Virtual reality gaming edged several steps closer to reality this week, as the Oculus Rift project raised over a million dollars more than the founders’ $250,000 Kickstarter goal. It joins a slew of competitors — Microsoft’s “Project Eyewear” prototyped virtual reality on the Xbox, Sony is messing about with 3D goggles built with Sony’s typical the-future-as-seen-from-the-90s product design, and smaller companies are exploring virtual reality contact lenses that can add all kinds of wildly distracting data to your field of view when you’re trying to cross the street.
What distinguishes Oculus Rift from other attempts to turn us all into Geordie La Forge is its high-profile developer support. John Carmack, a man who often seems to regard video games as an excuse to play with new hardware, has been tinkering with VR gaming for years, and he’s decided that Oculus founder Palmer Luckey will be his sherpa on the journey to The Matrix.
Before meeting Luckey, Carmack had built an elaborately kludged-together system for head tracking and display involving a Kinect, a TrackIR, a Razer Hydra, and “a couple different inertial-tracking based units.” But once he tried out Luckey’s prototype of the Oculus Rift, he decided that its impressive optics and elegant drivers (Carmack is a man who looks at a well-designed hardware driver the way most men look at the contents of their trousers) would be the platform for his impressive E3 demo of the virtual reality system.
The E3 demo sparked a wave of interest in the device, and the latest developer to express interest in supporting it is Markus ‘Notch’ Peterson, creator of out-of-nowhere hit Minecraft. Peterson hasn’t promised to bring Minecraft to the device, but he has tweeted his excitement about the Rift, and says that if it supports Java, his upcoming sci-fi game 0X10C will support it.
The success of the Kickstarter campaign doesn’t mean that you’ll be able to smell the Cacodemon just yet. Carmack wants to get several hundred dev kits to professional game developers, and start getting feedback on what works and what doesn’t, before any schlub with $300 can pretend his living room has been captured by the Strogg. Previous attempts at head-mounted game displays have been beset by problems of ergonomics and migraine-induction, so Carmack and Luckey don’t want civilians sticking their face into it until they’ve made sure it won’t cause headaches, nausea, or the melting of your eyeballs. Nate Mitchell, the VP of product, goes so far as to say ”We are hoping consumers stay away from it,” perhaps the first time a technology company executive has put those words in that order.