There is a way to make dreams come true, and that is virtual reality. This week, I had my first chance to try out the Oculus Rift, where I became a Jedi using the Sixense STEM System, as well as the SeeBright AR headset and the recently funded NimbleVR NimbleSense (spoiler alert: yes, I totally backed them!)
Several weeks ago, I stumbled across the Silicon Valley Virtual Reality meetup group and immediately RSVP-ed to their 15th meetup, conveniently located just two miles away from my apartment and scheduled for this past week. I set out with determination, headed to Coder Dojo, and arrived just as the doors were opening for the line of people who had begun forming outside of the back room. I was immediately awestruck by the number of demos people had managed to fill the room with and my attention was grabbed by a guy wearing an Oculus Rift running a demo based on my favorite movie series of all-time.
I must have looked as amazed as I felt, because as soon as he was done with the demo, he turned and asked if I wanted to try it. I have to say – my first experience with the Oculus Rift was definitely an awesome one. The lightsaber controls used the two controllers that I was holding (see image above) and it genuinely felt like I was training in force combat. I didn’t notice any motion sickness, but I did get a pretty solid adrenaline rush every time I failed to defend myself from the lasers and wound up a little dizzy afterwards due to the all spinning I was doing (probably optional – I just got really into it). I had the most ridiculous grin on my face the entire time: I was actually getting to feel what Luke felt in the first Star Wars movie!
On a scale of 1 – the most awesome thing I’ve ever seen in a video game, this comes pretty close to being the best.
What I loved about SVVR is that everyone there was really fucking excited about virtual reality. At meetups that I’ve been to before, people were interested but also half paying attention to their laptop, only there for free swag – here, everyone seemed so excited about VR that the entire room had an energy about it that really seemed to embody the passion of the people there. I was promptly sucked into a discussion about an augmented reality headset that Seebright is working on, and got to see a prototype of it that seemed really promising for a hybrid virtual/physical world. I was two demos in and we hadn’t even really gotten started! At seven the talks kicked off and I found myself hanging on to all of it – there is some really cool stuff in the pipeline!
I was really bummed out that the first project I pledged to back, the Dexta Robotics F2 exoskeleton haptic feedback glove, had pulled their Kickstarter, but I had ended up backing the Nimble Sense when I saw the benchmark it published against the Leap Motion Controller (another REALLY COOL demo that I got to see at last month’s HTML5 meetup) and I had a chance this week to see the Nimble Sense in action and give it a test run.
Even though it’s in it’s infancy, the Nimble Sense was surprisingly intuitive and worked pretty well with the demos they had set up – it was really mind boggling to see how well my brain was able to convince itself that my hands were there in the VR environment – though there were still a few kinks that will likely need to be worked out before Nimble Sense hits production. The depth mapping they use tends to get a little wonky if you move your hands in a fist too rapidly, and occasionally other objects become mapped as another input if they enter the field that the camera picks up. Despite hitting their funding goal already (way to go, guys!) there are still 34 days left on Kickstarter, so check it out if you want to grab one of the early units to play with!
Robert Wang, the CEO of Nimble VR, gave some insight into the product and showed a demo of how it worked. He was followed by Thibaut Weise and Doug Griffin of FaceShift, a company that does 3D modeling for facial tracking software, who talked about their latest tools for recognizing expressions and showed off some really cool demonstrations of how their software used the depth camera mounted to the top of a laptop to do real-time mapping to an animated character. We also got a chance to hear from Nicholas DiCarlo, Samsung’s Vice-President of Immersive Technologies & Virtual Reality, about the Samsung Developer Conference next week (which I cannot WAIT for!) and got a few other updates from various other companies from around the room.
I am already counting down the days until the next meetup. It was just honestly that good.
As these things often tend to do, the SVVR meetup inspired me to continue my new passion to learn useful VR skills and I have started a new Unity project! My Christmas experience project has been put on hold in favor of something a bit more… magical (hint hint).
Stay tuned for more info, including a step by step follow along of how I’m making my game!