Virtual Reality. VR as we lovingly call it, is something which has captured the imagination of every gamer worth his Gamescore. Everybody has a gut feel that this is the next big thing. With the VR race finally coming to the lap that matters, gamers will see the release of HTC VIVE, Oculus Rift and Playstation VR this year, with Microsoft’ Halo Lens coming somewhere down the line. Normally, I try to stay away from new tech until I have a fair idea and the reviews are out. Plus India is hell when it comes to pre-ordering and preview hands-on. But, recently when I got my hands on some Oculus hardware (Development Kit 2 version in this case), I basically jumped at the opportunity.
I had to pay Rs.250 for 10 minutes, and it was more of an experience rather than a game session. But I was too bored reading about VR, rather than experiencing it so I decided to bite the bullet. The VR experience I signed up for was at The Great India Place (Sector 18, Noida). It was a virtual roller coaster, and the headset came with a chair which simulated the motion of a roller coaster. It wasn’t the best choice, but it was either that or the sky diving, and the sky diving contraption didn’t support my weight.
It started off well enough. I strapped on the headset, which, was a little too tight for my comfort, and I was transported into a world which looked eerily like Roller Coaster Tycoon. Of course the first thing that I did was to look around, and sure enough the environment rendered around me. Right, Left, Up and Down deeding on where I was looking the environment rendered in that direction. One thing which I felt was a bit off was when I was looking at myself. I couldn’t see my hand even when I was holding it in right in front of me. Of course it made absolute sense to me why I couldn’t see my hands, but it felt weird and for a moment I lost my bearing from the real world. Was I really holding my hand in front of me. Did I even have hands. Who knew?
I complained of the focus of the lenses being a little bit off which were causing me to strain myself a bit, but the organizer told me while the Occulus did have an option to adjust the focus he didn’t have the time to calibrate it to my needs. So I just needed to suck it up and board that Roller Coaster. A distinct difference of being in a VR and not on a real roller coaster was that I was always on the first seat, and I was always alone. Not sure if both of them are advantages though.
Anyways, my next 10 minutes were spent riding through 4 virtual courses. With each one becoming more insane and un-realistic as we went along. While my mind was completely aware that none of this was real, my body was never in agreement. Helped by the subtle and sometimes sudden lurches of the seat I was sitting in, I felt the slow awkward rise and the rapid exhilarating descent. The sound too with headphones right over my ear were adept at creating a Dolby effect. In fact the only thing missing from the experience was the gush of wind, and screaming passengers. I was holding onto my seats, sweating and on more occasion than one did I close my eyes. What can I say, I am afraid of heights, real or virtual.
Next I tried my hands at Left for Dead 2. This setup had me putting on the Oculus, and use an actual gun replica as a controller. I was pretty hyped for this, since this game was exactly what VR was made for, a FPS where Zombies can come at you from any angle. The game’s camera followed my head movement both up and down, and for some reason the sensitivity was amped up to max, which had me straining to keep my neck from any sudden jerks. The gun’s Pointer was basically the center of my view so moving the gun around did squat. Then the resolution which fluctuated from blurry pixelated screens to 540 p turned out to be even more headache inducing than the roller coaster. I lasted even less on the game than I did on the Roller Coaster, and I didn’t feel good about it.
Once I got off, I felt Nauseated and my eyes felt a little sore. I attribute both of them to growing pains. But honestly, my mind was far from blown. It wasn’t an experience that would change the way I game, but I could see the potential. I could also see that the Oculus in itself is not hardware enough to provide a complete VR experience. There has to be (HTC Vive and Playstation VR will use cameras) extra equipment to capture body movement, and create the kind of experience that it is advertised for.
The Oculus is getting a mixed reviews across the world, with early adopters appreciating the innovation but ruing the price and the complex setup. I would fall in line with people who think its a little too expensive, especially if you consider the hardware that you will need to run games on it.
Have you experienced VR. How was your experience with it? Have you or will you be buying the Occulus or HTC Vive or Playstation VR? Any questions that you would like to ask about VR. Let me know in the comments. If you want to try out the VR yourself and are in the NCR region, it might be worth going over to the top floor of the Great India Place Mall. Just ask them to calibrate the Oculus to your eyes. And please go on an empty stomach.