The HTC Vive and a virtual realization

 

Last week, I got a chance to get my hands and eyes on an HTC Vive to take it for a test drive. It was an awesome experience, and I walked away from it amazed at the possibilities that could come from innovators who start developing games and experiences for the HTC Vive. However, as I mulled around this past week thinking about how I should write about this event, the realization that describing what it is like to experience virtual reality is extremely difficult.

Okay, maybe it’s not that difficult. We’ve written about the HTC Vive before. In fact, TVGB’s Jake Sapir has written up both a PREVIEW and REVIEW of the HTC Vive, which I encourage you to check out.

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So instead of rehashing more on what Jake’s wrote about, I will just give my impressions of the unit and my thoughts on what this means going forward for not only gamers, but for everyone.

I had the pleasure of trying out the unit at a recent HTC event here in Chicago. I’ll just stop right here and give a shoutout to Michael Zucconi and the team at HTC for inviting me to play around with the unit. Walking into a meeting room at a hotel is probably what you would expect: white walls, conventional hotel lighting, and a wide open room to fill with whatever your needs are that day. This just so happen to be a room that contained a demo of the HTC Vive, and this space had a perfect setup at the back of the room for the unit.

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As I am sure most of you are well aware, the HTC Vive requires a spatial setup of two mounting units that will basically define the space that you can move around in. When you put the unit on your head, you will actually see these units in VR home screen. You have two controllers that you utilize in each hand in order to perform the actions in the environment. With the unit on my slightly rotund noggin, along with headphones and controllers equipped to their appropriate slots, I was ready to dive in… which is exactly what I did. The first demo was an underwater experience, where I was basically standing on the bow of a wrecked ship among schools of fish and old wooden wreckage. This was a simple experience that blew me out of the water (sorry for the repeated underwater puns). Especially when a giant whale swims by you and looks you right in the eye before taking off to some other destination. As it swooshes its tail to move along, you will move out the way when it whips by you. This is a great indication of what you are experiencing with VR + spatial recognition = you can move around!

The second demo was called Tilt Brush, aka painting in a 3D environment. Coming off the whale high, I thought that this would be just a run-of-the-mill demo showing the creative possibilities of painting in the 3rd dimension. The reality of painting a neon purple line and then walking around the line was, again, another mind blowing moment. There were some cool swatches to choose from, like painting with fire, plasma, or rainbows, and it was fun just simply waving your arms around making weird 3D shapes. As the environment shifted to that of being in outer space, my plasma patterns lit up the moon. I started drawing rings around the moon because that’s what my brain told me to do. I was having fun painting in space!

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I definitely didn’t draw this… pulled from the Steam Store page for Tilt Brush.

The last demo was easily the best – a game of defense against robots trying to destroy my sweet pirate spaceship called Space Pirate Trainer. My controllers turned into blasters which, after switching from semi-automatic to automatic, made me giddy inside as I pulled the trigger on the controllers and the glorious haptic feedback response coalesced into a beautiful realization that I was about to play out a childhood dream… please Disney, just slap some Star Wars skins on this! As I was firing at the robots, dodging lasers and blocking them back with my shield, I realized I was virtually moving around completely on what felt like a docking platform in some space city, but in reality I was dancing around in a hotel meeting room in the middle of downtown Chicago waving my arms around like a madman.

space pirate trainer vr

Talking specs and development with the HTC Vive, points of immersion were what the team kept hitting on. In a nutshell, everything was thought out by the developers of the Vive in order for you to completely invest in this virtual world that you are standing in and experiencing. As I was prepping to begin this demo, I was worried about bumping into walls and tripping over myself and other objects. They have taken every step to limit this, from their chaperone barrier to virtual projections of the controller and mounting units. All the fear of punching through drywall in this expensive hotel was gone within seconds. It was totally cool that I was doing this, and I was cool with looking like an idiot moving around frantically in the back of the meeting room.

This also means that anyone can pick up these controllers, strap on the headset, and play. Once self-consciousness is gone, I can only imagine strapping an older relative (grandma?) in one of these and letting them experience the Vive and VR in all its glory. This might be on par with the experiences we first had with the Nintendo Wii, where everyone was picking up the remote to try out Wii Sports. While there are obvious differences between the Wii and the Vive, it’s a similar concept that brings people into an experience that I think will have some longevity and might actually be here to stay. How many times can you Wii bowl or play tennis before you tire of it? The simple games are fun for parties, but people will put the remote down eventually when they grow weary of another set of pins. I don’t see people putting down the VR because they are tired of the experience, rather, they might just be plain tired of moving around and dodging robot lasers. The depth of experience is ripe for the taking, whereas there was a bit of a limit with the Wii games post-Wii Sports that didn’t involve Mario racing a kart around. Developers can keep this thing going and going and going if they want to, and continual improvements on software and hardware can keep the VR revolution alive. And that’s just the PC VR experience. We already know that Sony has their own VR units for the PlayStation, and that Oculus Rift will most likely be supported on the Xbox One.

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In the end, explaining VR to someone is exactly like my experience: it’s putting on the machine while doing things, telling people to watch you while you do it and expecting them to get it. All I can say from my demo with the unit is that you have to try it for yourself. Find a GameStop or event going on near you that will allow you to strap this thing on and move around a room flailing your arms, because it’s going to some of the most fun you’ve had in a while.

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