I Survived a Week in the Virtual Reality Worlds of E3
I was hurtling down the Pacific Coast Highway with nothing between me and the asphalt but a flimsy road luge. I swerved around a Toyota and passed directly under an 18-wheeler. When the road rose suddenly, I went airborne; my stomach floated up to my throat, and for a moment I was weightless.
My palms were sweating, my heart was racing, and I think I may have screamed. All of which was highly embarrassing, because I wasn’t really riding a road luge down PCH. I was reclining in a beanbag chair in a trade show booth, with a virtual reality headset strapped to my face.
Not a headset you can buy today. (Thinkstock)
I spent most of last week at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), where the giants of the gaming industry converge to show off their latest toys. “Impressive” doesn’t begin to describe some of the things game developers are doing these days. No wonder teens are addicted to their consoles. If I didn’t have to work for a living, I’d join them.
But I wasn’t at E3 to admire the amazingly realistic graphics of Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare or the breathtaking beauty of Destiny.
I was shopping for my holodeck.
Let’s face it: Dad wants to be able to drive a Lamborghini at Le Mans without killing himself. Mom wants to lounge on the beach with a good book and a cool drink, far from the annoyances of children and spouse. Kids want their own planet, ideally as far away from their parents as possible (while still having someone around to do their laundry, of course).
The safest and most cost-effective solution? A home holodeck, obviously. Just like the one from Star Trek: The Next Generation.
In the past 20 years, games have evolved to provide realistic first-person perspectives in worlds that look nearly real, whether you’re playing quarterback in Madden 15 or killing zombies in Dead Rising.
Virtual reality is clearly the next step. Instead of holding a joystick, you will be the joystick, navigating a virtual world in much the same way you do this one. Kind of like the movie Tron, only not lame.
And, sadly, not yet.
Feed your headset
Today, every VR experience starts with a headset. A VR headset contains two small displays, with their imagery slightly offset to give the illusion of three dimensions. These mini TVs are strapped to your forehead, along with tracking technology that determines your head position and orientation inside the virtual environment. By moving your head or turning your body, you get a full 360-degree view of whatever game you’re inside of, and you can move around at will using a controller or just the headset itself.