Virtual reality battle heats up at Game Developers Conference in SF

The battle over virtual reality that puts you in the video game is heating up at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco.
March 19, 2014 7:12:05 PM PDT
They're the people building the next Angry Birds, the next Halo, maybe even the next Pac-Man. And on Wednesday they flooded San Francisco's Moscone Center for the opening of the expo floor at the Game Developers Conference. It's the place where companies show off their latest creations that really make the line between game and reality vanish.

In a convention hall packed with geeks and artists, there was also one dancer in a most unusual costume. Little white balls helped a computer convert the performance into digital animation. It's been used in the movies for over a decade.

"Ten years ago, an entry level system was $200,000 and it was difficult to use, and you had to staff it with people who were engineers," said Brian Nilles, Optitrack Chief Strategy Officer.

Now, for a few grand, independent game developers can do this in a garage or a parking lot. It means game characters will move like real life at times when games themselves look more lifelike than ever.

"Just as how light reacts in the real world, you can now do that in your games as well," said Unreal Engine General Manager Ray Davis.

In the past, rendering engines like Unreal used so-called dirty tricks to make game characters look almost real without slowing down older computers. Now the power is finally there to do it right.

"We're getting that much closer from it being unable to discern the difference between the virtual environment, right?" Davis said. "You're able to briefly become entirely immersed in these experiences, right? It is really magical."

Now, what's considered the biggest frontier in realism is becoming red hot. Virtual reality that puts you in the game showed up here last year with Oculus. This year, Sony has jumped into the ring, and the battle is heating up.

"It's creating an experience that fools your brain into thinking that you're in another world, that you're inhabiting another body, the sound is a huge part of that, the control is a huge part of that," Sony Computer Entertainment spokesperson Aram Jabbari said.

Sony calls it Project Morpheus -- a headset with special lighted controllers tracked by a Playstation camera.

"When you have the headset on and a sound comes from behind you and you turn around, it's really an immersive experience," Jabbari said.

Meanwhile, Oculus is on version two of its headset.

"The first difference that's immediately noticeable is how much crisper the image is," said Oculus VR Film & Media Director Eugene Chung.

It's still just for developers. And they're stoked.

So when can you get your hands on one? Well, neither Oculus nor Sony has announced a release date. But industry watchers know this.

"For the hardcore gamers, this is going to be the next big thing," said Claudia Cruz, a reporter for CNET en Español.

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