Friday, April 30, 2004

Virtual Reality, yet to become a reality?

Whatever happened to the Virtual Reality we were all promised in the nineties?

I can remember seeing VR everywhere, on TV in programs like Tomorrow's World, in the movies with films like Lawnmower Man, in books and even in the arcades. Virtual Reality was the promise of being "in" a game rather than just playing it. People used VR to show you how new town centres would look, to interact in virtual worlds and even more.

Now, I'm not personally interested in shaking hands with someone from the other side of the world in VR, it always seemed a bit of a waste of money and effort, but the games aspect has always amazed me. I envisaged a world where, in a few years, when you put on one of those silly headsets instead of getting plain-shaded triangles which are supposed to be a person, you got Quake-style 3D graphics.

VR seems to have all but disappeared into the 90's, some relics still remain in the form of VRML (Virtual Reality Markup Language... an attempt to integrate VR into the web) but graphics and computer capabilities have soared to the point where if a Hollywood film doesn't use computers, they can't get the look they want. Even entire films are computerised nowadays, Finding Nemo and the like, but VR has stagnated in a back cupboard somewhere.

Where are the VR games? Where is Counterstrike through a headset? Where can I play Doom 3 and Half-life 2 in full, moveable, three-dimensional interaction? I want to see these games bring VR up-to-date. Imagine not going to paintball or quasar... why can't we go to a Counterstrike session, 10 on 10 in full kit and blow the crap out of each other with toy guns running around a warehouse shaped to be similar to de_dust? We'd have silly riot-type helmets which would put us inside the map and make our shots seem real. When we were killed, we'd have to sit down until the round restarted, making our corpses a VR-visible obstacle for the other player to have to jump over or pick their way past.

Players and "guns" would be tracked using some sort of primitive GPS-type tracking within the warehouse. The scenery would exactly match and the computer would know where each person was, when he fired and who he would have hit if the gun had been real. It'd be so accurate that you could tiptoe along the top of a ledge in your virtual world and it'd correspond EXACTLY to the "real" ledge in the warehouse. No more stacking, though, unless you were part of a human acrobatics team and could do it in real life. No more skywalking, either, and you'd think twice before jumping off the top of the ramp to get into the tunnel in de_dust!

Maybe then we would see who can actually hold a sniper rifle still enough to pick people off with an AWP, and those who like to camp in one place for the entire round would have to cope with getting cramp!

I can't understand why we've had the technology to see into a computer-generated world for over a decade, and the abiility to make a computer-generated world look almost photo-realistic is upon us, but we can't seem merge the two technologies and make some money off of it.

Do we really have to leave VR back with the flat-shaded polygons while we blow limbs off of a photorealistic 3-D monster on a flat-screen?

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