Virtual reality has been the major theme of most of the gaming news, for better or for worse. The Kickstarter-backed Oculus Rift continued to impress, but we also received news that Facebook had bought the technology, leading to some controversy. Some gamers are understandably iffy about a social media giant owning what was supposed to be the hardcore gamers’ entry into virtual reality (VR). Notch, creator of <em>Minecraft, </em>actually dropped the Oculus Rift version of <em>Minecraft</em> due to his dislike of Facebook. Meanwhile, Sony unveiled its own entry into VR, Project Morpheus for the PlayStation 4, a similar headset that also utilizes Sony’s Move motion-controller to simulate reality. Regardless of who owns what though, the big story is just how damn immersive virtual reality can be, now that we have the proper technology to do it well. The capability to peer into the 3-D world, tracking your head, allowing you to feel immersed in a world is ground-breaking. Being high up in, say, <em>Assassin’s Creed</em>, is as menacing as a puddle of water, but somehow in a 3-D environment your eyes are completely immersed, people report actual vertigo from looking down. One really cool anecdote was of a medieval combat demo, using swords and crossbows. One man was trying to aim with the crossbow as they would. But remember, this is virtual reality. He was finding looking at the target was blurry. But then they closed one eye, as if aiming a real crossbow. The target became clearer. That’s such a visceral experience, I get goosebumps just thinking about it. Some point towards horror games as a prime target at a virtual reality experience, and people who have demoed such experiences actually report it really works … almost too well. Watching a movie offers a form of barrier, you are separated by the screen, and you can look away if the movie is too intense. In a horror game in virtual reality, you are <em>inside </em>the experience. Look away from a monster, there’s another behind you. That’s sound intense and potentially too much for some people, but I can’t deny the appeal it will have for horror junkies. I remember a chapter of the novel <em>Ready Player One</em>, a near-future novel where a terrible future of stacked trailers and abusive corporations is sated by the virtual reality game <em>Oasis</em>. That itself it is a spectacular idea, an MMO where people can travel to whole other worlds, visit virtual planets, even get really meta and play retro games within the game itself. The particular chapter I remember was a simple but effective usage of VR, where the main character is transported into the movie <em>War Games, </em>needing to act as the main character of that movie did to beat the game. As linear as if would be, I would love being able to jump into a VR version of <em>Star Wars </em>or <em>Lord of the Rings, </em>even if I’m just acting in the role of Luke Skywalker or Aragorn. It’s already starting to happen, someone is already working on an explorable virtual reality version of Jerry’s apartment from <em>Seinfeld.</em> And that’s just a simplistic beginning, a proper first-person experience in virtual reality could be way too cool. Imagine a <em>Call of Duty</em> game where you are aiming not by abstractly moving your cursor, but by where you are looking. Imagine <em>Skyrim </em>where you are literally inside the game, looking around at the environment, which is something that may actually be supported soon for Oculus Rift. CCP Games, makers of the beloved space MMORPG <em>Eve Online</em> has shown off their own VR-exclusive game <em>Eve: Valkyrie</em>, a space shooter where you control a space fighter using your virtual reality view. This seems like the first intelligent usage of the devices as a game. UI elements needed to be changed, how the game uses the head-tacking is intelligently considered. This is the type of experience I want to see. All things said though, I’m understandably cynical about the potential of the new technology. I remember the thrill of motion controls, the promise of the Wii Remote, and later, the PlayStation Move, and Kinect. I was just as excited as everyone else when Miyamoto was playing tennis or conducting an orchestra of Miis. While we got a handful of good experiences, <em>Wii Sports</em> selling Wiis like crazy, we never really got the motion controlled future we imagined. All we ended up getting were <em>Wii Sports</em> clones and motion controls crowbarred into games. I sure hope this doesn’t happen to VR, a bunch of games with poorly realized potential. Luckily, virtual reality’s strengths are far easier to take advantage of, taking the first-person perspective common in games, and simply mapping your head movements into that experience. With the next-gen no longer able to hang entirely on how shiny their graphics are though, I think entering into VR is the right move though. It’s the next experience that seems to really stand to change how we play our games, and I’m far too excited to get my hands on it.
Home Science & Tech Entering your games: the virtual reality future