If it seems these days you can’t open up your twitter feed without being bombarded by links to the latest development in virtual reality, don’t panic just yet – people forget that it was ever the case.
Indeed, while it feels as though we may be on the verge of a major breakthrough in terms of the successful implementation of VR tech, the exact same sentiment was expressed back in the 1990s; and you need only look around you to see what little impression that decade left on the VR industry.
That being said, this time it might just be different. Technology has come on leaps and bounds since the first wave of virtual reality headsets hit the market over 20 years ago, and the continued evolution of the smartphone may have supplied the blueprint to make the next batch a big success.
With screen resolution and micro processing power at an all-time high, consumers are cautiously optimistic about the Oculus Rift becoming more readily available in 2016 (though the console can already be purchased, not that many units have actually been made), while Sony will also launch a VR add-on for the PS4 this fall, potentially bringing virtual reality into living rooms across the globe.
A Reality Check
Of course, Sony will be all too aware that the last time a gaming company attempted to make VR tech available to the masses, the results were an unmitigated disaster. The year was 1995 and the perpetrator was Nintendo’s Virtual Boy – and if you don’t remember the first games console to attempt to offer true 3D graphics at an affordable price, trust us when we say it’s for good reason.
A clunky, desk-mounted device that retailed for $180 on its release (around $300 at today’s rate of inflation), the Virtual Boy was a monochromatic nightmare that looked like the product of one of the face-huggers from Alien successfully mating with a View-Master from the 1960s. Perhaps most famous for giving users crippling headaches after only a few minutes’ play, the Virtual Boy sold barely a tenth of what Nintendo had hoped for and was discontinued barely a year after its launch.
Though undoubtedly the most prominent failure among the first wave of virtual reality consoles, the truth is all similar products were doomed to share the same fate. The technology just wasn’t there at the time – existing screen resolution wasn’t advanced enough for them to be placed so close to the eyes, frame-rates weren’t quick enough to present a smooth image and processing capabilities meant you simply couldn’t pump out enough pixels to render a convincing 3D environment for users.
In fact, so ill-advised was this mid-90s rush into the VR world that interest in the industry effectively died for the best part of a generation. This pretty much remained the status quo until Palmer Lucky, founder of Oculus, raised $2.5 million via a public Kickstarter campaign in 2012 to further explore the next generation of VR tech, and now – four years later – his revolutionary device is finally here.
Opening The Rift
So what exactly has changed in the 21 years between the Virtual Boy’s abject failure and the current wave of excitement surrounding the release of the Oculus Rift? Well, in a roundabout way, the development of the smartphone and the rapid advances in mobile technology that have followed since really have provided an incredible foundation for anyone seeking to build a next-gen VR unit.
When you think about it, the key attributes needed to develop a top-of-the-line smartphone really are quite similar to those required to power a VR headset, with ultra high-resolution screens, accurate motion sensors and the ability to deliver this technology in a highly compact form all particularly important across both products. Indeed, so similar are the two concepts that Samsung and Google even developed “VR units” that simply involved slotting a smartphone into a headset.
That being said, these cheap-and-cheerful forms of VR can’t really compare to a custom-built machine – and that’s where the Oculus Rift comes in. Initially underwhelming the tech industry on its prototype release in 2013 thanks to an uncomfortable headset, low-res visuals and a fairly uninspiring software demo, the Rift’s critics have been forced to eat their words as technology has finally caught up with Lucky’s dream: The Oculus Rift is now truly an immersive piece of hardware.
One of the first games released on the current-gen version of the Oculus Rift was EVE: Valkyrie, a sci-fi-themed shooter that placed players in the cockpit of a futuristic gun-ship and saw them blasted into deep space to contest a series of dogfights. Craning their necks around to see enemy fighters approaching on their flanks while dodging meteoroids really gave early adopters of the Rift not only a sense of being at the heart of the action, but also of being at the forefront of a real game-changer.
"Futures made of virtual insanity now
Always seem to, be govern'd by this love we have
For useless, twisting, our new technology
Oh, now there is no sound - for we all live underground"
Dreams In Digital
Now, while that all sounds well and good to any hardcore gamer, we know what you’re thinking – we’re an online casino site and we’ve gone 13 paragraphs without explaining what implications virtual reality has for the world of internet gambling. Well fear not dear readers, because the truth is the possibilities presented by VR are only limited by the dreams of software designers themselves.
This year alone, we’ve already seen the first true virtual reality slots unveiled at London’s International Casino Expo conference, and this really is only the tip of the ICEberg as far as VR casinos are concerned. After all, if it’s possible for headset users to hurtle through hyperspace aboard a state-of-the-art spaceship, it’s not a huge leap to imagine them walking around a fully-rendered virtual casino, sitting down at a craps table and interacting with dealers and fellow players.
The appeal of this should be clear for all online casino companies to see, as for many years now they’ve strived to capture the social aspect of a bricks and mortar casino experience through live suites that broadcast dealer-dealt games in real time. Virtual reality casinos would clearly take this concept to the next level, with players able to actively explore a custom-designed gaming environment and fully immerse themselves in the action – and all from the comfort of their homes.
If this sounds a little far-fetched, you may be surprised to hear that such casinos already exist – albeit not in real-money format. Riftsino is one of the most prominent examples currently available and allows players to walk around a VR casino while playing blackjack and slot machines using finger, hand and arm movements to control their play. Though currently an independent piece of software, it will only be a matter of time before big gaming companies also find a way to bring their product into the VR arena; and when they do, the online casino landscape may well be changed for good.