat this by spacing things out just enough. If the work demands these vertical lines be close together; i.e. pillars, trees, construction beams, then the particular angle at which they are viewed should be considered very carefully. Yes, it matters that much and should not be overlooked. The screenshot below cannot demonstrate the flicker effect, but a simple web search for optical illusions of moving lines will show the problem easily.

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This was the immersion breaker. Once reaching the top of the stairs, the effect went away for obvious reasons.

After climbing the stairway I took a moment to catch my virtual breath and view the new surroundings. In virtual reality, the user is ill-advised from cam-panning with the mouse to truly appreciate artwork or environment, they must use natural human instincts of looking around with their head. It is impossible to convey the feeling a person can get from properly scaled buildings. Virtual reality today no longer represents looking at a tiny screen ten feet in front of you, often referred to as the window effect. It is a (nearly) entire field of view experience that tracks your head movements. These experiences now presented stereoscopically, leverage scale and lighting to create highly credible situations. You’re no longer looking through a window to a new world; you’re placed directly inside it. I’ve noticed that Second Life affords the user as much vertical real-estate as desired on a parcel. My advice: Scale! Scale! Scale!

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This image shows how beautiful depth can be when done correctly.

The use of light to create both highlights and shadows portrays depth in such a natural way. It adds depth and character to the environment driving normal human curiosity. I wanted to know what civ built this, and when. The tools they used to build it, and perhaps how many generations it took. In virtual environments, once the human brain gets past the obstacle of “this isn’t real. I am not here” to a more natural mind-set like “where is here, and who built this” presence truly takes over. Feeding curiosity can work to the artist’s advantage. As can be seen in the image above, there is something at the end of the aisle, and resting at the altar. What is it? Let’s go find out! As luck would have it, the user is presented with an absolutely jaw-dropping rendition of a grand piano. The creator understood that the use of flat bump textures to simulate depth just wouldn’t do here. Each key, appears to have been sculpted individually. I wanted to reach out and touch them. I walked around the piano, trying to find where the sound was coming from. I spent a solid 15 minutes tilting my head and neck, and crouching underneath to see every inch of this gorgeous masterpiece. I could practically smell the hard rock maple.

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This is the source of the mysterious soundtrack that sets the tone of the cathedral.

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Again, the use of depth and light make this ordinary piano much more dramatic.

The use of depth and light in correct proportion can add serious credibility to your scene in virtual reality. I’ve stated it numerous times, and this is probably due to the fact that I’ve seen a lot of folks unfortunately get it wrong. This cathedral portrays depth and light in a way that your brain wants to accept it.

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Fortunately this Captain is not afraid of heights. I’ve spoken with individuals who do get the uneasy feeling associated with heights while using the Rift. I should bring them here.

Bump map textures are not the way to create depth in virtual reality. This is counter-intuitive of how computer graphics have traditionally been created for gaming over the last 20 years. That being the case, this cathedral showcases just how brilliant and beautiful a structure can be with simple textures and traditional (proper) 3d modeling of details. It will take a workhorse of a machine to authentically render this experience. I understand my situation is not typical, but I am a pioneer of virtual reality.

To summarize my experience inside Memento Mori in one word I would most definitely use the word credible. This may seem like quite a down-play of the magnificence described above, but when you really take a moment to consider what a label like credible means for something that is completely fictitious, it’s a very high mark. A place to visit that can be considered believable in virtual reality has to have so many subtle (and not so subtle) things correct for your brain to simply let go of the illusion. If some of you out there are reading this and own an Oculus Rift, I suggest paying a visit to Memento Mori the next time you log in. It will be an experience that you will not forget.

Photographs by Captain Oculus

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