Checkpoint: HTC Vive Edition

I tried virtual reality for approximately 40 minutes today by way of a friend’s HTC Vive headset. It was pretty much as I expected it to be – I wasn’t disappointed but at the same time, I wasn’t amazed either.

I played a bit of Space Pirate Trainer, Valve’s The Lab, NVIDIA’s Carnival freebie, Onward and SUPERHOT VR. SUPERHOT VR was the only game I really wanted to dig in and play, all the others were fun experiences that I was happy to try once.

I’ve watched GiantBomb’s VR coverage for quite some time and thus had a pretty good idea of what to expect when donning on the headset for the first time.

The Hardware

The headset felt lighter in my hands than I expected but after it was affixed to my head, I felt it was a tiny bit heavier than I anticipated. It wasn’t perfectly configured for my head but I was able to turn and move about comfortably. If I had a bit more time, I would have had my friend loosen it a bit so more air could circulate through the headset. It did get a bit warm after all that arm waggling.

I expected to see the screen door effect and relatively lower resolution so I wasn’t taken aback by it. For certain titles like, Onward, those shortcomings stood out. In titles like Space Pirate Trainer and SUPERHOT VR, it was a non-issue.

The controllers are bulky and heavier than I would like but they do work as expected. I was very impressed with the tracking. Buttons and triggers felt responsive as well.

The bulk of the controller and the protruding headset resulted in me accidentally bopping myself when I tried to bring an object to my face.

I wasn’t bothered by the cable as much as I thought I would be. I always knew where it was and was able to navigate it without issue.

The Software

SUPERHOT VR was the star of the short VR demonstration. I didn’t pass the first set of levels but it was the only game I wanted to just buckle down and seriously play. It highlighted a brand new gaming paradigm where designers can place things anywhere and everywhere and I have to get used to glancing left and right quickly. It’s not just about what’s directly in front of me or just to the left of me.

Space Pirate Trainer was a fun romp but there’s really nothing much else to it that makes me want to try it again. I can see it being a fun leaderboard hot seat game but I don’t know how hot the seat will be since it takes a bit of time to configure the headset between people.

I don’t like how I have to swap hands and controllers between games. It’s an odd quirk but one worth noting. It may be related to which controller I use to launch the title but I think it should be a Steam VR level calibration at the beginning of each session and that’s it. These are the quality of life things that remind me that it’s a first generation product.

Promising But Not Quite There Yet

I was glad to have tried the HTC Vive and I look forward to additional sessions with it but I came away feeling the exact same as I went in: it’s neat but not quite there yet. I will jump into VR when the headsets are more comfortable, wireless and come equipped with a higher quality screen. I want the controllers to be lighter and feel more natural. And, of course, I want it to be cheaper.

None of my demands are out of reach though. The Oculus Touch and Valve’s upcoming Knuckles controller appear to be the refinements I am looking for on the controller front, for example.

I see the potential of virtual reality but I don’t think it’s ready for prime time just yet.

Checkpoint: Virtual Reality Reality Check Edition

So we now know the price tags of both virtual reality PC options. The Oculus Rift will cost $599 USD and the HTC Vive will cost $799 USD. Both bundles come with free games and controller options. The Vive includes base stations to enable ‘room experiences’.

I keep tabs on virtual reality but I’m not very keen on the idea of it; I enjoy shifting from screen (PC or HDTV) to screen (mobile) to people while I’m gaming. I’m more fascinated by the idea of augmented reality. I’m sure I would be amazed by VR and find it compelling for certain games but I don’t see myself shelling out the money for such a limited selection of software.

With such a high price tag (excluding the cost of a capable PC), I don’t see why developers would spend the effort to develop something for such a niche audience. It’s why I hope the manufacturers behind these VR headsets will play the long game and continue to fund or publish games for these headsets because I don’t see any established third party publisher putting any significant effort into this.

I’m not writing virtual reality off but I don’t see this catching fire any time soon.

Street Fighter V arrived on Friday. I managed to squeeze in over a dozen matches with my brother but that’s about it. I also received Fire Emblem Fates Birthright on the same day and I’m starting to get my Fire Emblem legs back.

Far Cry 4 continues to be a therapeutic game for me. It doesn’t register excitement or disappointment; it’s just there for me to fiddle with. I didn’t expect that to be the case at all.