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Project Holodeck Creates "Accessible" Virtual Reality

| 24 Jul 2012 14:07

A University of Southern California team presents the first holodeck gaming system.

Ever since we first saw Star Trek: The Next Generation's holodeck, we all knew on some level that it would one day become the pinnacle of art and entertainment. It may ultimately threaten our entire society, (see Ray Bradbury's The Veldt, or any Star Trek holodeck episode,) but by God, we simply cannot rest until we get our holodeck. While the ability to generate holograms themselves is fairly limited, a team from the University of Southern California is using a unique combination of gaming technologies to design the "deck" part of the equation. But the best part? It's all for playing videogames.

"The goal of Project Holodeck is to bring 360-degree 6-DOF full-body virtual reality out of the research lab and into a fun, accessible consumer gaming platform," said producer James Iliff. Combining an Oculus Rift headset for video feedback, a PlayStation Move for head tracking, and a Razer Hydra for body tracking, the system allows players to immerse themselves in a simultaneously virtual and physical playspace.

The principles behind the project are based on the team's previous virtual reality experience, but this time the goal is make a commercial product that the general public will enjoy. "We see Project Holodeck as more of an arcade experience, because the space required is larger than the average space available in a consumer's home," Iliff continued. "We plan on taking this to expos and festivals like Indiecade, Maker Faire, IGF, and others ... but in the long run we also want to reach home users with a simpler consumer system that can fit comfortably in the living room."

Of course, impressive hardware means nothing without an equally impressive game, so the Project Holodeck team has put together Wild Skies, a two-player game set on airship decks proportioned to the layout of the holodeck. "Both players must work together to control a complicated airship vessel while also firing turrets and cannons to fend off attacks from airborne enemies," Iliff explains. "Along the journey they visit exotic floating islands and encounter strange ships from small speeders to armadas. Each port they visit installs a new upgrade on the ship from more powerful sails to a battering ram." Wild Skies even features haptic feedback in the form of large fans, simulating the wind as your airship moves or changes direction.

I've never thought of myself as the kind of gamer that would like virtual reality games, but I have to admit that I'd like to try this out. One of the biggest things holding back these technologies is that while innovative, they tend to lack immersion thanks to bulky hardware or awkwardly designed motion controls. If the final version of the platform is fixes the immersion problems and launches with an engaging title, we might just have found the holodeck that everyone will get in line for.

Sources: Eurogamer, Road to Virtual Reality, Project Holodeck

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