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“If we make headsets for gamers that cut them off visually and aurally from the world we will take an awful lot of criticism,” says Braben

Joe Donnelly September 19, 2013 - 12:49 pm

Programmer David Braben, best known as the co-writer of classic 80s space sim Elite, has spoken out about the pros and potential pitfalls of Oculus Rift and VR.

Half-Life 2 VR shows the Oculus Rift in action

Oculus Rift at times sounds too good to be true. It’s virtual reality. But it’s virtual reality – a concept that we’ve been promised for the last 20 years – that actually might work.

By and large, most critics – at this stage at least – seem impressed with what it promises to offer. Some have noted side effects such as motion sickness and headaches – some worse than others. But are these symptoms the real potential downsides to a virtual reality peripheral that might actually be worthwhile?

Speaking in an interview with Edge, veteran programmer David Braben heaped praise upon the forthcoming Oculus Rift, however highlighted the consuming nature of VR as a pitfall to be cautious of. “Oculus Rift is great,” says Braben. “And I applaud all the experimentation in virtual reality. But with all the virtual reality technologies over time, there are so many things that you have to get absolutely right, and humans are very good at identifying when something is wrong.

“3D technology is a case in point, and something that I’ve always been pretty sceptical of mainly because it’s actually quite hard on the eyes. It gives people headaches and it’s not pleasant to do for an extended period of time. But more than that, I’m slightly weary that as an industry if we cut people off from the world it has implications for the way games are viewed generally.

“Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s a great experience, but if we make headsets for gamers that cut them off visually and aurally from the world, we will take an awful lot of criticism.”

Staying clear of gimmicks is surely key to a successful VR experience. Nintendo has been shrewd in the past, latching on to trending fads such motion technology with the Wii, and ’3D’ gaming with the 3DS. The latter is an example of how quickly these gimmicks tire when the technology cannot fully realise the experience, as Nintendo’s latest offereing – the 2DS – is surely a concession that the majority of the public aren’t that bothered by 3D/2.5D play.

But the above examples are less intrusive to the living room. Braben continues, pointing the necessity for context when dealing with VR.

“If you exclude the entire world, it’s a much harder ask for the technology in terms of what it allows you to do,” he says. “Can you answer your phone, for example? Probably not. There are challenges to that. But the one that concerns me more is that I really don’t want the games industry to go back to a niche. I think we can make games that are like that, but if it becomes the default, if people were watching television on a headset that excluded them from their family, would we think that’s a good thing?

“Now we might think the experience of watching television like that is better. But it might be like the 3D glasses thing; it works OK in the cinema because it’s an activity where you’re all going to do it, but when you’re in a social environment where the interaction with other people in the room is as important as watching the TV, then having something that excludes you. I mean, I love the idea of social games where you’re involving other people and of course that can work through a headset.

“I think [technology like this is] very interesting and I think sometime soon the technology will get a lot better. I’m not talking about any one technology, but it can’t make people feel sick, make their eyes hurt, or any of the things people have said. And it also mustn’t exclude people from the rest of the world.”

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