The virtual reality Super Nintendo emulator is just as weird as you’d think

The virtual reality Super Nintendo emulator is just as weird as you’d think

Getting experiences to work in the Oculus Rift isn’t just a matter of putting an image in front of your face. With the head tracking, stereo effect, and isolation properties of the headset you have to create a virtual environment for video to make sense. When you see nothing but a screen, it’s odd. When you see youself in a virtual theater watching a movie, your brain is able to make sense out of what’s going on.

That’s why the recently released Super Nintendo emulator for the Oculus Rift is so interesting. There is no virtual environment, just a floating screen in the middle of an expanse of gray nothingness. The screen itself exists in the world as a 2D object; you can bring it in close or push it further away, and you can look around it in a limited way, just as you can a real display. The game itself isn’t in 3D, reinforcing the illusion that you’re in a giant, empty gray room in front of a variable-sized screen playing Super Nintendo games.

Yes, it’s weird. Very, very weird.

You don’t really notice the low resolution of the Rift’s display, because the Super Nintendo games themselves aren’t running at a high resolution. You simply run the program, plug in your favorite game pad, and play a game, on a virtual screen, floating in the  middle of nothing. Like everything in the Rift, you feel like you’re in an odd isolation chamber, but the lack of detail and ability to look around removes any sense of claustrophobia. It’s just you and the Super Nintendo games.

The developers of the upcoming City Quest adventure game went one step further with their experiments on the Rift. They actually built an entire retro room in virtual space, so when you boot the game in virtual reality you’ll find yourself in front of a classic computer, in a room covered in vintage posters, feeling like you’ve somehow traveled back in time in order to play video games.

“My partner suggested this idea: It's a crazy old looking game, why not just put it on an old computer in an old room?” the developer stated on Reddit. “We borrowed a friend's Rift and got down to development, and a few days later we've got a rough demo for the Rift.”

So it’s a computer game on your computer that simulates a computer game on a virtual computer played while you sit in a virtual room in your real room playing a game that’s you playing a game. It’s a weird way to change the context of the demo; do we feel differently about games depending on the context in which we play them? I’d love to play fighting games in a smoky virtual arcade, or even an emulator that let me switch between a selection of different virtual environments and backgrounds.

The experiments going on with Rift development continue, and it’s been fun to play along.