At the Oculus Connect conference, I had the opportunity to try the new Oculus prototype, Crescent Bay. They had me stand in a small room, on a 4'x4' mat where I could walk around freely. They showed about 10 demos, each 30-60 seconds long. The prototype is a huge improvement over earlier versions, and the demos were exciting and fascinating in different ways, but I found myself particularly surprised by three of them.
In one demo, you're standing on top of a tall skyscraper, near the edge, overlooking a city. It felt very real, and I had a strong feeling of presence. I reached my hand towards a nearby railing, not to keep my balance but because it looked so real I wanted to touch it. I really, really wanted to be able to see my hands in these demos. When I looked down, seeing that I had no legs was weird, and that broke the immersion somewhat.
I heard the girl operating my demo say "Step off the ledge! Walk forward!" I couldn't do it. In fact I couldn't even force myself to inch my feet closer to the ledge. Maybe if I'd had more time I could have convinced myself, and maybe if I were using a controller to move instead of needing to physically step forward, I could have done it. I'm not sure. But I was very surprised to find myself unable to convince my feet to even shuffle forward.
This bodes well for my application, Fearless, which is going to help people overcome their fear of heights, among other fears. The strong feeling of presence will make it even more effective.
2. First contact
In another demo, you're standing in front of a 4 foot tall alien, sort of a combination of E.T. and Yoda. He's talking to you in his language, or making noises, and watching you as you move around. I was standing there, watching him back. The detail was incredible.
Suddenly, he waved at me. I couldn't help but wave back. Part of my brain - the part that knew this wasn't real - tried to stop me for a moment, but it was overridden by what felt like a social instinct, some other part of my brain telling me, "You'll feel guilty if you don't wave back." I smiled at him. I just waved and smiled at a virtual alien, and it felt more normal than if I hadn't.
In one of the final demos, you're floating through a massive Tron-like environment. Apparently it's the same demo that Valve was showing in their VR room. There's a distinct feeling of space and scale, and you're right in the center of this huge thing, sort of an abstract ring-shaped space station. Floating slowly forward. I looked down, like I had in the skyscraper demo. No legs. But this time, maybe because I wasn't standing on any virtual surface, maybe because I was floating smoothly forward, it didn't feel as weird to not have legs. That was a little surprising.
But the really surprising thing was after the demos were over and I had stepped back into the conference. Over the next 15 minutes, I still intermittently had the vague impression that I was floating. If I didn't look down, and tried to walk smoothly, it felt like maybe I didn't have legs. It was as if my brain, during the demo, had come to terms with the idea of not having legs, of being a disembodied being floating around. It wasn't a strong enough effect to be disturbing, but it did feel a little funny until it wore off.
All together the new prototype was a really, really impressive experience, far better than the DK2 or DK1. The resolution and clarity and smoothness worked together to make things feel much more real. Well done, Oculus.
Founder of Fearless