Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Displays Games Hardware Technology

John Carmack Is Building a Virtual Reality Headset 118

Posted by Soulskill
from the hope-it-lets-me-rocket-jump dept.
An anonymous reader writes "John Carmack, co-founder of id Software, is using his spare time to develop a modern virtual reality headset. After purchasing such a device last year, Carmack became frustrated with how slowly the technology has progressed over the past twenty years. So, he decided to push it forward himself. PCGamer reports that he's been showing off his prototype behind closed doors at E3 this year, and has an interview with him about the problems with VR and the technical challenges he needs to overcome. They even get a look at the prototype itself, which is currently held together with duct tape."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

John Carmack Is Building a Virtual Reality Headset

Comments Filter:
  • Very Pukey. (Score:5, Informative)

    by HornWumpus (783565) on Wednesday June 06, 2012 @04:05PM (#40236585)

    Years ago I bought a VFX-1 to play Descent2, Flight Unlimited, ATF-NATO and an old Helicopter game who's name escapes me..

    From that I gained the insight that VR helmets are less pukey if you have a good solid controller in your hands. Heli games are better applications as down generally remains more or less down.

    Until someone solves the puking problem VR helmets aren't much use. The problem was never a lack of pixels. It's lack of coordination between inner ear and visual as well as lack of coordination between parallax distance and focus distance.

    • by vlm (69642)

      Let this be a lesson that new technology is supposed to be rolled out in pr0n first not twitchy action games.

    • Re:Very Pukey. (Score:5, Informative)

      by DigiShaman (671371) on Wednesday June 06, 2012 @04:23PM (#40236769) Homepage

      That feeling you got was from the low optical refresh rate for each eye. Similar to the sick building syndrome where you have faulty fluorescent lighting ballasts. The Nintendo Virtual Boy suffered the same problem with its low oscillating mirror rate.

      • by CastrTroy (595695)
        I thought that was more due to the lag between moving your head and actually seeing the picture move. I remember trying these out a few times at gaming stores, and this was always the biggest problem as far as I was concerned. For the VR headset to work well, the lag between moving your head, and the picture moving inside the glasses has to be extremely small. I don't have any hard numbers, but I'm guessing something even as small 10 ms might be too much lag.
        • I was running very old games on old hardware. LCD was only 60Hz but games were reporting 250fps. Less pukey then when the helmet was new, but still pukey.

    • So basically, what you think we really need to make a better VR helmet isn't more pixels, but a wireless helmet with enough force feedback to make your inner ear movements match the screen.

      After riding some of the arcade-sized VR roller coasters, I'd tend to agree. The real reason the ones that do work, work, is not because of the screen, but because of the giant robot arm throwing the cage around.

      • I don't think force feedback will do it. Tricking my inner ear by accelerating my head seams to have limitations, especially when we're discussing a helmet, not a moving platform.

        Needs a breakthrough to work in general. For now by coding/game designing around the pukeyness some limited uses might be possible. Like I said above, it works much better if up stays generally up and you've got good solid controllers in your hands (and secured to the desk/chair).

        Carmack is just the kind of person to 'get this

        • "I think VR done right has the potential to reboot the arcade industry. Get the kids off their parents couch and off to the mall where they belong."

          Being a clautropile and autistic and generally suspicious of large crowds to begin with, I'd love one for my own home with a multi-directional treadmill. The Wii balance board is great, but I need to be able to push something with my feet.

    • Do you think your experience with a 17 year old consumer "VR Helmet" is still relevant today? 6DOF FPS like Descent2 make many people pukey even with normal displays.
    • Was the old chopper game "Comanche: Maximum Overkill" How much did that game rock!
      • Comanche 3. (Looked it up.) The sequel IIRC. Only problem was the heli was invisible in VR helmet mode. It did rock.

        I should boot that old computer up. It's still gathering dust along with an old set of controllers. Those very old games rock on an old 1Ghz (Needed an ISA slot and Video with VESA feature connector).

  • After RAGE (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    I'd like to urge Mr. Carmack to consider releasing games that aren't crap, with bits of the map locked via code distributed with the disc to a single purchase.

    I'd also like to commend him for releasing his previous engines under the GPL and being an all round cool dude otherwise. id's attitude with RAGE was such a contrast.

    • by jmerlin (1010641)
      It has nothing to do with id. It has everything to do with ZeniMax. Just take a look at what they've done to QuakeCon. Never again will I attend a QuakeCon event nor will I ever purchase a title from any company owned by or affiliated with ZeniMax. Never.
    • Re:After RAGE (Score:5, Interesting)

      by gman003 (1693318) on Wednesday June 06, 2012 @04:27PM (#40236827)

      Please direct rants at the right people. Mr. Carmack is a programmer. He programs. He is not a producer, director, design lead, art lead, or really anyone who would be responsible for either the game being fun/not fun, or for business decisions regarding on-disc DLC.

      If the game were to crash, or to run poorly, or to have obvious code-related glitches, then by all means, blame Carmack. But from what I've heard, that's not what the problem is. The game runs fine, even has some quite remarkable technical features (he streams textures directly from disc into video memory via DMA), but it's just not fun or interesting to play. You don't blame the writers for bad special effects, you don't blame the level designers for terrible voiceacting, and you don't blame the engine programmer for the game not being fun to play.

      As an aside, I find it quite interesting that id's public face is essentially their lead programmer. Most companies, it's a game designer, or a writer, or in some cases an artist (or often some combination of the above - game developers wear many hats). I know of no other "public face" who is purely, or even principally, a programmer.

      • I know of no other "public face" who is purely, or even principally, a programmer.

        How about Tim Sweeney, Epic Games? In my mind he is the "other" Carmack. I can't think of one without thinking of the other.

        • by gman003 (1693318)

          To be perfectly honest, Cliff Bleszinski seems more like Epic's "public face". He may not have started the company, but he's definitely the guy the gaming media prefers to talk to.

          Don't get me wrong - Sweeny's an awesome programmer, deserves far more credit than he's given, but he seems too media-shy to be *the* Epic guy.

          • Well, certainly since Gears of War that has been the case. I have been a gamer a long time and I guess I have seen more interviews from Tim than Cliff. I associate Cliff with Gears series more than with Epic. ID just hasn't put forward a more game-oriented personality for the media to latch onto. And let's face it, they don't put out new games nearly as rapidly as Epic. So Carmack comes out and talks about graphics and game tech instead. ID could really stand to find their own kind of game visionary to
        • Sid Meier is a good example...
      • If the game were to crash, or to run poorly, or to have obvious code-related glitches, then by all means, blame Carmack. But from what I've heard, that's not what the problem is. The game runs fine, even has some quite remarkable technical features (he streams textures directly from disc into video memory via DMA), but it's just not fun or interesting to play. You don't blame the writers for bad special effects, you don't blame the level designers for terrible voiceacting, and you don't blame the engine programmer for the game not being fun to play.

        It's interesting that you should mention that, since texture pop-in was actually a big problem with RAGE. It was bad running from my SSD so I can only imagine what console players had to deal with.

        As an aside, I find it quite interesting that id's public face is essentially their lead programmer.

        Perhaps it's because he's the only founder left?

    • by h4rr4r (612664)

      What was wrong with RAGE?
      It was a dungeon crawler with a little car racing mixed in. What were you expecting?

      • Re:After RAGE (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Stormwatch (703920) <rodrigogirao@noSPaM.hotmail.com> on Wednesday June 06, 2012 @04:44PM (#40237027) Homepage

        What were you expecting?

        An actual ending, not just a hook to the upcoming DLC.

        • by h4rr4r (612664)

          A fair complaint, but that is again not a gameplay or programming type problem. That is just publishers being publishers.

      • by GuB-42 (2483988)

        For the game part :
        - An ending bad enough to ruin any game SPOILER : you kill the last wave of standard enemies and bam, the end. No boss fight, no plot twist, no answers given, nothing. IMHO it is unforgivable.
        - No deathmath, limited modding potential. Used to be the best part of id games, now all we have are a limited coop mode and multiplayer car game.
        Otherwise, while the main game is not the absolute best I ever played, I found it quite fun for the ~15h it lasted.

        For the engine part :
        - Low texture resol

    • by trptrp (2041816)
      I don't play much, if so then mostly shooters. RAGE was by far the best game I've played since a long time. I liked it much more then Half-Life 2. It made me realize why I prefer id software to valve: there's some crazyness to it that makes titles like Half-Like 2 appear almost sterile in comparison. In RAGE, the movements of the muties for example, the 'british' bandits and all this stuff must have been designed by people with really cool phantasy and I appreciate that.
  • My role model. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by pieisgood (841871) on Wednesday June 06, 2012 @04:07PM (#40236621) Journal

    Seriously, every time I hear what Carmack is up to Im never disappointed. I hope to emulate his productivity one day. Also with respect to VR, I wish him luck. VR has always been a bitch and I doubt it'll be easy. Though he could potentially push id toward devqeloping VR for the military and thus keeping id above water.

    • by tyrione (134248)

      Seriously, every time I hear what Carmack is up to Im never disappointed. I hope to emulate his productivity one day. Also with respect to VR, I wish him luck. VR has always been a bitch and I doubt it'll be easy. Though he could potentially push id toward devqeloping VR for the military and thus keeping id above water.

      Outside of Computer Games, please list all these successes. John has money to waste so it seems.

  • by QuasiSteve (2042606) on Wednesday June 06, 2012 @04:13PM (#40236659)

    Perhaps worthy of a mention - since John Carmack mentions it in several videos as well - is the tentatively named Oculus Rift. It's aiming to be a 'low' budget HMD, and a KickStarter project is set to be launched June 14th.

    For more information, see:
    http://oculusvr.com/ [oculusvr.com]
    http://www.mtbs3d.com/phpBB/viewtopic.php?f=120&t=14777 [mtbs3d.com]
    ( There are more interviews with John Carmack linked to from that thread, and he participates there directly as well. )

    • Hey, thanks for the link.
      Interesting project, and I specially like crowdfounded stuff like this.
      Thanks again.

  • John Carmack (Score:5, Interesting)

    by amoeba1911 (978485) on Wednesday June 06, 2012 @04:14PM (#40236677) Homepage

    He's an amazing programmer that has done more than his fare share of contributing to the world of computer graphics. In a world where everyone is fighting tooth and nail trying to enforce copyrights and patents, he simply released the full source codes to the programs he wrote. That is altruism at its best and for that he is on the very top of my list of awesome programmers.

    • "Fair share" is more like it.
    • by tyrione (134248)

      He's an amazing programmer that has done more than his fare share of contributing to the world of computer graphics. In a world where everyone is fighting tooth and nail trying to enforce copyrights and patents, he simply released the full source codes to the programs he wrote. That is altruism at its best and for that he is on the very top of my list of awesome programmers.

      What the hell are you babbling about? He's not Ed Catmull or dozens of other brilliant mathematicians, engineers, etc., who have extend theoretical Computer Graphics and GPU/GPGPU designs to make John's games more bit depth, and photorealistic shaders, etc. He's not writing the OpenGL Spec or OpenCL, or contributing to programming languages new features getting approved.

      What has he actually brought to the World of Computer Graphics, other than demand improvements in OpenGL and DirectX for him to leverage?

      • by GuB-42 (2483988)

        John Carmack is a programmer, not a scientist.
        His main skills are at understanding theory and efficiently implementing it, not creating new theories.

        Without people like John Carmack, all we would have would be useless equations and equally useless pieces of silicon. Of course the reverse is also true, it is the "standing on the shoulders of giants" thing.

  • It's about time. This should have been done 10 years ago, and was but never made it past the novelty stage.

    Instead 3D card makers and game makers kept stressing capabilities, making things as pretty as possible at 30fps, whatever that level of complexity was.

    Screw that! I want 3D for a game I spend hours "inside" every day.

    • by medv4380 (1604309)
      Novelty? Most don't get out of the prototype phase. Sega's VR Headset caused too many problem in testing that they just abandoned the project siting only "negative reactions to consumer" as the reason.
    • You go first.
      I really don't want to get retinal burn-in of something like this [wikimedia.org]! (not goatse, much worse.)

      Kudos to whatever troll replaced Jaron Lanier's wikipedia profile picture with that of a Psychlo from the movie Battlefield Earth!
  • by Scorpinox (479613) on Wednesday June 06, 2012 @04:20PM (#40236743)

    There's another video interview with John Carmack about the headset over at giantbomb.com, and doesn't have some of the terrible background noise: http://www.giantbomb.com/e3-2012-john-carmack-interview/17-6164/ [giantbomb.com]

    He really goes into detail about why he was disappointed with previous headsets, and how he went about making his own and optimizing refresh rates and such.

  • Next release: Commander Keen: Aliens ate my Nintendo Virtual Boy
  • by Animats (122034) on Wednesday June 06, 2012 @04:24PM (#40236783) Homepage

    Building the headset is the easy part. It's creating something useful to do with it that's hard.

    I tried all the first generation gloves-and-goggles systems, including Jaron Lanier's original one. They sucked. Lag between position sensing and graphics generation was huge; you turned your head and waited for the low-pass filters in the position measurement system to settle and the graphics system to catch up. That's no problem to fix today. You really need a frame rate somewhere in the 60-100 range, and, more important, you need low frame latency. A graphics card that's pipelining two frame behind won't do it.

    The advantage of goggles is that, with the proper optics, you get an image focused at infinity and a wide screen.

    The problem with gloves-and-goggles VR is that manipulation in free space without force feedback sucks. But Carmack is just using this to play Doom, for which it should work fine. (Basic problem with VR without force feedback: you can shoot stuff and drive, but not much else works. Fortunately, shooting stuff and driving covers most of video gaming.) More physically-oriented games, like some of the Kinect stuff, ought to be better. But you absolutely have to have the motion compensation good enough to provide a reliable visual horizon, or your users will fall down.

    (The video is embedded in some cheezy ad container with three ad sources, and is considered hostile code by Firefox 12: "[Exception... "'DNTP Redirect Blocked' when calling method: [nsIChannelEventSink::asyncOnChannelRedirect]" nsresult: "0x8057001e (NS_ERROR_XPC_JS_THREW_STRING)" location: "" data: no]". Lame.)

    • My opinion on desktop VR has been that really, the application isn't gaming, but just regular desktop productivity.

      Most people spend all day wearing headphones or ear phones anyway, so a suitably light-weight helmet wouldn't really be that much of a burden. But with enough resolution, there'd be enormous benefit since you could do away with needing multiple monitors and instead just make the whole 180 degree or more space in front of you your computer "desktop".

    • A graphics card that's pipelining two frame behind won't do it.

      Yes it will, because the human brain is more than capable of editing that much discrepancy out of your perception. In fact, a rather large portion of the human brain is designed to weed out those kinds of discrepencies and provide your consciousness with a consistent interpretation of reality.

      Want some proof? Touch your toe with your hand, did you see the action before you felt it? Of course not, you perceived both happening at the same time. Despite the fact that there's no way the timing from all the

      • by cnettel (836611)
        Very good points, but an important correction: at 100 fps, 2 frames constitute 20 ms. Agreed, though, that up to about 50 ms should probably be acceptable, if jitter is kept to a minimum. A 60 Hz refresh rate can be to low from a jitter perspective, rather than relating to the latency itself.
  • I'll have my $500 dollars and the cursed Teach Yourself Vrml 2 in 21 Days [amazon.com] book in hand waiting to fulfill a young kid's dream! I don't think you'll disappoint Mr. Carmack!

  • The Sony HMZ-T1 [sony.com] is a little more expensive than this proposed project, it is available now, and with a few tweaks and mods (try this AVS forum [avsforum.com]) it is a fantastic VR headset. With mods it is very comfortable to wear for long periods of time and the OLED displays are high quality.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      He specifically tried the HMZ-T1, but he found it lacking.
      http://superuser.com/questions/419070/transatlantic-ping-faster-than-sending-a-pixel-to-the-screen/419167#419167

  • by Stormwatch (703920) <rodrigogirao@noSPaM.hotmail.com> on Wednesday June 06, 2012 @05:15PM (#40237335) Homepage

    According to an engineer who worked on the Sega VR project, [sega-16.com] there's a very serious problem with this sort of device:

    There is a danger with HMDs: the IPD (inter-pupilar distance) must be properly set. IO Glasses gets around this by having a really big aperture. Sega had a thumbwheel to adjust the IPD. Here is the danger: if the IPD for the LCDs are wider than the user IPD, you force the user’s eyes to look outward. This is the opposite of cross-eyed. This can really stress the weak muscles around the eyes, and can cause permanent damage in less than 30 minutes. What I heard was the Sega lawyers brought up the liability issue on the eye damage. That is the reason I heard the project was canceled. Take it with whatever block of salt you want.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      This is the opposite of cross-eyed. This can really stress the weak muscles around the eyes, and can cause permanent damage in less than 30 minutes.

      I'll take that with a huge grain of salt. Every time you look left or right, you use the same muscles that you would use if your eyes were looking in opposite directions.

      It has nothing to do with the muscles, instead the nerves.

  • Good to know Carmack didn't disappear with his riches to some virtual island he created by writing 3 lines of code.

    On the serious side, if anyone should be at the helm in changing the way gaming is done, its Carmack. Unless he was on some crazy drugs when he thought up how to do real 3D with quake.. then we might need to all chip in and get him some new "inspiration." :)
  • Carmack is without doubt an intelligent guy, but I can't help being constantly distracted from what he is saying by his constant, out-of-context use of "on there" and "on here". A nervous tic perhaps? Not one I've noticed in other interviews I seen of him.
    • by Centurix (249778)

      The "hmm" has gone after each sentence, that was painful to listen to when he became more animated. I'd say some sort of speech therapy has been put into action over the years.

  • by phrackwulf (589741) on Wednesday June 06, 2012 @05:49PM (#40237677) Homepage

    Courtesy of the Museum of Horrifying Technology, 666 Lakeshore Drive, Chicago, IL.

    "And this example right here is the SEGA VR headset from 1992, we like to call it "the Ringu" because any time someone uses it, a little Japanese girl shows up and kills them in an ironic and disturbing manner. We don't know why? Apparently they thought it was an important feature. Now over here, we have the VR headset that makes you go blind and bleed from your nose."

    Good luck John. You're going to need it.

  • I'm surprised, well only a bit surprised he would bother with this. Even with a good VR headset, you still need an actual application made specifically for it. You will NOT be playing all the latest FPS games with it, that is for sure. You could, but does the term "keyboard warrior" ring any bells??? VR is a fucking gimmick as far as the head tracking part of it goes. The product "TrackIR" is probably as good as it's going to get. When he starts talking about holodecks, then I'll be interested. But then he
  • Is he going to use any of his previous games like Wolf3D, DOOM, etc.? ;)

    I tried one of those dedicated VR headsets in college. Ugh, they were heavy and annoying. It was a shooter game. I don't remember its name.

  • I've always wondered: does VR not work with just one screen for both eyes? I know there is important depth queues from both eyes, but I've wondered if there's some reason why a cheaper version couldn't be made with just one view point in front of both eyes, or even just cover one eye. Seems to me like it would still be immersive as long as the latency and tracking issues are addressed , like mentioned in the interview...
    or would that cause eye strain and/or nausea ?
    • by drkim (1559875)

      One of the greatest features of a VR HMD is the 3D stereo.

      It's the best possible 3D stereo because you don't have the ghosting of monitor 3D displays. And if you can feed the dual displays fast enough, they can kick out frames at full refresh rate, unlike a monitor 3D display where the left/right frames have to take turns.
      You can, of course, run an HMD in 2D mode (like when you are navigating your desktop) and it looks just like a flat screen.

      It is the latency between your head movement and updating your vi

      • by fikx (704101)
        My thought is it's the headtracking/display updating that is the main component. The other depth queues would add to it, but I was wondering are they the main element or just add-ons for VR?
        or do I have it backwards: the depth queues provided by 2 separate view points are what make it work, not the view that updates based on head movement?
        • by drkim (1559875)

          Short answer: it all helps. Both the 3D, and the tracking help.
          Since we are talking about "Virtual Reality" the more factors or senses that contribute to you impression of reality, the better.

          If the field of view exceeds your field of view, that's better (what Carmack was talking about with the 90 x 110 deg. FOV.)
          If there were different focal points (like there are in real life) that would be better.
          If there is accurate head tracking, that's better. (Although I admit I often game with tracking off, because

    • by bronney (638318)

      Another reason is that when things are this close to your eyes, you can't focus correctly and your eyes will cross and go wonky. Try holding an apple to your nose, you no longer see is correctly. Now try holding a fly to your nose, you still can't see it correctly. Yes?

      • by fikx (704101)
        This happens with 2 screens, right? just twice as much to get right....
        So, are 2 screens needed for anything else?
  • Awesome private trip into space without any of that getting blown to bits problem!

    Lot cheaper too..

COBOL is for morons. -- E.W. Dijkstra

Working...