The Oculus Rift Experience Continues

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A few months ago I published in this blog a post by guest blogger Captain Oculus, who provided us with a report on his experience using Oculus Rift at Memento Mori. By popular demand, Mister Oculus is now back with a write-up from a recent visit at the Petrovsky Flux sponsored by Spencer Museum of Art. Enjoy.

Recently, I had the opportunity to visit the Spencer Museum of Art sim. I had done no previous research or reading on this location, and was taken by surprise when I teleported there from the system map. After touchdown I performed my usual Oculus Rift checklist; ensuring the computer system has had ample time to load my surroundings. The “landing pad” as I refer to * (SL spawn points) faced me at many flying and floating objects that seemed to have audio attached to them as well. My setup for enjoying things in the Oculus Rift defaults most of my settings. I believe that the windlight feature of many viewers is not what the artist intends, and therefore I revert to defaults whenever appropriate. Often time, I am pleased with tone set by artists’ intentions.

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In my normal operation of events, I gave the environment time to properly render before wandering about. A quick feature that can help newcomers to Second Life in the virtual reality is the hotkey for Statistics for Windows it is Control+Shift+1. This will show many different statistics but the two most important ones are sim fps and basic render fps. Included within the Oculus SDK Best Practices Guide, frames per second should be the most important factor to keep track of both as an end-user, and a content developer. The maximum fps of ANY sim in SL is 45 fps, and there is nothing that can boost that number. The rendering process of your machine and settings used in SL, however is the responsibility of the user. My largest concern for the general public unfamiliar with these best practices, is that they do not adjust their graphics settings to accommodate VR. The Oculus Rift Development Kit 2 (DK2 here forth) has a screen refresh rate of 75 Hz, and it is in the best interest of the user to adjust graphics settings to hit that mark. To ignore this number will cause nausea almost instantaneously. Why? It is because your vestibular system (balance) needs the eyes to help calculate what the body should expect to experience. The human head is capable of some surprisingly high rotational speed measured in arcs per second. If the monitor drops below what the head is capable of at a bare minimum; somewhere around the 36 fps mark, even I will usually remove myself from the Rift and grab a glass of water. I’m extremely pleased to report this experience did not suffer from this problem. Again, it helps to allow the scene to render post-rez.

image3DING! – We should pay attention to Framerates! 

After drifting around the resurrection point to allow for loading without much of a plan, the body begins to do what it does naturally and so I began to explore my surroundings. I would like to give two big thumbs up to Kate Bergdorf for providing me with these fantastic opportunities. We’ve all heard the expression “when pigs fly” well during my visit to the Spenser Museum of Art, I was surprised to find that in the SL universe this actually can happen. The virtual reality is as much of an audio experience as it is a visual one, in my humble opinion. The sounds coming from this place were that of a factory or meat processing plant, minus the graphic details from the animals (slaughterhouse). My guess is that these pigs found fanpacks to escape certain doom. As a pilot, I applaud their efforts.

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My time with the pig was momentary, as it was making a bee-line for anywhere far away from this processing plant. It wasn’t until I began to put this write-up together that I noticed the ability to convey something truly marvelous about the virtual reality that this picture should help demonstrate. When a view is looking at my example screenshots from an experience, there are a number of different things that have happened that make the image different than the one I originally perceive. This isn’t an accident, it is yet again, due to hardware and the major reason that the virtual reality “works” this time as opposed to it’s birth in the early 90’s.

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What I have tried to explain with this modified image is that my example screenshots do not portray to a 2D audience a field of view effect. Studying the basics of anatomy and optics, one will quickly find that the eye only truly focuses sharply at the center of view. It’s dramatically smaller than I anticipated. But then again, after seeing this image in 2D it reminded me of the fact; and I thought it should be brought to the attention of the virtual world enthusiasts. What I have attempted to do with the green mask is show two effects at the same time. The first is that only the item a user views in VR at the center of field of view will be in sharp focus. The items spanning out radially from there the brain defocuses. This is the fault of the human eye; do not take this up with virtual world makers. The other thing I wanted to show is the 2D image doesn’t portray how many arcs or degrees each portion consumes on your retina. So while the pig appears to the 2D viewer as being smaller than some of the debris, it actually takes up more of my field of view because I am focused on it. Do not confuse this with looking through a warp-lenses or an image of something underwater. It does not have that effect. It simply means, that the further out from the center of your eye a picture is render, the less dominance it has both focally, and physically. What is so wonderful about this effect is when a person in the virtual reality for the first time refocuses on a distant object. All items are rendered with equal focus by the computer, however if something is further away, the stereoscopic nature of the virtual reality set, causes your eyes and brain to rescan. It’s a truly remarkable effect, and it is one that I have carried with me since my very first virtual reality experience. A preflight checklist ensures a pilot looks down the wing to check his ailerons prior to take off. I looked off my right should and as I scanned down the right wing my eyes did what they do naturally. This blew me away beyond anything else I have done. Being here in the Spencer Museum of Art sim took me back to that magical time.

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Keeping a safe distance from objects in the virtual reality is another best practice that Oculus SDK touches on. This problem, however, falls more on the developers of experiences than it does on the end-user. Take for example this carnival tent. I have learned enough to know that I could walk through parts of the physics map, but doing so would likely end poorly for me. I don’t particularly have any other advice other than to scale your collision models larger than you deem appropriate if you wish to have a successful virtual reality experience; and read up on something called “clipping” in computer graphics.

I. Super Scripts or Animations (globe orbital procedure blocks):

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This orbital sphere and random generated boxes reminded me to check my framerates again. In my personal adventures in virtual reality SL, the order of framerate killers from highest to lowest are the following:

1. Avatars with Particles and Scripts
2. Avatars with Particles only (rare)
3. Avatars with Scripts
4. Avatars in field of view (less imposters than full animated legit)
5. Overly complex furniture (you know what I mean here)
a) Who can come up with 200 different ways to ‘lean’ on a table???? REALLY?!
6. Antiailisaing
7. Anisotropic Filtering and other lighting techniques
8. Draw Distance

Remember the flying pig conversation? Well, I was so very impressed with this rotating cake, the majority of my time was spent just staring at it in amazement. I couldn’t get away from it. I wanted to see if there was virtual grease keeping the gears lubed. I made sure to get as much of my field of view on it, while maintaining a safe viewing distance as discussed via the carnival tent. Each layer rotated counter to its neighbor and at a different speed. This is an example of a very good integration of scripting. It’s basic, it’s fun to look at, and it doesn’t induce low frames per second.

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After pulling myself away from the Steampunk Wedding Cake I stumbled upon this lovely object I will call a double-zeppelin. A virtual reality headset provides depth and perception in a way no 2D image can. These reviews are a constant reminder that no one can be told what the Matrix is, they just have to see it for themselves. But alas, I will continue on to bring the best description I can to the otherwise blind eye of the virtual reality.

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I thoroughly enjoyed my time at the Spencer Museum of Art sim. I do not know if Kate Bergdorf previews these areas for best practices prior to my arrival, but currently we are 2 for 2. 🙂  If you would like to be a responsible avatar in SL, please watch your script count. It is only in virtual reality that an image of something so beautiful has been able to make me physically sick to my stomach. Ironic, no?

Photographs by Captain Oculus

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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