Taking on Virtual Zombies With Oculus Rift

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Fans of the Oculus Rift tout it as more than the Next Big Thing. It’s like nothing you’ve ever seen, they say — a life-changing experience. Can goggles and headphones really alter your existence?

It depends on your life, I guess.

Me? I’m a middle-aged, overweight Jewish writer with bad joints and presbyopia. I drive a used Subaru. My only fight training has been at tai chi speed.

Then Ted Schilowitz — a.k.a. Ted from Red, from his days with the Red Camera Co. — puts me in the Rift for the first time. Among other things, Ted works for Fox under the title “futurist and consigliere.” He’s also helping to develop content for the Oculus Rift.

“I’m not a gamer,” I warn Ted as his minions gird me for “Zombies on the Holodeck.” But he thinks I’ll do fine.

(Illustration by Ward Sutton for Variety)

He and his assistants start me up and I am at a firing range. On the table before me is a shotgun. OK, sure. It takes two hands to pump. They tell me I have an axe strapped to my back and grenades hooked onto my shirt.

While I may not be a gamer, I have tried games, and already this is a quantum leap forward from a normal vidgame experience. First, this world is all around me, not just in a window in front of me. Second, it’s physical. I have to use both arms to pump the shotgun, turn my body to fire on a new target — or to see what’s behind me.

I turn right. Submachine gun. Excellent. I grab it and I’m shredding targets. I’m really in this world.

“Ammunition. How much do I get?”



Then it’s midnight. Sirens and the hiss of rain. Lightning. Where am I? A makeshift fort in a city square after a war. No, during a war. It’s the zombie apocalypse, I’m the last man standing. And they are coming.

Level 1 isn’t hard. They come from everywhere, those zombie bastards, but they’re slow. Even so, they can sneak up on me.

Level 2: I’m focused, weapons ready, and I’m moving faster now, spraying bullets as undead skulls explode.

And then the gun stops firing. The barrel glows red. OVERHEATED!! And they’re all around me.

I drop the tommy gun, reach back to grab the axe and start swinging. Gore. Limbs. A growl: That undead thing at my feet is still moving, dammit. My heart is pounding and I’m starting to sweat. I swing until nothing moves.

That virtual axe isn’t heavy, but I’m really moving my arms and body to swing it. The screen I’m viewing is a little fuzzy on this very early version of the Rift, but I have to keep an eye on what’s above, below and behind me. The outside world is long gone. I’m not playing a game. I’m actually fighting zombies. Even the so-so screen adds to the terror, like I’m trying to fight zombies with something in my eyes.

It feels like blood.

Level 3: The zombies are faster. The tommy-gun is working again. Controlled bursts. But there are … too … many … zombies.  Chaos. Madness. Teeth. This isn’t just exciting, it’s terrifying — in exactly the way you’d want it to be.

Then blackness. My time in the Rift is done.

I catch my breath and my pulse slows as the techs remove the goggles and take the controllers from my hands. It’s strange to return from combat so abruptly.

“Was that life-changing?” Ted asks.

I just look at him. “Don’t be ridiculous,” I think silently. “I’m the same cold-blooded zombie killer I was before.”

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  1. The thing I noticed with the rift is how much your other senses are required for total immersion. but if you copy the world slightly it helps a lot, for instance if in the game you are sitting in a chair and you do the same thing in the real world then the immersion is a lot more.
    VR is amazing and will absolutely change things, but it is only beginning, and I for one can’t wait to see where it ends.
    Recently I built the Bridge of the Enterprise and the Enterprise D from Star Trek if anyone wants to try it out.

    You can download them here (also works without an Oculus Rift)

  2. car says:

    The current rift dk1 is certainly immersive and leads to very exciting experiences however the thing it lacks and can’t deliver due to it’s hardware limitations is the feeling of ‘presence’. DK2 could possibly achieve this but most likely the consumer version of the rift will achieve this and only then can you get ‘lost’ in the game. When you achieve presence is when you can start talking about the matrix. Your eyes should have little problems (due to how the optics of the rift work) but your mind is another thing.

  3. CheeseeZ says:

    Burn the nay sayer!!^

    • psuedonymous says:

      No, his description of the requirements for Presence are valid. Testing by Valve (among many others) have found the minimum limits for various technologies need for Presence.

      Note that ‘Presence’ and ‘immersion’ are two different concepts. You can be very immersed, as Mr Cohen was, without the aid of Presence. You can be Present in a virtual environment without immersion (e.g. working on a large-volume dataset visualisation). Presence is the threshold needed for the subconscious to accept that all inputs it is receiving from the virtual environment are actually from a real environment; to ‘fool’ your hindbrain at a low level. This is a difference between a zombie-infested cityscape that you ‘know’ isn’t real, and a box room plastered with poor textures of webpages (obvious to your conscious mind as not being real, and in no way immersive), with a deep hole in the middle that your brain refuses to let you step off the ‘ledge’ of, due to a deep-seated instinct to not fall to your death..

  4. John Krisfalusci says:

    Listen, will this be like the Matrix? In other words, the immersion is so life-like that you pretty much want to stay in there and not face reality again? Now, I’m not talking about this zombie game per-se, but what about other fully immersive games and/or simulators?

    I mean are we really ready for this? What about the long term studies on the mental psyche and how your eyes will be affected for long periods of exposure? How will graphic and intensive scenarios affect the brain just like how there’s a rating board for violent games today? I dunno I don’t think we are ready yet, I think more research is needed before jumping so fast to VR. =(

    • Patrick says:

      Just like every new thing we have encountered, we will learn as we go. There are no long term studies because it hasn’t been around long enough. I typically have a strong stomach for media violence and gore, but when I tried a very simple, low detail demo of looking out your flat window during the london blitz I had to take the goggles off, so this stuff can definitely have an effect. There will be positives and negatives as with anything else, but it can’t really be researched until we are in the thick of it. It’s not easy to make predictions in this life, we are still figuring out very basic things.

    • don’t listen to the naysayers. Obviously there’s no good haptic feedback, or smell-o-vision yet, but the experience is very real. Yes, like the matrix. You become transported to this alternate world, and it’s believable. I have a feeling that the naysayers you see here are the ones who think they already know what VR is like because they tried it in the 90’s and they assume that they already know what the Rift is like. It’s typical. They usually start with a sentence like this “yeah, the oculus rift is really immersive and fun for a bit, BUT… it’s not real VR” and then they make assumptions loosely based off of their past experiences, etc. Don’t believe them. It’s gonna change the world man. Brace yourself

      • xox says:

        Listen to this talk by Oculus chief scientist Michael Abrash if you’re interested in it. It might enlighten you. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dxbh-TM5yNc
        tl;dw They’re not ‘there’ yet but he thinks its possible in a consumer device within 2 years.

      • xox says:

        I dont see any naysayers here. Yes, its amazing and its gonna change the world but keep your expectations in check. Though most people are amazed by it (usually those who think little of it before), people who expect the Matrix will be disappointed. It is far from it and everyone at Oculus will tell you that since the Matrix mimics reality perfectly. I’ve tried both the DK1 and DK2 and i’ll buy the consumer as soon as its available. But there’s a long way ahead of us before it will be absolutely real.

    • xox says:

      No, it is not like the Matrix. Its amazing, yes, but we’re far from complete realism. Not only you consciously realize that you’re in a virtual world because it doesnt look photorealistic, there are several other factors reminding you its not real for example input (your body isnt tracked 1:1) and haptics (sense of touch).

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