I am sitting at an expansive wooden conference table in the basement of the painfully hip Ace Hotel in New York City, snacking on pepperoni, drinking the hotel’s painfully hip spring water, and listening to a man who is excitedly telling me about the future.
But it’s hard to pay attention.
Because sitting on the table between us is an unassuming black rectangular device attached to a pair of futuristic ski goggles, and linked, by wire, to a desktop computer. Next to it sits an Xbox controller and, inside, a promise: a portal to a digital universe.
This is the Oculus Rift, a virtual-reality headset that promises to bring the immersive technology into the homes of videogamers around the world. Nate Mitchell, Oculus’s vice president of product, says it “bring[s] you into the game world,” as part of what he calls a “totally new way to experience games.” The experience is otherworldly.
Using components innovated in the smartphone-manufacturing space (like tinier screens and accelerometers), the team behind the Rift has created prototypes of the virtual-reality headset that lets videogamers step inside the game, like The Matrix, and battle the baddies in immersive, 3-D, 360-degree environments. Fueled by a $2.4 million Kickstarter injection and a bit of private financing, they are busily at work bringing the product, eventually, to market.
They range from industry veterans—a few of them responsible for blockbusters like Call of Duty, Guitar Hero, and Skywalkers, another for 3-D graphics—to a 19-year-old virtual-reality enthusiast with a dream. But they’re also joined by thousands of developers around the world—anyone who pledged more than $275 in the Kickstarter campaign—who are developing worlds that future Rift-wearers may someday get to explore.
Mitchell tells me the Rift won’t be ready for many more months, maybe a year or two. All he’d say officially is “soon.” But I can tell you: the wait will be worth it.
As I demoed the Rift in the basement of that painfully hip hotel, I exclaimed words of wonder as I escaped to fly around a 3-D dystopian landscape—my physical self sitting at that table. In minutes, I was hooked. And later that night, back home playing the now retro two-dimensional game Call of Duty, I was bored. After all, unlike with Rift, I was still very clearly on my couch.