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Half-Life 2 Writer on VR Games: We're At Pong Level, Only Scratching the Surface 125

An anonymous reader writes: Valve's Chet Faliszek has been in the video game industry for a long time, and his writing has been instrumental for games like Half-life 2, Portal, and Left 4 Dead. Valve is now developing a virtual reality headset, and Faliszek was on hand at a VR-centric conference where he spoke about how the technology is coming along. He said, "None of us know what the hell we are doing. We're still just scratching the surface of VR. We still haven't found out what VR is, and that's fine. We've been making movies in pretty much the same way for 100 years, TV for 60 years and videogames for 40. VR has only really been [in development] for about a year, so we're at Pong level." One of the obstacles holding VR devices back right now is getting the hardware up to snuff. Faliszek says, "There's one thing you can't do and that's make people sick. It has to run at 90 frames per second. Any lower and people feel sick. Telling people they will be ok 'Once you get your VR legs' is a wholly wrong idea. If people need to get used to it then that's failure."
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Half-Life 2 Writer on VR Games: We're At Pong Level, Only Scratching the Surface

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    Nonsense, we've had VR junk around since at least Wolfenstien and some of the crazy Nintendo VR stuff. That stuff was AWFUL and more worthy of being called Pong. See http://www.hardcoregaming101.net/wolfenstein/wolfenstein6.htm, that's 1994 so 21 years ago. The VR Boy was 20 years ago. Hell we even had a TV show called VR.5 in 1995

    The stuff that is coming out now is barely worthy of being called VR since it doesn't make good on what was promised 20 years ago, nor impoves upon it in any tangible way. Much in

    • Re:Nonsense (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anubis IV ( 1279820 ) on Tuesday April 28, 2015 @11:43PM (#49574613)

      You do realize that your argument suggesting the current stuff isn't worthy of being called VR and that the old stuff was plain "AWFUL" is just proving his thesis that VR is still in its infancy and that we still don't know what the hell we're doing with it, right?

      • No it is not proving anything, proving is not done by jumping loops. It could be that VR is simply a bad concept.
      • by Holi ( 250190 )
        It also means we have been developing it for far longer then a year.
    • This is just like going to the "talkies" and realizing your favorite silent movie actor has a squeaky voice and completely ruins the picture. We're just trying to plaster 2D video games into 3D systems and hoping it works out alright, instead of building games from the ground up for VR.
    • by kuzb ( 724081 )

      >What value do we get with VR that we don't get with regular TV or monitors?

      Immersion. This is not the same as privacy, and anyone who has tried recent VR will tell you there's a big difference.

      • by lgw ( 121541 )

        "Immersion" is about script and character and (literary) world building, not technology. The most immersive games I've played were all old enough to have terrible graphics, but they had lots of interesting detail in the world to get lost in.

        • No, that's "substance". A.k.a. cognitive immersion. A completely orthogonal attribute to sensory immersion.

          • by lgw ( 121541 )

            Right, it's the kind of immersion that matters. Now if we could only get movies where the characters weren't 2-dimensional. "The goggles, they do nothing!"

            I don't need peripheral vision to feel part of a game world, as long as I can look around the world from a first-person or over-the-shoulder view (it would help a lot in racing games, since there your too busy with other controls to also look around with your hands). It's been ambient noise, clever soundtrack, and attention to detail (so that you can

            • Having used head tracking in a number of racing and flight simulators I can tell you it aids the immersion and situational awareness *immensely*, even more than you would imagine. I haven't actually had an opportunity to try an Oculus or its competitors, but I would suspect that adding a screen that stays in front of your eyes, offers "perfect" 1-to-1 motion tracking, and stereoscopy, would be another massive step forward. Consider that in the real world you're moving your head constantly, and your brai

              • by dkman ( 863999 )
                Improving motion tracking, and stereoscopy: those are technical problems that we can deal with.

                Improve the substance of modern games and movies: that's a more complicated problem.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      You don't know what you're talking about.

      Nonsense, we've had VR junk around since at least Wolfenstien and some of the crazy Nintendo VR stuff. That stuff was AWFUL and more worthy of being called Pong. See http://www.hardcoregaming101.net/wolfenstein/wolfenstein6.htm, that's 1994 so 21 years ago. The VR Boy was 20 years ago. Hell we even had a TV show called VR.5 in 1995

      By Wolfenstein I assume you mean Wolfenstein 3D, which came out in 1992, isn't VR. It's not even running a 3D engine. Virtual Boy wasn't VR either, it was a very low quality stereoscopic eyepiece on a stand. I owned both Wolf3D and a Virtual Boy when they were first released and they are nothing like the VR stuff we're getting now.

      The stuff that is coming out now is barely worthy of being called VR since it doesn't make good on what was promised 20 years ago, nor impoves upon it in any tangible way. Much in the same way "3D" TV's flop and most 3D films at the theater are garbage. We're trying to solve the wrong problem with VR. What value do we get with VR that we don't get with regular TV or monitors?

      Immersion. VR offers a new canvas with which to experience environments. It could be a virtual tour of a real life place, or a movie or a

      • by Holi ( 250190 )
        So you are redefining VR so this comment is valid. Nope doesn't work.
      • by Holi ( 250190 )
        Quit confusing HMD's with VR. VR had been around a long time. Most does not use a HMD. Think of commercial flight simulators. By any real definition of VR they meet the definition (immersive computer simulation)
  • yeah, it would be enough, really. I've used the rift(ks). half life 2 worked fine with it. surprisingly it was better to play with just a HACK than with the official tf2 shit! why? they fucked up the control options for the official(like 5 choices and none of them traditional kb+mouse! all had to try to stuff in head control for up / down and separate aiming from head movement or other weird things)

    also what many of these journos forget is that some people will get sick from just looking someone else play d

    • VR is not going to be just a hard core gaming medium. I thought the same thing at first as well. That was until I picked up a GearVR for my note 4. That was when I realized that there was a lot more than just games. And there isn't even any real content yet. Just lots of 5-10 minute demo level items that I find myself watching over and over.

    • Currently we have 1/2 HD per eye at 75fps or 1/2 1440p per eye at 60fps. The next gen will likely be 1/2 4k per eye at 75fps.

      With VR it is less the amount of motion and more the consistent fps greater than 60fps, 75fps is good 120fps would be near perfect. This makes porting games to VR difficult due to them not considering this a requirement during original development.

  • only a year? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Gravis Zero ( 934156 ) on Tuesday April 28, 2015 @11:40PM (#49574599)

    VR has only really been [in development] for about a year

    wikipedia lied to me! [wikipedia.org]

    • by aliquis ( 678370 )

      Yeah, isn't this the pong level?
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com]

      Though we may still be about there but with better graphics.

      Then again maybe that could be said about the gaming industry in general beyond MMOs :D

    • Re:only a year? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by janoc ( 699997 ) on Wednesday April 29, 2015 @03:45AM (#49575127)

      Unfortunately many people think that VR didn't exist before Oculus Rift. Which is, of course, BS. There was good quality VR available before as well but unless you have worked for a large university, the military, NASA or some large aerospace/car company, you were unlikely to encounter it due to the costs of the equipment involved. Industry-grade HMDs still cost $15000, they used to start at $40k but I guess after the cheap Oculus became available, that price point became untenable. `CAVEs and large projection setups that are commonly used for both research and training work can cost millions.

      The worse part is that also quite a few people from these companies - Oculus, Valve and others that are jumping on the VR bandwagon now - tend to ignore the decades of existing research. Most people there are businessmen and (briliant) engineers, not researchers (with a few exceptions). They tend to massively reinvent the wheel and to rediscover things known for many years, because they don't know where to look for them. If they didn't, they would know that increasing framerate and decreasing input latencies is not going to fix the motion sickness. Sure, laggy, smeared image in the HMD will make people sick. However, you can and will get sick even at 120fps - it depends much more on what you are rendering than at how you are rendering it. A virtual rollercoaster will make people throw up even at 4k resolution rendered at 250fps with perfect head tracking. It would look awesome, though ...

      The problem is mainly the content, not the technology - the content must work with the technology idiosyncrasies (I won't call them limitations - that implies they could be overcome, but sometimes it would require changing the laws of physics or it would cost so much that it just isn't practical), not ignore the specificities of the medium ("let's play COD with an Oculus Rift, that will be awesome!" *BARF*) or expect that the "technology will improve" and motion sickness won't be an issue, no matter what wild camera gyrations, cool fly-throughs and slow motion cut scenes the game designer has put in. It is the same thing as the film directors having to learn how to shoot in 3D - the "film language" (how you convey your message through camera work, lighting, etc) changes quite significantly when you are in 3D and not every film director was/is comfortable with going there. Even the visually stunning Avatar had some issues with stereoscopy here and there. That is why the worst 3D movies were the ones converted from the regular 2D, where the media specificities were ignored.

      This is very much where we are still at the begining - virtual reality as an entertainment and story telling medium. It is not a question of technology anymore, it is more about finding sensible ways to do things in VR so that the experience is fun, pleasant and something people will actually like to return to. With careful design work and working with the medium and not against it you can render even at 30fps and nobody will get sick.

      In my 15 years of working with VR (involving both large projection setups and HMDs) I have never encountered anyone getting sick because of the frame rate. It was pretty much always because of poorly made content not suitable for the technology being used, poorly implemented navigation that didn't respect the specificities of the medium ("teleporting" camera, forced/constrained camera movement, head bobbing, poorly synchronized/unsynchronized treadmills ...), poor camera work/tracking ("mouselook" in FPS really is wrong for VR - you don't have head bolted rigidly to your shoulders!) and similar issues. Then you have issues like people feeling discomfort/headaches because of eye strain due to poor focus, moire, poorly set up stereo rendering, etc. It often gets incorrectly attributed to "cyber"/motion sickness, but that has nothing to do with it at all. Finally, there are people who will get sick and dizzy even from looking at a static image

      • by Anonymous Coward

        His point is that slow framerates tend to cause sync problems, especially for keeping the graphics and head movement completely synced. If what you are seeing is behind what your senses are telling you, even people who don't get motion sick will start to feel ill.

        It's not a silver bullet, but it is a big problem.

      • by Twinbee ( 767046 )
        Even if you are right about latency and framerate not causing sickness, you're forgetting these are qualities we should be having anyway.

        120fps looks FAR better than 60fps. And low latency games feel a lot snappier than high latency games. If that ALSO helps sickness to any extent, then that's just icing on the cake.
      • I call BS on a large part of this. I have had slight movements at low frame rate that has made me almost hurl immediately, yet a game like Windlands [oculus.com] which is like a spiderman simulater with swinging from tree to tree I was able to play with large sooping motions for hours without getting sick.

        Anecdotes aside, this seems to be echoed pretty heavily in the Oculus share forums and VR related sub-reddits.

      • by dkman ( 863999 )
        The idea of VR is still iffy for me personally. I play mostly FPS games right now. For me I can see VR being used as a monitor (which might give privacy, but not much else). I would still need a mouse to "look around". I can't use my head to look around because I'd loose the keyboard if I turned around. And I'd choke out if I turned right a few times (if you follow where I'm going with that).

        So I think it might be alright for a rollercoaster sim, where looking at it on a monitor vs looking at it with
    • My memory must be lying, too.

      Not only was I worked on VR for the military and entertainment 20 years ago, but I corresponded a bit with Valve's own Michael Abrash several years ago on reducing latency in VR headsets.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Surfac

    • by Anonymous Coward

      pong level

  • by SJ ( 13711 ) on Wednesday April 29, 2015 @12:23AM (#49574699)

    Stop screwing around with VR and finish Half-Life 3 already!

  • "Telling people they will be ok 'Once you get your VR legs' is a wholly wrong idea. If people need to get used to it then that's failure."

    Telling people they'll be okay once they know how to drive is the wrong idea. If people can't just get behind a steering wheel and drive to Manhattan then automotive technology is an epic fail. Technology should be as simple as a baby's foot.

    • by Jeremi ( 14640 )

      Telling people they'll be okay once they know how to drive is the wrong idea.

      The difference between driving and VR is that VR is supposed to simulate your being physically present inside a computer-generated environment. People already know how to physically exist in a location. If the VR system requires special training to interact with, then the V isn't doing a very good approximation of the R.

      • The difference between driving and VR is that VR is supposed to simulate your being physically present inside a computer-generated environment.

        Aren't most cars nowadays designed with the aid of computers?

        • Aren't most cars nowadays designed with the aid of computers?

          And built and even partially assembled by robot, and assembled with the aid of robots (such as all the head bolts getting torqued at once, hopefully correctly but I wouldn't bet on it, hand-built is still the best.)

    • by Chas ( 5144 )

      Learning to drive doesn't make people nauseous, give them cold sweats, give them vertigo, trigger headaches (traffic does that, learning doesn't).

      Back when 3D cards first became available for general consumption, I bought one and conditioned myself to 3D by the simple expedient of playing Descent until I horked. Then playing till I horked again. Rinse mouth out and repeat.

      Yeah. I was young and stupid.

      Now, 20-ish years on? If you told me I had to do that all over again, I wouldn't bother.

      • by Dog-Cow ( 21281 )

        I remember Descent and Terminal Velocity, etc. I can't even imagine getting sick just playing them.

        • by Chas ( 5144 )

          I remember Descent and Terminal Velocity, etc. I can't even imagine getting sick just playing them.

          I know, right?

          Hell, I didn't even completely "cure" myself.

          I'm fine when I'm playing. But I *still* cannot watch someone else play.

          • Never had much trouble with motion sickness in Descent, but I grew up with very long car drives in the summer vacation as a kid.

            Descent did disoriented me quite a bit. I think I spent nearly an hour on a level, not recognizing any location... Until I rolled 180 and noticed I was staring at the entrance. I'd flown the whole way back upside down...

            As for watching others play anything 3D; how can you not get sick? If not by motion, then by frustration that they are DOING IT ALL WRONG! But more seriously, watch

    • It's also a bad choice of phrase, as currently 'VR legs' only work if you have either a lot of space or a very elaborate omnidirectional treadmill. Bit of a difficult problem that.

      Though I suppose it might bring back the arcade? If you need a suspended harness or a sizeable warehouse for full-immersion runarounds, it's going to mean people traveling to places. Pressing a 'walk forward' button isn't going to be the same.

    • by ledow ( 319597 )

      There's just a slight difference and you've not chosen an analogous situation.

      It's more like telling users that they'll just have to get used to feeling ill every time they look through your new holographic windscreen, no matter how much it makes them hurl. "You'll get used to it", as they have to pull over and shut their eyes for ten minutes before they can resume driving,

      There's only one game on the planet that makes me feel ill when I play it (Duke Nukem 3D), something to do with the way the perspective

  • I heard the holoband being developed by Greystone Industries looks promising.

  • by SuperDre ( 982372 )

    VR was at a pong level about 30 years ago.. Because those suckers don't know what VR is or how to use it doesn't mean it only started a year ago.. Yeah, maybe HE started a year ago, but VR was already on the market in 1995 for consumers, and to just dismiss consumer helmets like the Forte VFX-1 is really ignorant/snobbisch (and those were even further along than 'Pong-level')..
    Let's not forget VR has been in use in the industry for a long time already, the only difference now is, you can do it on the cheap.

  • Also AI design, GUI design, plot writing, game ruleset design.. Everything except graphics.
    • by GuB-42 ( 2483988 )

      You won't believe how advanced these fields are.
      It's easy to dismiss modern game design as "just better graphics" until you learn why things are the way they are. You may not like some design choices, especially if such choices are driven more by profit than player enjoyment, but there is often a lot of things going behind it.
      So sure, there is room for improvement, same for graphics, but AI, GUI, plot and mechanics are mature fields, with a significant history.

      • There always is room for improvement, but in this case that improvement is done in one step forward two steps backwards sort of way. Indeed a lot of history exists but people who actually make games mostly ignore it. I feel that areas I named have in some ways even regressed since 1990s and something needs to be done about that. Maybe good intentions are involved here, but as saying goes road to hell is paved with good intentions..
  • 1) Glasses. If you don't wear them, you don't care, but if you do, you pretty much can't deal with head-mounted VR wear. I've tried a lot of VR devices over the decades and *none* of them are glasses-friendly, including Oculus.

    2) Field of view. Ninety degrees isn't enough for immersion. True enough, you can move your head for depth 'feel', but you're still looking through a window.

    3) Lag. There's been enough said about this. It will improve over time, though, if there's enough of an audience.

  • VR isn't new tech by any stretch. I remember VR headsets powered by Commodore Amigas.
  • He's full of shit about VR only being developed for a year anyone remember Sega VR? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/S... [wikipedia.org] from the 90's?

    And let's not forget that horrid sci-fi show from the 90's http://www.imdb.com/title/tt01... [imdb.com]

    I'm sure that was inspired from somewhere. Although I also remember doing wireframe VR sims of hang gliding in the early 90's.
  • What kind of stupid comment is that. VR has only been in development for a year????
    I think Chet Faliszek needs to do some research into his own field. It gave you headaches, was limited to only 2 colors, and it tanked, but to say that it wasn't VR is byond dumb. [wikipedia.org]
  • I find it interesting that nobody has mentioned focus as a major problem. I do not mean the optics of the device necessarily, but that is a likely source. What I'm talking about is usually from the content itself. When focus blur is used, or induced by the way a video is shot, it causes your eyes to attempt to fix the blur by focusing on the blurred area. When this inevitably fails your eyes will continue to try causing eye strain which leads to a headache.
    This is the only issue I get from VR, but then

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