Now I may be *ahem* late to the game, but I got the chance to try the somewhat new HTC Vive virtual reality headset last night at the Microsoft Store in a palce called the Domain Austin, Tx. The reason I had been at the MS Store was to attend and show my support for a really awesome charity called Extra Life. Extra Life will put on gaming marathons to raise money for various children’s hospitals around the country. Please check them out at http://www.extralife.org . It was a lot of fun and a great experience.
In any case. the store happened to have a demo of the HTC Vive and I hadn’t really planned on testing it out until later in the night since I was pretty busy with gaming day. This is probably the reason I had not demoed much of the later virtual reality offering recently at SXSW or what not. I simply did not want to wait around in any lines or schedule a time that I would have to give up work to attend.
Now I wish I had.
In order to participate you were required to sign up on a waiting list and agree to a waiver that I did not read. It probably had something to do with not suing Microsoft in case I fell dead with the head set on or ran through the glass wall. My spot was not up for 30 minutes, so I filled the time sketching an image of Jennifer Lawrence from a Mockingjay poster on the Microsoft Studio- which is AWESOME AF! Describing that experience calls for it’s own blog post in total. At some point a small crowd started observing me and I have to admit I got a little self conscience. Unfortunately the sketch was cut short and the employee running the demo was a little upset I wouldn’t be finishing the sketch. I felt a little bad, but really I was more excited to try out the Vive finally.
The headset fits nicely with a noticeable, yet tolerable black ring within your peripheral vision. Vision and focus are a little fuzzy. I wondered if this was because of my contacts. After mentioning this the employee instructed me to adjust a focus control which didn’t seem to do much of anything. Tightening the headset seemed to help a bit and most of the objects specifically the controllers viewable on the screen were sharp enough to enjoy.
You got to pick two demos from a list of about 7 or 8. I had seen some of these before in youtube videos. My choices consisted of one less interactive, but environmentally stimulating deepblu or something and the other space pirates which was highly interactive. Deepblu was interesting and somewhat immersive. The whale was really cool and it was a brilliant feeling to be in a 3-d underwater environment. Looking upwards you could see school of fish and the sun rays from the water surface peering below towards you. You are seated at the top of a shipwreck when all of the sudden a huge blue whale comes swimming by and waves his or hers huge fin above you. Graphics are sub-par to what you see in most displays today, but good enough to give you a memorable pleasure to see in total 360.
At this point I realize that the most amazing part of the experience , or the most influential piece was not the graphical quality but the head tracking and of the controllers. The response was completely real and it was easy to find yourself lost in the ocean world. Now at this point I could still feel myself within the store and hear those about so I was not completely re-oriented. This would not be the same experience which required more physical involvement like Space Pirates.
Space Pirates, oh man … this game, as simple and dumb as it is was really cool. Although the graphics were simple enough the physicality and gameplay along with the responsiveness of the headset really got you in the game. At the first matrix like slow mo shot of a laser I moved my around in quick action to dodge it while I saw the beam of the laser fly right in front of my eyes. I was the Last Space Pirate and would be damned to settle for anything lower than the highest score.
This might be the most phone I have spent playing a game since my days of cross-university Halo matches on campus LAN or the first day I played Quake 3. It was real.
When the game was over I was so un-oriented and immersed that I had no idea of which direction I was standing. I just stood there with my hands held out while the Microsoft Store associate grabbed the controllers.
The future is coming and I am VR ready. so ready.