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.

Thanks Valve for reminding me TF2 exists

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Every year or so Valve goes out of its way to remind me Team Fortress 2 exists by way of an entertaining short. This year’s video was extra special because of its length. “Expiration Date” is their longest video to date and it showcases Valve’s knack for comedy. I wouldn’t mind seeing a full length film made via Source Filmmaker starring the Team Fortress 2 cast.

Linux Gaming Inches Closer to Reality

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linux-logoThere are games on Linux but the selection available is paltry compared to Windows. And the reasons why the selection is so limited is due to lack of middleware support and the dominance of DirectX.

Crytek have ported their CryEngine to Linux and will be demonstrating its capabilities at GDC 2014 next week. I’m curious if it will perform better than the DirectX version.

Valve is continuing their efforts to sway the masses away from Microsoft and DirectX with “ToGL“, a DirectX to OpenGL translation layer. It’s limited to DirectX 9.0c for now but it’s a start. If developers can just flip a switch and port to OpenGL with minimal effort, they would be more inclined to support Linux.

All these efforts sound good but how long would it take before we see day and date high profile releases from the likes of Activision and Electronic Arts?

iBuyPower’s $499 Steam Machine

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iBuyPower, a boutique builder of PCs, unveiled their $500 Steam Machine today.

I’m not fan of the case but I am fan of the price. Apparently $500 will net you the following specs:

Processor:  a multicore AMD CPU
Graphics:  AMD Radeon R9 270
Communications: Wi-Fi & Bluetooth
Storage: 500GB hard drive
Operating System: Steam OS

Peripheral: Valve controller

The Radeon R9 270 can run Battlefield 4 at 1080p 60FPS and is easily the most costly component of this build at $180 MSRP.

At first I was pleasantly surprised by this revelation but then I took a closer look at these parts. Building a competitive build like this for under $500 is certainly possible if you sacrifice performance and choose lower tier motherboards, memory and storage. They didn’t mention which CPU they’re including in this box which should be an indication of something cheap.

This iBuyPower Steam Machine is a step in the right direction but I can’t help but think people would be better off building a $700 – $900 machine that’s far more powerful and capable. How about something with and Intel CPU, more sizeable hard disk and solid state drive?

It’s fantastic to know you could play Battlefield 4 at 1080p 60FPS with this but how long will that last? How long before this box is outdated by unoptimized console ports? At least with a console, you’re guaranteed performant games for half a decade.

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