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How virtual reality tech will change the future of games

Alex Wawro | April 1, 2013
Thousands of programmers, artists and designers flock to the Game Developer's Conference every year to discuss the state of the games industry. A significant part of that discussion revolves around gaming technology, and the GDC show floor is filled with companies showcasing their latest game-changing hardware.

Thousands of programmers, artists and designers flock to the Game Developer's Conference every year to discuss the state of the games industry. A significant part of that discussion revolves around gaming technology, and the GDC show floor is filled with companies showcasing their latest game-changing hardware.

Any one of these companies could change the future of games in a big way if their hardware is successful. Nintendo did it with the Wii back in 2006, an example that's cited over and over again by every tech company on the GDC show floor. So far we've seen a ton of interesting new technology with the potential to change how video games are made--from Nvidia's GRID game streaming service to the screencasting tech built into the Playstation 4--but one piece of gaming tech stands out: the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset. 

This isn't the first time we've seen the Oculus Rift--Palmer Luckey and the rest of the Oculus VR team brought a prototype model of the VR headset to CES in January. But now they're shipping developer kits to backers who contributed $275+ to the Oculus Rift Kickstarter, and Oculus VR is here at GDC to court new game developers. They're operating a booth on the show floor where attendees can wait--often for over an hour--to try the headset on and run riot though a virtual battlefield in the first-person mech game Hawken.

Oculus VR is also pushing developers to change how games are made in order to accommodate the unique strengths--and weaknesses--of virtual reality. During GDC I sat in on an Oculus Rift developer presentation that ran through some of the surprising weaknesses of contemporary game design, problems that only become apparent when you actually immerse yourself in the game. If VR headsets become commonplace enough to warrant developer's time and attention in making VR games--and I'm betting they will--these are just a few of the ways that games will have to change to accommodate our glorious virtual reality future.

No more clunky menus or loading screens: Strapping a decent VR headset to your face makes you feel like you're inhabiting a different world, and nothing takes you out of that world faster than a complicated inventory menu or a long loading screen. If VR gaming takes off, we're going to see more games that eliminate unnecessary user interface elements and even third-person cameras entirely, because VR works best when the cameras are placed squarely behind a virtual characters' eyes, simulating what it feels like to play as someone else.

Of course, even if the consumer version of the Oculus Rift proves popular enough to warrant big-budget publishers like Electronic Arts and Activision devoting significant resources to making VR-ready games--and that's a big if--there's no reason to expect that all future games will be developed with VR in mind. The folks at Oculus VR might disagree, but non-immersive games--city simulators, real-time strategy games and the like--aren't going anywhere.

 

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