Thursday, 30 August 2012

Virtual Reality and Cloud Gaming

I'm very excited for the Oculus Rift. Realistic graphics can only get you so far to immersion. With a wide field of view and ultra low latency head tracking the Rift promises a never before seen immersion into game worlds for the broad consumer market with its cheap price. No wonder that games industry legends like John Carmack and Gabe Newell are so excited about it.

I've seen the whole QuakeCon 2012 keynote by John Carmack where he extensively spoke about the Oculus Rift. The device still has some flaws like the head tracking latency is still not low enough to not notice it, the resolution of the LCD display is too low and the display has not a good response time, which brings me to the next flaw that the display of the Rift is not an OLED like the Sony HMZ-T1. The Sony head-mounted display has mini displays for each eye, where the Rift has one larger display that gets shared for both eyes which is better for game programing, the GPU hardware and display timing as you can use one GPU framebuffer for both eyes. I think the size of a 7-inch tablet display would be a great match for the Rift. I hope that the consumer version of the Rift will get an HD OLED display from Samsung, but of course the Super AMOLED Plus ones, not the pentile Super AMOLED, as you would really notice the pixelation with these in a head-mounted display.

I'm sure the consumer version of the Oculus Rift will sport better specs than the developer kits and I'm really hoping they will integrate an OLED display, if not in the first product then in later ones.

I'm nuts for virtual reality combined with cloud gaming. But for me head-mounted displays are not enough like it is with other VR enthusiasts that want to see the realization of the Holodeck in their lifetime. I'm entertaining thoughts on do something about that because I have some ideas. Immersing you visually is one thing, but then there is the tactile feedback, the force feedback (I don't mean rumble in controllers), simulating movement like walking, running, piloting an airplane. Many people are speaking about a direct neural connection to the VR (The Matrix), but I think such a thing is pretty far out. I've thought of doing it physically by the help of some high-end hydraulics. It could be a suit with integrated hydraulics, something that resembles Crytek's Nanosuit in looks. I'd call the suit VirtuSkin, well the name is not so important. Some stronger hydraulics would be used to simulate movement like walking, free fall, swimming, hits, etc. Then there would have to be some fine-grained hydraulics integrated into the inner skin of the suit, you could compare these units to pixels in displays, but for pressure input and output. These little units would simulate tactile feedback like touches, wind, grass, leafs. The more dense and precise these units would be, the more finer tactile feedback you could simulate on your skin. I don't yet know how these things would handle orientation, I think the suit would have to be coupled to a hydraulics system that is connected to something that can rotate you to be correctly oriented as in the game world. And as the system would be hydraulics based, the system could also simulate pressure (gases and liquids), moisture and temperature. For instance swimming in warm or cold water, walking through a cold winter landscape, through a dry and hot desert or through a hot moist jungle. There are already protoypes of smell processors that can simulate smells, though I don't think we would want all the smells used with it, of course some like realism.

I think this VirtuSkin suit could solve the problem of how you move through virtual reality be it walking, running, taking stairs, climbing or even sliding around. The suit could simulate touching virtual surfaces. It would basically transport you into another world... into The Matrix... into the Holodeck. I'm sure many of you have seen Avatar in 3D and been wowed by it. Just imagine being in such a suit and being transported onto the world of Pandora, just imagine what experiences James Cameron could make with this suit in mind. Or playing an Alien game in such a suit... then the saying that in space no one can hear you scream takes on a whole other dimension. Of course like me many of you have right away thought about how the porn industry could use these suits, well yeah women should fear the day that you can buy such a suit in the shop... what man would then need women... of course the other way around is as valid. The makers of dildos would suffer quite much. So yeah, if you could show a working prototype of such a suit, the porn industry and everybody else would throw their money after you.

Of course one might say that why would I want to move around a virtual world the same way that I do in reality, when I'm gaming to relax and moving in real life can be very exhausting. Well, of course for people like me that do a lot of sports this could be very exciting and others that don't would get fit because of the great experience the suit would give. Of course a hydraulics based suit could have force assists and the virtual suit would let you think that you're the Hulk because of the assists, you would only use a little energy to initiate movement and the suit would simulate the rest. Of course the suit would have to have some hardware safety measures built in, as hydraulic forces can be very strong... not that virtual reality would become reality and some Call of Duty kiddy on the other end of the world would hack your virtual suit and virtually slit your throat. I wonder if Call of Duty would then have so many players?

OnLive Founder and former CEO Steve Perlman mentioned that he's working towards the Holodeck and I think cloud gaming is a large part of that work. I think they are also working hard on other virtual reality projects at his Rearden technology incubator. Steve mentioned that they are working on using lasers to shine directly onto the retina of the eye for virtual reality. Even John Carmack mentioned in his QuakeCon 2012 keynote that a grid of lasers surrounding your eyes and simulating pixels could be even better for virtual reality because it could also simulate eye focus and immerse you even more in a virtual world. I'm very curious what projects Rearden hides in their labs.

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