Wednesday, 29 January 2014

What's the opposite of Augmented Reality and why should I care?

I'd like to talk about something I'm calling "Thin Reality." I've also been tempted to call it "Submented Reality" just because of how terrible it sounds  There might be another name, but these will have to do for this article.

What I'm talking about is displaying a thin layer of reality in a VR environment. This is unlike Augmented Reality which displays a thin layer of the virtual in real-reality.

A company called Sixense makes magnetic positional sensors - the Hydra and the upcoming STEM system. These devices allow you to detect the position and orientation of an object.  Most people are planning to use these to determine the position and orientation of the player's hands or a prop such as a sword or gun.

Imagine attaching a STEM sensor to your keyboard instead of your hand.  Then in your game you could ask the game for help locating your keyboard.  A transparent glowing model of your keyboard could then appear inside your virtual world, but in it's real world location relative to your eyes.  You could then instinctively reach out and place your hands on your keyboard without removing your Oculus Rift.

This could be done for your mouse, keyboard, controllers, headphones, cell phone or even your coffee mug; anything you might have cause to reach for during a play session.  It might seem to break immersion to have this out-of-game object appear in your carefully crafted virtual world but it wouldn't be as bad as removing your Rift every time you want a caffeine fix.

While magnetic tracking like the STEM may be the "perfect" solution it's cost might put it out of reach for some.  Fortunately most situations could be handled by a simpler & cheaper solution.  Much like the position tracking for the Oculus unit itself, a stationary camera could be used to identify and locate many common items by QR code as long as they weren't obstructed.  Thanks to dbhyslop on Reddit for pointing out that the Rift will already ship with a camera that could be used for this.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Using the keyboard with the Oculus Rift

Sometimes we just need to type text on the keyboard.

The Oculus Rift makes this challenging.  Showing the UI and letting the player see the text they're typing isn't the problem.  It's much simpler to describe, and much harder to deal with.

The player can't see the keys.

Even if they're a great touch-typist, just finding the keyboard on your desk and reaching the home position can be problematic.

It's not ideal, but the solution I've come up with is to ask the player to take off the Rift while they're typing.  I'm lucky enough that the only thing I need them to type is an online log-in which I can ask for as soon as the game is launched.  This means they're not taking it off and putting it on through out the experience and since they weren't using the rift to operate windows before launching the app they'll get in the habit of not donning it until they're signed in.

The challenge remaining is how to communicate to the user whether it should be worn or not.  At some point in the future it would be nice to detect if the Rift is being worn or not, but for now this capability doesn't exist so we need to be able to communicate to the user whether they're wearing the Rift or not.

Here's a screenshot of how I'm doing this on SnowDrift...

This isn't final, but you can see the important bits.  It's a busy screen, with typing that requires the user to take off their rift.  If they were wearing the Rift unit when they got to this screen, almost everything you see here would only appear in one of their eyes, and they would be unable to comprehend it clearly.  The only thing that would be clearly visible to them would be the light blue message to take off the rift since it's displayed in stereo at a comfortable focal distance.

As we grope our way through the first few months and years of real VR, I hope we come up with a better solution than this, but for now I hope someone finds this discussion handy.