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Gaming in a New Dimension - Virtual Reality Technology Creates Buzz at E3

By: The Associated Press
By: The Associated Press

The face of this year's E3 is donned with a virtual reality (VR) headset.

The prospect of VR in the living room probably isn't quite ready for prime time, but that won't stop it from being buzzed about across the LA Convention Centre at this week's event.

At the booth of Oculus Rift, show attendees are taking a three dimensional look at what many call the next stage in computer gaming.

The Oculus headset has been at the forefront of gamer's minds lately, especially since Facebook recently purchased the company for two billion US dollars.

"I think we're all on top of this," says Oculus founder, Palmer Luckey.

"Virtual reality people have been wanting it for a long time. I wanted it, a lot of science-fiction nerds wanted it, a lot of game enthusiasts wanted it. And we finally have the technology to make it happen, and it's really gratifying to be involved in the industry at the right time where we can finally make a big difference."

According to Luckey, they're ready to exploit the potential for VR and the market is ready and waiting.

"What we've got is already better than pretty much everything that's come before and we know what we need to make for the consumer product now," he says.

"We know what virtual-reality needs to be to be a mass-market thing, and we're really cranking to get that into people's hands."

The potential for VR headsets raises questions over where else this new technology can take us, but Luckey says there needs to serious development before it replaces traditional televisions.

"I think eventually virtual reality is going to replace traditional televisions," he says.

"But that's not going to happen in our current incarnation of the headset. It's going to have to get much slimmer, much lighter, closer to what a pair of actual glasses looks like and become a normal part of your everyday life, not be something that you're dedicated to go do."

While the buzz around virtual reality technology here is all about games, Facebook's decision to purchase Oculus suggests there'll be other applications for the devices.

Michael Pachter of Wedbush Securities says much more is possible.

"Oculus guys definitely had a vision as a gaming device and I think that they were very ambitious about getting game content for it," he says.

"But they were all games all the time. Facebook clearly thinks that that platform has applications beyond games you know, possibly training, education, surgery."

Software titles for virtual reality are few and far between here at E3, but that doesn't mean other development for the technology isn't happening.

Elsewhere, at Sony PlayStation's booth, they're previewing their own take on VR in the form of this Project Morpheus headset.

"Virtual reality is quite different, it uses a lot of the same type of technology as traditional games but the game play is very different because you are feeling like you're actually present in the place where the experience is created," says Richard Marks, Director of PlayStation Magic Lab.

"It's not like you're controlling a character it really feels like you're there."

According to Marks, what differentiates PlayStation from other VR developers is that their console technology is already able to process the kind of graphics needed for virtual reality.

"One of the great things that differentiates us is that we actually have a console that's capable of rendering the graphics needed for VR," he says.

"So we can leverage that console and then combine that with the headset itself and you have a full VR system there."

While show attendees here are getting an advance taste of what the Morpheus headset has to offer, Marks says they're still a while away from releasing the headset.

"We know that we're not ready to release it this year," he says.

"We're actually having the developers create new experiences so that when we are ready to sell it we want to have a rich variety of experiences ready for people to try."

Even though attendees here are only getting a fleeting glimpse of what virtual reality technology can truly achieve, many say they're excited by the possibilities.

"A game can get your adrenaline pumping even if you're just sitting on your couch," says Ben Lange from RoadToVR.com

"But to get that adrenaline pumping and have it actually enhance, you know, like if you're running with a flag in a capture the flag game and your adrenaline is going because the clock is counting down and your team mates are all counting on you, combining those two experiences together is one thing that I'm really looking forward to."

And James Martinez from Nerdreactor.com says this new kind of gaming does take some getting used to.

"Oculus is still brand-new, so you kind of have to train your mind. 'Oh, I can look all the way to the left or I can look all the way around me,' whereas with most games you kind of do that with the controller, but you're not really aware of it," he says.

"Now you just have to force yourself to move."

But with virtual reality being a buzzword at this year's E3, many developers are throwing their hat into the ring when it comes to VR gaming equipment.

The Virtuix Omni is a 360-degree treadmill that can be used in conjunction with the Oculus Rift headset.

It provides gamers with a unique interactive experience, exploring three dimensional environments from the comfort of their own home.

"The Omni is the first-ever virtual reality treadmill that enables you to be truly a part of the video game," says developer, Jan Goetgelux.

Omni uses a low-friction surface which users then walk on.

They also wear special Omni shoes so they can slide across the circular platform.

According to Goetgelux, there's also a harness and circular safety rail, meaning users won't find themselves walking out their front door while in the middle of a game.

"There's a support harness for safety reasons so you cannot fall off the Omni," he says.

"The harness also keeps you in place and allows you to use the Omni hands-free so you can hold a controller or a gun in your hands at the same time."

He also says enthusiasts don't need to wait for new software titles to enjoy the technology.

"Omni can be used for both gaming as well as exercise," says Goetgelux.

"The Omni works out of the box with existing games, so you can play short-em-ups, you can play from 'Minecraft' to 'Skyrim'. Any game you want really, it works out of the box."

Virtuix says the device is available now for 499 US dollars.

E3, which is run by the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), is being held at the Los Angeles Convention Centre from 10 June to 12 June 2014.

The annual event attracts tens of thousands of professionals, keen to get a taste of what the future holds when it comes to interactive entertainment.


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