During a SXSW Interactive panel titled Virtual Reality: The Holy Grail of Gaming, Oculus Rift creator Palmer Luckey and a handful of industry veterans tackled an interesting issue: How do you simulate actual movement in a virtual reality space?
Luckey outlined a few possible solutions, which ranged from possible to wildly unreasonable. The most likely solution would be an omnidirectional treadmill, upon which players could walk to move themselves in-game without the use of a traditional controller. There are psychological solutions, including redirected walking — a method of tricking your brain into thinking your body is turning and redirecting itself when it is, in fact, moving in a straight line. Using that method, Luckey said, the simulation could make a 20-foot room seem more or less infinite.
There are also physiological solutions, too, like stimulating a player's inner ear or their muscles to simulate movement, though the panelists acknowledged that those solutions were a little unrealistic.
"For now, we're stuck with joysticks and omnidirectional treadmills, maybe," Luckey said.
Chris Roberts, founder of Cloud Imperium Games and creator of the upcoming, Oculus Rift-enabled space sim Star Citizen, said he's working on a hydraulic, moving cockpit which will simulate movement while players are flying a ship. It won't be widely produced or distributed, but he suggested that financial backers of the title will be invited to play the game in the virtual reality rig.
"For now, we're stuck with joysticks and omnidirectional treadmills..."
Words with Friends creator Paul Bettner suggested that the inconvenience and cost of that kind of technology could potentially bring about a renaissance for local arcades.
"It actually has me thinking about whether we'll see the resurgence of a next generation arcade, being an event space that you go to and put on the latest VR, and there are omnidirectional treadmills, or 20-foot rooms at least where we can experience that with other players," Bettner said.
"One of the things that caused the downfall of arcades was that the experience you used have to go out to do, you could now all of a sudden do at home, and you could do it better, and you could do it cheaper," Luckey said, adding that hardware-centric games like Dance Dance Revolution helped reverse that trend slightly.
Oculus Rift units for developers and backers begin shipping this month, and the company hopes to have all deliveries handled by mid-April.