"Virtual reality needs its arcade moment," argues Zero Latency co-founder Tim Ruse. The Oculus Rift headset may be making waves around the tech sphere and zeroing in on a takeover of home entertainment, but to really experience immersion, the Melbourne-based startup aims to prove you need to add full-body motion tracking and a big space that players can move around in. No wires, no gamepads, no treadmills.
Zero Latency’s Inversion VR system includes a custom-built backpack which untethers the Oculus Rift headset and headphones from the main PC, while an array of cameras locate and track your body and a plastic gun as you walk, run, crouch, jump, scream, shoot, and hide from zombies in an actual 50 sq m (540 sq ft) space that’s mapped to the in-game environment – or rather many in-game environments, as they can switch the virtual scene on the fly.
The game is locked at a smooth 60 frames per second, with no noticeable latency (delay between your real-world action and its in-game representation). The version I tried earlier this month lacks full-body tracking, rendering you instead as a floating head with a similarly floating gun, due to processing limitations (accurate motion capture technology capable of running fast enough for the needs of Inversion VR remains prohibitively expensive). But Zero Latency is working on a compromise that will allow for G.I. Joe-style depictions of your arm, leg, hand, and torso movements.
It takes a moment to get comfortable after you’ve been strapped in, especially when it comes to loosening up and moving about freely. But it’s a great feeling to have your basic movements translate directly into the game, without any need for joysticks or button presses. Even with the big ugly pixels in front of your eyes (Zero Latency has yet to receive the new 1080p Crystal Cove Oculus Rift prototype), you soon come to accept the virtual reality laid before you as real enough to stop feeling so self-conscious.
Not that you have a lot of say in the matter once the zombies start flooding toward you. The Inversion VR experience is certainly an intense one, and it’s hard not to flee in panic-laden terror the moment a virtual zombie gets within a few feet of you. But that’s precisely the idea. Inversion VR was conceived as an arcade-style experience, with all the thrills and spills that normally entails.
Its creators are banking on it being a social experience, too. "We've found a lot of people like watching their friends play," Ruse says. "They like watching what's coming behind their friends to see what's sneaking up on them."
A monitor outside the play space shows what the player sees, and people can watch both this and the bizarre dance of the person inside, battling foes or exploring spaces that are invisible to the real world.
Zero Latency’s three-man team has been building the technology and a number of demo environments since January 2013, and over 200 people have now tried the beta version. The next step is opening it up to the general public.
The company is asking for 25,000 AUD (US$23,500) from presale tickets on crowdfunding site Pozible to pay for a dedicated venue (only in Melbourne, for the time being) and more equipment. Early bird Game Passes are still available at the time of writing, for 60 AUD each. If all goes well, the game launch is targeted for November.
Check out the pitch video below for more on the project’s history and goals.