Short version: I want a Vive. It's awesome. It's hard to describe. All of my scepticism has vanished, at least in regards to how fun it would be for me (how they market and sell it is another matter). No motion sickness, not from any attendee at the event I was at. The size of the play space seems perfect for living rooms, much less area is needed than I expected.
I went into this demonstration trying not to expect too much. I figured there was a 50/50 chance I'd be disappointed, or get a demo that underwhelmed. So I told myself I was going to judge it on technical merits: framerate, motion-blur and especially head-tracking speed. The moment I tried the first game though, all of those considerations just washed away and I was immediately immersed.
I had two sessions with the HTC Vive and saw 4 games, 3 of which were "game jam" games created just this weekend. As you can expect, some were more rough than others.
The first game I tried (not my choice, they cycled from 12 game jam demos) was a flipping-burger game. Not usually my thing, but this turned out to be the best demo I tried. As I said I was instantly immersed, as if I were teleported to another physical place. That sounds cheesy, but it's absolutely a thrill. I did not try to get my head into that space, I was taken there.
The controllers get a representation in-game and it's really trippy to have someone hand them to you, because they float in the air. The tracking is damn near perfect, my hands went out and grabbed the controllers without any sort of slip (and with 100+ attendees I watched everyone else do the same). For this game, I was grabbing two pronged BBQ forks.
For a moment I misgauged the distance between the controller and the burger pile, but that itself was this neat-o discovery moment, as if I was calibrating myself. From then on, the controllers were a natural extension of my hand. The trackpads on them are wonderful too-- which makes me want a Steam controller now (I wasn't interested before).
Another discovery moment: I placed burgers on the grill, then turned to get another burger and when I turned back my initial burger patties were gone. Then a giant wasp flew down and carried away the next burger I had. I totally missed these wasps at first and now I was batting around my forks trying to swat them. I dropped a burger patty onto the floor, bent down to pick it back up, then against my better judgement put it on the grill. After flipping it (slightly burnt), I turned around and put it on a plate (where a creepy child representation sat in front of). I then tried to wrestle away a patty from one of the wasps buzzing around.
It doesn't sound like much of a game, but I fully describe it because all throughout I was giggling like a giddy fool!
I tried Valve's balloon demo, which I got a chance at before they loaded another game jam game. It was very slick. The right controller had a color wheel on the trackpad, so you swivel to a color and pull the trigger to inflate a balloon, then bounce that around. The physics on this are excellent, but it definitely comes across as a VR demo.
Another game was a sort of VR castle defense thing. It was a bit too timed-goal oriented. That factor came up in discussions with other game designers and I think the consensus was that VR comes with an even stronger sense of personal agency. Allowing the player to set the pacing might be more important within VR than we're accustomed to.
The last game I tried was a VR tennis / ping-pong thing and while it could have been promising the collision on the paddle was terrible, so I couldn't swing at the ball very fast. This is the kind of thing that gets easily missed during a jam. These jammers had very little time with the target rigs, so they were developing somewhat blind to simulations on flat screens. I wanted to try the "Legolas Simulator" VR archery, but it was a long wait for another round of demos.
- The tracking is far better than I expected, on both the head and the controllers. This is so key.
- Players did not wander around much, so very little space was needed. In fact the partitioned "rooms" had people walking in and out of them often in close proximity without effort. It was kind of funny to see people swipe their hands through the air inches away from someone else, but I didn't see any mishaps or trips or anything. It's not random flailing and movements are natural.
Someone told me the Valve techs turned off the room constraint system, but I hadn't walked far enough in-game to test if the walls would come up. Maybe some games might use the full-sized space, but so far I don't think it's necessary.
This is way more living-room friendly than I thought it would be. No more area needed than a Kinect (and less than Kinect dancing games).
- The ability to bend down, tilt and sway your head is SO much more immersive than typical side-to-side / up-down head-tracking. An IR tracker is so lame compared to this, especially since the VR tracking is one-to-one (screen is moving with you!)
- Realism in graphics isn't needed. I was very immersed in the cartoony burger flipping game.
- Valve was enforcing a 90Hz framerate per eye. Only the games from the jam that met that requirement were approved.
- The goggles fit over my glasses just fine. I could see clearly. Someone else took his glasses off and had a blurry experience, but I think the goggles have a focal adjustment? Maybe. I don't care, I'd just wear my glasses.
- I asked around and couldn't find anyone who had any motion sickness. Many comments about the Oculus making them motion-sick, so quite the comparative difference. One of the jammers did mention that Valve's techs requested he remove a swirly teleport effect from his game, so I think they (smartly) want to keep any disorientation effects away.
- The one big downside: There is a cord to the headset, which I think is going to be a big drawback for marketing this thing. I didn't have any issues with it and few others did, but what if you had kids and they tried to run around in circles?
- No one has any idea on retail price yet. I'm not going to bother guessing.
#SteamVR #HTCVive #GameJam