Oculus Rift Hands-On & Interview: Now I'm a Believer

Oculus Rift Hands-On & Interview: Now I'm a Believer

Mike takes on the retail version of the Oculus Rift. Does VR deliver the goods?

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In-between all of my VR action, Oculus VR vice president of product Nate Mitchell was kind enough to sit with me and answer a few questions about the Rift, the Touch, and the future of Oculus VR.

USgamer: Oculus is a pioneer in this field, but it's a field that's becoming quickly crowded. How do you view your new competition?

Oculus VP of Product, Nate Mitchell: It's really good for gamers and developers to have more players in the VR space. Developers are really feeling now that virtual reality is real. It's not just Oculus. Now you have these other established, big players going into the space. It's clear to you and I in the development standpoint, that if we want to make a game, there's going to be great VR devices out there and an audience we can sell to. We can build successful businesses on the VR industry. If we were still going it alone, I don't think that'd be the case. At the end day of the day, I think it's good for developers. Because it's good for developers, it's good for gamers.

USgamer: Are there any gaming experiences that you've found do not work well in VR?

Mitchell: Yeah, lots. VR is a new medium. The rulebook for designing traditional games gets tossed out window. I'll give you an example of something that doesn't really work well in my opinion: a really fast-paced twitch shooter. Any first-person, twitch game with a lot of running. Early on for example, Valve ported Team Fortress 2 to VR. Everyone in Team Fortress 2 runs at like 40 miles an hour. The Scout, he's zipping around, double jumping; it's a very intense experience. In terms of the vestibular disconnect between what you're seeing on screen - which your brain is believing - and you sitting in the chair not moving, it can be uncomfortable.

There's a lot of stuff like that. I think what you see in the games we have at the show, is that all the experiences - even the ones with some locomotion - are relatively comfortable. That stems from these developers doing a huge amount of R&D on VR over the last couple of years, on how to design experiences that play to the medium's strengths and avoid its weakness. There's nothing that's impossible in VR.

The full retail kit for Oculus Rift.

USgamer: You've announced that the Xbox One controller will be packed in with every retail Rift. With the controller, the Oculus Touch, and potentially keyboard/mouse, are you worried about fragmentation?

Mitchell: No. Here's why: input fragmentation is a problem we were very concerned about. Developers were too. Developers have been working on gamepad games for the Rift for the last two-and-a-half to three years. There was a time where we were thinking we may not bundle a gamepad with the headset. We talked to developers and they were like, "Whoa, whoa, whoa! I want to make sure that everyone who buys a Rift is going to be able to play my game!" If the gamepad is an accessory to the Rift, that's a big problem for game developers, because suddenly they don't know if the user's going to have a keyboard/mouse, gamepad, or nothing.

We've solved the input fragmentation problem for the users by providing a gamepad. Developer know that users have gamepads, users know all the games work with the gamepad.

Oculus Touch will suffer from fragmentation, but that's okay. It's so new. All this time that developers have been working on Oculus games, they're just getting started with Oculus Touch experiences. When we ship it, what you'll see is developers building really cool, new experiences that are Oculus Touch-only, and some set of gamers who want that Oculus Touch experience. Those two groups connect, but that's not taking away from that core experience. It's a win-win for everyone.

Other companies many not think to release Oculus Touch until it's further along. We're saying, "Hey, the content is not necessarily going to be there in quality or quantity, but it's going to come fast." If you want to open up these new experiences, you can get a Touch and jump in.

USgamer: Are the Oculus Touch kits in developer's hands yet?

Mitchell: A very limited few. We're going to be sending out more units, but it's relatively limited. Especially for us. We've sold more than 150,000 Rift development kits to date, and we're getting dozens of Oculus Touch dev units out right now.

You too can look this dumb. At least you'll be enjoying yourself.

USgamer: How far along is Oculus Touch?

Mitchell: The software's all prototype. That's just to show you the experience that you can have with Touch. The hardware is pretty close to what consumers can expect when we ship it next year.

USgamer: Over the past few years, we've seen a number of buggy releases. With VR, this could be a problem because not everyone has a big QA team with Oculus Rifts for everybody. Do you see that as an issue for Oculus?

Mitchell: We have an internal quality assurance team who works on all of our stuff and we work with developers on QA-ing some of their games too. When an experience comes into the store, it's a curated store. We'll play the game, check it out, and make sure there's no crashes before we put it up on the platform for users to buy. Anything you buy on the Oculus Store, we want you to know it's a great experience.

"QA is really challenging in VR. It's still evolving."

QA is really challenging in VR. We've been staffing up our QA team and even looking at partnering with external QA groups, because you need VR to be flawless. You're perceiving it as reality. It's still evolving. I think it's going to get better over time.

USgamer: Are you finding developers are crafting short or longer experiences?

Mitchell: Developers are doing all kinds of experiences. Edge of Nowhere or Chronos, those are adventure games, they're longer. We're seeing developers do everything. I'm interested in seeing what gamers opt into; whether they playing longer or shorter periods of time. We've designed the Rift to be really comfortable for long play sessions.

USgamer: In my demo, I noticed the new Oculus Home store. How open is the store itself?

Mitchell: We have a store right now on Gear VR. We have a number of developers shipping games on VR today. We'll have a very similar concept on Rift. We want Oculus Home to bring all your Rift and Oculus games together in one place. For developers to have that avenue to get games out to gamers. Gamers will know, "Hey, I can log on to Oculus Home and find all the best Oculus games." It's going to be very open to developers. We want to make sure our developers are successful in this first generation of VR.

USgamer: Will players have to get content through Oculus Home, or are there other options?

Mitchell: Definitely. That's something that's in our DNA. We want to make that possible. The Rift hardware is open as well. If you make some crazy experience, you don't have to sell it through the store. We can share it right online. I think we'll see a lot of the Touch experiences coming from all over the place from indie developers. It's a really cool time to be on the cutting edge.

USgamer: Streaming and shared gameplay is a big thing now. Has Oculus planned for things like Twitch support?

Mitchell: Yes. You can actually do that right now. PewDiePie has made videos. We're looking at ways to make it easier. We want to make it really easy to share your experience. I love Twitch, so I want Rift users to stream to Twitch as easy as possible. We'll see how we end up doing it, but it's not an impossible problem. We'll probably roll out some stuff - maybe even in collaboration with Twitch - in the year ahead.

USgamer: You have the Xbox One controller with every retail Rift. The Xbox One doesn't have a native VR headset. Will we see Oculus on Xbox One?

Mitchell: Anything's possible. Right now, we're really focused on working with Microsoft to make Windows the absolute best platform for the Rift and VR. That's a lot of work. We'd love to do something with the consoles one day, but right now we've got a lot on our plate.

USgamer: During my Oculus Touch demo, I was struck by how social VR could be. Is that something you see growing in the future?

Mitchell: We've tried to shake that preconception. Folks say it's an isolated experience, but it can actually be the most social experience ever. For gamers, it's a return to gaming with your friends.

There are going to be whole new worlds where people come together and have interactions that otherwise you'd only have in real life. As you get more of your body in there, it's only going to get more and more social. We're tearing down the wall between you and your friend across the world. Touch showcases a lot of that.

I'd like to thank Oculus VR vice president of product Nate Mitchell for taking the time to sit down with me and talk about the Oculus Rift for a bit.

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Mike Williams

Reviews Editor

M.H. Williams is new to the journalism game, but he's been a gamer since the NES first graced American shores. Third-person action-adventure games are his personal poison: Uncharted, Infamous, and Assassin's Creed just to name a few. If you see him around a convention, he's not hard to spot: Black guy, glasses, and a tie.

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