The paradox of not moving in virtual reality
I’m not completely sold on the hype of Virtual Reality, as much as I really want to be. I believe it is a wonderful resurgence of technology and absolutely has a place in various circumstances, but it’s not a cure-all magic entertainment bullet like the industry keeps trumping it up to be.
For one, the motion sickness problem is still there.
I know, a lot of folks who have tried the Oculus and VIVE will say “But I didn’t get sick!” and you’re right. Absolutely, 100% unequivocally correct.
But therein is the problem. See, the reason you hardly get sick in VR with these headsets has less to do with the technology (though that does play a part), and more about the fact that instead of solving the problem, we’ve simply made it a point to avoid it.
Avoiding the problem isn’t the same thing as solving it. The problem is still there, but really we’re in this weird logic like owning a Ferrari and saying don’t actually drive it.
In the Oculus Best Practices document, they simply say that allowing the user to move around on their own should be avoided, and instead we should minimize the flow of movement. Of course, there’s the obligatory part about not forcing their camera view out of their control and such, but let’s focus on the main aspect here for the sake of this post.
The main issue is that there is a disconnect between what the eyes perceive as motion and what the inner ear is telling the brain about said lack of motion.
No amount of fancy HMD is going to fix that. No matter how well you can trick the visuals, you’ll always have the disconnect unless the user:
- A. Walks on an omnidirectional treadmill
- B. Isn’t allowed to freely move around
The industry at this juncture has chosen option B, which relegates a majority of VR experiences to a glorified Point and Click Adventure game from the 90s. A good example is Myst. It was roughly the same mechanic for movement… you pointed and clicked, then your view would fade to the new one scene by scene.
Of course, VR is more complex than that, but the analogy is the same. They’re not going to let you freely roam around anytime soon because you’d get sick almost 100% of the time the moment they do.
So we have the point and click teleport movement standard in VR today which neatly avoids the movement issue altogether without actually solving it.
Not really a solution so much as it is a blatant admission that the motion sickness problem wasn’t actually solved.
After all, Oculus games come with a “Comfort Rating” from Comfortable to Intense, with Intense being a high likelihood the game will make you lose your lunch (high motion, etc).
As eloquently explained on PC Invasion:
The comfort rating is a warning to people who may suffer from nausea, a physical response to the effects of VR that makes you sweat and then feel sick and disoriented. It’s extremely unpleasant as I have found out on many occasions on quite a few different VR systems in the past decade or so.
Oculus are covering their backs making sure users know there’s a real risk of a game being unplayable. There’s been no mention of refunds or a test period so owners should be aware and think hard before spending $60 on a game from the Oculus store.
In Second Life, you’d simply move from point A to B in a fluid motion. Unless you are travelling long distances (and then you would teleport). But in any game that allows free-form exploration for VR, you’re going to find this point and click movement mechanic. The ones that ignore the teleport movement mechanic are the ones you will almost certainly get sick using. Which is why a lot of people who used the Oculus headset for Second Life ended getting nauseous.
It’s really just the discontinuity between the movement you are seeing and your inner ear saying “Hey, we’re not moving… something is wrong”
So in order to truly have solved the VR Movement problem, we’re going to need something like this Walk Mouse omnidirectional treadmill.
That’s when we can start actually moving around in VR without getting sick. Otherwise, we’re relegated to the point and click VR adventure.
Then, of course, there is my personal beef with referring to 360 videos as “VR” because by god it simply is not virtual reality.
I think, in the grand scheme of things, what will kill the VR industry quickest will be companies looking to make a quick buck by calling their technology or product a VR product just to lend credence to it.
We’ll then end up with all kinds of gimmicks with “VR” in the name or “intended for VR use” when in all reality it’s a lot of quick fads at best. I consider 360 video one of those gimmicks – the lowest common denominator at best. I mean, look… we had that years ago. That’s the sort of thing that Myst actually used in the 90s (QTVR) which is really just a panorama video. Now, when it started, it was just a panorama viewer (still images), but later it allowed for video as well… the Myst games series used it extensively (as I recall) and there were video portions. It was still rudimentary, but you know… so was everything in 1995.
Of course, Myst IV was released in 2004, but still… it’s 2016 as of this writing, so the idea here is still a valid point to make.
To see it again making a comeback is cool and all, but I wouldn’t call it virtual reality. By doing so it actually cheapens the image of VR all over again.
The controllers for VR aren’t even a new idea either. Hate to be the bearer of bad news on that one. There was a similar wireless controller set for VR in the 1990s as well. It used a magnetometer to track the position.
There is, of course the Magnus VR Glove system currently in development, which to me is still a rehash of the Dataglove from VPL in the 1990s (Jaron Lanier), but still I would prefer a Dataglove over the VIVE or Oculus controllers simply because it would allow me to actually use my hands naturally.
Just in case i wanted to pick something up or manipulate things with actual detail and not pointing giant wands at it.
Ultimately though, the real eye opener about all of the advancements in VR is that the end-game is actually not virtual reality, but instead its cousin Mixed Reality.
Before this goes any farther, let’s take a moment to understand that Augmented Reality and Mixed Reality are not the same thing. A lot of folks tend to use the terms as interchangeable but they really aren’t.
Augmented Reality is not real world aware. It does not interact with the actual world in which the digital objects “reside”. In Mixed Reality, the digital objects are real world aware and can interact with the real world.
It’s the difference between overlaying a 3D version of Mario on a video feed, but it has no idea about the real world – in effect the video is just an inserted flat background, while Mixed Reality would allow Mario to jump on your couch and duck under the kitchen table.
As much as Pokemon Go! is a big hit now, it’s actually just Augmented Reality. The 3D Pokemon in the game are just overlaid on the background video but have no real idea about the surroundings (see the picture). Which is why we have so many hilarious Pokemon Go! pictures online now (Pokemon appearing in odd places).
But therein is the bigger picture. I am not totally against Virtual Reality… I just think it’s very nascent in implementation and has a lot of room to actually improve to solve the bigger issues (instead of trying to ignore them).
We could use a lot more intuitive control interfaces for VR that wireless sticks with buttons on them. The headsets could be wireless (and should be). Resolution per eye should be 1080 or higher, not 1080 total. We absolutely need to solve the motion sickness problem once and for all, and I believe a low cost, folding (for storage) omnidirectional treadmill platform would do this job nicely.
But in the end… again… all of those advancements are going to be utilized by Mixed Reality systems, which will end up just blowing the VR out of the water and would come with almost none of the motion sickness problems.
After all, you’re actually moving around in Mixed Reality, so there’s no treadmill needed. There are plenty of CV algorithms that can track your hands internally via built in cameras, which a Mixed Reality system would have natively to begin with. So all in all… I look forward to using Mixed Reality far more than Virtual Reality.
Who wouldn’t want to treat reality like Second Life?
Yeah… it would be amazing.
Oh, and by the way… I’m back =^-^=