Classic Retro Video Game Blog

8 Bit Central - Retro Gaming Blog

March 2014 Retro Gaming Article

March 27, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

Virtual Reality needs standards. Facebook & Oculus Rift are tiny cogs in what VR emergence requires

Oculus Rift is the latest generation of accessory to come along and stir up interest in Virtual Reality (VR) - again. Over the decades we've seen various glasses, goggles and head-mounted displays (HMD) come along with the notion of doing away with TVs, monitors and joysticks. That has yet to happen, and each resurgence of VR excitement neglects to look beyond the current hardware.

Vectrex 3D Imager Virtual Reality is not a head-mounted display. It's not a series of interconnected monitors displaying a panoramic view. It's not a pair of calibrated gloves or a forced feedback device that thumps you in the chest when you bump into a virtual object. It is not an audible "cluck" in a headset when your calibrated glove slaps a virtual chicken.

Virtual Reality is a concept, an idea, a non-existent place. It's different things to different people. I believe the standard definition is... Virtual Reality is something real or imagined that is generated by a computer. Whether I "believe in" what I'm seeing/hearing has to do with the quality of the virtual experience. If I watch a first-person perspective of someone walking on a beach in Maui, I might get a sense of what it's like to vacation there, but at no time do I forget that I'm sitting on my couch with a bag of Cheetos.

Sega VR head-mounted display A promotional DVD from Walt Disney World will show you some of Disney's best attractions and a camera mounted on the front of a roller coaster might generate a thrill, but it won't replace a Disney vacation because from the corner of my eye, I notice a wilting plant that I've forgotten to water.

A HMD, like Oculus Rift, is primarily designed to shield my real view while offering up a digitized alternative. The premise is the same for audible cues. A headset providing the sound of crashing waves might enhance that Maui visual more than the mechanical clunk as my washing machine changes cycles in the next room.

The term 'immersion' is used a lot when discussing VR. A HMD replaces local visuals. A headset replaces nearby sounds. Can we be far from Smell-o-vision and possibly a small tab on our tongue to reinforce the reality that chocolate ice cream tastes like chocolate?

Sony VR head-mounted display But Virtual Reality isn't about sitting around with a HMD strapped to your head like a TV. Virtual Reality is interactive and full of discovery. That computer generated place isn't a picture - it's 3D. So, lets go explore it!

We began to see how gyroscopes work. Turn your head to the left and your field of view shifts to the left. Did you ever try one of those VR maze games at the mall-arcade in the 90s? Turning your head made you turn and tilting let you look up or down a flight of stairs.

That seemed pretty cool until you realize your neck hurts because you're not an owl and your eyes do more tracking than your head. This also parlays into why most mobile robots have wheels, not feet. It's easier to roll and track head-motion than track retina-motion and articulate toes.

Caught in a Rift

This is my reasoning for why Virtual Reality has never caught on and become a standard. The first reason is right there - there is NO standard. People can't even agree on what VR is let alone come up with baselines, standards and some conformity. As cool as Oculus Rift is, the developer kits went out so that folks could tweak their games to make use of it. Oculus Rift - like every other attempt to implant VR - is proprietary!

VR Would you buy a DVD player that only plays documentaries? How about a car that can't be driven on interstate highways? Would you buy a cell phone that could only call and communicate with Motorola devices? Would you buy a television that only displayed NBC programming?

So, I'm guessing you won't buy a Virtual Reality system that only plays Oculus Rift games. Therein lies the challenge. It's easy to say that people buy a PS4 on which to play PS4 games, but Virtual Reality is a much broader than just gaming. Gaming is only one use for this concept/technology.

The customer-base for a proprietary HMD/platform isn't large enough to inspire Virtual Reality as a standard that manufacturers will build hardware to support and media companies will design software around. A HMD for gaming is so small in focus that calling it VR tends to skew perception of what Virtual Reality is.

So often we hear about technology and communication limitations, processor speeds and resolution issues. OK. what happens when technology catches up with our VR dreams? Lets not forget how disastrous the DVD standard once was. After nullifying Laserdisc's viability, two hi-def DVD formats arrived - HD and Blu-ray. There were 3 types of hardware - all of which were incompatible with both new formats. And don't forget Circuit City's foray into adding a modem for their truly bizarre pay-per-view DVD model - also proprietary. Thankfully that was straightened out.

VR Virtual Reality will be susceptible to the same divisions and issues if standards are created by a free-for-all marketplace where the first-to-market rules the roost until they're unseated. I went from Beta to VHS to Laserdisc to DVD. Many of us made that progressive trek - among others (LP - 8-track - cassette - CD - MP3). Should we devise another technology to send down that miserable path?

VR is wide open and has the potential to attract a myriad of different uses that could create job markets we haven't even considered. Labeling a single entry into this field as "Virtual Reality" is like examining the Transportation Industry via the Honda Civic while ignoring all other models, manufacturers, trucks, trains, planes, ships, distribution networks, highway & rail construction, etc...

It's important to be able to see the trees through the forest, but we can't label a few trees a forrest. The Oculus Rift is really cool, but it's a small entry in what needs to be a much larger field - Virtual Reality. Gaming is only one use of Virtual Reality.

« Return to the main Retro Gaming Blog 2014