Jan Goetgeluk and his company Virtuix are just a few thousand bucks short of having raise $1 million onKickstarter
for their cutting edge virtual reality gaming set-up, the Omni. That's more than eight times their initial goal, and it makes them one of the most successful Houston Kickstarter campaigns of all time.
Today I got invited to try out the set-up for myself, and step into my first look at virtual reality since I sadly threw out my Virtual Boy as a teenager wondering why I hated my parents' money so much that I made them buy it for me.
Goetgeluk's invention is really just the movement base, but even that is a marvel that you can learn to use easily within minutes. Special shoes allow you to walk up the curved sides of the base in all directions, guiding your onscreen movements with kinect technology and simulating the real feel of walking amazingly. The belt system and the supports on the side keep you stabilized and safe, and believe me you'll need it because once you step into that world you are quickly going to forget that you are just playing a game.
It's an ingenious improvement in VR motion, but to get the full experience you'll need to also have an Occolus Rift headset, which is what Goetgeluk had waiting for me.
Before he let me start shooting things he insisted I walk for about five minutes to get used to it. It's a little hard at first, but for the most part it really doesn't feel any different from standard walking once you get used to hit. It's a hell of a calorie burner, though. You never noticed it, but technically you are always walking uphill, and it took only ten minutes of gameplay before I was breathing hard.
Then on came the Occolus goggles and the Half Life 2 menu screen as well as a very big gun controller with a really satisfying weight to hold. Pumping it launches grenades, and even my hippie ass was quickly drunk with destructive power.
The world through the eyes of the goggles isn't perfect. An HD version is still in the works, and you can see the pixels initially. All that goes flying out of the window the second you start running towards you first bullet magnet. How wonderful it is to hear an enemy around you and just flick your head to the side as you turn to pick them off with rifle fire. Once you try out gaming this way you will never see a reason for playing a first-person shooter any other way. It was like being in Video Game High School!
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There are still some flaws in the system that are being worked out before release. Any sort of movement other than forward is still a work in progress, and for a generation that has used strafing in firefights for decades it's a real hard strategy to unlearn. Goetgeluk explained to me that a combat instructor guided them on real life firefight movements, and trust me, gamers have been doing it wrong out whole life. Until then, though, it was just me a stationary target while I tried to figure out a new way to wage war.
There are also some kinks regarding getting the system to acknowledge your head moving one way and your body another. It's a disconnect that doesn't take you out of the game, but instead makes you feel like you got drunk in another world. Such issues are expected to be finished before release. I regretted stopping for dollar burgers on the way.
The possibilities offered by the combination of the Omni and the Occulus are mindblowing. What would it be like to wander the floating city of Columbia? I expressed a desire to try out a horror thriller like Amnesia. Goetgeluk told me he had... and lasted just five minutes before turning it off in fear. Gaming is about to change forever as virtual reality of incredible caliber becomes available to the general public. We'll keep you posted on release dates.