There’s starting to be a dizzying array of choices out there in RiftLand - just look at RiftEnabled, which is filling up with hundreds of native Rift apps, not even counting all the Vireo/Stereoificator/Tridef “forced compatibility” options. So I’m starting this new, probably regular column - every month, looking through the Rift options out there and choosing the ones that I think are the most immersive, fulfilling and downright fun so far.
This month has been fairly quiet for new apps, but Minecrift has taken a major leap in accessiblity and usability, and the Rift Cover Shooter has arrived, pointing the way to the future with the Razer Hydra.
Next month will be crazy, as all the games being developed for the RiftJam gamejam are released (including mine!), but for now, what’s best if you’re looking for something Rifty in August 2013?
#5: Proton Pulse
It’s Breakout, but with your face.
Yes, one of the simplest Rift experiences is also one of the best: your head movements control a bat. There’s a ball. There are some bricks. You bounce the ball into the bricks with movements of your head. Oh, and it’s psychadelic as all hell.
That’s it. And yet, in all my Rift demos, it continues to be one of the most popular experiences: it’s probably my girlfriend’s favourite Rift game right now, and it’s the only Rift game I’ve had to ask people to stop playing!
The fact that it seems to be very hard to get Rift-sick in Proton Pulse is a bonus - definitely a good intro experience.
You can get Proton Pulse here.
#4: First Law
If there’s one area where the Rift immediately and obviously excels, it’s any game or simulator where you’re in a cockpit, controlling a vehicle. It explains why your controller doesn’t make your view move like a human, and it’s immediately immersive and believable.
The First Law demo is simple so far - one asteroid field and a number of enemies - but it’s enough to give a really good feeling of space-based dogfighting. And it’s absolutely fantastic fun - frantically looking around your cockpit, trying to spot where your hated enemy has gone now, desperately swinging the nose of your ship around…
First Law is under active development, and I’m really looking forward to the next installment - but for now, you can still easily lose half an hour in space with it.
You can get First Law here
#3: Doom 3
Let me say this right now: if there were Hydra controls for Doom 3 and a few more adjustments (like easy-to-spot ammo counters), this one would probably be my #1. As it is, it’s a deeply atmospheric and terrifying experience, but a flawed one.
First, the good points. It’s incredibly scary. It seems like Doom 3 was designed for the Rift: limited vision, enemies sneaking up from behind, and the strong, oppressive atmosphere. One person we showed this game to nearly kicked my laptop off the table flailing in terror. But at the same time, it’s tremendously satisfying - I’m not ashamed to admit that after a good Imp kill, I’ve bellowed “THIS IS MY BOOMSTICK!” - completely forgetting I was in a room full of other people.
The bad points, though, keep it from number 1. First of all, for a lot of people the laser sight is off - meaning that shooting is a frustratingly approximate experience. Ammo counters aren’t visible - indeed, there’s no HUD at all - and you have to stare down at your feet to see what weapon you’re holding.
But if you’re prepared to put up with a bit of irritation, it’s an incredible experience.
You can get Doom 3 BFG edition on Steam, and you can find the Rift mod here
I’m planning to put up a guide to getting the latest version of the Rift mod working later this month.
#2: Half-Life 2
Honestly, the first 10 minutes of Half-Life 2 may be the best that the game has to offer the Rift - but the first 10 minutes are absolutely incredible.
Half-Life 2 has become my go-to demo for people wanting to understand just how real Rift experiences can feel. In the first few minutes, you’re immersed in a familiar yet alien world, harassed by totalitarian guards, and forced into an interrogation chamber.
It’s one of the few story-driven experiences on the Rift so far, and it’s an absolute doozy. If you have a Rift, you must experience this.
After the stonking opening, the shooting scenes are fun, but over-long, and the hovercraft sections have well-documented barf-inducing properties. But when Half-Life 2 is good, it is amazing - a signpost for the awesome future to come.
You can get Half Life 2 on Steam, with Rift support built in - select the beta option and use “-vr” when launching.
There’s only one Rift game that has kept me going back, day after day. There’s only one Rift game which has given me the “what? I’ve been in here for an hour?” experience. And that game is Minecrift.
A startlingly complete and polished mod for the voxel survival/creation game Minecraft, Minecrift has none of the bugginess or partial features you’d expect from a Rift experience at this stage in the Oculus Rift’s development. The installation’s a one-click process. The setup dialogues are logically laid out and easy to use, and it already supports Rift player profiles. The HUD work is unbelievably good - solid, usable 3D menus placed in world-space, easy to navigate and tremendously real-feeling.
And Minecraft itself could have been designed for the Rift. You’ll never think of your Minecraft creations the same way again after you’ve seen them in the Rift - the sheer scale is mindblowing, and the solidity of objects close-up has to be seen to be believed. Minecraft’s gameplay, too - heavy on the looking around, the tense, dark caverns, and the exploration of beautiful landscapes - is massively enhanced by the Rift. I’d have real trouble going back to playing Minecraft on a screen.
One word of warning - if you’re going to try Minecrift, use the default mouse and keyboard, not the Hydra controls. The Hydra controls have a lot of interesting ideas, but IMO they aren’t quite there yet - but with a mouse and keyboard, Minecrift’s intuitive, instantly accessible, and, in short, awesome.
And this isn’t even going into their work on multiplayer Minecrift - with visible head movement, positional audio for voice chat, and far more. I’d write more, but I have to go play some Minecrift now…
You can buy Minecraft from www.minecraft.net , and you can download Minecrift from their official homepage
The Hydra Cover Shooter is a fantastic tech demo, and definitely something worth trying. For me - and this may be due to my experience with expensive motion capture suits - the motion tracking still isn’t quite there, but their gun controls are awesome. I want them in HL2 or Doom 3, stat!
If you want to go the full Keanu, Titans of Space is one of the biggest “WHOOOOAAAAA” moments on the Rift so far. It takes a while to get going, and it’s not interactive, but hey, you’re learning AND being blown away by VR at the same time.
And War Thunder, the massively multiplayer WWII flying game, is a superb demo of the Rift’s potential - the test flights are incredibly good fun - but isn’t terribly accessible as an actual game. I understand it’s great if you can get into it, though.
Lots of exciting stuff coming up: in addition to the Rift Jam dropping a whole load of cool stuff on us, there’s rumours that mech game Hawken will finally have full Rift support. In addition, First Law seems to be in very active development right now, and there’s even more cool stuff cropping up every day.
See you next month!