Alas poor Oculus, I knew you well

Until the day before yesterday, it was the toast of the gaming hardware world: today, John Carmack’s illustrious involvement notwithstanding, maybe the Rift is just toast.

Who would have believed it.

She sprang a surprise on us.

It does VR as well.

Mr. Carmack, I bet my player’s hardware optimisation wizardry against your software optimisation genius, plus everything else you’ve got.

Your move.

The Oculus Rift was riding high on a wave of unbridled enthusiasm for an experience that transcended the limits of any game ever played on something as arcane as a display screen that wasn’t clinging to your face.

Somehow even a strong sensation of nausea (you have to understand, it was a big deal that Oculus had successfully found a way to reduce the percentage of people who felt nausea when using VR, which used to be almost everyone who tried out the early VR in the 1990s) that was reported by some users only served to reinforce the impression among the media that Oculus had somehow discovered a way to bring an unimaginable degree of realism, not just to games, but to anything (unremarkable games made so gut-wrenchingly real that they make you feel like throwing up: how sick is that? Just take my money, I want one right now!) in a way that made the much vaunted Holodeck, hitherto the (albeit fictional) gold standard of all preceding Virtual Reality endeavours, seem like nothing more than (cough, splutter) a hollow deck.

Demo after demo simply strengthened the conviction of all but the most sceptical that everything we knew about the pathetic inability of computer simulations to deliver convincing evocations of reality (to anyone whose critical faculties were not already being systematically undermined by the distractions of a relentless struggle for on-screen survival in some much-loved game) was being unceremoniously consigned to history.

How could this remarkable piece of hardware, supported as it now is by the undisputed master of game engine development, John Carmack, do anything but leave every other piece of game technology in its wake?

That’s exactly what I believed until a matter of hours ago.

It’s not as if I hadn’t already seen the demo of a technology which would do to the Rift the very same thing that the Rift had done to everything else.

It’s not even that I had never imagined the possibility that this other technology could supplant the Rift.

It’s just that I thought the other technology had a much narrower range of applications.

And I turns out that this was precisely what I was intended to conclude.

I had been seriously blindsided.

Not only had I been taken in, but I was taken in by a prankster whom I knew to be a prankster of the first order because she had already publicly admitted that she had learned to practice such artifice with unparalleled skill when she succeeded in cunningly disguising the innovations she was introducing into the cars that she had built and raced, such that even the most resourceful and determined competitors were fooled by her ingenious trickeries into making futile modifications to their own cars, something which invariably left her with a winning advantage.

Jeri, I suspect you put even Gabe’s legendary capacity for playfulness to shame.

For her technology to succeed against the Rift, it will almost certainly need someone whose hardware optimisation capabilities can overcome the inevitable constraints and as yet undiscovered challenges of what is likely to be an even more exotic technology than the Rift, and do this much more quickly and decisively than Oculus can.

Everything I know about her tells me that this fact puts Oculus in the driving seat of ‘the other car’ in this contest .

Oculus has a product which is quite some way further along the road to production and has a much more substantial base of developers.

But even here, I think that CastAR probably has ‘second mover advantage’ and will probably benefit from the efforts of developers who have been working on implementing Rift compatibility for their games, because her technology can harness their development efforts through its inherent potential for ‘meta-compatibility’ of VR applications.

CastAR’s greater versatility (unlike the Rift, it provides both Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality as well as a variety of so-called ‘Mixed Reality’ options) potentially enables a much wider range of applications than the Rift.

A key question is this: where does the Rift significantly outperform it?

I am keenly waiting to see side-by-side comparisons, but even these will almost certainly leave much of CastAR’s most devastating differentiators still to be revealed further downstream.

Oculus’s future as a gamechanger lies in hardware refinement and applications development, whereas CastAR’s lies in mere deployment and diversification of hardware implementation, cushioned by the ability to benefit from the Rift’s application development stampede.

For me, what would be most exciting would be to discover that some aspect of the Rift’s performance does indeed turn out to at least temporarily embarrass CastAR in some way which completely overcomes any immediate worries Oculus may have about competition, only to see Jeri speedily respond by introducing some dazzlingly effective mod which once again reverses these two players’ respective positions, leaving the eventual outcome once again hanging tantalisingly in the balance.

Despite all this, neither technology is likely to change me in to a player of any kind of games (I have reflexes like treacle) but this tussle between future titans is one game I’d definitely pay to watch.

Time for my imagination to wander:

Why not paper your rooms with retroflective wallpaper and have a ‘mixed reality home’? I can also see people temporarily hanging it up all over their house so that they can throw parties where ‘everyone has to put on AR shades at the door’ (she’s already mentioned room-encompassing incoming virtual zombie invasions, so I know she’s had the same thoughts). And of course there’ll be the potential for indoor and outdoor events festooned with acres of sprawling tarpaulins creating virtual venues offering breathtakingly convincing (and potentially mischievously unsettling) simulated experiences to vast bespectacled crowds. This is big.