When I was on a field trip to London back in high school, I played my first virtual reality (VR) game: Zone Hunter. I was immediately hooked and I knew I wanted to work in VR! I started my VR career more than 12 years ago working on industrial VR training applications and VR software tools.
I am now the founder and president of a company called "i'm in VR". We offer tools to simplify the creation of VR applications such as MiddleVR, a VR middleware that enables 3D applications (like Unity) to run on any VR system (HMD, caves etc.). I've been blogging about VR long before it was cool, and you can also find me on twitter (@Cb_VRGeek)
Now, you may think creating VR applications is easy: simply add camera rotations using the Oculus Rift tracker and you're done. This can work for some applications, but it will fail for the vast majority of them.
VR is all about presence in a virtual world. If you can't keep your player immersed into it, you're not doing it right. You can trick your brain into thinking it is in another reality, but this is more difficult than it sounds. This feeling of presence is very fragile.
Articles dealing with VR often adopt a too technical approach. I think VR is first about what's happening in the user's mind. In this article I am going to focus on some fundamental points about this presence in another world and why it is important to design your application for this goal.
Virtual reality allows you to immerse people in a 3D environment, with head-mounted displays (HMDs or VR goggles), or other immersive systems. That's why we often call it immersive VR (iVR) -- to differentiate it from virtual worlds like Second Life or World of Warcraft. VR was hyped in the early '90s, but failed to deliver the experience the public expected.
However, it continued to evolve on the serious games side, to a point where it is now an essential tool for several markets:
And, of course, VR can be used for games! But since the mid-'90s, very few games have been created with this technology; most were developed at research labs or by enthusiasts. Doing so required the skills and hardware to assemble a VR system and program the game themselves. To my knowledge, no commercial VR game has been created in the past 10 years.
Here's an on-going list of pre-Oculus VR games. But now, thanks to the arrival of the Oculus Rift, everyday is Christmas! We're just starting to see new VR games and experiences (like the virtual guillotine).