Skyrim VR with Oculus Rift and Touch

As an interesting coincidence, and in a crappy mood because Dimwit Drumpf just won’t shut up and die already, I decided a few days ago to fire up Skyrim so I could wander around, be nice to Villagers, do a favor for a Jarl, kill some Bandits, and forget for a short while what utter shit that idiot is making of America Again.

Coincidentally, the very next day, one of my closer work buddies asked, “So, did you see that Skyrim VR is out on Steam?”

WHAT?!! OMG!!

So immediately upon getting home from work that afternoon, I went and bought it. Full price. None of this silly putting it on my Wishlist and waiting for a Steam Sale (which happen frequently). Bethesda absolutely deserves a premium price, given the (literally) hundreds of hours of enjoyment I’ve gotten from what has now really become a franchise in its own right. (Yes, it’s already part of the Elder Scrolls franchise, but it would seem that Skyrim has more “legs” than the rest.) Plus, I want to do my small part to encourage them to do more things for VR (or as I prefer to say, “which support 3D HMDs”).

First time trying it out, I got hung up with a glitch during the Character Selection and Modification subroutine… I ended up with a generic Nord with the name “Prisoner”. Figured I would just plow onward, going through the initial tutorial-ish chapter, just getting used to vastly different control mechanics. Then I’d start over and try to get the Character Setup stuff done correctly.

And so I did. Took me 3 tries, but finally figured it out. That’s one spot where the stuff that floats in front of your view doesn’t jibe. It’s a picture of a couple Vive Controllers blocking your view of the floating virtual keyboard, with cartoon thumbs, and some markings which seem to imply “You must type your name with the thumb joysticks.” And with Touch, at least, that ain’t true at all.

No – you must use the left-hand (odd) laser, and your forefinger trigger, to shoot past the foreground Vive Controllers image, to the dimmed keyboard behind them, and hit the backspace in the upper-right corner to erase “Prisoner”. As soon as you’ve hit the backspace once, the foreground crap disappears, so you can see what the heck you’re doing.

Anyway, on the 3rd try, I got it. So when I go to load the game, there’s one “Kleiven” and three “Prisoner” in there. LOL… I’ll have to figure out how to delete the Prisoners, which coincidentally was exactly what the Imperials are trying to do in the 2nd scene of the game.

Finally, I spent over an hour in Skyrim VR last night. I spent way too much time fussing over the Kajiit head-and-face characteristics. I think there’s no 3rd-person view.

My buddy says “No third person would make sense. Can you see your body in it?”

I replied, “Only time I could see my body was when making the character adjustments just before not cutting my head off.  Just see either floating Touch Controllers, or weapons if unsheathed. Don’t see arms, feet. But I see hands (fists, actually) if I’ve chosen no weapons, but am going to hiss and scratch the bad guy to death.”

Anyway, Bethesda made great choices for how to deal with turning, running, rendering. The thing that made me stop wasn’t any hint of VR sickness, but the brow getting tired of the pressure. If the Rift was 50% lighter, or the weight arranged such that it doesn’t need to press so hard on my brow, I could see playing like that for 3 hours easily.

I’m somewhat tempted to try adding a weight to the rear strap. I wonder if it were balanced back-to-front, though heavier overall, if it wouldn’t need to press so hard to stay in alignment. The weight could be borne by the top strap more than anything else.

Or maybe just tie a big Helium balloon to the front. It’s not like I could look more silly anyway. But I digress.

Skyrim VR is SO FUN! I hadn’t seen the game without make-it-more-beautiful mods in a long time. I’d forgotten how homely the NPCs are. But it didn’t take long at all to get used to that and ignore it, completely enveloped in the game. This is only my 2nd time starting from the beginning, and I’m consciously making different choices, just to experience it all from a different perspective.

Boy howdy, when suddenly set upon by a Wolf or Skeever, armed with a long-bow, it is not a simple push-a-button ordeal to start poking the beast with sharp, pointy things. I need to get into the habit of sprinting away, turning a 180, and THEN trying to draw the bow. Or just walk around with the sword more of the time. Derp.

SkyrimMilkDrinker

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So Many XR Ideas – But For What Market?

I am not alone in this, certainly, but I have so many ideas for things that I think would be really cool, or really informative, or really compelling, or really je ne sais quois.

Here’s an idea that would appeal to me, and quite possibly to at least a dozen other people: VR Model Railroad. Imagine a Model Railroad enthusiast has gotten himself a 3D Printer so they can download models from thingiverse, print out little buildings, cars, whatever, paint them, and add them to that monstrous thing that takes up way too much of the basement. Or the garage. Or the club’s building. Or whatever. Well what if those buildings didn’t need to be really printed? What if the model railroad was assembled in Sansar, or HiFidelity, or some other VR platform, and the train was also virtual? All the valves. All the levers and knobs. The roaring and hissing and clatter… all within the Oculus Rift with Touch Controllers.

Or, in a more AR way, what about a model train locomotive that has 360° cameras, and there was an interface between Touch controllers and the Model Railroad controls? Pop on the Oculus Rift, and shrinkify yourself INTO the cab of your locomotive, and engineer that puppy around the plywood and styrofoam from the Engineer’s perspective.

And shouldn’t every major art museum be making a VR version of their spaces?

And shouldn’t every state’s History Society be hiring 360-cam operators and VR designers to get even more eyes on History? Well heck, that’d also be an interesting area to do AR. Walk into some historic house, then view it through your AR-enabled phone app, and see an actor-portrayal of whichever historical figure sitting at his desk in the study, engrossed in the business of governance or whatever.

There’s a great deal of potential, but the recent articles seem to indicate that the XR market is still quite small (though the ARKit stuff in the latest iPhones may sway those numbers quite a bit).

What’s Not Yet VR

…is Linden Labs’ Second Life Project OculusRift 4.1.0.317313

Released just a couple days ago, I learned of its existence because of a Tweet by Jo Yardley (@1920sberlin)… and excitedly downloaded it to try it out. So far, I hate it.

Here’s what a rather small window of the regular 4k flat monitor looks like in 1920s Berlin, with pretty much all the graphics stuff set to ultra, super-duper, make-all-the-fans-spin-fast settings…

ProjectOculusNoHMD

And here’s the hammered-$#!+ that happens when going into HMD mode…

ProjectOculusWithHMD

Bright noon-day sun. No shadows. No character to the sim at all. Jaggy resolution. Jaggy motion. No mouse pointer (can’t open doors).

Linden Labs had a decade of a head start in VR before the first generally available consumer VR HMDs came out. All the other things necessary to make 3D HMD stuff get really immersive has already matured (CPU power, GPU power, broadband availability, etc.). So Linden Labs had a crazy advantage toward making Johnny-come-lately AltSpaceVR look absolutely noob-stoopid. (And it does look absolutely noob-stoopid.) However, I fear that noob-stoopid is going to win all the attention and users because, from an HMD-user perspective, and even from a 2D hey-I-found-this-thing-on-Steam perspective, that $#!+ “just works”.

Oh sure. It’s pretty easy to make SecondLife look soooo much better than AltSpaceVR. On a flat monitor, anyway. The avatars in AltSpaceVR are laughably horrible. Everybody looks like a friggin’ Pez dispenser, at best. But you can probably voice chat with them without wrestling with your audio settings. It probably already just works.

Then we get to HMD, and, well, the WORST thing I’ve yet to see available in the Store from Oculus Home – and I’ve seen some pretty crappy stuff – the worst thing was still far better than how SecondLife looks in Project OculusRift 4.1.0.317313.

Funny that the Release Page shows a long list of “Resolved” issues. All the problems I’ve listed so far are either listed exactly as one of the resolved issues, or there’s something VERY close in that list. Looks to me like maybe most of the Resolved issues accidentally didn’t actually get into the build that they put out for download.

And – again – SecondLife is largely WHY I got an Oculus Rift. So this $#!++y behavior from a FOUR-DOT-ONE release is crushingly disappointing.

Sansar better get released to public beta SOON. And it had better be so awesome I crap my pants. Otherwise, Linden Labs will become nothing more than a footnote in the VR story – if that. That would be sad. They had so many advantages.

What Is VR?

I disagree with many people on this, but that also puts me in good company. Many of the brightest minds out there also disagree with many of the other brightest minds out there.

One blogger and VR-creator whom I admire greatly likes to use the hashtag #VRisthepaintingnotthebrush a lot lately. But here’s the funny thing: she uses that to defend the idea that SecondLife IS VR, even if you don’t experience it via an HMD 3D headset such as Oculus Rift or HTC Vive. Well, yes, I agree with her on that particular point. Except, that an HMD is not a “brush” in that metaphor. Rather, it is merely the glass through which one peers to see the “painting” you’re not allowed to touch.

Then, in the next breath, she tells me…

VR = computer-generated simulation of a 3D environment that can be interacted with.

That’s one of the many definitions with which I do not completely agree. That is one example of VR, but there are more “brushes” than just CG, if we are to extend that same metaphor. More to the point, I believe that definition to be too narrow. Here’s why…

My 1st VR Experience

I do not recall how old I was, or where we were. Science Museum of Chicago? DisneyLand? Anyway, I was a kid, and we walked into a round room that was essentially a cylindrical movie theater with no seats. There were hand rails, and I was able to see above and hold the hand rails as readily as my 5’2″ mother – so I was probably around 12, give or take. The movie was 360-degree panoramic, probably in 7 or 8 sections. We could look in any direction, though the view top-to-bottom was restricted similar to any other movie. Or, for that matter, similar to riding in a car where the windows allow you view in any horizontal direction to the outside world, but looking UP or DOWN doesn’t allow you to see very far.

The movie included clips of Grand Prix racing, helicopter flying, downhill skiing, white-water rafting, and who-knows-what-else. I remember there being a particular scene during which for whatever reason (likely my natural curiosity about how stuff works) I wasn’t watching the screens at all. I was watching the viewers. And I watched as all of them leaned in unison to one side, all of them white-knuckling the handrails. One person fell over – clearly hadn’t taken the warnings to heart as to why there were handrails.

Even though they didn’t call it VR, I say that was Virtual Reality – because of two things:

  1. An entire room full of people were convinced they needed to lean into the turn. They felt like they were really there (the “Reality” part).
  2. They weren’t in fact really there (the “Virtual” part).

Can Be Interacted With

…is part of one definition of VR that I see from more than one source. Well if that’s the case (not sure if I’ll ever concede that point, but for the sake of argument, OK), then just how much interaction is enough interaction?

If I’m in a VR museum, or an ancient tomb, or some other notable place that has been photographed from a bazillion angles and stitched together such that I can walk around in it and look more closely at one thing, then another, and it feels like I’m there, isn’t that the same level of interaction I would have with art at the Louvre? I can’t touch the paintings. I can’t feel the walls of an ancient tomb. It’s not allowed. Nor is it possible if I’m actually standing in my basement wearing an HMD.

They like to say that “interaction” means I can move or change it. I disagree. I don’t care if I get to use the brush, or my interaction is rather as a passive observer. I care about whether it seems real, and my interaction is similar to how my real-world interaction would be, and it seems like I’m there, although I’m not.

CG

…is part of one definition of VR that I see from more than one source. Well if that’s the case (not sure if I’ll ever concede that point, but for the sake of argument, OK), then just how much computer involvement is enough?

When they take a bunch of pictures and stitch them together, they’re not stitched together by a seamstress. Nor are they presented as prints. A computer is delivering the 360×360 content, likely through an HMD, but certainly via a computer. So a computer was needed to make it, AND present it.

Many “experts” like to say that if the source of what you’re seeing is an array of cameras, that doesn’t count as VR. I disagree. I don’t care about which “brush” was used. I care about whether it looks real, and seems like I’m there, although I’m not.

Undies In A Twist

Therefore, I shall not get my undies in a twist if someone markets a 360-spherical video (that isn’t even 3D) as a VR experience. They can call it that if they want. It’s not as compelling (or immersive) as some other VR experiences I’ve had. But that’s the end of my criticism of misuse of the VR term with stuff like that. After all, if the roller coaster makes some viewers scream, and others sick, just how Virtually Real does it need to be in order to qualify as Virtual Reality?