I'm a little nauseous and a bit sweaty. This was my first time using the Oculus Rift. It's the sort of thing you've got to ease into, really -- sitting stationary, letting your brain adjust to the whole experience. Or you could just pop the thing on and run in place on a treadmill in a downtown Los Angeles hotel suite. Your call, really. Just don't come crying to me when you're having a bit of trouble standing up straight, as you attempt to step down from the slippery surface at the end of your session. Have I seen the future? Hard to say, of course, but whatever it was that just happened was neat -- and if you were one of the 2,000 or so folks who got in on Virtuix's Kickstarter, it'll be heading your way in January.
The company's CEO, Jan Goetgeluk took me through the paces of the system, a stationary design he settled on after toying around with a more traditional treadmill model. The Omni is really quite a simple thing at its heart, a concave, slick surface attached to two bars that converge in a circle. The company's designed special soles, as well -- plastic pieces raised at the heel and ball of the foot, with a fabric friction surface on the toe. Walk around and your feet slip. That's about it, really. Of course, it takes some getting used to, and Goetgeluk stood aside as I learned to walk again: lean forward, step down on the heel and let the rest of your foot slide with it. It took a few minutes, and I'm still not exactly an expert
Virtuix Omni VR treadmill shows up at E3, we go feet-on
Once you've mastered that, you can turn, run and jump. You can also let go of the circle around your waist -- if you're not too tall, that is. I'm around 5'11 or so. Not huge, by any means, but the prototype isn't easy to adjust, apparently. That means, essentially, that I couldn't wear the waist belt harness that secures you to the circle, so you can run around hands-free. Instead, I had to hold the ring with one hand while shooting with the other. I stood still for a moment with my hands out so the Kinect could find me, popped the Oculus over my head and went to town. It's probably a bit hyperbolic to call the experience "fully immersive," but man, it's easy to get lost in the game -- so long as you can forget that there are other people watching.
The sound of plastic soles shuffling on the surface is cacophonous, but not overwhelming, and the whole thing is relatively low impact on your feet, in spite of the fact that the demo version involves loafers. Is it worth the $400 to $500 asking price? For most of the world, probably not. But there are no doubt a number of people who have been waiting a long time for this: a relatively simple (and not crazy expensive) solution to the problem of immersion. And those people are about to experience the best workout they've ever gotten while gaming.
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