Oculus Rift has the potential to revolutionize the way we play games, but many – perhaps surprisingly – are completely unfamiliar with the device. In the spirit of bringing people up to speed, we’ve compiled a brief potted history of all the major developments so far. Here’s everything you need to know about the new technology that could truly be the future of videogames, if not entertainment as a whole.
The Oculus Rift is a virtual reality head-mounted display that is on the verge of being released (Set for either late 2014 or early 2015). Its been in development by Oculus VR since before it’s announcement back in 2012. During the adolescence of the project, the company managed to raise a staggering $91 million through venture funding, and after a hugely successful crowd-funding campaign, it’s seen as one of the most successful gaming start-ups in history. If that’s not proof that there is an interest in the product, then what is?
The inventor and founder of this amazing device is Palmer Luckey, who after deciding that what was on the market in terms of VR wasn’t suitable or cost-effective, started developing the idea of creating a new head-mounted display that was both effective in terms of immersion as well as cost efficiency. Palmer Luckey was a long-time moderator on a forum that revolved around virtual gaming and immersive 3D graphics and earned a reputation for having the largest collection of head-mounted displays in the world, if anyone was suitable for the task of creating the future of VR it was him.
After sampling one of Palmer Luckey’s early concept devices, owner of Id Software and creator of the Doom franchise John Carmack announced that head-mounted displays would be a feature in the re-release of Doom (The BFG edition), and at the 2012 Electronic Entertainment Expo, he showcased the game with a rough version of Palmer Luckey’s Oculus prototype held together with duct tape. Despite the rough state of the technology, the crowd was impressed to say the least. A short while later, it was announced that Carmack had left Id Software – the company he helped found so many years ago – and was now the CTO (Chief Techology Officer) at Oculus VR.
A short while later, development kits for the Oculus Rift were announced during the product’s Kickstarter campaign, intended to be a way for developers to hit the ground running and be prepared for when the final product was released, however many eager consumers couldn’t resist the temptation, and preorders skyrocketed to the point where the company eventually revealed one was being bought every 4 – 5 minutes. The second version of the Development Kit – dubbed devkit 2 – was announced in March at GDC, and is supposed to ship in July. Devkit 2 improves on the original in several ways – it includes a higher resolution OLED display, more refined head tracking, higher refresh rates, streamlining of messy cables and the removal of a control box that was needed in the original version of the hardware. The technology continue to go from strength to strength.
There have been other iterations of the Oculus in the past, too; one that stands out is a model showcased in January of this year, which was codenamed Crystal Cove. Crystal Cover is said to be a close approximation of what we can expect when the device becomes commercially available.
Finally, in March it was announced that Facebook had agreed to buy Oculus VR for $400 million, a deal which also netted the company around $1.6 billion of Facebook stock, as well as throwing in an additional $300 million, provided Oculus VR hits specific financial targets when the device is finally released. The move wasn’t without controversy, as Marcus “Notch” Persson taking to Facebook – in a display of irony seemingly lost on him – to complain about how he was “cancelling” a game for the device that hadn’t even been revealed. Meanwhile, many gamers alo expressed their woe at the news, and for a few days it often felt as if every gaming site on the internet had something to say about the debacle. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg attempted at appease concerns with a statement where he promised that the gaming ambitions of Oculus wouldn’t be diluted; but many continue to have concerns to this day.
More recently, it was declared that Zenimax – the former parent company of Id Software – had commenced legal proceedings, accusing Facebook and Oculus VR of stealing technology developed while Carmack was an employee of their company. According to Zenimax, all intellectual contributions that Carmack has made in regards to the Oculus Rift are owned by them, and that they had provided Oculus VR with essential assistance that has created a superior VR product.
The Oculus Rift has the ability to define this recent generation that has been ushered in with the release of new consoles and technologies and in a few more months the average consumers could be experiencing the type of immersion that we, not so long ago, thought only existed in Sci Fi films like Star Trek. That said, virtual reality has been tried before – with big companies such as Nintendo with their failed Virtual Boy, and the headset has hardly been without a fair degree of controversy; let’s hope the Oculus Rift doesn’t share the same fate as so many other failed experiments to bring VR into the living room.