gdc 2015

Smaug Breathes Fiery Life Into VR With Impressive Oculus Rift Demo

by Matt Bertz on Mar 05, 2015 at 11:53 AM

We are still waiting patiently to see actual virtual reality game demonstrations from top-tier game developers, but just because we don't know when we'll be able to actually buy VR headsets this year doesn't mean the talent behind big studios are ignoring the tech. To give us a taste of its vision of how VR can be leveraged, the engine gurus at Epic Games partnered with the wunderkinds at Weta Digital to put together a Tolkien inspired demo.

Leveraging the Crescent Bay iteration of the Oculus Rift and the newly announced Nvidia Titan X graphics card, the collaborators came up with a passive experience that puts users at the feet of the fearsome dragon Smaug. The Thief in the Shadows demo begins with me standing foolishly in the middle of Smaug's lair. This hoarder lives in a sea of gold, jewels, and artifacts that spill across an entire rocky cavern. I spin around 360 degrees to soak up the scene and can't even begin to calculate the total value of the absurd fortune on display. 

Suddenly the cave starts to rumble and the sea of gold starts shifting as the dragon rises from his slumber. Like many of the VR demos we've seen at GDC, the developers are selling the impressive sense of scale you get while wearing one of these headsets. As the dragon spreads its wings it knocks down a huge pillar that lands immediately in front of me. Smaug senses my presence and begins to search the room, pacing around the cave and informing me that I've made a dreadful mistake.

The beast eventually moves its massive, menacing face down to my position, giving me an up close and personal view of the hatred in its eyes. The demo comes to a close as the dragon grows bored of our interaction and unleashes a powerful breathe of fire that covers the entire screen.

Though this situation was static and required no participation from the user, it was an amazing experience being so close to a creature we've all seen on the silver screen. If collaborations like this one between Epic and Weta eventually switch gears to tackle full-fledged interactive experiences, we could be on the cusp of a revolution in entertainment.