Sometimes life presents one with an opportunity you do not expect. Last December I was meeting for a pre-Christmas lunch with Ben Murnane, who edited my book Age of Angels.
Age of Angels is about a computer game called Fallen Angel which everyone in the world is playing. The trouble is that the game is secretly created by Lucifer, the Fallen Angel!
Fallen Angel, the computer game, is also fully immersive. Once you put on your headset you are 100% in the virtual reality of the game. I set it in the future as fully immersive gaming is still some way off being developed to a level where it is commercially viable.
Imagine my surprise then, when we visited the Science Gallery after Christmas lunch to find that people were wondering around in headsets playing a fully submersive game! We discovered that we had walked right into the Holodeck Project, put together by a visiting team from the University of Southern California, one of the world’s leading private research universities, and located in the heart of Los Angeles.
Soon Ben and I had donned our headsets and were tottering about with our virtual light sabres, trying to inflict as much damage as possible on one another. As I suffer from mild vertigo and was soon trying to stop myself falling over; but as I was in a virtual world there was nothing “real” to hang onto! I had to just tough it out.
After the game I mopped my brow and had a word with two of the guiding lights behind the Holodeck Project: James Lliff and Nathan Burba. I asked James what the fully immersive experience had over computer games played on the conventional flat screen.
‘The major plus of a fully immersive virtual experience is often referred to as “sense of presence” – that’s how we feel completely embodied within a virtual environment, and completely removed from our natural environment.’
James believes a computer monitor can be compared to looking through a “window” into virtual reality – whereas a head-mounted display with motion tracking is like being inside the virtual reality itself.
‘Technically speaking, a screen generally offers you between 25° to 40° field-of-view (FOV),’ he said, ‘whereas a head-mounted display can offer 110°+ FOV, giving you peripheral vision.’
Apparently the human eyeball sees in 180° generally, so the closer you get to that with optics the more immersive the experience.
But how away far are we from buying these headsets on the high street? James is optimistic,
‘The Oculus RIft developer kits are shipping in March 2013, with a consumer version hitting the market later that year. So that’s pretty soon! As far as fully embodied VR with motion tracking, in addition to the head-mounted display, I would guess 2014 to early 2015.’
Below is an interview about the Holodeck Project shot at the University of Southern California. Check it out – you will see just how cool this game and these dudes really are!