Ever since 2006 when I sold part of my soul to World of Warcraft, I have had a wish that everyone who prides themselves as a gamer has had at one point or another: To be inside the game. To put on a headset of some kind and see from the character's point of view and have complete control of the character and all of it's abilities. To shoot the zombies or slay the dragon with my own hands. In short, total immersion, a virtual reality (VR) experience like The Matrix. What gamer wouldn't want that? That kind of total immersion is still possibly a decade or two away, but the first step of it is already here in the form of the Oculus Rift.
The Rift is a virtual reality head-mounted display visor designed specifically for gaming, and despite still being in the developmental stage, it has many in the gaming industry slavering like dingos who have stumbled upon an unattended daycare. Companies such as id Software (Doom, Quake, Commander Keen), Valve (Half-Life, Team Fortress, Left 4 Dead, Portal) and Epic Games (Unreal Tournament, Gears of War, the Unreal Game Engine) have already endorsed the Rift, with Valve already incorporating Rift compatibility into Team Fortress 2.
Oculus VR and the Rift are the brain children of Palmer Luckey, a self-described virtual reality enthusiast and hardware geek, and also owner of the world's largest collection of VR head sets. Originally from Long Beach, California, Palmer created the first Rift prototype in his parent's garage (Where all good modern inventions seem to come from) out of old smartphone parts. When asked about his inspiration for making The Rift, he said "I was interested in stereoscopic displays, I was interested in head mounts, and the problem was there was nothing that gave me the experience that I wanted ... And I was sure that somewhere out there there was something that I could buy, and the reality is that there's nothing. I set out to change that with the Oculus Rift."
Nothing might have come of it had Luckey's work not caught the eye of John Carmack, co-founder of id Software and a fellow 3D/VR enthusiast. Carmack reached out and asked Luckey for a similar headset, then took it to the 2012 E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo) convention where both consumer and developer audiences couldn't get enough of it. Oculus was founded soon after E3, announcing a Kickstarter campaign with the goal of raising $250,000 for further development. The response was unprecedented, with the campaign surpassing the $1 million mark in 36 hours before eventually settling at a healthy $2,437,429.
Let's talk technical specs now. To start with, console fans will probably be waiting a very long time for the Rift; currently it is compatible only with PC games (they know of the superiority of the PC gaming master race), though they do hope to make the headset compatible with major consoles in the future.
Unlike other VR headsets, which only have a 30-40 degree diagonal field of view, the Rift has a 110 degree field of view. To simplify that, the small field of view on other VR headsets is the reason that you get a very small image far off in the distance when using them. The Rift's much wider field of view means that when you put the rift on you're not looking at a screen far off in the distance. You feel like you're actually inside the world. The Rift also trumps the competition when it comes to virtual reality's biggest opponent since the start of time: Latency. The Rift is very low latency, and rather than you turning your head and the view follows a second later, the view changes as your head turns.
Currently the consumer version of the Rift is set to go on sale some time in 2014. Luckey and the crew at Oculus are reluctant to set a date or quarter, saying only that it will be finished once it's finished, especially given the line of software titles already planning Rift integration. I'm certain that the list will only grow, and that should a certain gaming company named for a very powerful snowstorm decide to make their flagship MMO Rift compatible, they will probably get the other half of my soul.