Rifting To A New Reality by Bobby Blackwolf

I Am Stereoblind, But The Oculus Rift Is My Corrective Lens

I Am Stereoblind, But The Oculus Rift Is My Corrective Lens

When I finally received my Oculus Rift Development Kit in the beginning of August, I knew I was getting into something amazing, but I didn't realize how amazing it would be. It's very difficult to do my weekly internet radio show and podcast without constantly mentioning the device, and wanting to go on for hours and hours about it. So, I decided to start a column here on VOG to discuss the opportunities that the Oculus Rift - and any other Virtual Reality headsets that may come in the future - have in advancing technology.

(As an aside, if you want to see me talk about the Rift for an hour, I'll be on a panel at the upcoming Southern Interactive Entertainment and Game Expo (SIEGE) here in Atlanta all about the Rift. It's at 10AM on Saturday, October 5th. Friday night is a party with an open bar. This will...be interesting.)

I plan on covering a variety of different subjects about VR development, since I am now well past the "This device is so cool" phase. There are many different design decisions that must be made for experiences to "work" in VR, and many things that game designers have come to rely on are no longer applicable in an immersive environment like what the Rift provides.

This first article? It's a personal story.

I Am Stereoblind

The Wikipedia definition is "is the inability to see in 3D using stereo vision, resulting in an inability to perceive stereoscopic depth, by combining and comparing images from the two eyes." You see, I had amblyopia (lazy eye) as a child, and had eye muscle surgery when I was 18 months old to correct it. This fixed the lazy eye (for the most part) but it killed my ability to cross my eyes, or, apparently, see in 3D.

I didn't realize I couldn't see in 3D. I didn't know why I was having trouble in baseball as a kid "watching the ball" as my coaches kept telling me. Turns out, my eyes are just a little bit off, which means that I look out of one eye at a time and the other eye is just there for some peripheral vision. I can switch between either eye just fine, but if I close one eye, I don't lose anything but a little bit of peripheral vision.

(I can also do this neat party trick where, if I cover one eye, both my eyes jump back and forth like crazy and there's nothing I can do about it. It's why I can never cosplay as a pirate, nor can I accurately get a prescription for glasses.)

3D movies never worked for me. With the old red/green method, I would usually see just red or just green. I went to see Avatar in 2D, and then again in 3D, and the 3D was just a darker 2D. I was both disappointed and relieved at the same time - disappointed I couldn't see this great stuff everyone was talking about, but relieved I didn't ever need to buy a 3D TV. Ever.

Then, E3 2010 happened.

My First Flinch

That was the year that Nintendo unveiled the 3DS. I went in skeptical - I started knowing about my possible stereoblindness, but I wasn't really sure if I was or not. After all, I could judge distances just fine, I had no problem driving, I wasn't walking into walls, but for some reason I just wasn't seeing synthetic 3D. Was Nintendo really going to change that?

I finally held one on the show floor...And I saw double vision. Already defeated, I looked at the model Nintendo hired stating that I was unable to see it, and she told me she also had eye problems and started helping me. She told me that I needed to hold it at different angles, different distances from my eyes, and eventually find the sweet spot. I gave it a shot with low expectations. There was a Kojima Productions movie playing. At the beginning, the logo shows on the screen, and then flies towards you.

And I flinched.

It was, as far as I can remember, the first time I had EVER flinched on a purely visual stimulant. (Flinching from a punch was also from other senses, be it feeling the wind or hearing something, so they didn't count.) I was actually perceiving depth, I was actually seeing that there was space between the foreground and the background.

Yes, this was the terrifying thing that made me flinch.
Yes, this was the terrifying thing that made me flinch.
Then I looked up, away from the 3DS, and that sensation faded, as my brain rendered the world back to the 2D way that it had been doing for 29+ years. It was time to move on, as they were limiting your time with the 3DS due to the long line going around the booth.

If this story sounds familiar, it's because I'm not the first person to recount this type of experience. Rare developer George Kokoris wrote about his experience on Kotaku, and as I read it, I felt like I was reading my own inner thoughts.

Enter The Oculus Rift

Could the same be done with the Rift? If I was only "mostly" stereoblind, could the Rift be used as "corrective lenses"? It turns out...It's very possible.

I can see in 3D while in the Rift.

I can't see everything in 3D, but instances where the parallax is very large - the closer object is WAY closer than the farther object, the stereovision receptors of my brain kick in and interpret the signals from my eyes as if they worked like that all the time. In the Tuscany demo (the demo by the Oculus team that ships with the SDK) there are three very distinct areas that I experience 3D the way you normal people do: The blue butterfly flying around, the flowers on the edge of the villa, and the candles inside the villa.

I think I spent about 10 minutes just staring at these candles:

I could actually perceive the volume of the area between the candles and the wall. They jut out at me, like I could touch them. I could walk up to these same candles in real life and not have that same reaction. I can ONLY have that reaction while inside Virtual Reality.

What's interesting is when I demo the Rift to people whose stereo vision is just fine. They, also, stop at these exact same candles and stare at them. This tells me that it's a more exaggerated effect than normal, which is probably why I can see them. Even with the 3DS, I can only really see the most exaggerated of 3D effects. That's what I call a great start.

Why Does It Work?

I am not a doctor, but I have a theory as to why it might work for me. It's based on the fact that I never, ever look "straight ahead" at anything. If I am talking to someone, and I consider myself looking straight at them, my head is actually pointed to one side of their head, and I am looking inward with one eye at them. It's subtle, but noticeable once it's pointed out. The 3DS and Oculus Rift don't let me get away with that.

The 3DS doesn't let me get away with it because the screen is so small, I can't do that. If I hold it at the right distance, my eyes get relaxed enough that my brain can then process the data in 3D because I'm not "cheating" by turning my head.

The Oculus Rift doesn't let me get away with it because of the lenses. It isn't a fully immersive Field of View - you can still see the edges of the lenses you're looking through in the current Development Kit. (Think of it as looking through binoculars or ski goggles.) This, somehow, keeps my eyes independently looking straight ahead (to get as much of the view as possible) and therefore I'm able to see the 3D images.

Corrective Lenses For Stereoblindness

While this is great for the virtual world, what about the real world? Palmer Luckey, founder of Oculus VR, stated to another stereoblind gamer that they were looking into solutions for those with our condition. Nothing, yet, has come out of it, but there are a few possible scenarios.

One of the mockup images of the consumer version of the Oculus Rift (coming late 2014) has a 3D camera in the front. This would be used to allow you to see your surroundings without taking off the headset - great for picking up your phone when it rings, finding your controller, looking at the keyboard, or other things. I see it, however, as a doorway to see my office the way I've never seen - the exact same way you'd see it if you visited.

I've actually taken pictures and video with my 3DS and played them back just to see how you people see the world. It's amazing, but not real-time. This would be real-time, as if I was just wearing extremely big glasses. (It would also get rid of my ability to have awesome googly eyes on the front of my Head Mounted Display.)

Another avenue that is being researched is having cameras inside the HMD tracking the location of your pupils. The current stumbling block is what's called your Interpupillary Distance, or IPD. This is the distance between your pupils, and it's measured in millimeters. You can have your IPD measured professionally by your eye doctor, or you can just use the configuration utility that comes with the Rift. The standard distance is 64mm for males, and 62mm for females. My IPD, after multiple configuration sessions, is actually very close to the norm - 62mm.

In my case, though, that's not telling the whole story, because when one eye is looking straight ahead, the other isn't. This is where the pupil tracking can come in - it would possibly be able to calculate in real-time what my IPD is at that moment, and move the image for that eye around so I'm always looking "straight ahead." Something like this could theoretically cure stereoblindness, and allow the brain to do what it really wants to do if it would just get the right information from the eyes.

I have zero clue how much processing power this would take, or if it is even feasible at all. It's just really exciting to think about, and I really hope someone, somewhere, is experimenting with this very thing. It can't be a new idea.

Using The Rift As Therapy

It IS possible to "cure" stereoblindness. While some people may just have it magically cured by watching a 3D movie, others can do it with therapy. Susan Barry, "Stereo Sue", is a famous success story. The neurobiology professor took extensive therapy sessions to help her control her eyes, and she wrote about the experience in her book Finding My Gaze.

But what if, instead of using Brock Strings for long periods of time, we could be doing something fun while concentrating our eyes? Gamification is all the rage these days, and it would keep people more interested in doing the therapy. I have no personal interest in staring at beads on a string to gain something that doesn't exactly detract from my life - remember, I function just fine in society and didn't even realize I was really stereoblind until the 3DS came out and I saw what I was missing - but doing something fun that also strengthens my vision would get me to reconsider that position.

The Present And The Future

Right now, the Oculus Rift is just showing us the beginning of what can be done in Virtual Reality. The experiences that are being made are top notch, which makes this an exciting time. Will others with stereoblindness have as much "success" in the Rift as I do? There's no way to tell. There are some people that just can't see 3D no matter what. For me, the sense of scale isn't there as much as it is for other people, but I still have the wide FOV, the head tracking, and the other parts of the immersive experience. You don't feel like you're looking at a screen - the lenses warp your vision to make you feel like you're staring into infinity, and the virtual objects are all around you.

The worst that can happen is that it will look like how you see the world currently, and even then, it's an impressive device.

I'm excited for the present. I'm even more excited for the future.

There's a light at the end of the tunnel, if I wish to go there. I'm just too busy actually looking at the tunnel in 3D for the first time in my life to bother right now. That's enough for me.

Bobby Blackwolf is the host of The Bobby Blackwolf Show on the VOG Network, lead developer of the website, and lead GM for VOG: The Game. Follow him on Twitter at @BobbyBlackwolf

Rifting To A New Reality by - 9/25/2013 9:13 AM45125 views


9/25/2013 10:57 AM

3 0

I also have a lazy eye, and I only ever see in 3D if I focus on something. My experiences with the Rift and the 3DS are that those experiences are very exaggerated forms of 3D (like Bobby said). You can cure a lazy eye/stereo blindness with forms of eye exercises like Bobby was saying.

Something that I feel would work better than the rift for therapy for this sort of thing would be this strange eye tracking software that I saw at GDC a few years ago. They used a webcam that watched your eye movement and would then interpret that into mouse cursor movement.

That focuses your eyes onto one small object as you slowly move your eyes across a plane. If your other (lazy) eye ever wavers it will make the cursor not function properly anymore and force you to realize that your eyes are broken again. This makes you focus again and causes you to train your eyes how to move.... and that's the real problem that people like Bobby and I have.

The downside to this, is that your eyes get very very tired rather quickly. Normal humans move their eyes from point A straight to point B and do not really scan what's between. This GDC demo forced you to focus on every bit inbetween in order to play the game properly. https://www.eyetechds.com/wp/world-of-goo-eye-tracking-game-control-system/
9/26/2013 1:02 PM

2 0

It's technology like this that reinvigorates my excitement for the future. I'd love to think this kind of technology has the ability to quickly expand beyond video games, or even traditional entertainment media (TV, Films, etc.). I remember specifically the first time I encountered an online "virtual tour", with 360 degree shots of real places and rooms. Fast forward a decade and that tech is now Google Streetview and in other places, being used as an everyday tool and generally not taken notice of.

Combined with other current technologies like Kinect-style cameras and TrackIR, this already provides a pretty immersive experience in certain types of games. With developers and manufacturers realizing the potential these devices have for a broad audience, I expect we'll see leaps in advancement and real-world, practical applications beyond entertainment.
9/26/2013 6:34 PM

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As someone in a similar situation I'm hoping the Rift may eventually help resolve my issues. My depth perception got worse as I got older (I'm about the same age), and lot of things I enjoyed when I was younger (sports, pool etc) I find much to frustrating to partake in now days.

I was very interested in this research:


And pondered if something could be written to use the rift it could be very interesting indeed.
9/25/2013 12:47 PM

1 0

Indeed, this sounds like some epically amazing technology... Having played some of the early VR games, which were still fun as primitive as they were, I'm glad to see that they're trying again now that the technology for the graphics has improved by leaps and bounds.

And I'm also intrigued to see what the medical implications of this technology would be... if it could cure lazy-eye and other vision maladies this could definitely be a medical breakthrough in the making.

Great article, though! I'm definitely very excited to try the Rift for the first time, hopefully someday!
9/27/2013 9:30 AM

1 0

Great article, It'll be interesting what the Oculus Rift will do in the foreseeable future. :)
2/8/2014 1:21 PM

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I was stereo blind until I made the first version of my game for the oculus rift. That first experience of space between you and something else is amazing. I've since been using it to strengthen my eye and can now see 3d at certain distances all the time, not just in the rift like when I started.

We are releasing an alpha rest soon, if you would like to try it out let me know and I can send you a copy of the game.

You can find more info at my website, http://diplopiagame.com
7/21/2014 12:09 PM

0 0

Wow.. Thank you so much for sharing your experience. I am also a streo blind with a very severe lazy eye. I tried every 3D things I could possibly try but I never had any success in feeling 3D. My left vision is about 0.1 with the strongest correction possible. But I might be able to see 3D with Rift bcuz the screen is so close to the eyes.
I am definitely going to try out Rift when it comes out. THX!
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