Virtual Reality: First Thoughts

Preface: This was written on 1/14/19. Until 1/13/19 I had never slid my head into a virtual reality headset. I was a VR Virgin. These are my unadulterated first impressions of the Oculus Rift and the games I played. Enjoy

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 Yesterday I got to try out an Oculus Rift on a high-end gaming PC for about 5 hours, playing a half-dozen or so games in the process. While playing some WoW and catching up with an old LAN/MMORPG gaming buddy of mine, he casually brought up VR, mentioning that he had splurged on an Oculus Rift last year. Intrigued that I had never tried any form of VR, he invited me over to check it out; he says watching people experience their “first steps in VR” is half the fun of owning it, because you get to relive that feeling and see how other people try to interact with the virtual  world they are experiencing for the first time.

After a brief tour of his new house and meeting his two young daughters for the first time, we settled into his formal-dining-room turned VR-computer-room, as he showed me the setup and hardware. The first thing that impressed me were the Touch Controllers for the Oculus Rift. These little controllers feel great, look cool, and the way they track your finger positions really adds a lot (once you get in-game and see how it works). It allows the controller to know when you’re pointing with your index finger, so you can use it in games as cursor/selector and it just feels natural. Your middle fingers rest on this back trigger of each controller, which kind of acts as your “squeeze/hold” button in most games, and the index fingers rest on a trigger that is going to be “shoot” in most games (where applicable). Then there are two face buttons (equivalent to X & B on an Xbox controller, B & A on a Nintendo controller, etc.) as well as a “home” button which basically brings up this really cool Oculus Rift menu, sort of like a virtual Xbox dashboard or that side-panel thing that pops up on PS4 when you hold the “PS” button.

I ended up playing a handful of games and game demos but the ones that stuck out to me the most are the Oculus Rift tutorial “experience” (I don’t remember what the actual name was, but it was basically supposed to teach you the basics of controlling things in VR), Superhot VR, and Robo Recall. I’ll go more in depth with those ones, but first I’ll cover the rest of the games/demos I tried out and what made them stick out to me.

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Blade & Sorcery – This was one of the first games I tried that gave you direct control of movement with the left-stick, which I quickly found out is super jarring (at least to me). I’m not one who ever gets motion sickness, and I wouldn’t say VR gave me motion sickness, but moving with the left stick definitely gave me some “wobbly legs” and that “stomach is falling” feeling you get from nosedives on a roller-coaster. However, the more I moved around freely the more my brain (and stomach) got accustomed to it.

What I played of it was basically a wave-based combat game with fantasy weapons and magical spells. Imagine if they removed all the plot from Skyrim and just had you face waves of enemies in various combat arenas. It seemed like it had some depth in the sense that arenas changed, enemies change, and the various spells and weapons you use can change your combat style, but I didn’t play enough to really attest to any of that. One of the coolest moments I had was when I realized I could “electrify” my weapons with my spells. I had an electricity spell in my left hand and a battle-axe in my right hand, and if I just “cast” the spell onto my weapon it would start smoking and crackle with electricity. Not only were the visuals super impressive, seeing the smoke and sparks just crackling right before my eyes, but it also just felt cool to do.

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Vox Machinae – I didn’t play this one long, and it seemed to have some trouble tracking my body (in relation to my arms/hands), but the sense of scale was phenomenal in this one and really kind of took my breath away. I only played a few of the tutorials (the beef of the game is in multiplayer matches I believe), but when you’re in your hangar, looking up at this towering mech/gundam that stands probably 20 stories tall, the sense of scale just really sets in, like you were really there. The movement in this game gave me some “vertigo” as well, but I actually played this one before Swords & Sorcery, so my brain was even less accustomed to locomotion in VR. It was really satisfying feeling like I was the pilot of this giant mech – using both hands to grab all the shifting gears, use my fingers to flip switches, and I could even adjust the mounted HUD display screens throughout cockpit.

I wouldn’t say this one is a must-buy when I get an Oculus Rift, but it definitely makes me want to look into other VR mech games with a similar premise of sitting you down in a pilot seat of a giant robot.

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Don’t Knock Twice (Demo) – The horror genre always seemed like a perfect fit for VR, but my friend is a self-proclaimed “baby” when it comes to scary games, so he didn’t have any experience with any yet. So, we just looked up any free demos that were available. The first one we tried was Don’t Knock Twice. I think it is based off of some horror movie that I’ve never seen, but basically the game started with me ”knocking twice” (oops, I already screwed this one up) on this big creepy door and then I was abruptly transported into the middle of this living room looking environment. My in-game cell phone was giving me hints on what to do and the gameplay space had a lot of interactive things like a candel I could use to help light my way and an axe I had to grab off the wall to break down a door with. I have to say the 3D effect when I was slashing at the door with my axe was super effective, allowing me to peek through the cracked boards and startling me when this this witch-looking creepy lady jumped out at me. The demo ended as this witch-lady grabbed me from behind (and gave me quite the startle), but my interest was piqued and I may have to try this one whenever I inevitably purchase an Oculus Rift.

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Rec Room – Rec Room is basically a free VR Summer Camp where you can play mini-games and chat with other players in a fun-space perfect for newbies to VR. At least, that’s the best way I can describe it. You can customize your Rayman-looking avatar, you can play mini-games like Paint Ball, or you can just go to a public space and chat with fellow denizens of this VR playground. There was even this section I stumbled upon that basically let me craft sculptures in 3D; imagine a 3D Photoshop, where you can “draw” shapes and color them and then interact with them – it was really impressive and interesting. I didn’t play enough of Rec Room to go in depth on any of the activities, but I’ve seen enough of Rec Room before ever stepping into VR myself, and I know I’d be dropping a lot of time into this one if I had an Oculus Rift currently. It’s just simple, fun.

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I’m leaving out a few games like Beat Saber and Lone Echo but I didn’t play enough of either to really have much to say about them. Beat Saber is guitar-hero but with lightsabers and Lone Echo is like competitive-Frisbee meets robot-rugby and it reminded me of the weird anti-gravity sport that they played in the novel Ender’s Game. I’m not trying to be dismissive of either of these games, I just wanted to try as many games as I could in the time I had, so some games got less playtime than others. Beat Saber seemed really fun, but I was starting to break a sweat (it’s a lot of movement). Lone Echo was memorable in that it was the first game that dropped me into a lobby with other players with live mics (built into the headset) and I quickly realized they could hear everything I was saying.

My next post will cover the two most memorable games that  I tried, the ones that are the killer app experiences I needed to full understand how breathtaking VR can be. Superhot VR and Robo Recall.

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