Thoughts on VR following EGX Rezzed.

I’ve been left thinking about VR a lot following a few demos I got to try at EGX Rezzed. Firstly VR seems to form more lasting/real memories for me than normal video games. Distinct impressions of having “done” something rather than just experienced it. I suspect this is a combination of the VR itself but more importantly the controllers involved. The game I played on the VIVE with it’s unique controllers having formed memories that the other experiences did not. This is a long and somewhat rambling non-edited post.

So, I have Rift on order despite the fact that I was distinctly underwhelmed by the previous DK’s I’d used. I’ve just come to a conclusion about why that is given that I’ve now had time with both the Vive and Playstation VR (please can I just call it Morpheus or PSVR? I can? Good). My first experience with the Rift was way back in the land of DK1 I think playing Surgeon Simulator. I found it distinctly poor, blurry and not really at all indicative in retrospect of where we are today. In part I now realise that experience was down to a number of factors. These are:

  1. The fit needs to be good, or you get blurriness, 3D separation and/or chromatic aberrations. My first experience with the Rift had all of these things.
  2. The game your playing needs to be good, sorry Surgeon Simulator I know what you’re trying to do but it’s just not for me.
  3. The environment must be right. The expo where I trialed the rift was claustrophobic and I was frankly uncomfortable.

So fast forward to today and I’ll go through them in order.

Oculus Rift

Bizarrely, despite my currently waiting order. This is the one I have least say about, though I have used the DK1 and DK2. I ordered the Rift because for me it’s the right price point, I have several games I want to experience in VR and like many in the UK I simply don’t have the space to take advantage of what the Vive promises. My only concerns with the Rift are whether it will fit such that I don’t suffer from any problems from 1) above. And secondly that the light leak around the bridge of the nose I read about is either not distracting enough or that it’s a matter again of fit. The previous demos I’ve had they simply placed it on my head and I ran with it. Neither I nor the person giving the demo made any attempt to ensure the fit was right and things were in focus; and I was naive enough to go with it. I only really picked up on this due to the experience with Morpheus yesterday, more on that below.

HTC Vive

In one word transformative, if you have the funds and the space. I missed out on gaining a place in the official demo at Rezzed because err.. I’m a Muppet and I walked the long way around to the queue. I then missed the afternoon slot because I was bloody starving. Thankfully the game Sluggy’s Fruit Emporium had two Vive’s setup between two base stations and a really really short queue. I’m not sure whether they were sponsored to be there or not but if so thanks, I’m guessing if anyone it was Green Man Gaming, if I’m wrong, correct me.
So the demo was non ideal, once again I didn’t get the headset correctly fitted; I also removed my glasses. So things were a bit out of focus but more than playable. The VR space was contained in a roughly 1.5m circle highlighted as a blue bound on the floor in the game world. Also due to the positioning of both base stations and two players there was the occasional opportunity for some occlusion to occur. However this would really happen in a normal environment and it was sporadic. It was however alarming in VR to have parts of you shooting off in directions you weren’t aware of making motions for.
So, why do I say transformative? Simply because this experience formed memories as somehow definitely something I had done rather than experienced. It was short, I was an alien trying to sell fruit to other aliens from a tiny kiosk however the memory of it is solid.
Technically the Vive controllers are superb, they work, at no point did I feel that their response was lagging behind my motions. I did find that that at times the controllers were alarming far away from my body in the virtual space however, and I had to shrink my arms against my body in some impression of a T-Rex to continue the experience. I do believe, talking to the staff afterwards, that that was down to occlusion, and I would hope there was a controller button to reset things in that scenario. I also don’t think it’s a problem you’d experience outside of that very specific setup they had.

Playstation VR

This one is the strongest surprise for me. I own a Playstation 4, I still have my PS3 and the Move controllers I bought for it. So cost of entry for me is significantly reduced. A cheap second hand PS4 camera picked up now and I can be in line for Morpheus. I didn’t get to choose the demo I played, had I been able to I would have gone for Rigs without a second thought. However the game I played was amazing as an immersive experience albeit on rails, I believe it will be an extended “experience” within VR Worlds at launch. So it was London Getaway Heist, here’s a good impression of it from E3 Road to VR.

For those with long enough memories Getaway was a short series of PS2 games that were pretty revolutionary at the time, in terms of photo mapping, scale and accuracy to the real world; in my opinion anyway. The games themselves were average in terms of novel gameplay but still well worth playing through and ahead of their time. The dialogue, world building and scene setting were amazing. The same team, I believe, is behind the new VR one “Team Soho”.

So what was so good about this? I’ll try to summarise below but in part my expectations were lower so adjust the opinions below accordingly. Maybe…

Firstly it was much easier to fit and removed; and just plonked on my head and tightened at the back immediately came into focus, no aberrations no light leakage. So it’s definitely something the average person can pick up, fit and use without the technical frustrations that can and do occur with both the PC counterparts. There’ll be no driver errors here, no wrestling with windows, no fiddly room/gear setups. Of course, to counter balance that you won’t have the freedom. To download what you want to experience, to hack non VR games into VR, to fiddle and abuse. This is why I’m for the Rift I guess, or the Vive if you have the space.

Secondly, and this is down to the Playstation teams budget and expertise, the demo felt remarkably solid and complete. Ignoring my first attempt to fire the gun resulting in me throwing out of the now smashed windscreen of the car I felt entirely competent being the wingman for a getaway driver. Apologies to anyone who overhead me go “Oh fuck oh fuck, what now” as my only weapon sailed gracefully towards my motorbike mounted attacker. Still this is a video game and a replacement gun spawned on the dash board. I threw that one away too… 😀 Everything here behaved as I expected. I could reach out and fiddle with the radio, reloading the gun was as natural as picking up a clip and pushing it into the weapon. I very quickly found myself moving clips out of the bag next to me and into the glove box for easier access. Also keeping a clip held in hand ready for quick reloading. Like the Vive this felt 1:1 with the move controllers accurately representing my real word motions. With the front PS4 camera doing the business with mapping it suffered from none of the occlusion oddities the Vive did; though that was down to the nature of the setup with Vive rather than any flaw in the technology I believe.

In conclusion

You pay your money and make your choice. I don’t think anyone is likely to invest money in all the solutions so any criticism/comparisons really need to filtered through a lens of what is financially viable and what features are the most important to you. Of the three I guess I find the PSVR most impressive, but again this is down to the professional quality of the demos on offer and the fact I know in full what the cost of entry is; and it is low. Having said that, I’m sticking with the Rift. If I had the space I’d buy the Vive and if I had the patience I’d wait for PSVR with a view on still buying one of the PC solutions if I could save the money, because hey I love the freedom.
So here we go, VR is viable. It is here and it really does work. Of course comparing the visual output of these experiences to the crisp rendering on your 1080p, 2K or 4K monitor you’ll find it lacking. It’s also churlish and wrong to do so. When in motion the experience offered outweighs the sacrifice in visual quality, IMO. So my concern is now solely what can we expect? What exists right now on the PC VR platforms feels on the whole like a lot of demos rather than full experiences. Yes we have Elite Dangerous, Eve Valkyrie and games like The Talos Principle but a lot of the content available right now is Indie in nature. That’s just fine for me given the prices involved, but for a broader audience to get into this it would be excellent to see content of the kind PSVR seems to have. It will come, maybe it’s out there already and I simply haven’t discovered it, whatever the case is I look forward to seeing Eve Valkyrie and ED and trying my luck at persuading games like Skyrim to work in VR.

Quickly comparing Vive and PSVR the visual quality seemed similar as did the FOV. This isn’t comparing graphics, just visual fidelity. My gut feeling here is that all three platforms will pretty much be the same in terms of visual fidelity and FOV. Both the Oculus and the Vive have the same stated resolution and FOV; despite me reading in some reviews that the Vive presents a wider viewing area. Though I don’t know for the sure I think the PSVR will be 110 FOV as well.

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