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Games and Gadgets: Project Holodeck

James Nguyen |
July 25, 2012 | 10:33 p.m. PDT


EDIT: Project Holodeck and Oculus are seperate but related entities and the article has been fixed to reflect that. 

Two people inside a Holodeck (projectholodeck)
Two people inside a Holodeck (projectholodeck)
From the Holodeck featured in Star Trek: The Next Generation, the Matrix in Dr. Who, and the Danger Room from the X-Men series, there have been no shortages of computer generated virtual-reality rooms in popular culture.  These rooms were able to convincingly recreate worlds down to the sights, smells, and very texture of the environments.  For years sci-fi enthusiasts could only hope there would be a day when science and technology could catch up to their imaginations.  Here at the University of Southern California, students from the Interactive Media Division at the School of Cinematic Arts and Viterbi School of Engineering have teamed up together in order to make that dream a “reality.”                      

Known as Project Holodeck, the system aims to provide an extensive 360 degree, full body experience at as reasonable a price something like this could hope to be. Cannibalized from mainstream technology, the tech behind Project Holodeck includes a Playstation Move for monitoring head movements, a Razer Hydra magnetic system which provides some degree of body tracking, and computer operated fans provide wind resistance and the tactile feedback necessary to provide a fuller virtual experience.  

Now before you ask yourself what’s stopping you from going out and building a Holodeck yourself, the system also features an original head mounted video feedback piece called the Oculus Rift.  The crown jewel of the Holodek, the Oculus Rift provides players with a full panoramic view of the environment, and even simulates peripheral vision.  The head-set features binaural audio to create a richer 3D-stereo sound effect. 

Development of the Oculus Rift and the beginnings of Project Holodeck began several months before E3, the biggest video game convention in North America.  Lead members Palmer Luckey, James Iliff, and Nathan Burba, were attending the IEEE Virtual Reality Conference when they were inspired to create their own interactive virtual reality video game, and their own unique system to run it on.  Price point wise, the Holodeck system will set you back about 500 dollars for the full kit, which truly is not a bad price point for what it has to offer.  However, as cheap as the Holodek is in comparison to other products on the market, one has to admit its lack of uses.  Unlike the Playstation and Xbox gaming systems, with hundreds of titles under their belt, the Holodek currently offers only a developmental version of their original game, Wild Skies. 

Wild Skies, a USC created game developed for the holodeck (projectholodeck)
Wild Skies, a USC created game developed for the holodeck (projectholodeck)
The Oculus Rift  has been receiving continuous positive feedback  from general video game consumers. The creators of Project Holodeck have even drawn the attention of well known video game programmer John D. Carmack, known for his work on the Doom series.  With publicity and proper funding, it just might catapult the Holodeck system as the pioneer of a whole new gaming industry.

Notably, as the project has been getting more attention and expanding at the University of Southern California, more and more students are coming together to contribute.  USC freshmen Baldur Tangvald, for instance, first heard lead member of Project Holodeck, James Iliff, in an Interactive Entertainment class, and is now working on the design aspect. 

“As a measly freshman who can't offer too much in the way of software or hardware development,” Tangvald explained, “I’ve found the team exceedingly welcoming and pleasant to work with. I feel like they've taken me under their wing a bit and I'm learning a lot just being around them.”  The Holodeck Project is bringing students from different fields of study and creating new bonds and connections among them.  

The Oculus Rift is one of the first pieces of do-it-yourself virtual reality gaming equipment, but it certainly won’t be the last.  Hopefully it will inspire other gamers to get up and build their own answers to problems in the gaming industry.  This is just the beginning of Project Holodek, and the virtual reality genre of video games. 

Reach contributor James Nguyen here and follow him here



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