Experiencing DK2 at Shayla Games

Traditional Oculus Face

Backstory

Earlier this year, in May, I went to Copenhagen University to try out the Oculus Rift DK2. Nowadays I hang out quite a bit over at Reddit, and in VRSweden an Oculus employee posted the he would demo the new developer headset on a free event, Shayla Games! This was the weekend after the professional conference Nordic Game in Malmö, which a bit too expensive to go to just for fun, but it meant a bunch of industry people were in the vicinity and could attend Shayla Games :)

I happened to be going out camping the same weekend which had been planned for a long time, so I would have to leave early to get to Copenhagen in time. Funny enough that night it was a thunderstorm, and we slept in an open shelter next to a lake, not many hours were spent sleeping! The sounds were awesome though… I wish I had had an audio recorder with me!

In the morning I had to leave really early to drive back to the apartment, pack all my stuff and wash up, and then take the train all the way to Copenhagen. I managed to forget my wallet in my laundry though, so I missed the first train. The biggest setback of the day!

A few hours later I was walking around Copenhagen, but I had forgotten to note the address for the event, and I naturally had no Internet on my phone as it’s in another country… but luckily parts of Google Maps had been cached and I remembered which station to go to and how the map looked, so I navigated that way! I was expecting to never finding my way there!

When finally at the campus I had no idea which building to go to, so I walked around looking for an obvious sign for the event. Finally I happened upon a map over the area and just decided to go to the main building as it had an information desk. Voila, that was the place for the event!

DK2 Impressions

After sitting down for a while to cool down I finally found the DK2 demo corner and got in line, if it could be called that, it was more of a spectator crowd. I asked the people from Oculus if I could record some video, and as it was ok I set up my camera! When it was finally my turn I got to try the Tower Defense demo, later on I tried Couch Knights and even a test build of SUPERHOT. I have since put two videos online, one visible just below which has more shots of different people as well as some of the surroundings and another one further down the page which revisits my first go in the DK2. These were recorded with binaural audio so it is beneficial to use headphones! Also, full screen helps selling the effect!

Field of View, Sweet-spot

Be aware that all my comments here are colored from having used the DK1 during more than a year and the whole time I’ve used the A-cups, which I’ve heard has the smallest sweet-spot of sharpness, and I’ve also had the screen assembly set as far from my face as possible which causes a lower FoV according to my own tests, this because I otherwise have a tendency to hit the lenses with my eyelashes.

The DK2 appears to have larger optics, and for me it this was the most apparent upgrade. In the DK1 I can see a defined circle around my vision, but in the DK2 I could not appreciate where my field of view ended even while rotating my eyes as far as I could! Again I have been running my DK1 in a setting that reduces FoV, for comfort, but the DK2 seems to be comfortable for even while delivering a wide FoV.

The sweet-spot where everything is sharp definitely feels larger now, at least in comparison to what I’m used to in the DK1 with the A lenses. In the DK1 I notice the limited sharpness mostly when I try to read text, and none of the demos presented actually had any text so that left me without that point of comparison. That said, I didn’t have any problems seeing things sharply no matter where I looked, or at least that was my impression.

Screen-door Effect

This is one thing many people are curious about, but I’m sorry to say I had a really hard time comparing the new and old kit. I’ve gotten so used to the effect in the DK1 so the effect in the DK2 mostly felt different, which is not strange as the new panel has a pentile sub-pixel arrangement meaning the screen-door is diagonal. I will have to switch back and forth between the kits to really tell, or take photographs through the lenses. That said, the resolution is obviously higher, but I can still easily notice the sub-pixels if I look for them. I don’t want to sound overly negative, but to me it feels like there are more color elements but also more black between them. This might be affected by the fact I tried a very dark demo as my first experience in the DK2, and with less sub pixels lit up it will appear as if there is more black space between them.

Latency and Low Persistence

As you might have seen in the videos above I tried shaking my head about. The headset probably sat a bit loose on my head because it shifted a bit, but whatever I did I could not detect any motion blur! Something that you get as soon as you move your head in the DK1. This felt like a much more natural and comfortable experience for sure, and while the panel runs at 75 Hz I could not detect any flickering, which was possible for me on a CRT in the olden days. Perhaps being closed off from the outside actually helps! At home I have over-clocked my DK1 to 71 Hz so I was conditioned to the fluidity, but that also made motion blur and smearing worse, so getting that same fluidity with absolutely none of those negative effects is kind of awesome.

Positional Tracking

This is what I wanted to try out the most, especially after having messed around with the Hydra to get a small taste of what to come, and it is something Oculus themselves have talked about for a long time.

It is very responsive, I could not feel any latency even if I tried, and I was quite surprised by just how far I could rotate my head before it lost tracking. I could definitely span the angles that are comfortable for a seated position without issues, the camera seems to keep up when looking straight to the sides and probably a bit backwards too.

The tracking volume is also quite large, I was able to move around in the scene quite a bit. The camera was situated fairly low and I think it might be aimed a bit downwards too as standing broke the tracking quickly but I could crouch down pretty far before loosing it. Again I was very impressed with how well it could keep up, even with my shenanigans!

I only bumped into one small issue. At one point in the video above you can see me moving forwards and then backwards several times. This is because when I was moving from the camera it felt like the position was updated in small ticks. I am guessing it could be an issue in the software as going forwards had no issues at all, so the resolution should be enough, or it could actually have been a frame-rate issue for all I know as when moving backwards new stuff pops into view. I also only noticed this in the Tower Defense demo and not in any of the others.

Hardware

I got a bit unsure of how to hold the DK2 when I first got it in my hands. The IR shield leaves less area for your fingers to keep hold of it than the DK1, and I was unsure if I would actually move the screen assembly or not. Nothing happened even if I fumbled a bit though so it was probably fine!

The cable was completely unnoticeable for me even when moving about to the degree I did, I could just as well have been wireless. I think I’ll have to watch my own video again to actually see where the cable went. But, even if I used the DK2 several times, I never realized I was tethered whilst in there. In the DK1 I get reminded of the cable fairly often, because it is relatively short in comparison.

The tracking camera looks tiny, probably half the size of my current webcam, it’ll be very inconspicuous pretty much anywhere. I’ve also read that it has a tripod socket so we will probably see some creative solutions to mount it pretty much anywhere. I forgot to ask if it has to be horizontal or if they recommend a certain distance, but I would suspect it pretty much calibrates automatically with all the available sensors.

The Demos

This has little to do with the hardware, but could still be interesting!

I think the Tower Defense demo is very nice to look at, but it could just as well have been a non-interactive experience as so much is going on and there is so much to take in. Just moving your head through the demo is enough to keep one occupied, to appreciate all the details. I really liked how I could lean in and look at stuff up close, I could even put my face into to the lava! To look under bridges to see areas otherwise invisible with a fixed camera is magical!

Couch Knights was very nice, I have been thinking that it looks a bit lame on a screen, but being in it is much more interesting for sure. The room feels authentic, the in-game body feels like my own and it is fantastic fun to steer a character like a radio controlled vehicle! It was single player as we only had one DK2 and one computer at the location, but it was still very enjoyable with proper physics to play around with. I leaned in close to look at my character and fire missiles into my face, this ability to get closer to see details is killer, so much potential!

Some of us got the chance to try SUPERHOT in the DK2, which worked really well! They said it was glitchy but I had no issues at all. As in real life, seeing the distance to stuff heading straight for you is really hard, but leaning side to side reveals everything! It is a very natural mechanic with the positional tracking of the DK2! I backed this game on day one and I’m looking forward to playing it in VR again upon release!

Conclusion

The DK2 is a great improvement over the DK1, positional tracking and image quality is great, I’m happy that I pre-ordered and am excited to hopefully get my hands on one in the following weeks. Oculus themselves have said that delivery will begin… next week! Exciting times.

Post Mortem

I’m very happy that I took my time to travel to Denmark, I had an awesome time even while sleep-exhausted-crazy. I got to talk about everything VR with all kinds of people, users from Reddit, the guys from Oculus and whoever! Oh, and with some of the developers of SUPERHOT which were attending!

Quite a few people asked about my camera setup too, about the mike, apparently it’s not common knowledge that it exists even among audio people which I found interesting as I had watched it for years before getting one.

An Oculus employee also saved my life by pushing pizza down my throat, I’m very grateful for this act of kindness. I hadn’t taken the time to get valid currency so I didn’t bother trying to acquire sustenance.

Posted in Events, Gaming, Trips | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Impossible Figure: Pathway

Pathway
Pathway_00_20_02
2014-02-28
Linework | Fillwork

The three floors are both stacked and flat at the same time.

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Impossible Figure: Sticks

So yeah, this blog has been on a hiatus for quite some time now. Life is just stressful with lots of commuting and responsibilities at work. This held me from figuring out how to update my templates for 2014, but I finally had the brains to do it so now I will have something to post again :)

The issue was how to ungroup/separate compound objects, and it was non-obvious which way I should have done it to succeed, it required some experimentation. Illustrator is confusing to me.

Sticks
Sticks_01_05_02
2013-01-31
Linework | Fillwork

From top to bottom the setup of the sticks change even without them moving.

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Half-Life 2 VReview

Last summer I spent my evenings playing Half-Life 2 with the official VR support. Since then I wrote my Oculus article but have been so busy I didn’t get to finish this one until now. I have not done a great amount of editing, but at least I’m posting it, finally :) As the consumer version of the Oculus Rift is still a way off this could be interesting for a few people.

Holiday Greetings

My VR experience of Half-Life 2 affected me so much I made this my Christmas card last year. Marketing people, take note, virtual reality changes minds. For better or worse. And yes, I didn’t really have brains left to do a proper cover photo, at least I get to post this ;)

Control

There are different modes of control in HL2 VR, some where you control your body and head separately and others where you can use the mouse to move the cursor around in a keyhole and stuff like that.

I quite quickly settled to a mode where the crosshair was locked to the center of my view, I basically aimed where I pointed my head, and walking was done in the same direction. I found that if I used modes that had me play with the mouse I would forget to use the head tracking much I think because moving the mouse is easier than rotating my head, physically. As I really wanted to utilize the key features of the Rift, one being head tracking,  I stuck to the face-gun-mode.

Character movement felt a bit clumsy sometimes. I would get stuck on small objects and then get launched forward when I got loose. Spaces that looked small enough to get through weren’t, which felt wrong in VR as the sense of scale is very good. Playing the game on a monitor it’s much easier to accept that your character is too large to fit. I found myself comparing heights to my own ability to crouch or climb, not Gordon’s.

Reactions

At some points I was surprised by my own reactions, I’ll try to reminisce a few of them.

During the airboat chapter I found myself gawking at a huge falling chimney. It made me stop the vehicle and just look at it with mixed horror and awe. Immediately afterwards I realized what I had done, and found it interesting that I had not just gunned for getting past the chimney before it hit the ground, that is what I would have done if I played on a normal screen. In general it feels like I was more careful with decisions and risk taking while playing in VR, it feels like choices will cause more real consequences.

While walking around in the sewers or some tunnel where the only light came from my flashlight, I found the darkness intimidating. The limited battery of the flashlight does not help! It was quite disconcerting hearing odd noises when unable to see, and then… as it happened, when the flashlight had recharged and I flicked it on again, turning around I was suddenly up close with a zombie that had not been there before! Scary for real! I was in a flooded tunnel, and Apparently they rise from below the surface of the radioactive waste, it being radioactive thus dangerous to touch I was stuck on a small platform meaning I was also unable to just escape!

Enemies are mostly quite comfortable to handle. Zombies are slow, soldiers stay at a distance as they are shooting, barnacles are stuck in the ceiling. The things that freaked me out the most are enemies that rushed towards me, then most often a fast zombie but also head crabs had me jump at several occasions as they surprised me!

I have not quite put my finger on why it’s scary, but comparing it to real life it is sure more scary to stand next to a lion than seeing one at a distance. It is also harder to keep track of things that are close to you. The running zombies sure creeped me out in Ravenholm, a night level, just that I knew they could come from anywhere was discomforting, and then to hear the running noises… I just wished to get out of there :P

Characters are pretty believable even though looking a bit dated graphically, it actually felt comforting to get together with friendly characters again after some stretches alone. Just hearing a human voice, even if I knew it was playback, was soothing after a session of running around getting shot at and battling hordes of ant lions.

Dog is a bit scary when he runs around, a large bulky metal creature. Moving vehicles gives a fright, especially as I managed to get killed by trains several times as well as an amok APC with Dog on top… Seemingly I kept being in the wrong place!

You get used to falling, but it’s a bit jarring the first few times. In a level you climb the underside of a large damaged bridge I fell multiple times so I learned then how it felt. That the screen turns red when you die is good, it’s a clear sign what has happened. It’s not like you feel it in any other way, had the camera just fallen to the ground it would feel like you had just fallen over.

Striders are scary after you have understood how hard and dangerous they are! They are a bit odd, but feel more organic than  I thought earlier. The large ant-lion beast is also a bit scary, but it still feels a bit like a push-over. He was scary the first time, but then I got used to dodging and well, I did play on easy because I didn’t have much time to replay things so I wanted to progress fairly quickly. It still took me 26 hours!

Scale

The sense of scale you get in the Rift is actually quite astonishing. I can now imagine things from the Half-Life universe in the room I am in as I know how large they would be. It will probably be quite important to get things in the right scale for developers.

Tall buildings are very impressive, large MOVING things are VERY impressive! Just like in real life huge constructions fascinate me. I cannot wait to experience more out-of-this-world architecture.

An interesting side effect from playing in VR is that I have formed actual spatial memories of the places I’ve visited in the game. I know them way better than areas in most other games I have played, at least for just having run through it two times ever! Sure I still got lost when I play, but I’m easily lost in real life too, but the vivid memories I still have of the virtual space is a new experience.

These two factors I think ties in to how I felt afterwards. I was way more attached to the Half-Life universe than I had ever been before, even if I was fascinated with and played the originals back when they were released. This time around I came out of the game completely ready to buy a plush head crab and I actually read up on story conspiracy and Half-Life 3 rumors!

Issues

Weapon selection HUD is nice but needs work. Personally I would like to try having it in a grid instead of just a four way cross. When picking with the directional pad I could just as well press up left left, or right down right or whatever, instead of left three times, up two times etc to pick a specific weapon. It will probably end up perfect. It seems to get tweaked between the different updates, I’ve had two or three variations of the HUD so far, one where the rocket launcher and grenades were missing so I had to press buttons on my keyboard for those. But when all the weapons were included the HUD grew so wide I couldn’t really see the things furthest out.

Weapons are a bit over-sized, not yet adjusted for VR. It mostly feel fine, but the gravity gun especially feel huge. The weapons are also not sharing the same 3D space so sometimes you can see them being deeper than the wall your are standing next to.

Aiming for the scout-car and airboat guns can be really off. I later read that it gets aligned to how you enter the vehicle, if I remember that correctly. So unless you face the direction of the vehicle when jumping on your crosshair can be anywhere!

I actually played most of the game thinking the sniper was broken. When I zoomed in the crosshair was fixed in place, it didn’t follow my view anymore. Near the end of the game I discovered that after zooming my controller stick actually moved the crosshair, weird! I would much rather just keep aiming with my head, it’s not like I haven’t used binoculars in real life, but I guess as the angular sensitivity is still the same it might be hard to actually keep on target.

What makes the immersion

During my play-through I tweaked my settings a bit. What I found was that a few quality settings were much more important for immersion than others, at least for me.

Real time shadows. Using the flashlight casting shadows relative to my position was incredibly satisfying. I maxed shadow settings, not sure if it any difference, but why not.

Reflections. I upped the reflection settings too, it helped out the water quite a bit. Just water feels like a hard thing to simulate, but with high settings it was surprisingly convincing.

Particles. Lots and lots of particles: sparks, smoke, debris; it is all awesome, when it looks right. A few smoke puffs and atmospheric effects look a bit too much like floating billboards as they’re sprites.

In general, effects one would expect from real life helps me getting immersed. I could without problem lower the texture quality, surfaces just looked less crisp, but it was much easier to accept than having crappy reflections or no real time shadows.

Another thing HL2 is good at, no pop-in or visible LoD swaps. Pop-ins are when things move into the drawing distance, before that they are invisible as the game just skips rendering stuff that far away. I have noticed this in a few other experiences, but not in HL2, if they do it it’s very discreet.

Level of Detail models are different meshes depending on how far away an object is. Close up the resolution is high and far away it is much lower, there can be multiple models in between. If the change between models is not frequent and at a distance where it is not noticeable it severely reminds you of that you are looking at computer graphics.

Bonus round: VR mod

A month or so back I finally got around to trying out the Half-Life VR mod using the Razer Hydra for positional tracking. To have aiming decoupled from your vision is simply incredible. It allows for so much different gameplay. Hold the weapon out from cover, around a corner, raise it above your head, use the gravity gun and manipulate objects much more freely, angle the flashlight to what you want to see…

When I first tried it my younger brother walked into the room and was laughing out load as I sat there shooting with the pistol gangsta style, for me it was just comfortable that way and I didn’t think much about it. At that time I was just happy to have gotten it to work with hand tracking, but just last week I tried my hand at doing the positional tracking of my head / torso. I placed one Hydra in a chest pocket on a fleece vest and used the other as the gun. I still controlled walking with a 360 controller in my left hand.

When I first launched it I would just sway back and forth and be amazed by the parallax, the fact that things shifted in relation to each other due to different depths. Turn on the flashlight and see the shadows play when moving it about. This time around I was standing up instead, I figured it should be possible when tracking the position of the head, so I tried crouching and the tracking moved my view close to the ground. Very neat! See animations below!

There is one issue right now though, and that is the drift of the Rift and the fact the Hydra base station will not rotate with me. The hand tracking is done in relation to the view, and if you recenter when not facing the base station odd things happen. The amount of drift seems a bit random, but what currently varies the most where I live is temperature so I guess that might be a factor for the sensor.

As I mentioned the immersion is at an all time high when the tracking is keyed in, but when it drops out of sync it takes a dip for sure. In comparison locking the weapon aiming to the camera as I had it setup before never really gets any dips, the drift is completely unnoticeable as your in game body is always facing forwards. However, as you shoot with your face, the immersion is not as deep as with decoupled tracking.

Below is a list of issues that occurs which breaks immersion in the current VR mod:

  • Hydra hand calibration is off, resets with a button press.
  • Hydra axis gets inverted, restart the game, I think I get too close to the base station.
  • Height calibration of the player is off, re-calibrate like with the hand.
  • Cable tangle from Hydras, Rift and headset, mostly an issue when standing up.
  • Rift drift, needs to be reset with a button press but make sure you are facing the Hydra base station when doing so.

None of these problems exist when running the simpler mode without the mod, they are probably mostly hardware related and the biggest issue which is Rift drift will be a solved problem in the consumer version. In spite of this it is currently still an amazing experience that I highly recommend to try if you have the gear.

I am currently waiting for the next release so I can play Episode 2 with the mod, which is a part of Half-Life 2 I have not actually played yet so it will be mighty exciting. The most memorable part from Episode 1? I only played the last quarter or so with the mod, but at the very end (might be a spoiler?) when we had finally gotten on the train, I stood there watching what happened, and then I naturally crouched down so I was at face height with the railing. This is real life crouching that was represented in the game, again I was playing standing up. It was fascinating how it really felt like I partook in the end of some kind of action movie, and how just being able to hunch down to feel more safe on a moving train added so much to the experience. The ability to act out, even with such a simple maneuver, really strengthened the sensation of actually being there.

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Impossible Figure: TripleTribar

It took me quite some time to figure out how to carry a scale factor with me from the outer tribar to the inner. I will talk about this below the image.

TripleTribar
TripleTribar_00_23_01
2013-11-28
Linework | Fillwork

You can travel infinitely in any direction by walking through this figure.

As it was drawn with an equal distance between all vanishing points, as I have been doing for a while now, some interesting geometrical things happened. I tried to find where on the outer tribar the inner should be anchored, and while plotting several inner tribars I tried to figure out some kind of relationship.

TripleTribar_GeometryWhat I finally found was that the intersections of the lines for the outside of the inner tribars all lined up on a circle. To my surprise this circle had the exact same size as a circle crossing through all vanishing points, and it would intersect the center of the tribars which was what I looked for. It also crossed through the absolute center of the vanishing points! Phew!

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