Exploring the Abyss With The Oculus Rift And The World of Diving

By Luke Caulfield , Updated May 27, 2013 03:32 PM EDT
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I've always had a fascination with the ocean, particularly, the deep. Give me a National Geographic video on the subject, with some audio tracks from one of the Attenboroughs, a big ass TV screen, and I'm in business for the next few hours (dependant on the commercial breaks). The crazy fish with all their phosphorescence in an environment the sun's rays can't even reach? I'd watch that 'til the cows came home.

But as far as experiencing it? Thanks, but no. I get paranoid enough trying to naviagate the bluest top portions of the Earth's waters, with little more than a snorkel and some flippers. Something about the claustrophobia of the ocean that just gets to me...I can't seem to shake the feeling that while I might be looking at a sea cucumber one moment, something carnivorous might be sneaking behind be all the while...

True Fact: As a younger gamer, I used to be paranoid about venturing much further beyond the home port on the NES version of Jaws. Not my proudest moment, but it's true. As I got older, I did eventually conquer the 8-bit prehistoric beast, gaining encouragement from watching the infamous drunkard Robert Shaw reminiscence about his fictional experience aboard the U.S.S. Indianapolis. "No distress signal had been SENT." It was that bit of sheer poetry, coupled with many summers at the Jersey shore (eat it Snookie) which would eventually help me to take on the Giger-esque, insectoid menace known as the Vortex in Ecco the Dolphin.

My fascination with the aquatic world would endure, leading me to relish in the underwater adventures that would follow as the technology improved over the years. Similar themed games like Darius Gaiden, full of creatures best served in a martiniy glass with a side of cocktail sauce, before eventually culminating in the intriguing, but ultimately failed Kickstarter experiment, The Big Blue.

It would seem my fear of the deep would go unmatched by both the audience interest, and the technology. Until now, perhaps...

The irony abounds that a company by the name of Vertigo would abandon the very definition of the term, and plunge head first into the murky depths of Earth's deep oceans. Enter the otherworldly adventure that is World of Diving, an online multiplayer dive game for PC, Mac and Linux that supports the virtual reality headset known as the Oculus Rift. Fitting that the device sounds like an underwater cavern, eh?

James Cameron's money is tied up in the next few Avatar movies, (God knows there's not a market for another Alien video game...) so the crew behind World of Diving has turned to crowdfunding on Indiegogo.

According to their PR statement, "Vertigo Games will be raising a total funding amount of $75,000 for the development of World of Diving. Contributions of any size are welcome - even sharing alone helps - but you can have the full funder experience from pledges of $20 and up, which include access to the early beta, backer-exclusive forums, and the community development platform on top of a DRM-free digital copy of the game for all platforms when it launches early 2014. Stretch goals for other platforms have been mentioned, and will be revealed as the campaign progresses."

However, it's been an uphill battle. With only 30 something days left to go, the team has only managed to raise $2,600. The team has no clue that I'm writing this, and I get no kickbacks for doing so. I write about it because I want to get the word out about the project, because for solely selfish reasons, it's something I'd very much like to try. So, I went ahead and put my money where my mouth is, and invested $100 into the project. Granted, it's not much, but I only have so much to offer.

"A question we get asked a lot is why? Why do we want to create a diving game so much?" says Tristan Lambert, Technical Director at Vertigo Games. "The answer is simple: We've got avid scuba divers on our team who have filled our heads with images of clear blue, Caribbean water with all their stories about cave diving, wreck diving, and weird underwater animals."

He adds: "This got us thinking: we should bring diving, an exhilarating and exotic experience, within reach for people around the globe regardless of geographical location. This is something we can and want to do - together."

Together indeed - an interesting side effect of crowdfunding is that it allows for a dynamic, creative and transparent development process. Vertigo Games is planning to put this to full use, as they will be keeping an open dialogue with the community to actively incorporate feedback and ideas for gameplay, features, in-game items, and more throughout the development.

As the team describes it, "World of Diving is the first online multiplayer dive game for hardcore simulation fans and casual diving enthusiasts alike that comes with full Oculus Rift support. Starting out in the Caribbean, World of Diving recreates and brings to life the world of wonder and discovery that is at the bottom of the ocean, where you will be hang out with friends - whether you have met them in or outside of the game - and can dive with the sea turtles, hunt for the great white shark, and party on your own luxury yachts." Sounds good to me, because there's this much I know, "I'll never put on a lifejacket again." 

World of Diving is an ambitious undertaking indeed, but it has a lot of potential; all made possible through a combination of procedurally generated environments based on actual biological and geographical data.

Key features include: real world diving spots, over a hundred types of animal species, plenty of explorable, discoverable locations, from World War II shipwrecks to
eerie underwater caverns, and a fully immersive experience courtesy of the Oculus Rift, and more.

I send this plea out to diving enthusiats in particular. This might be an excellent way for you to enjoy the underwater experience without having to shell out the cash for the lessons, gear rental, and a flight crossing several time zones. Consider it.

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