Losing My VRginity to: View Master, Virtuality + VR-1
Tim Aidley has a rich history in the videogame industry. For over a decade now he’s worked at great studios such as Burnout developers Criterion Games, Sony Computer Entertainment Europe and Relentless Software. Now the developer has made a home at Hutch Games, working on the Smash series of racing titles for the iOS and Android platforms. But in his spare time Aidley is working on his very own virtual reality (VR) project – The Crypt.
Having started his career in the 90’s, the Oculus Rift headset is far from Aidley’s first experience with VR. In fact, the developer links childhood memories of his beloved View Master as an early influence. From there, Aidley has had experience with several of the fabled VR devices to pop up over the years, including the ill-fated Virtuality machines. Here, he talks about his experiences with those devices, leading up to developing for the Oculus Rift today.
I guess my closest thing I had to VR as a child were those old View Master slides – although the scenes were completely static, and the field of view was limited, putting the View Master up to your eyes completely enclosed your vision, and the 3D effect was excellent. I particularly remember a set of slide from The Jungle Book, which had been made by recreating scenes from the 2D movie as physical 3D models and photographing them. Later on my brother and I tore the front off of a Viewmaster and created our own images – you could draw a left and right eye image next to each other on a sheet of paper and hold it up against a window, press the disassembled Viewmaster against it and view your creation. I made a 3d comic featuring the ships from Elite, all rendering in glorious 3D felt-tip.
My first real VR experience however was at the Trocadero in (I think) 1992. It was a game by Virtuality called Heavy Metal, and although there seems to be very little information about it online, you can see it in this YouTube clip. The game involved piloting bipedal mechs around a small battlefield, trying to shoot the other players. My memory of it is that the headset was rather bulky and heavy, and the graphics were low resolution and slow. There was a very perceptible lag between turning your head and seeing that movement appear on-screen. You sat on a large seat while you played it, and I think you had to use two joysticks to use it – one to control walking and one to control shooting. Back in those pre-Doom days controls of that kind were largely unheard of and I found it difficult to control. I largely got shot by the other players and before long the game was over. My main memories of it were that it wasn’t quite as good as I’d hoped it would be, and that I hadn’t really had time to explore it properly. Unfortunately I was pretty strapped for cash at the time and couldn’t afford to have more goes on it.
A few years later I also had a go on a VR-1 headset, and played Descent on it. My biggest memory of that was the awful lag – partly due to the headset, partly due to the underpowered 486 we were using to run it on. It left me feeling very sick.
After that I had a 15-year hiatus from VR, until I finally got my DK1 last year. I didn’t originally back it because it seemed like rather a lot of money for something I might just play with briefly, and I wasn’t sure my ageing PC would be powerful enough for it. However, once they re-opened orders for the rift I could no longer resist it, and ordered a DK1, along with a couple of friends. However, my first impressions of it were pretty negative. Although I’d been warned about its low resolution, I hadn’t been prepared for just how bad the picture quality was. Furthermore, the DK1 is not well designed to fit people with a nose like mine, and it would rest very painfully on the bridge of my nose. I’ve now managed to reduce this a bit, but I still end up with a sore red mark on my nose whenever I wear my Rift. On top of all that, I found myself getting motion sickness even on pretty tame experiences like the Tuscany demo.
However, as time has gone on, I’ve enjoyed the rift more and more – the demos people are producing are getting better, but I’ve found the most fun you can have with it is to develop something yourself, although finding the time for all my experiments has proved difficult.