BOSTON FIG 2015 | HTC One-Ups VR Experience With Vive
After walking away from HTC's booth at this weekend's Boston Festival of Indie Games I began piecing together everything I experienced with their virtual reality setup known as the Vive. A comfortable headset. Hand-motioned controls. The ability to use your body to walk around the virtual area. After finding my composure and completing this complex puzzle I realized the horrified truth: we might not ready for what HTC is accomplishing.
Let me explain: I am in no way bashing the Vive. Far from it, what these eyes, hands, and body experienced is the largest leap ever attempted with VR. Granted the jump is made with some bruises along the way, but what HTC has done is the most ultimate of virtual gaming concocted in real-life. This is on the level of Tron and Sword Art Online, without the deadly side effects...hopefully.
After some technical difficulties and minor bugs I was suited up with HTC's Vive concoction. On two sides of the fifteen square-foot booth were cameras that monitored every movement I made with my body. The HTC rep then assisted with my headset, and placed two controllers in my hands. While they booted up the demo I was given the chance to test out the controls via blowing up virtual balloons and hitting them into the white SteamVR void past the photos plastered alongside the invisible wall. For the most part the controls worked rather well, although a couple times they had to change the batteries due to the crew coming straight from Vegas without much time to fully charge them all.
I was told to close my eyes for a quick moment. Once I opened them I was in an underwater world, literally walking along the deck of a sunken ship. Beautiful fish of all sizes swam past me, until the big surprise came from behind: a life-sized humpbacked whale. My body instinctively stumbled backwards a bit as the enormous creature eyed me. Walking around the massive mammal I was able to get a good idea of how tiny I was compared to this majestic being. As it swam away I couldn't help but feel a bit sad that I could no longer interact with such beauty.
I was told once again to close my eyes, and once I opened them again I was in Job Simulator, where with my hand controls I had to make soup with the right ingredients. As this is still in its early phases grabbing things like salt and tomatoes were a bit tricky, but the whole feeling of being in a virtual kitchen gave me a bit of a Food Wars vibe (which, by the way, a Food Wars VR game would be incredibly dope!). After successfully making the soup it was onto the next demo.
A black screen became my canvas with the program Tilt Brush, as I used my right controller to paint and the left to choose the paint and shapes. It was here where I had the most issues with the controls, as the left one got frozen in place. Nevertheless I made due with what I was given, drawing and scribbling my name in cursive on my own virtual canvas. It was fun, and can imagine this being a great tool for both artists-in-training and possibly game designers wanting to create virtual worlds with it.
One final time I closed my eyes, opening them to the sight of the Aperture Science's robot repair sector. After opening drawers and being deemed a god by some tiny people I was given a very short amount of time to fix one of Portal 2's beloved co-op bots. Spinning its gears and sockets I was -- of course -- destined to fail. As the poor boot fell to pieces the wall in front of me collapsed, revealing a disappointed GlaDOS who swore she had another task I was worthy to try. As the floor opened up (I didn't dare step on it in fear of the demo ending abruptly) the area was rebuilt into a level of Valve's most beloved franchise, but before I could try it out for myself I was met with a bone-shattering demise.
This was a virtual reality experience unlike any I've ever taken part in. While the handheld controllers still need some work in regards to stabilization everything else worked wonderfully. The Vive headset was quite comfortable to wear, with nothing pushing hard on my nose and face to the point of annoyance. As for the camera aspect the movements worked like a charm. What's also good is that if you were too close to a wall you would be greeted with three lines across your peripheral, meaning that there'd be a slim chance of walking or running into a wall as you play. However with that being said I do hope the headset will be wireless, as I almost tripped over them as I walked around the virtual worlds.
As mentioned above I feel that we might not be ready for the Vive to enter our homes. This has nothing to do with technological advancements or the possibility of idiot gamers starving themselves to death because they may refuse to leave their "perfect little virtual worlds." Nay, this thought came to me because of how the HTC Vive is set up for walking motions. Most homes -- including my own -- don't have the space to play with such a contraption. (Hell, I still have a hard time using the Kinect in my small area!) If anything what people are going to need to do is create a special room for such a virtual world to be accessible. In other words: we need to have a setup like in Ray Bradbury's classic short story (and future influence to the deadmau5 song of the same name) The Veldt.
Those who can accommodate such a setup will no doubt be happy to have the HTC Vive in their lives. While there are still bugs to be worked out what I was able to try gave me hope that this will be the next step for virtual reality advancement. What worlds developers can conjure up, along with the kinds of scenarios that can be thrown as the player, is practically endless, and can give way to new experiences that only this type of technology can bring to life. In other words: HTC may just have brought forth the true future of gaming.
A developer edition of the HTC Vive is now available via request, with the consumer edition due out this holiday season. While it may be too early to tell at this moment it can be a safe bet that the world of video gaming may be changing a lot sooner than we think. Even if we're not ready for this level of experience, it's coming, and we best prepare ourselves for what's to come. Whether it's created by the top AAA companies or simply from the worlds that the children made, the next stage of virtual reality will be upon us.