Video games have come a long way since the days of pong and the Atari. We’ve progressed from simple 2D games to highly realistic 3D ones, including some that require movement to give the game a more immersive feel. However, since the movie Tron was released in the 80s we have been craving something more from our video games, total immersion. We don’t just want to play the game, we want to be in the game; living, breathing, fighting. We want to feel the breeze on an alien planet, race cars we could never own on Le Mans, and feel the recoil of an AK-47 as we hold off waves of enemies at your base. Unfortunately we aren’t quite to the point where we can enter the digital world like Jeff Bridges, but in the past few years and in the coming months there have been and are going to be leaps and bounds in the fields of mixed and virtual reality.
Lets travel twenty years into the past and examine where mixed reality and virtual reality began. In the mid-90s the army was looking for a way to develop new training methods for soldiers. Ideas ranged from using videos on a whole room, like the Holo-Deck from Star Trek, to using a headset in a rotating ball. However, due to the lack of Wi-fi and the inability to produce realistic video footage in a digital world things never really got off the ground. In the new millennium we don’t have any of these problems so once again mixed reality and virtual reality are on the table and this time it’s not just for the armed forces but for everyone.
At this point you’re probably wondering what’s the difference between mixed reality and virtual reality. Well mixed reality is exactly what it sounds like, it’s taking the real world and the virtual world and mashing them together. You can do things in either world and have them casually affect one another. The Microsoft HoloLens is an example of a mixed reality device. For those of you who haven’t seen this thing in action check out this video below because it is sweet. Oh so you want to watch T.V. on this wall and then leave this room and watch it on another wall, go right ahead! Now you want to play Minecraft on your dining room table, or perhaps you’d like to walk on Mars using images from the Mars rover, well why not! This thing is going to revolutionize everything. No longer are you going to need a computer or tablet for most casual things because your headset is your tablet or computer. It is going to have Windows 10 onboard, require no cords, and can process terabytes of data. You can even attach your holograms to objects in the real world so you can see them anytime you look in that direction with the headset on. I don’t know about everyone else but I am keeping a close eye on this.
Now virtual reality is a world that is completely computer generated and requires individuals to sit or stand still because you can only see the game world and not the real world. This is usually accomplished using a headset like the HoloLens except there is a computer screen at the other end instead of being see through. Occulus VR is the pioneer of this technology and continue to produce new and improved virtual reality headsets that allow users to immerse into a game. In 2013 a company called Virtuix decide that sitting/standing in a virtual was just not enough so they came up with the Omni gaming treadmill. This thing allows you to use actual real world movement to move your digital self around your favorite games. You walk, it walks; you run, it runs; you jump, it jumps. This thing is super cool. It requires special shoes that have a frictionless sole that when in contact with the frictionless treadmill allows you to run or walk without ever actually moving in the real world. A harness is attached to the machine so that you do not fall and there are trackers on the shoes that translate your movement to your avatar’s. The only pitfall I see here is the price because it comes in at a steep $699 and thats not including a VR headset which also tend to be a bit pricey. Even still this is a great idea and you should check out the video below of someone demoing Battlefield 4 on the Omni.
VR and MR have come a long way from what they were and who knows maybe sometime in our lives we will be entering a virtual world using a plug in the back of our heads to fight off Elrond…I mean Agent Smith to stop a war between humans and the machines. Either way keep your eyes peeled for new tech coming our way in mid to late 2015 and keep gaming!