Gaming legend joins hot virtual reality start-up

The Oculus Rift headset
The Oculus Rift headset

John Carmack, whose "Doom" and "Quake" helped revolutionize the video game industry, is looking to lead another upheaval with a technology once dismissed as a pipe dream.

Carmack, the co-founder of id Software, has been named chief technical officer at Oculus VR, makers of the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset.

Many have lauded the device as the next big thing in gaming, and the announcement is a coup for Oculus, which has been gaining momentum for a year now. Carmack is largely viewed as one of the industry's most talented programmers.

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His early work on games like "Doom" is largely credited for creating the first-person shooter genre, which has gone on to become one of the most lucrative areas in the industry.

"It has been imagined for the last 30 or 40 years, and the hardware just wasn't ready" -Brendan Iribe, CEO, Oculus VR

Meanwhile, the Oculus Rift could be just as disruptive as Carmack's early work in gaming. A year ago, Oculus VR set out to raise $250,000 on Kickstarter and ended up just shy of $2.5 million. Earlier this year, the company raised $16 million in Series A venture capital led by Spark Capital and Matrix Partners.

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While virtual reality has been heralded many times, reviews of the Rift have been glowing and say that the device delivers on the promise of creating virtual worlds.

Oculus VR has refused to commit to a commercial launch date, though. CEO Brendan Iribe says he's hoping for 2014 but concedes that 2015 is a possibility.

"It has been imagined for the last 30 or 40 years, and the hardware just wasn't ready," he said. "Virtual reality never got its legs. In our eyes, this is the first time it's ready. And it's only ready for developers right now."

A couple of factors give this virtual reality push a better chance of catching on with mainstream audiences. First, technological advances make the Rift much more comfortable to wear than early VR headsets, which often gave users neck pain.

Perhaps more important, the graphical capabilities of today's interactive entertainment have increased exponentially. And while they still far short of "reality," they're immersive enough that players don't seem to mind.

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Image from Quake 4
Image from Quake 4

Having Carmack onboard to assist with the graphical potential of the product will be a big step for Oculus. And it lets Carmack do what he enjoys most: explore new technological fields.

"It is a big change of pace to go from working on carefully engineered code for the long haul to PANICKY STARTUP CODING FOR THE NEXT DEMO," he said via Twitter.

At id, Carmack is working on creating the engine that will power the developer's next game, a fourth chapter in the "Doom" franchise. While comments from Carmack and id parent Bethesda Softworks indicate that he'll finish that project, his status at the studio beyond that is unclear.