A few notes after an evening of messing around with the Rift.
Polygons are really noticeable. Textures look more like wallpaper, normal mapping doesn't help hide polygons, it just makes them look even more unnatural. Objects rendered with tessellation shaders, like in Museum of the Microstar, look really good, and natural.
Art styles that aren't aimed at photo-realism, seem to work a lot better. In Team Fortress 2 for instance, it just feels like you are inside a cartoon, which is fun, and it doesn't break immersion. In the Tuscany demo, it feels like you are in a bad B-side of the real world, you constantly notice things which don't look/feel right.
Particle systems look really fake, but are also really amazing, and have an order of magnitude more "wow" factor than in 2D. I think they justify their rendering load in VR.
There's no sense of light/brightness. Looking at a light bulb in meatspace will cause your eye to have sunspots, the same does not happen in VR.
Along with a sense of scale, there is also a sense of weight. The mind also seems to impute a lot more onto objects, when there is scale. When I see the castle in the RIft coaster demo, I get a feeling like "oh wow, it must have a taken a lot of people a lot of time to build that!", even though it is just a collection of vertices with some textures thrown on.
Also, there is a sense personal space with bipedal avatars, and the sense that they are actually people. Standing in the crowd in the ready room in Team Fortress, it felt like there was an awkward silence, and I wanted to break it, but couldn't. Then people would stand too close, which was awkward as well. Voice communication seems to be the most natural fit for VR.
There seems to be a correlation between the amount of immersion and the likelihood of feeling woozy. I find games where my Avatar is standing up, to be far more immersive if I play them standing up. However, I am also much more likely to feel woozy, than if I played the same game sitting in a chair, with less immersion.
The Hydra adds a lot to immersion, having your hands represented in VR is a giant leap in terms of immersion. Which is interesting, since without the Rift, the Hydra is yet another gimmicky controller. Whereas with the Rift, it seems like it should almost be a requirement. So far the most compelling experience I've had is just tossing stuff around in Tuscany. However, it can compound the problem of not having positional tracking on the head, as you are much more likely to try to lean over and pick something up off the floor, which makes me feel woozy when I can't do it.
A few more impressions, now that I've had the kit a few days -
1. Allowing yourself to be fully immersed requires a leap of faith. I have noise cancelling headphones, but I rarely use them with the headset. For me, adding sound + blocking out outside noise, pretty much allows me to completely disconnect from the outside world. However, I live by myself, and doing this makes me really uncomfortable. What if there is an emergency? What if someone tries to break in? What if there's a fire? What if my phone rings or someone rings the doorbell? For these reasons, I only play for very short periods with headphones on. If there was some way to keep a tab on the outside world, like a webcam view behind me, it would make letting go a lot more comfortable.
2. Yesterday I remember walking up a hill, then looking down into a valley, and seeing a nice patch of grass, and just noticing how nice it looked. This memory is real, however the experience was virtual. I have fond memories of playing video games, but the memories are of a different quality. Although it is quite obvious that I am in fantasy land while I have the headset on, the memories of the experience, are not all that different that memories produced by experiences in the real world. I think that this could be quite positive for training, and for developing good qualities. For instance, a very shy person could go to parties in VR, and receive positive reinforcement in a "safe" environment. Or there could be a "Gandhi" simulator, or a "person with good eating habits" simulator. I think that it is likely that this would influence the person's habits in the real world.
3. My favorite thing to do in Team Fortress 2, is play as the Heavy. Not because he moves slowly enough for me to not get woozy, but because I enjoy the way standing and looking at myself( the avatar ) makes me feel. Just by throwing on a headset, I've transformed my average body, into one with hulking muscles, that can haul an impossibley large minigun around like it was nothing. And it feels really cool. I think that the player's in-game avatar, has tremendous psychological power.
If this type in interface becomes ubiquitous, which it will, I have a feeling we'll be seeing more networked notifications for things like phones, doorbells, or door opening alerts. Would be almost funny if game VR helps push the smart home even further.
That aside, I've played some games over the years that will push notifications to the players about time spent playing and/or give advice about lifestyle. In a normal setting, these can be annoying, with the Rift it would be particularly shattering to the immersion.
I'm curious to hear thoughts on how far people think they need to go down this route as a designer.
The one thing that I found to be particularly striking is that height is now really powerful. Standing at the base of a very tall object and looking up feels grand (much more-so than in a flatscreen videogame since you lose all of the depth information when going to a single 2D image). Similarly, standing at the top of a very tall object feels awesome but invokes feelings of vertigo.