Is VR The future? I went to VRLA to find out (Gaming)

by Cody Miller @, Music of the Spheres - Never Forgot, Sunday, August 30, 2015, 05:00 (2220 days ago)
edited by Cody Miller, Sunday, August 30, 2015, 05:39

Today I went and tried out a ton of VR stuff at the VR convention here in LA, and played a bunch of VR games and watched a ton of VR movies. VR is absolutely the future in some areas, but a complete dead end in others.

Let's talk about FPS games first. Right now, and possibly forever these are a dead end with VR. The big problem is control. I played a game called World War Toons, in which you aim by moving your head. So, your head is acting like your right thumbstick. Imagine you are playing Halo or something, and you move the right stick all the way to the left. You start to turn left, and if you hold it there, you will keep turning. Return the stick to neutral, and you stop turning. But now imagine the stick is positional, so if you push it all the way to the left, you look 90 degrees left and stop. Push the stick halfway, you look 45 degrees, and when the stick returns to neutral you look forward again. This is how the game works, and you can probably see the problem. If I turn my head and look left, and I want to look left of that, I can't because my neck can't turn anymore if I'm sitting in a chair. You can't just use a swivel chair, because the head tracking works very poorly if you are facing the other way. Even if that somehow worked, you still can;t spin because you have the video cable going to your headset which will wrap around you and get tangled. You basically can never turn around, and to do so you have to just run in a big ass circle. It sucks.

After playing that I thought the solution would have been to have the game control like Halo or Destiny, with the left thumbstick moving, the right aiming, and the head tracking letting you look around at stuff you aren;t shooting. There were a few games like that, but these have an even more serious problem. Every time I used the right stick to turn, I immediately felt sick. The effect was instant. Basically any time my viewpoint was changing, and my head is stationary, I felt nauseous.

So with FPS games, you either have a game that's playable that you can't control, or a game that's controllable that you can't play. There was another game with a setup where there were 2 dozen cameras in a square, and you could simply turn your body and it tracked your position, as well as the position of your fake gun. This fixed both the problems above, but it still problematic because you can only walk about 10 feet, and nobody will have this setup in their home. So while the control was good, it's sucks to be boxed into the game world of 100 square feet.

Some things rock in VR. Racing games are phenomenal. I played a ton, and when Sony gets a Gran Turismo game running on their VR headset, it's going to be the killer app. It is just straight up better than playing it on a screen. I played a sim type game similar to Forza and GT, a Mario Kart clone, and a really hilarious game called SMS racer. The idea was that you were racing, but you'd get texts from your friends during the race, which you had to answer within 10 seconds or you lose. So you have to look down, text, all the while not hitting shit or spinning off the track. An amazingly awesome concept, and a blast, if not a bit gimicky.

Adventure games or other non twitch games are going to rock in VR as well. Adrift was a game that was essentially Gravity, where your space station had an accident and you have to rescue your crew and get out. Amazingly immersive and pretty awesome. Story driven games or games like Gone Home would work well in VR as well.

Surprisingly third person games worked okay as well. RTS works in VR, but doesn't really get the benefit the above genres get. Playing it on a 3D TV would be just as good.

I also checked out 360 degree video, where you basically take a ball of GoPros and shoot video all around. You can then play it back, and use the VR headset to look around. For storytelling it's pointless in my opinion since you can;t move around, and can only look from the camera's perspective. So you're essentially watching a movie with no edits, with important stuff you can miss because you aren't looking in the right direction. There's no real benefit. It has technical and commercial applications I think, as one of the demos had me looking around video of an apartment, which is a great way for realtors to show it off without you having to make the trip. Watching a concert is also okay I guess. But storytelling in VR is going to be dominated by video games, not live action film.

As for the tech itself, I felt it was pretty good except for two things. First, none of the units had a high enough resolution. The screen door effect is real, and it's a significant detraction from the experience. Each eye was 1080p (~2K), so realistically you're looking at 4K per eye to eliminate this. I don't know many systems that can render two 4K images at 60fps right now. Second, and this is minor, but none of the units completely filled my field of vision. I always had the black from the edges in my periphery, so the field of view was too narrow, and in a way felt like tunnel vision.

Occulus and Samsung were both great headsets. Google Cardboard sucked ass. There's no strap to hold it on your head (you need to use your hands), and the tracking is bad.

The other thing that needs addressing is positional audio. No games had it. I would turn my head, and the audio still came from the same place in the headphones.


FPS sucks in VR. Racing games rock in VR. VR live action video is not good for storytelling, but VR video games are.

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