My Year in the Rift

My year in the Rift

Exactly one year ago, I was on vacation with the wife and kids when I got a text from our wonderful neighbor who keeps an eye on our cat and waters the garden while we are gone – I just got a large box delivered on our porch, perhaps a certain package I’ve been waiting for?

As an avid long term gamer (you should have seen my anticipation downloading the Quake 2 demo on dial-up!) and have always been drawn in by the interactivity. I’ve never been a fan of passive tv watching, and, after our family got an Atari 2600 one Christmas, its been a steady evolution of interactive adventures. Beating “Adventure.” The thrill of solving Infocom’s “Wishbringer,” on our family’s first computer. Being blown away by the graphics of “Another World” on the Amiga. Further blown away when I purchased my first PC, a AT&T Globalyst desktop with a CPU clock in megahertz, no math co-processor and playing Quake 1 running on a 15 inch monitor at the smallest possible resolution and still loving every second of it (I still often play the Quake 1 soundtrack as background noise when I’m working), playing the Half Life series, Thief series and many more hours than I care to claim.

And yet, I still craved more interactivity. I downloaded mods to make games anaglyph 3D. Adding surround sound systems to my gamning rigs. I wanted to mod Wii controllers to implement Johnny Chung-Lee’s head tracking. Still nothing grabbed my attention like the whispers I saw on Reddit about a VR headset that worked. I was instantly hooked and spent a lot of time learning everything about it that I could. When the DK2 was announced, I sold a couple of paintings to purchase it. I think the wife is still a little off put over that decision. And I waited for the day that my shipping notice would arrive.

Of COURSE it had to be while we were on vacation. I gave my neighbor dire warnings on how important this package was. Offers of booze, money, my firstborn child to ensure my delivery was safely in my house, under lock and key until I returned. I’m a safe and careful driver, but the return drive home I fought the urge to floor it all the way home. I found my new toy on the kitchen table and resisted the urge to skip sleeping to play with my new toy, as I had to be up in 6 hours to attend to the kids.

I managed to get a small chunk of free time the next day and hastily set up my Rift and installed the drivers and runtimes and dove right into the desk demo. And gasped. And laughed. And sat there in bewildered amazement, looking all around me – standing up, kneeling under the desk (and losing tracking in the process) and reluctantly tore myself away to attend to the real world. I was ecstatic when the wife offered to give me a night off from the kids and I eagerly dove into every demo I could download. I rode rollercoasters, visited haunted dungeons, went flying. Nothing grabbed my attention like a small demo by Brendan Coyle, he did a simple studio apartment and the moment I stepped into it –

I felt real presence. I was there. This was the small studio I wanted in NYC. I was there and it was sunny and warm out. I explored the kitchenette, the bathroom, tried to read the titles of the books on the shelf. I wanted to open the door, go down the stairs and to the nearest bodega for a bagel and cream cheese. It was that real.

It didn’t take long for me to delve into gaming on the Rift – I was surprised when Quake 2 made everyone else queasy within seconds, yet I could take hour long doses of it, even with a tendency to have vertigo, maybe years of twitch gaming had dulled my nausea reflex. I dove into Half Life 2 with a zeal – stopping to look at the decades old game and the mastery of level design:

little details jumped out at me and again, that sense of immersion gripped me tight and I was willing held captive as long as I could afford.

Eventually, I wanted to create my own worlds – to take the ideas bubbling in the aether of my imagination and make them whole and walk through them. I picked up Blender (having a little experience in 3D work, I knew the concepts, just needed to learn a new interface) and picked up Unity – both free options to express myself; with little time and less money, FOSS options were my only choice and I try to support these and other endeavors as much as I can. I dove into making my worlds and the day came when I could cram on my Rift and hit Enter and after that all too familiar Health Safety Warning…

Ye Gods… it was a basic polygon world and primitive texture mapped, no fancy normal maps or SSAO shading – but it was mine. And I could walk through it. All the paintings I’ve done that I wished I could walk through – worlds in my head I wish I could visit, all of these were in my grasp, just yearning for my feeble skills to flesh them out and make them tangible, more cogent…

As I played – as I built, as I worked my way through trial and fumble – other things tickled the back of my head. I’ve always been a political animal and very socially aware of the world around me. Being a creature of New York City, I’ve met many souls from various pockets around the planet, lived with more subsections of race, creed and faith than most meet in a lifetime and have heard their tales – when you hear a taxi driver spill out more truth about the universe than a dozen philosophy professors, it changes you. I’ve always felt that if you could just step into another persons shoes, see what they see – it would do a great deal to improve how our species relates to others of its kind. If a person could see what its like to be told you have cancer, or you just sold a patent worth millions, or have to make a choice that benefits your family but wrecks someone else’s family; to see an opposite political point of view, a different faith, how the world looks if you have autism. I want people to see other points of view, or use this tool to help those with a phobia get over their fears or help people to revisit places lost (can you imagine the joy of being able to walk around your childhood home that had burnt down to the ground?)

This new medium might just be the culmination of a lifetime of my interests; art and computers – 3D animation and Photoshop – video games and experiencing adventures previously unimagined. And I’m so thrilled its happening now and I can be a part of it.

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