Free mod turns Quake 2 into a VR masterpiece

The Oculus Rift Development Kit 2 is both newly released and a bit rough, but some amazing experiences are already being released.

One of the best and most impressive uses of virtual reality to come from the community is a mod that adds full DK2 support to one of the truly great first-person shooters: Quake 2.

Getting everything set up is only moderately tricky. You need to find a copy of Quake 2, it's available on Steam, and then pick up the mod files. If you've ever installed a Quake 2 mod before, you'll find the rest of the instructions to be old hat, it's just moving files from one place to another.

There's something funky in the DK2 SDK that causes judder if you don't disable Aero in Windows, so do that as well before you get started. When you launch the game with the Quake2VR executable, be prepared to find yourself in a whole new world.

Virtual insanity

I spent some time in the options, because this mod introduces a ton of things to adjust and play with graphically, and specifically for virtual reality. Getting existing content to operate well on an Oculus Rift isn't easy, and it takes a bit of tweaking and a lot of support from those working on the software. What's comfortable for me may not work for you, so taking a few moments to test the settings and fiddling with options for each game is mandatory.

Luckily this mod was made by someone who cares about virtual reality, and the amount of tweaking and improvements that are possible are almost overwhelming. You can adjust the heads-up display in a number of ways to make it easy to see in virtual reality.

Aiming in virtual reality

An important tweak is adding the laser sight in options and removing the crosshair. You can bring up the console with the tilde key and then type "crosshair 0" to do so. Why bother?

I once spoke with John Carmack about first-person shooters in virtual reality, and he discussed this at length. Everything in virtual reality has to exist somewhere in the virtual world, and that makes no sense with crosshairs. If you put them between you and the enemy it feels strange, as if there's something floating in the world. Your eye has trouble focusing on it.

Or if you don't make them a 3D object you could get a headache trying to figure out how the crosshair is floating behind a wall. Look around yourself now and try to figure out where the crosshair would be in real life if you were aiming; it's not easy.

The solution is to add a line of light, the laser sight, as a 3D object in the game. It stops when it hits an object, and it makes it easier to aim. It makes sense as something that could actually exist, and exist correctly, in a 3D world. Virtual reality design requires these sorts of adjustments, and luckily this mod makes it easy to do it correctly.

You can adjust the controls to lock aiming with your head's movement so the crosshair follows your eyes, or you can separate the two so you can aim with your mouse and look in a different direction, allowing you to search for enemies with your head and eyes while aiming your weapon with your hand. It's tricky, but it feels amazing once you get used to this method of control.

It goes deeper with DK2 specific controls. You can toggle low color options that make the blacks deeper, and low persistence mode is now a toggle. You can turn positional tracking off or on, depending on your preference. This is what allows you to move your head towards or away from objects in VR, or moving in such a way that you can look around corners. You can add a laser sight to the weapons, allowing you to see the path of your shot in 3D.

You can even adjust the menus themselves, changing the font and virtual distance from your eyes so you can see what you're doing better. Bringing up the menus causes a floating, transparent screen to pop into your view, allowing you to continue looking around while also adjusting whatever you'd like in the game.

Every aspect of the game can be tweaked or adjusted to make your stay in virtual reality comfortable; this may be the gold standard in how to modify an existing game for the Oculus Rift.

If you have a DK2 or are given the chance to try this, do yourself a favor and spend 10 to 15 minutes adjusting things for your personal preferences. It makes a huge difference, and once you begin to play in a virtual world that's 100 percent comfortable and controls how you'd like the experience is hard to put into words.

But let's try.

Playing the game

The mod comes with a variety of neat graphical updates, and the better textures are much less muddy than the original release. I maximized every graphical option I could find, and was pleasantly surprised by the visuals on the game. I also locked the gun to my view so I only had to look at my target to aim at them, I removed the crosshair and added the laser sight as I described above, and off we went.

You can lean and sight down the weapon itself

Quake 2 is a fast game, and it takes a while to get used to that aspect of its design in virtual reality. Imagine existing inside a universe where you could run around going at 60 miles per-hour or so, and you can see why the game may make you queasy. The simplistic nature of the play also works well in VR: There are no big dialog scenes, no complex instructions, you just kill damned near everything you see.

And kill things I did. It's hard to describe moving and aiming with a combination of the WASD keys, the mouse, and the movements of your head, but it feels natural. Your eyes flick to your targets anyway, so once you get used to subtly adjusting your head to aim you become a killing machine. There were moments it was fun to slow down and look around, to get the sense of actually being inside the world of Quake 2. It's a strange thing, and suddenly the larger enemies feel much more imposing as they tower over you, sharing your physical space.

The addition of positional tracking also takes some getting used to, but it adds an interesting aspect to the game. You can actually lean a bit down and site down the weapon itself, meaning that you can use iron sites by moving your head realistically, not hitting a button to toggle it. You can also peek around corners, and take a closer look at the weapon models if you'd like. It's also possible to lean WAY back and see that your arm is just a model floating in space, but I tried to avoid that as much as possible.

I've included a video so you can check it out for yourself, and in the video I decoupled my head movements from aiming so you get a sense of juggling both aspects of the game. Also pay attention to what it looks like aiming down the weapon and keep in mind that's all achieved through moving your physical noggin around inside the virtual space.

This is my new favorite game in virtual reality.

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