I Played The Oculus Rift For Five Hours Straight

I Played the Oculus Rift for Five Hours Straight

As a gamer, I rarely play in short chunks. I'd rather play hours at a time. So ever since I learned of Oculus Rift, I've been consumed by one burning question: will playing the Oculus Rift for long stretches make you sick? Well this week I got the chance to test this out on the only willing guinea pig I could find: me.

The last time I tried Oculus Rift, I only had a meagre hour with the headset, most of which I spent on Portal 2. During that time I experienced no real negative side effects — other than a brief few moments of disorientation upon first putting it on.

This time, however, my time limit with the Rift was to be measured in days, not minutes. So with the Oculus Rift in my hot little hands, I spent a morning setting it up, downloading games and calibrating it as best I could. And then, as I promised in my article showcasing the big name games the Rift can play, I booted up Dishonored...

...only to be hit with instant nausea. For some odd reason, the game was not configured at all properly. The feeds to the left and right eyes were swapped for starters, and I can't even begin to explain how painful that was to see.

After spending a good hour troubleshooting, I got the game running more or less as intended, but was still left with more than one glaring problem. For one thing, the feeds for each eye were subtly different from one another. On one eye there would be a shadow or a reflection not present on the other — it was like having something in my eye that I just couldn't seem to blink away.

I Played the Oculus Rift for Five Hours Straight

But the biggest problem was that, while the game itself was properly displayed in 3D, the UI overlay was not. That means that all text windows were doubled (and therefore headache inducing) and menus shared the same problem. However, that wasn't the worst problem with the UI. No, that would be the fact that the crosshair was doubled. I couldn't shoot the broad side of a barn or swing a sword accurately to save my life.

I tried playing for the better part of an hour, focusing on the background and ignoring all text pop-ups as I worked my way through escaping the prison. But eventually, I just decided to call it quits.

At this point, it wasn't a fair test. Playing Dishonored like this was going to make me sick no matter what. If I wanted a true test of how it feels to play the Rift for long stretches of time, I'd have to play a game that it was designed to work with — not one that worked only thanks to a fan-made driver.

So I got up, cleared my head, ate a quick lunch, and decided to go back to an old favourite: Half Life 2: Episode 1. After quickly booting up Team Fortress 2, using its Oculus Rift calibration tool, and transferring those settings over to Half Life 2, I began playing.

Barring a short two-minute break to hit the bathroom, down a glass of milk, and refill my water bottle, I played Episode 1 non-stop, from start to finish, over the course of the next five hours.

How was it, you ask?

I Played the Oculus Rift for Five Hours Straight

When Alyx jumped into my arms at the start of the game, my hands jerked off my mouse and keyboard as I tried to catch her in real life. It really is that immersive. As I played I found myself occasionally just staring at Alyx's emotional face and looking up or peering down over ledges, just to see the wider view. It's amazing the power the eyes have over your sense of place. At times I literally forgot I was really sitting in my living room.

Gameplay wise, Half Life 2 has been tuned in a way unlike either Portal 2 or Dishonored. If you move your mouse around in the middle two-thirds of the screen it doesn't affect the camera; It just moves your crosshair. Only when the aiming reticle goes into the outer third of the screen does the camera begin to turn. Head movement also allows you to turn the camera — i.e., if you look to your left in the real world, so does Gordon's head.

Complicated as this set-up seems, let me tell you, I have never been as good at a FPS as I was playing Half Life 2 on Oculus Rift. Head shots became as easy as a tilt of my head and the click of a mouse. And my improved control wasn't the only reason I was much more accurate. Because the Rift fills up your entire vision, everything is much bigger than when playing on, say, a 42-inch TV. A head is no longer a small object, but rather a large, easy target. I had no problem slaughtering endless hordes of zombies; they couldn't even touch me. I really felt like Gordon Freeman.

But now that we've looked at all the good I experienced over my five-hour jaunt into Episode 1, it's time to delve into the bad.

By the time I hit the one-hour mark in Episode 1, I was queasy and had a minor headache — two afflictions that would remain until after I finished playing.

I suspect the queasiness had to do with movement in the game. There is generally a choppiness and blur whenever there is a fast-moving object. And, while, after a few hours I no longer consciously noticed the blur, the queasy feeling never went away and would grow stronger every time I was forced to make repeated, quick spinning movements (though in gunfights I was so immersed that I didn't notice the feeling).

I Played the Oculus Rift for Five Hours Straight

The headache, I suspect, came from eye strain issues. The Oculus Rift dev kit I was playing on is one of the original models; so the screen resolution is basically 640x800 per eye. And with the screen so close to your eye, you can easily see every pixel. It really feels like looking at the world through a screen door. The problem is, while you know that it can't get any clearer than it is, your eyes automatically try to bring it into sharper focus — especially if you're focusing on a face or trying to read some text. This gets even worse when you are in a dark room or unlit subway as your eyes are straining to automatically adjust to the dark even though it's impossible.

But the most painful thing I experienced came from the loading screens in Episode 1. If you don't remember, the screen in the game will freeze without warning for 10 seconds or so as the next area loads. And in a game where you are constantly adjusting your vision through head movement, suddenly having this control taken away is the most disorientating experience I have had in my life. Just imagine how odd it would be if you turned your head in the real world but your vision remained the same as before. In practice, this feels like being stabbed in the brain at the same time as the world spins out from under you.

Another, less painful effect came whenever two objects should have collided but didn't. In the Rift, the gravity gun, for example, is very long. When you spin around holding it, the model often clips through other objects, like a wall for example. This generates a lesser pain like the one mentioned above. Your mind knows that you should stop turning when an object you are holding hits a wall. And when it doesn't, the pain comes in a wave.

The oddest side effect I experienced also came from the hit boxes in the game. Basically, the closest I could get to Alyx before running into her hit box was at around two feet away. But as I stopped as if I had hit her physically, my brain interpreted the signal as, "Oh, if you ran into her, you must be super close — and if you are that close, your perception is wrong. She's not far away, she's just tiny!" So for the rest of the game my mind interpreted every human character as being two-thirds the size of a normal human.

As I neared the end of Episode 1, I noticed a final side effect: physical pains. While not even a pound in weight, the Rift was starting to take its toll after being perched for nearly six hours upon my head. My neck was more than a little sore and my cheeks hurt where the majority of the Rift's weight had been resting.

When I finally beat the game and removed the Rift, I was happy to be done. There were no lasting sensations (spinning, dizziness) and the queasiness and headache slowly dissipated over the next few hours.

In the end, I have mixed feelings about the experience. The immersion I felt while playing Episode 1 was an unreal experience and I wouldn't give that up for the world. But the side effects make me worry. When the game was action packed and I was kept busy, I didn't notice the negative side effects much. But when the game slowed down, I would start to focus on just how horrible I was feeling. While I never vomited, my stomach was never happy. In fact, even now, days later when I think about playing the Rift some more, my stomach ties itself in knots. As it stands now, I probably wouldn't want to use it anymore once the novelty of the experience eventually wears off.

Thankfully, the Rift as I have experienced it is far from the final product. Newer development kits have better screen resolution and the final product is likely to be better still. Moreover, as more and more games are made specifically to work with the Rift, I am optimistic that a lot of the problems I experienced will become things of the past.

The Oculus Rift currently has no public release date for the final product, but development kit models can be ordered at the product's official website.


    Interesting. hurts my eyes just looking at the screenshots

    This was interesting. So for normal human times of gaming, say 30-90mins it should be good to go.

    I'm going to wait for generation 2 of this product, and then I will snap one up. It looks amazing.

      Yeah. A very good 'buyer beware' there. The nausea/dizziness thing seems like a really big hurdle, and it sounds like the devs really have to code for it, rather than relying on community patches.

      (Edit: A big hurdle for the general public and pussies who are not REAL MEN who can handle some mild nausea/vertigo!)

      Last edited 03/08/13 2:21 pm

        My Rift arrived in the mail a couple of weeks ago. Thus far I've played my first ever game of TF2 and walked out with a positive KD. Also watched an anime series in a program called vr_cinema.

        Rift will put the cinema out of business, I can pretty much assure that. As for gaming, I haven't done enough to properly test. Though the pyros flamethrower is amazing.

        Absolutely no side effects whatsoever. Maximum exposure time of two hours. Perhaps I should run this same test of HL2:EP1 and compare results. I also wonder if Kotaku Australia would be interested in renting my Rift? ;)

      Generation 2... You mean the consumer edition :D

        The smart consumer edition. There's going to be a LOT of people happy to stump up the cash for the first generation device.

        They can deal with all the side effects so we don't have to. We'll get a better, cheaper (hopefully) lighter device with higher resolution and less power draw (probably).

        Smart to wait with this stuff!

          :D It's exciting stuff for sure! It'll definitely have the higher resolution, but must resist the urge to buy into the developer version to play with.

          I just wish, and this is my 1 wish, that the consumer version looks like the one from the EDGE Magazine cover.

            And that you don't look like a complete gimp when using one.

            But unfortunately, I think that's a given. We're all going to look like crazy people using these.

              If that's the price we'll have to pay for VR headsets playing something like ARMA3... Count me in for sure!

              Last edited 08/08/13 10:09 am

                Lol- I'm hanging for star citizen. To be able to look around the cockpit by only turning my head.... awesome.

                  Ditto! Must stair at the wall and forget about this whole conversation. Too much hype for one day, from me.

    Still waiting for direct neural interface.

    The concept of the screen making you feel like you're moving while you're actually sitting still is a recipe for feeling sick.
    Also your eyes would be constantly trying to adjust to object further away but failing because the screen in inches from your eye.
    Then think about the neck strain from having this strapped to your head.
    I would hate to see the long term effects of using this on a regular basis.

      Nope, that's the beauty of stereoscopic 3d setups, your eyes act in perfectly natural ways. That's why setting your eye separation accurately is so important, so the camera for each eye is drawing directly in front of your iris.

      The screen may be all of two inches from your eye, but the lenses they put in there make it so that your eyes are focused much further away (I think I've seen it mentioned "at infinity", though could be wrong) when looking at it. And there is no neck strain either, because the thing is ridiculously light.

    I had the exact same issues. As much as I *loved* the immersion, I think the cons might be around for a long time, if only to a lesser extent. Having to configure your eyes for every single game will always be a chore. The instant a game does anything your brain doesn't believe, you start to get that headache. The headpiece does get uncomfortable after a while, as you said, and I also found I always dirtied the lenses, with them being millimeters away from my face. Those things don't sound like much but when you just want to jump on the PC for a quick round of something and you know there's a checklist of things to prepare for before playing, the end result may be that the Rift gathers dust. I also know exactly what you mean for the Half Life loading screens! The pain! :) I think for me, games that rely heavily on the mouse are the worst culprits. Moving your head feels natural, but when you spin using the mouse it feels wrong. It's too fast to be convincing. As you said, Valve did a top job configuring HL to handle that to a degree. I think car games, where the only movement will be for your head, will really suit the Rift perfectly.
    Did you play Proton Pulse? You control the game purely with your head. I thought that was pretty neat for such a simple game. The VR-ready version of quake 1 was nice too. The boss at the end of the episode really pops in VR.

    Last edited 03/08/13 11:54 am

    Be interesting to see if 2nd gen combined with games specifically designed for a VR experience can correct these issues.
    In my 2 minutes with the rift the biggest problem I found was the blur. TF2 is a fast paced game and constant motion blur can really hurt the eyes when they are trying to focus.

      You make a good point. If this is as popular as it looks like it's going to be, games will be coming out specifically designed for the headset. These games probably will side step a lot of these issues.

    Funny, at PAX Aus a friend and I jumped into TF2 with the Rift, and he lasted literally no longer than 10 seconds before he felt so sick he had to go back our apartment and have a lie down! I was absolutely fine, unphased, I loved it so much! Played for about 10 minutes before having to go, but it was great, will definitely try and get the consumer model when it releases!

    Jesus tap dancing christ, who gives a flying fuck about HL2?! What of Skyrim dammit?! WHAT OF IT?!?! I gots to know!!

      Have you seen the light?!

      Good God. I hadn't even thought of that. Skryim already held so much of my attention for being just so much of its own world that I enjoyed exploring it for the sake of being there. If they were to step up the next level of 'being there'... I don't know that I'd be able to leave. c.c

    This is the article I've been wanting to read about the Oculus rift. Thanks for the great run-down Richard.

    Nice run down.
    I've just managed to meet somebody who has a dev kit and prompting visited their residence in the middle of the night for a trial.

    Mind-blowing experience. The first demo he got me to try was the fly-through of the solar system. I was slack jawed the whole time, gazing around at the life-scale planets and the awe-inspiring mass of our sun.

    The subsequent experiences were not nearly as profound but each one enjoyable, although I didn't last more than a few minutes in Team Fortress 2, and I wasn't even playing it, only walking around.

    I think fast paced games as they are not suitable for stereoscopic vision but I think the issues can be overcome when/if games start to be designed with this in mind.

    I can't stress enough how fascinating the depth of this review was. Never dismiss the importance of your impressions, they give us a very authentic insight into the experience.
    This piece has less of a buyer-beware flavour and more of a this-is-why-Oculus-VR-did-not-go-direct-to-consumer taste. A very wise move in retrospect, and one that made for VR experiences will double whammy on!

    Damn I can't wait for Among The Sleep & Star Citizen! XD

    My main concern isn't so much the nausea as the total shutting out of reality. I can feel pretty disoriented at the end of a solid day gaming, but when I take this off it'll be like I'm ending a psychotic episode.
    I guess I'm just happy with games staying on screens, rather than being intense hallucinations. Guess I'm just old fashioned that way.

    Unfortunately it looks like I'll always lose PvP to people who don't mind completely jacking out of their lives and into a digital reality.
    It's cool, though, I kind of like real sex.

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