Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Museum of the Microstar

May 29th, 2013

Museum of the Microstar is an exhibition of the future. You teleport into it and are guided through a series of exhibits on energy sources culminating in a contained star.

The Microstar dominates the exhibit and it quite spectacular. My biggest beef with the simulation is that the frame rate was not fast enough. This may not sound like a big deal, but it is a big deal. When the VR can't keep up with your movement it is jarring and I'm still feeling a bit disoriented even after only 10 minutes in the Museum.

The other thing that was annoying was you are stuck in position for the first 30 seconds or so of the simulation as you are given an introduction. This is fine the first time but on a second visit you just want to speed past it and you can't.

I recommend you see it, but I don't think I'll be returning.

You can find it here:

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Architectural Visualization

May 28th, 2013

I love architecture so when I saw this demo on the Oculus subreddit I have to give it a go.

The detail of the house is quite good. The tree on the left has leaves falling and there is water in the front and the back. The walking area is a bit restricted but otherwise I recommend this for a quick visit.

You can find it here.

My youngest daughter is a big fan of Frank Lloyd Wright. We did a Lego model of Falling Waters over the winter. During our research we found a model of Falling Waters in the Valve source engine. I should see if I can get my hands on it and get it to work with the Oculus.

Update: I downloaded the falling waters map but it doesn't work anymore. I think it has been defunct for many years. The map can be found here:

Serious Bummer.

Monday, May 27, 2013

First Law

May 27th, 2013

First Law
The first rule for Fight Club may not be to talk about Fight Club, but the First Law of this game is to talk First Law. This is a game designed for the rift and it does it right.

The Entry Screen
The entry screen does something no other game I've seen do: It puts the controller mapping instructions off to your left. You just turn your head to the left and there it is. Very slick.

Once you start the game you immediately feel right inside the cockpit of the ship. You can turn around and see the laser cannons and if you look down you can see your seat. The meteors coming at you are at a very slow speed so they are easy to dodge

Because you are sitting down, the dizziness from the Oculus is really minor. This is a great simulation for people who feel lightheaded from using the Oculus. I intend to show it to my daughters in the morning.

Game Play
The game is simple. Shoot lasers or homing missiles at oncoming ships. The game is still in its infancy but this is a great beginning.

I highly recommend this. It is only 22MB. That beats the crap out of the 430MB Rift Coaster.

Thanks goes to Pete Clarke for recommending this gem.

You can download it here:

My Oculus Setup

May 27th, 2013

I had the Oculus set up in the living room which is fine for playing with it but not helpful when it comes down to development. I needed a more permanent setup away from the living room and away from my 9-5 development job. I also wanted it to be available any time for my daughters as they work on their Oculus projects.

This was the setup I settled on. Enough room for the laptop, ipad, oculus, hydra and any books I'm reading. I made a special effort to keep the majority of the Oculus cables out of the way so there is just the one going to the headset.

Here are 2 pics of my setup:

Post a link to your setup. I'd love to see it.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

VR Cinema 3D

May 26th, 2013

I read about VRCinema3D earlier in the week. It is a theater simulator that is compatible with the Oculus Rift. You can find it here:

This was very convincing. I really felt like I was in a movie theater, except without all the people. Although I hate having the tallest person in front of me that I can't seem to see around, having a room full of people would be a nice feature.

The interface requires a mouse. If you right click it pops up a menu that allows you to pick where you sit. You can also skip to any point in the movie or switch to 3D. 3D requires a video file that is split in half. I didn't have one handy but I intend to test it. 3D in the Oculus should be amazing.

Video File Woes:
This simulation will only play one file. It needs to be named "movie.avi". I tried a variety of movies and discovered that only video files with 2 channel audio would work. The video file would play file in windows media player but the audio didn't work in the theater. I read on a forum that non-avi files would work. I renamed an mp4 file to movie.avi but it didn't work.

This is a really great idea. I use XBMC at home and if I could use the rift with XBMC it would be an amazing application. I have seriously considered making this my summer project.

Update (5/29/2013):
I have done some research on streaming video to a texture/surface in UDK/Unity. It turns out this is rather difficult and expensive to license. I have heard XBMC can render onto a 3D surface. I wonder if this is custom code that avoids any gaming  engine. I need to compile the XBMC codebase and try to figure out what is possible.

Update #2 (5/30/2013)
As usual, I chose the wrong initial path for doing this and started learning UDK first. RockerC from XBMC forums suggested enhancing the existing code base first. This sounds more promising. I'm seeing Star Trek Into Darkness tonight. When I get home I am going to check out the xbmc codebase and start working from that direction.

Epic Citadel Coaster

May 26th, 2013

The funny thing with this simulation is that it was created by someone without an Oculus with an innocent "can someone try this out" posting. Obviously it caught on in a big way. Installation was a breeze. You just download it, install it and you are good to go.
You can find it here:

Strange to say but I didn't find the ride scary at all. I rode it 3 times in a row last night. The third time did me in but it had nothing to do with heights/speed...

Camera Control
The first two times I tried to rotate my head to keep me facing in the direction of the track. I found myself looking in strange directions during the ride. This was after 3 trips to Tuscany and several to Half Life 2. I was used to being in control of my perspective and wasn't ready for a simulation that wanted to control it.

The Third Lap
On the third lap I purposely didn't move my head and let the simulation control it. When you go down the first hill, the camera turns to the right away from the track. It this spins your head around as you hit the bottom of the curve. I continued to let the simulation control the perspective and by the end I was extremely lightheaded. I took off the Oculus and felt ill like I'd taken one too many shots of whiskey. This was at 1am last night and I just went to bed after that. Took a while to fall asleep.

The ride doesn't scare me. My reaction was more to the simulation yanking my viewpoint around. Movement out of sync with my body already causes dizziness for an Oculus Noob such as myself. Throw into the mix a simulation in control of the viewpoint and you've got a recipe for Noob illness.

I'll try it again in a week or so after I have my VR footing but for now, I'll pass on this.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Half Life 2

May 25th, 2013

I'm playing Half Life 2 tonight until I'm crawling on my VR knees. I expect this to be one of the greatest gaming experiences ever. Hats off to Valve for dedicating resources to making this official.

As I play each chapter of the game I will provide updates here on my observations. I will be taking my time with it like a fine wine. No hurry here.

Setting up the game
This was amazingly easy. You just need to:
1. right click on Half Life 2 in steam, go to properties. 
2. Add -vr to the command line parameters
3. Opt into the beta stream
See here for more information.

Chapter One: Point Insertion

Session 1 : May 25th, 2013 11pm

Initial Observations
The initial monologue by the G-Man is hard to watch. He is too close to the view and I had to just look through him. The background graphics were stationary but were in 3D.
Once I got into the train I found the game very convincing. The initial credits are interesting. They float in space off to the left side but stay in the same position as your head moves. I'm not sure that works but it wasn't annoyingly in your face.
The initial guard is very intimidating. I really didn't want that dude to attack me. I let him chase me a bit and I felt the need to run away.
Looking around the train station I really felt like I was there. The ceiling, the light and general atmosphere are amazing.

Valve's work pays off as well. Typing this, I must admit I feel a bit lightheaded but their interface has 2 things going for it that Tuscany didn't have:
1. I can hear myself walk. I couldn't get Tuscany's sound to work and that definitely reduced the immersion. Now that I can hear myself walk, the dizziness feels a bit less.
2. I have a cross hair in front of me that I can anchor onto. That sounds counter intuitive but when you pan left and right. It only spins your perspective as the cross hair gets close to the edge. This really helped reduce disorientation.

Sense of height
When you crouch you really feel shorter than everyone. It is an amazing feeling. It makes believe you can create a game where your main character is a child and you'd be convinced.

Its the little things that make things feel real and the lights in the hallway leading up to the interrogation room are really cool. You can see the aura/cone of light coming from each bulb and as you look into it, your vision is dazed. The overall effect is very convincing.

Loading screens
Woa, my first loading screen about made me ill. It was leaving the interrogation area and suddenly everything stopped sync'ing with my head movement. Very nasty. That will take some getting used to.

I thought I could last hours, but about 20 minutes was about all I could stand. Definitely need to take a break or I'm gonna be sick.

City 17
Walking into City 17 for the first time was amazing. That was the most immersive experience of any of the demos I've had. Looking up at the Citadel was incredible. I just walked around in this area for 10-15 minutes exploring it. The posters on the walls have an unusual clarity that I never experienced before. I can walk up close and really study their detail.

Session 2 : May 26th, 2013 8:30am

Emotional Responses from People
People feel real in the Oculus. There is a scene in the apartment where a man is comforting a woman and you can hear her crying. Very powerful stuff. I wanted to reach out and help her too.

Views from windows
In the apartment there are 2 guys looking out the window at security running towards the building. I'm not sure I had even noticed that before but I felt like they might be coming for me.

Overall, I believe the Half Life 2 world is real. Every detail is perfect. You look out a window down at the street and you forget you are in a game.

I didn't last 10 minutes this morning. I'm not sure why. I didn't take a ginger pill but I think it was more that I was in tight spaces constantly turning my head. Anytime the camera moves and my head isn't, it adds to the dizziness. I imagine if I tried to push through the dizziness it would turn into nausea. This is not something you can ignore.

Session 3 : May 26th, 2013 12pm

Rooftop Sequence
Running along the rooftop was great. It does feel a bit scary. I can't see my health meter so I'm not sure how low my health is. I need to see if that is configurable. It would be nice if I could pull it up to check it and then put it away.

Fast Paced Action
Being forced to move quickly for a noob is hard. I just lasted about 5 minutes. I need to get outside and do some yard work to take a break from the Oculus.

Chapter Two: "A Red Letter Day"

Session 4: May 26th, 2013 11:30pm

The Lab
I never had a true appreciation for the details of the model until I could see them with the Oculus. The suit and the suit power generator are great models. That headcrab pet looks a lot bigger than I remembered them.
I was also amazed at the size of the teleporter equiptment.

The crowbar
The body is missing and you only have an arm when weilding weapons. I wonder if they plan on adding a body in the future. I also noticed that the crowbar can go through certain objects.

Chapter Three: Route Kanal

Session 5: May 27th, 2013 4:00pm

Zombie models
The model for the crawling headcb zombie is quite nasty. The guts stretch if you push it around. I had no idea!

Speed Sequences

Areas where I am forced to run make me feel a bit dizzy. I try to take it slow but sometimes you don't have a choice.

Weapon Zoom
Whenever I zoom the detail of the game appears to improve drastically. This is a trick of the mind but zooming feels like you've went from 480p to 1080p. Shooting distant targets in the low resolution of the Oculus can be challenging. I tend to zoom a lot to improve my aim.

Chapter Four: Water Hazard

Session 6:  May 27th, 2013 11:30pm

The Water Craft
I must admit I was a bit nervous to ride the water craft with all the dizziness I first experienced. My concern was for naught... It was a pleasure to ride it. I found I did better with the Oculus than I have any other time playing it.

The G-Man
There is a moment where you can see the G-Man in the distance at the building with the hanging crate. When I tried to zoom it to look the game blew up. When I restarted the game and tried it again it blew up. First bug I've experienced where I was repeatedly unable to do something.

Session 7:  May 28th, 2013 11:45pm

The more I play other simutions the more I am impressed with Half Life 2. Other simulations can't seem to match the crispness and realism of the Half Life 2 environment. It really feels as if Half Life 2 was designed with VR in mind. There are no short cuts anywhere. As far as the eye can see you are in the world and every object is wonderfully modeled.

The UDK Citadel can't hold a candle to the look of the source engine. In the Citadel you can see it redrawing elements and sharpening stuff in the foreground. Nothing looks as crisp either. It is enough to pull you out of the world because you can see it isn't real.

Chapter Five: Black Mesa East
Chapter Six: "We Don't Go to Ravenholm..."
Chapter Seven: Highway 17
Chapter Eight: Sandtraps
Chapter Nine: Nova Prospekt
Chapter Ten: Entanglement
Chapter Eleven: Anticitizen One
Chapter Twelve: "Follow Freeman!"
Chapter Thirteen: Our Benefactors
Chapter Fourteen: Dark Energy
Chapter Fifteen: Credits 


May 25th, 2013

I got the Tuscany demo up and running today. It was pretty simple. plug in the Oculus via hdmi & usb, turn it on, run the demo and voila, you're in.

Sound Woes
I can't get the sound to work. I'm running on an Alienware gaming laptop and when the HDMI cable is plugged in, sound is routed thru the cable. Since the cable goes into the Oculus to feed it video, I get no sound. I need to do more research on how to turn this off so the sound always comes from the headphone jack.

Evil Bits of Dust
My first challenge was not technical in nature. I needed to clean the screen. Since I bought the unit from ebay, it had been used and there were half a dozen dust particles on the screen. This doesn't sound like a big deal but when you have the goggles on, each bit of dust looked like a dead pixel and it really broke the illusion of the VR. I ended up using an air mattress pump combined with a glasses cleaning cloth to remove all the dust. So... heed their advice and be very careful to always keep the lenses on the headset and change it in a dust free environment

Nausea & Dizziness
People weren't kidding about dizziness from VR. You could feel it almost immediately. I knew not to push myself and I also bought ginger pills from GNC. I'm not sure if they helped but I didn't feel too bad after 3 sessions in Tuscany.

I felt a slight bit of dizziness every time my Avatar moved out of sync with my body. I am guessing the dizziness is cumulative so I avoided pushing myself too hard. If I ran forward too fast I felt it. If I turned the perspective without my head also moving I felt it.  Strangely enough, I did not feel this effect walking backwards. Standing still and looking around did not create any sense of disorientation either.

My solution to reducing dizziness was:
1. take a ginger pill
2. walk slowly
3. turn my head left/right when rotating the perspective left/right
4. avoid sprinting
5. walk backwards

Oculus Birthday Gift FTW

May 25th, 2013
My oldest daughter's birthday was today. We've been talking about the Oculus since December when I ordered one. I knew based on the current shipping rates that we wouldn't get one until July. Like everyone, we have been dying to get our Oculus. She wants to do her honors project for next year on the Oculus and a location from Ready Player One. Every time a package comes to the door she asks if it is the Oculus and I have to tell her that it hasn't even shipped yet.

A few weeks ago Valve announced official support of the Oculus for Half Life 2. That was the tipping point for me. I wanted to work with her over the summer on her project and knowing Half Life 2 was out there pushed me to buy one off ebay. I snagged one for $600. I thought that was a pretty sweet deal.

It came earlier this week and we hid it from her. When her birthday rolled around today we had her open all her presents and then said "hmmm, I think we forgot something". I went to the mudroom and pulled out the final present. When she opened it and saw it was the Oculus she was genuinely shocked. This will probably be the best gift we ever give our kids. That was a lot of fun.

I will be posting journal entries here as we progress on the "Ready Player One" project.

Hmmm... what is this?

OMG! It is the Oculus!

Friday, May 24, 2013

The Kit

May 24th, 2013
This afternoon I had about an hour to get the kit out and photograph it. I still haven't hooked this thing up yet. Just haven't had the time. I thought I'd get a few photos in of the headset and all the components. Enjoy!

The case in HDR goodness




Looks like it is looking back at me

All the goodies in the kit

Thursday, May 23, 2013


I am going to use this blog to document my experience with the Oculus Rift. Topics will include:
1. Acquisition
2. Installation
3. Use
4. Development
5. Observations

July 2012
Before I knew about the Oculus I was introduced to "Ready Player One" by a friend of mine. That is where my serious interest in VR started. That book struck a huge chord with me. Since then I have listened to the audiobook half a dozen times.

December 3rd, 2012
For whatever lame reason, I did not hear about the Oculus Rift until after the kickstarter was closed. As soon as my friend Craig told me about it, I went directly to the website and ordered one. My order number is ridiculously high and I still have not received one from that order

May 1st, 2013
My oldest daughter and I begin to formulate a project for the Oculus Rift involving Ready Player One. She is going to make it her honors project for next year. My youngest daughter is also interested in a project involving Kiki's Delivery Service.

May 11th, 2013
Valve announces official support for Half Life 2 on the Oculus Rift. Considering that is my favorite game of all time that cinched it. Based on current shipping rates I will not see an Oculus until July. Considering my daughters want to work on Oculus projects I needed to take action to get one. I got one off of ebay for $600. A small price to pay for early access to the Oculus. It will be a surprise birthday present for my oldest daughter.

May 21st, 2013
Our Oculus Rift arrived today. I am unfortunately buried under a gigantic pile of work. My intent is to burn thru all my work so that I have a portion of Friday available to set up the Oculus Rift.

May 23rd, 2013 (today)
I have finally completed work and have time to start setting up the Oculus Rift. Notes on initial install to follow...