Emily Kenney visited 1920s Berlin with her Oculus Rift and was kind enough to write me a report about her experiences.
If you have visited 1920s Berlin or the Oculus Rift Test area and want to write about it for my blog, let me know.
It would be much appreciated.
My name is Emily Kennedy. I started in second life in Feb. 2005, but I’ve taken frequent breaks from SL in that time. I had been away from SL for about a year and a half when I found out that the Ctrl Alt Studio Viewer had experimental Oculus Rift support. This made me incredibly excited to go back to Second Life to try it.
For people who aren’t familiar with the oculus rift, it’s a virtual reality headset that’s still in development. The company has sold development kits to the public so developers can create games and applications for it. It’s not a finished product, but it’s more than enough to show how much of a breakthrough this technology is in creating a virtual reality experience affordable to the general public. The development kit has lower resolution than a computer monitor, and doesn’t have positional tracking, only rotational tracking, but these are issues that should be fixed when the consumer versional is eventually released.
When I first heard about the Oculus Rift, I wanted to understand what it was like to actually use one. I went online, and tried to learn everything there was about it. I watched as many youtube videos as I could, but sadly, most of the people who had one said “You have to try it to understand it.” After I got my own rift, I found that all those hours of watching videos and reading articles really didn’t convey what it was like. I tried to come up with a way to give a sense of what was different. If you imagine a pc monitor is a window, and you were able to reach into the monitor and pull out a game character, they might be about the size of a Barbie Doll. And the buildings and structures are the size of doll houses that would fit on your kitchen table. They have to be smaller than real life, so you can see as much as possible on the limited screen area. With the rift, everything is suddenly life sized. If you’re next to a 30 foot tall building, you have to look up to see the top, just as you would in real life, and it towers over you. That sense of scale is something I never experienced with a monitor.
Another difference is the head tracking. Imagine that you’re inside a small 4 walled building with just one window the size of a computer monitor, and you’re seated about 2 feet from it. That window is all you know of world around you. That’s what regular gaming is like. Now imagine that all 4 walls and roof suddently vanish, and now you can see everything all around you, even what’s behind you by turning your head. That’s what it’s like to use the oculus rift. You’re no longer trying to make sense of the world thorough a tiny window, but now you’re actually in the world. When you get close as you can to a virtual wall using a monitor, your character might be right in front of it, but your real life body is still as far away from it as the monitor is. When wearing the rift, I got as close as I could to a wall, and it really felt like it was 5 inches away from my face, and covered my entire view.
One of the most striking differences is the 3D effect. The oculus rift gives each eye a slightly different view, and the brain uses those differences to calculate differences in 3D space. I’ve gone to 3D movies, and back in the 90’s I bought shutter glasses that connected to the PC that gave you a sense of 3D, but both of these methods made the screen dimmer. The rift has the best 3D effect I’ve seen, without a loss of brightness.
All of these work together to give an incredible sense of immersion.
Because the Ctrl Alt Studio Viewer can’t show all of the User Interface in oculus rift mode, I had to make sure my avatar was all set before I put on the Rift. Like most SL avatars, I was much taller than the average real life person. I was probably close to 7 feet tall. One of the features of the 1920’s Berlin sim created by Jo Yardley is that everything sized to a real life scale. I’m sure it took a lot of effort to do this, but it’s is one of the things that helps to create a great virtual reality experience. Before going to the 1920’s Berlin Sim test area, I adjusted my height and became 5’7″ plus a few inches from my heels. Now I was ready for the Rift! I teleported to the sim, and found myself in another era. I saw a sign saying “Freebies” and some freebie boxes for period appropriate clothes and a few miscellaneous items. I was wearing a bright red modern dress that felt out of place, so I put on one of the free 1920’s dresses, and felt ready to explore. I turned on the rift mode in the viewer, and then put on my rift. Now I was looking at the world through my avatar’s eyes. When I turned my head, my avatar turned her head in the exact same way. When I looked up at the ceiling in my apartment, I didn’t see my ceiling, but instead I saw the starry night sky above my avatar’s head. When I looked down, I saw my avatar’s body wearing the 1920’s dress. From this point on, I’ll stop refering to my avatar, because the feeling of immersion was so great, it really felt like I was IN the virtual world, and not watching a picture of it on my monitor.
As I was walking along, I noticed a poster on the wall, but it wasn’t just a texture of a poster flat on the wall, but instead it was a poster that had thickness, and even more, the upper left corner looked like it had come loose, and had folded over part of the rest of the poster, causing some wrinkles. I had to move back and forth, looking closely. The thickness and attention to detail was something I probably would have missed normally, but now I was able to appricate it in a new way. As I walked on, I saw an area that had snow. I had to stop, and felt my mouth open. It looked amazing, because the snow was falling in 3D. Some looked like they were right in front of my face, others looked like they were further away, but they all felt like they were really there. I then walked into a bar, and had the feeling of the doorway being a few inches above my head. I walked around trying to take in all the detail. I saw a house of cards on one of the tables, and sat at the chair in front of it. I had a closer view of the cards, and it was marvelous seeing them in 3D right in front of me. Maybe in a few years, people might be able to put on haptic gloves, and be able to not only build virtual houses of cards by moving their real life hands, but maybe build anything they wanted to in second life. I left the bar and hopped on the train that would take me from the berlin test area into the full 1920s Berlin Sim.
After I arrived in Berlin, I left the train station. I glanced up, and saw a large zepplin high in the sky. It was hard to tell how big it might be. I then wandered into a blue telephone booth. I really felt like I was in the enclosed space, but I didn’t feel uncomfortable, because I was able to see through all the glass panels. I then wandered along the street and passed a few avatars that were roleplaying as inhabitants of the city, performing their job. I won’t say who I saw, so as to not spoil anything. If you come across any of them, be sure to read their profile, to read about their character.
As I strolled along, I saw not too far in the distance, a huge zepplin hovering maybe 30 feet above a landing field. I was in awe. The sense of scale was very strong at this distance. As I got closer, I could tell that the dirgible was perhaps the length of a football field. I had to turn my head from side to side to see it from end to end. As I walked underneath it, it seemed as though each of the propellers was longer than my body was tall. I was able to take a seat in the passenger compartment, and hoped that I would be able to take a ride around the city, but it didn’t appear to be the case. I left the zepplin, and walked near a gyrocopter, with one of the vertical blades passing just a few inches above my head. I almost felt like ducking in real life to avoid it. That’s how real it seemed. I went inside a clothing shop and ended up on the roof, where a hedge perhaps 3 feet tall ringed most of the rooftop. The texture showed the leaves of a hedge, but the edges of the edge were flat, so unfortunately it had the appearance of a painting on a flat surface. This is another thing I would not have noticed without the Rift. I stood at an area that didn’t have a hedge, and looked down. It really felt as though I was standing on a ledge, with the street far below me. I decided to jump, and felt a few butterflies in my stomach as I fell. my dress flapped around me as I fell, and it added to the immersion. Luckily, like Neo in the Matrix, I survided my fall off the building, and continued my stroll. I saw some snowmen outside a theater and studied them for quite a while, trying to see how close I could get, marveling at how realistic the carrots for their noses looked. They really felt like if I got too close, they might poke me in the face.
I spent more time exploring, but I think what I’ve written so far really gives a sense of what it’s like to explore an area with the rift. I’m very glad that Berlin was made to a consistent real life scale, to really give the sense of immersion in a realistic space. I’m very excited about the future of virtual reality, and really excited about the future of Second Life, which I haven’t been for a while. I hope that Linden Lab decides to embrace virtual reality, and makes adjustments in SL to make it the best possible experience.
After her experience Emily wrote a handy blog guide with tips and advice for those who want to try the Oculus Rift in Second Life;