Doom creator John Carmack thinks VR is due a comeback. Randy Lamberson dons the goggles and looks into our virtual future
Throughout the evolution of video games we have seen graphics go from two lines and a ball on the screen to what we see today: rich luscious environments and characters that are getting closer and closer to looking like real-life people. While graphics have changed the way we see games, they do little to change the experience of how we play games.
With the next-gen console hardware already on the horizon, we can expect the graphics to take another large step forward, but is this all that gaming can offer us in terms of evolution? id Software’s lead programmer John Carmack doesn’t seem to think so and in a recent interview with GamesIndustry International, he said he is “not all that excited” for next-gen hardware, but in fact wants to start pushing virtual reality headsets.
The creator of Doom, Carmack, says that while prettier graphics are nice, next-gen hardware will only let developers do everything they do now but “with the knobs turned up.” Carmack also pointed out that having the best graphics or processing power is not the key to victory and even went on to point out how Nintendo outsold the 360 and PS3 with a tenth of the processing power all because of the Wii’s unique motion controls. But just as motion controls aren’t looked upon favorably by many, VR will most likely have a large battle before it’s accepted by gamers.
When many think of the words virtual reality, they may think gimmick or even have a flashback of horrible red visuals and the headache that came along with it with Nintendo’s failed system Virtual Boy. But just as graphics have evolved so has gaming technology, which could mean VR is more plausible now.
Carmack has been working hard on his VR headsets and was on hand to show it off at this year’s E3. In GamesIndustry International interview, US editor James Brightman said, “The demo we tried was certainly impressive, and the goggles do track your head motions, mapped to the left analog aiming controls, pretty well. The downside is it’s a somewhat isolating experience.”
The demo was playable with a 360 controller, which was noted as strange by Brightman because Carmack said Microsoft hasn’t shown much interest, while Sony has. Carmack also told the website that he’s going to be talking with Valve next month about his VR headset.
The push Carmack has for VR came from a game close to his heart. “When we decided to re-issue Doom 3, the thought was ‘how do you interest people in an eight-year old title?’ The idea was that we had serious stuff, Microsoft and Sony are pushing the 3D TV stuff, but I’m still not a huge backer of that. It’s kind of neat, but it’s a toss-up if you want to play it, especially on a console where you have to deal with frame-rate.”
Is the Doom creator the only one interested in VR? Recently, a document about the rumored Xbox 720 was leaked. While Microsoft has not confirmed or denied the information, it did include an interesting feature: a section on VR glasses. Could Microsoft be heading towards VR as well? Well, the leaked document is now subject to agressive legal measures by Microsoft so only time will tell but if the tech giant does invest in the concept. And if history repeats itself, Sony and Nintendo will also want to create their own VR adaption to stay on the ever forward-moving chariot that is gaming.
What does VR mean to gamers and how will it change the way we experience games? To get the answer we first need to understand exactly what VR is. Webster’s Dictionary defines virtual reality as “an artificial environment that is experienced through sensory stimuli (as sights and sounds) provided by a computer and in which one’s actions partially determine what happens in the environment; also: the technology used to create or access a virtual reality.”
So, can we expect that when we strap on a headset or put on VR glasses our surrounding environments will change? Not physically, of course, but virtually yes. Can you imagine playing Dead Space but instead of focusing on your TV screen, Necromorphs are running around your living room as you fire virtual bullets at them. If not then you have probably been burned by different gaming gimmicks and maybe even VR in the past. But what if this were a possibility? Wouldn’t you like to have a conversation with Garrus from Mass Effect as he stands face to face with you in your living room?
VR can have more subtle applications. Most games have a HUD where you can see your health bar, bullets left in your gun, and so on. But what if the HUD was displayed on your VR glasses? Instead of obstructing the screen, your health bar could be as if it were floating under your TV, out of the corner of your eye, only to be seen when you focus on it. It could also add aiming reticles giving players the opportunity to shoot where they look rather than aim. The possibilities are endless but only if developers can finally turn VR into a successful device. Sure, it may take a couple generations, but so did motion controls, which are constantly evolving and getting better.
From pixels to polygons, from D-pads to Joysticks, from 2D to 3D, from TV to VR, there is no denying the fact that games and peripherals are constantly evolving. We live in an exciting time because we get to see how technology shapes the way we think and play. Whether you think it’s a gimmick or you love it, developers will always find new ways to give us unique experiences. It’s up to us individually to choose if we embrace it or reject it. Will VR be the next step in video games? Only time will tell but you better believe the evolution of games will never end.
Follow Randy on Twitter: @RandyOnP2R