Ars talks with David Braben on the challenges of making games for real VR
Ninety frames per second. That’s the new target for consumer VR gear: you need hardware capable of rendering two HD images with all the trimmings at a steady 90fps, or the whole thing starts to shake and judder and make you sick. That 90fps requirement is what’s driving the disturbingly high VR system requirements posted a few days ago for Elite: Dangerous by Frontier Developments; according to Frontier, you need 16GB of RAM, a fast i7 quad-core CPU, and a GeForce GTX 980 to do VR well with Elite and consumer VR hardware.
Lead designer and studio founder David Braben is aware that the spec is high—the recommended video card alone will set you back at least $500—but Braben is in somewhat of a privileged position among game developers: he has one of the only shipping triple-A games that, as of today, officially supports VR without having to dig into config files and enable hidden dev-only options (I’m looking at you, Alien: Isolation). The game’s soon-to-be-released "Horizons" 2.0 beta, which is currently in semi-open testing, raises the bar and adds SteamVR support alongside Oculus Rift support, meaning you could plug an HTC Vive into your computer and play Elite: Dangerous on it right now, at the 90 frames per second the Vive prefers for glass-smooth head tracking.
Elite is one of the best VR experiences a PC gamer can have right now—and believe me, if a PC game supports VR, I’ve tried it out on my Oculus Rift DK2 at home, which is attached to a gaming PC that meets or exceeds Frontier’s VR spec in every category (I have a 980ti video card, but only one—SLI in Elite with VR is currently problematic due to a combination of different issues). Braben explained that the game’s VR support is the result of a complex dance of intuition and design iteration.