Posts by Scopique

New Starting Zones in MMOs

Posted by on May 12, 2017 in RIFT

New Starting Zones in MMOs

This weekend and this weekend only, players can log into RIFT and claim their latest expansion for free (one character only). I reinstalled the game specifically to take advantage of this and contemplated starting over with a new character even if I couldn’t use the expansion on that new alt.

Like cholesterol, RIFT is very close to my heart. Also like cholesterol RIFT is something I’d rather avoid at this point in my life. I had played the hell out of it when it was in beta and after it launched, to the point where RIFT‘s launch day stands as my all-time longest continuous gaming session; I had taken the day off from work, and I believe I played it for 16 hours straight.

I eventually ended up with several characters on both sides of the faction fence, which meant that I’ve done and re-done all of the starting zone content many times. To this day it doesn’t take long for me to return to the game, start a new alt, and feel like I’ve fallen into a rut, regardless of how long it’s been since I last tread those Telarian boards.

Naturally, I was thinking about how cool it would be if this expansion brought with it a new starting zone that I could experience. Then I started thinking about how many MMOs have added new starting zones post-release, and the only ones I could come up with were The Elder Scrolls Online with their upcoming Morrowind expansion, and WoW (which isn’t to say that there aren’t others, just others I can’t think of).

In the past, I’ve written about expansion philosophy not jiving with my usual circumstance, but also how I understand that the point of expansions is to retain high-level players by laying down more content from those player’s current position (endgame) and stretching outward towards even higher levels or simply more content geared towards capped characters. The act of releasing an expansion isn’t a guaranteed panacea; a botched release will drive endgame players away just as quickly as no content at all, or  a guild could drift away, or players could get sick of what passes for high-level content these days, or players could start to feel that having a capped character is the best time to go on an MMO walkabout.

Now, I’m just talking out of my ass, as usual, and strictly from a personal preference, but it seems to me that if a game provides a new reason to start over for the first…I dunno…twenty levels, say, then that’s an opportunity to A) reinvigorate players who might be tired of the hamster wheel that is the endgame grind by allowing them new content with the caveat that they have to shed their highest-level personas and become noobs again, B) attract existing capped or even lapsed players by providing them with new mechanics, new quests, and new rewards that are essentially what they’d experience if they did jump ship to a whole new game, C) would populate lower-level zones again which is not only good for existing or returning players, but which looks good to players who are just jumping into the game for the first time (possibly because they grew tired of their capped characters in another MMO), and D) would put the entire existing game ahead of them once more. Voila! Instant whole-game expansion!

I wonder what the logistics are of one approach over another, then, because it’s a risk-reward thing from the perspective of the devs, I’m sure. Maybe it’s a case of capped players having a higher affinity for their characters that is stronger than their desire to start over even if they get new content in doing so. Maybe it’s more costly to create a new starting zone, new content, new races, and classes compared to sticking with the same character options but just creating new landmasses, quests, and items. Maybe people actually like the thin air at the top of the level heap.

I can certainly say that from my perspective, I’d be more apt to pick up an expansion for a game that I’m either playing or have abandoned if there was a chance I could get a new experience from the get go; my playstyle makes that an attractive option. I’d be playing RIFT right now if this expansion gave me something other than the two factional starting zones that I’m still sick of. I suppose there’s some technical or financial reason behind the post-cap method of expansion compared to the new starter method, but if any company is still interested in following WoW‘s lead, this might be a good aspect of their success to emulate.

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Ghosts of Peripherals Past

Posted by on May 9, 2017 in Featured, Hardware, Virtual Reality

Ghosts of Peripherals Past

Now that I’ve committed to the PSVR, it’s time to justify the purchase.

I picked up Job Simulator earlier this week. It’s one of the highest rated commercial VR titles mainly because it showcases the “best case scenario” for presence and input. As a technology it’s great; as a game, it sucks because there are only a few scenarios, and then practically no replay value outside of having something on hand to watch your friends mime their way through when they experience VR for the first time. I’ve been vacillating on EVE Valkyrie because while the demo was pretty amazing, the full game is apparently a short tutorial followed by endless arena multiplayer battles — not something I’m known to gravitate to.

The “big news” (as in “what Sony is pushing at the moment”) is Farpoint. Sony apparently hopes that this is the tipping point for VR, getting it beyond the gimmicky hand-waving of Job Simulator and on the mantle alongside more popular AAA titles that the platform is known for. Overview-wise, Farpoint is standard fare: two scientists crash on a planet, and have to find a way home. Echoing Half-Life, these eggheads find themselves battling multi-legged creatures on their journey, something you, the player, accomplish with the help of a specially designed gun-like peripheral that comes with the deluxe version of the game, or which can be purchased seperately.

Yay! Giant alien spiders…in VR…my favorite…

When I’d first learned about Farpoint, I thought that this might be the foot in the door that VR needs to show people that it can do more than just handle endless demos showcasing elements of what the tech is capable of. The graphics look solid, and as a shooter, there’s no ambiguity here: point, shoot, progress. What made me scratch my chin in the universally accepted signal of “I dunno…” was the long and sad history of console peripherals.

Nintendo is probably the most eggregeous offender of creating dead-weight plastic, going all the way back to R.O.B., the Power Glove, and the VitualBoy (natch). Microsoft has Kinect, and until Sony wisely opted to repurpose it, they had the Move. Following closely behind is all of the third party junk that all consoles attract: charging stations, console enclosures, stands, and controller add-ons that will supposedly let you “dominate the competition”.

This history was why I had been hesitant to jump on the PSVR in the first place, although I’m the kind of person that once the idea has been planted and the means secured, no amount of convincing to the contrary is going to stop me from forging head. Farpoint was kind of different, though. I could buy the game digitally, as I am wont to do in my old age, but how necessary to the immersion was this gun peripheral? Th product itself looks like someone glued a bunch of PVC pipes together and then stuck a Move controller in the barrel (something which I’m sure we’ll see happen on YouTube once Farpoint launches, if it hasn’t happened already). Couldn’t I just use the Move controllers I have? Supposedly we can use the gamepad, but where’s the fun in that?

See? Once I convince myself…

It’s difficult to look like a badass when wielding something you made from one trip to Home Depot.

Inevitably I did pre-order the deluxe bundle, even with the specter of starting a new peripheral graveyard hovering just outside my vision. Heck, yesterday I bought a combo PSVR display stand-slash-charging station because the idea of just letting the headset sit on the entertainment center was anathema to me. Of course, Sony has gone on record about wanting/hoping/praying to some dark god that other developers will support the specialized controller, which means if it comes to pass means we’ll be getting a lot more shooters in VR on the PlayStation, I guess. You’re not going to see anyone using this for a fishing simulator, that’s for sure. I’d be OK with having a Battlefield in VR, or maybe another Killzone (though I’d rather have more HZD, as I’m sure most folks reading this would agree).

What might end up being the big question mark though would be this: if Farpoint and this peripheral sell well enough, what other specialized controllers should we expect to see? Ideally, the answer to that would be “none”, because I think there’s a tipping point; maybe this general purpose “gun” controller is a natural fit for a hobby where virtual shooting rampages are prevalent and acceptable, but once we start down a path of Power Glove 2.0 we’ll just be re-treading the paths that lead to dead ends in the past.

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PSVR on the PC

Posted by on May 8, 2017 in Hardware, Virtual Reality

PSVR on the PC

One of the reasons I chose the PSVR was because I’d heard of an effort to “hack” the PSVR into the PC ecosystem, which instantly increased the value of the lower-cost headset by orders of magnitude. It stands to reason that since the connections that the PSVR require are non-proprietary — HDMI, USB, and power — then the only gap between the PS4 and the PC is software, specifically the drivers that allow the PC to recognize the headset as an actual VR headset.

I was familiar with Trinus from my limited time with the “low-rent” VR Samsung Galaxy smartphone. Like PSVR, the smartphone VR could be connected to a PC via the Trinus app, which recognizes the otherwise unrecognized VR headset as a legitimate display while also handling positional data from the device’s gyroscope. Since that time the Trinus developer has been busy creating a version specifically designed to bridge that gap between the PSVR and the PC.

What you’ll need

  1. A PlayStation VR headset. These had been out of stock in a lot of places until somewhat recently and can be had new for $399. A word of warning: I wouldn’t rush out and buy one specifically for this. Trinus is still in beta, so the support for this kind of thing is tenuous at best. If you have a PS4, however, I highly recommend the PSVR.
  2. Trinus PSVR. You can download the Trinus PSVR app for free. It will run in “demo mode” for something like 5 – 10 minutes before disconnecting the headset. A license is only about $11 USD ($8.99 EUR)
  3. SteamVR. SteamVR is a free app available through Steam that lets you run standard games and apps in stereoscopic mode.
  4. Patience.
  5. A VR ready game. Although I’ve only tried this with a VR-enabled game, I believe that this should work with any game or app combined with SteamVR. However, to get the biggest bang for the buck, find a 2D game which has a VR mode. Examples from my library include Elite Dangerous, Serious Sam (some variety), Subnautica, and Tabletop Simulator. I’d caution you against spending money on a VR-only title from the Steam store, however, as Trinus is in beta, and might not play well with games that are expecting the full breadth of Vive or Oculus input.

Installing SteamVR

SteamVR is intended for use with the HTC Vive, and possibly to a lesser extent, the Oculus. To that end, a lot of what you’re going to see when dealing with SteamVR (specifically, controller support and “room scale” terms and settings) isn’t going to work with the PSVR, but that’s ok: we’re not using it for the bells and whistles, only to take advantage of the display and gyroscope support.

SteamVR is something that everyone has in their library.

When viewing your normal library, click on the GAMES header next to the search box that sits beneath the SEARCH box. Then select TOOLS

TOOLS is the dumping ground for a lot of apps you might not have known you owned. It’s mostly multiplayer server stand-alone installers, but it has a few goodies provided by Valve just for using Steam — like SteamVR

Right-click and choose INSTALL. It should place an icon on your desktop.

Installing Trinus PSVR

You can get the Trinus PSVR demo from the normal Trinus website. Installation should be self-explanatory. It will ask to install a driver, which you should accept since it’s Trinus’ job to drive the data from the PSVR headset to SteamVR and associated applications.

Install a VR-enabled game or app

You’re on your own for this one.

Install the PSVR

Hooking up the PSVR to your PC is not that different from hooking it up to your PlayStation 4. You plug the breakout box’s HDMI input into your PC video card, the box’s HDMI output to your desktop monitor (you will want to have a monitor hooked up as a failsafe), the PSVR USB to a free USB port (not sure if it has to be 3.x, or if it can be 2.x), and the power supply to an outlet.

Running Trinus

Fire up Trinus. Although you might end up on the MAIN tab, you’re going to want the HOW TO tab first

The CONNECT sub-tab shows you the hookup diagram so there’s no ambiguity when plugging everything in.

At this point, you might be tempted to turn on the headset to see what’s what. If you do so you’ll probably just see an “xUSB” icon in the viewport. Don’t worry: if you’ve plugged the USB cable into the PC you’re all set; this is a generic warning that lets you know that Trinus hasn’t officially introduced your headset to your PC.

Next, you’ll want the INSTALL subtab:

There’s only one option: SteamVR Driver. “But wait!” you might think. “I already installed SteamVR!” What you’re installing here is the bridge between Trinus and SteamVR: this is the actual part that is missing from native PSVR support on the PC, so the driver combined with the settings you can fiddle with in Trinus, and the display handling of SteamVR, provide us with this wonderful hack. You won’t get immediate feedback when you click INSTALL, but know that Trinus has got your back.

One last thing

This system works best when you have more than one monitor because once you activate Trinus, your main monitor will reflect what’s displayed in the headset, which is non-native for a 2D display. It helps to drag app icons to an unaffected 2D monitor because you might have a hard time finding and accessing them if they’re on your main screen once Trinus starts.

Fire it up

The next few steps are straightforward but expect some trial and error. When I first got to this point my main monitor fish eyed so bad that I couldn’t access the Trinus control panel to see what I needed to do. This is why a second monitor is highly recommended.

Here’s a rough guide to what I did that eventually got things working for me, but know that it’s less a science, and more like voodoo (remember: we’re hacking hardware using beta software, so please be kind).

Switch over to the MAIN tab of Trinus. There are a few things to notice here, the most important one being the footer output section. This is where you’re going to get information on what Trinus wants you to know. Notice the line referring to SteamVR — make sure your message is pleasing like the one in the image.

Next, in PC MODE, select SteamVR (which is the default, I believe). For PSVR Display, select a display. This box will populate with all of the display outputs that your system has registered…except the PSVR itself, so don’t go looking for it or another display beyond what you have sitting on your desk. What you’re telling Trinus is which display output you want to show through the headset. My main display where I run my games is DISPLAY1, and that’s where I expected SteamVR to display. Finally, for PSVR MODE, select VR.

Before you do anything else at this point, place your VR Headset on the desk in front of you, facing the direction you want to face when using it. Trinus will calibrate your headset, and it needs to be ABSOLUTELY STILL for this to work. Even keeping it on your head could introduce subtle drift which will drive you bonkers (trust me on this).

In order for Trinus to recognize your PSVR headset, you need to click the broad START button. This will turn on the headset (if you haven’t), calibrate it, and will show the contents of whichever display you selected for PSVR DISPLAY inside the headset. At this point, you can put the headset on to verify that you’re seeing the desktop. It may screw up your actual desktop monitor display in the process. When you don the headset, you will probably get a really disorienting view of the same desktop, with each eye registering different parts of the screen instead of the overlap that we’d expect. This is because we don’t yet have the stereoscopic display that SteamVR provides.

If you can find it on a desktop, fire up SteamVR.

SteamVR has two components: the main visual output which, on a 2D monitor will display side-by-side fisheyes and a view of a gridded dome on a white background, and a small control panel which tells you the state of your hardware if you were using the Vive or Oculus. Assuming all you see are green status values, you’re on the right track. Greyed out icons are OK. If you see red, something is wrong. Sadly, troubleshooting SteamVR is outside the scope of this guide.

You will probably be greeted with a calibration wizard the first time you start SteamVR. For my setup, I chose the STANDING option, and then faced forward for the first step, and then put the PSVR headset on the floor at my feet for the second. Because the PSVR doesn’t use room-scale, nor does it use positioning outside of the built-in gyroscope, this is mainly to “calibrate” the position because SteamVR demands it.

If you’re lucky, you’ll have a complete 3D view inside your headset. You can move your head to move the view around the SteamVR dome and confirm that you have gyro support.

Starting your app

For Elite Dangerous, I had to open my Steam Library, find Elite Dangerous in the list of installed games, right click on the name in the list, and select the RUN VR MODE option because normal Elite Dangerous will tell you that you’re trying to run a normal game in VR mode, which won’t accomplish what we’re trying to accomplish.

I was unable to enact any input at this point. Upon removing the headset, I noticed that I had two game windows: One within the SteamVR view, and a smaller window on the secondary monitor. I had to click within the second, smaller Elite window to give the app focus. What this is doing, then, is running the app on the second monitor, but is — for lack of a more accurate technical term — projecting that app into the SteamVR space. I had tried running Elite normally using its 3D mode from the game’s OPTIONS, but that ran afoul of the weird resolutions required for the side-by-side stereoscopic view; running the game in VR mode from the start takes advantage of SteamVR’s resolution auto-scaling, and helped display a properly sized game despite the actual window resolution being much smaller than 1920×1080.

At this point, I was ready to rock! Input worked fine (HOTAS, mainly), and I was blown away by the sensation of scale when my cargo ship surfaced into the cavernous station where I had parked. While you can use the PSVR for a movie-screen-sized 2D experience (“cinematic mode” is what they call it), having a game which supports 3D VR is really going to knock your socks off.

Tweaking and troubleshooting

If you got this far with a serviceable experience, then the rest is gravy. Here’s a few things that you might want to set up or try within Trinus.

  1. IPD. On the MAIN tab of the Trinus app, there’s a slider labeled IPD. This stands for “interpupillary distance” and is a value which represents the distance between the pupils of your eyes, which is what grants us the power of binocular vision. Ideally, you should use this after getting SteamVR calibrated and before you start your game. If it looks like you’re experiencing double vision when viewing the SteamVR dome, use the IPD slider to adjust; you should see results instantly, allowing you to work visually rather than by some vague numeric value.
  2. Height. Beneath the IPD slider on the MAIN tab is another slider labeled HEIGHT. This may not matter in-game, but if you start SteamVR and find yourself “embedded” in the floor of the dome-grid, you can increase this slider to move the camera above ground to a comfortable height.
  3. Foggy visuals. The PSVR isn’t as resolution-intense as the Vive or Oculus, which is something we’re going to have to accept; the text in Elite Dangerous was rather hazy, for example, and therefore difficult to read. There’s a checkbox on the NON-VR tab of Trinus that may help improve visuals, although I haven’t tried it so I can say what it does or if it works. Alternatively, the game’s native video resolution might be able to help, although this could also knock your headset display out of whack.
  4. Set a RESET VIEW key: On the MAIN tab of Trinus, there’s a RESET VIEW section. I highly recommend setting a key. This will re-center your view to the direction you are facing at the time you hit the key, so make sure you’re facing a comfortable position before doing this (caveat: My experience was that Trinus reset my position to 90 degrees to my right rather than 0 degrees straight ahead. I had to turn my head to the right and then hit the reset button in order to center my forward-facing view to what I’d expected. I have no idea if I screwed this up or if this is standard).
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Ask Your Doctor if VR is Right For You

Posted by on May 3, 2017 in Virtual Reality

Ask Your Doctor if VR is Right For You

Listen, you’re going to see a lot of VR-themed posts here at LCHQ. I’ll make sure to include “VR” in the title so if you decide that this technology is not your thing, you’ll be able to know before you invest your mornings in my walls of text.

I’ve spent more time with the PSVR, and have a few observations on various aspects both related and surfaced by my experience.

Demos Need To Make A Comeback

The PSVR came with a demo disk, and also the option to download a VR arcade minigame bundle. I have now played several VR games without having to buy any, and this has done more to sell me on the idea of VR than anything else. The demo disk contains a good array of options, from racing to music to puzzles to shooters to horror. I’m sure that had I been forced to buy a game blind I would have made some bad decisions that I would have regretted, which would have started a regret-spiral.

VR Games Are The New 3D Movies

Back when 3D movies relied on the red and blue cardboard glasses, filmmakers wanted to make sure you knew you were watching a 3D movie so they spent a lot of celluloid on contrived reasons to poke things towards the camera and out towards you.

Yes, it roars at you, and yes, with spittle. #immersion

The VR analogue to this is to use the FOV, depth, and 360-degree freedom to heighten not just inner-ear trickery, but straight-on terror. I refuse to play any horror games in VR, but there are a few games which look promising which contain elements that I know will earn me a trip in an ambulance. For example, in the game Robinson: The Journey you encounter a freakin’ T-rex, and although the devs seem to have purposefully avoided the full on “dino-face-chomping” one might expect in a real-world encounter, the rex does charge at you at one point. I ain’t down with that.

Is There a Limit to the VR Experience?

VR is currently a nascent technology which works, but which demands compelling software support. Because it takes a long time to create a Skyrim or Horizon: Zero Dawn, we’re not far enough from the initial VR dev kits to really see those kinds of games being released for VR. Add to this the fact that the technology is still heavily questioned by pundits and consumers, making a high-cost project targeting VR more of a gamble than developers and publishers are normally willing to take.

Current VR offerings (that I have seen for the PSVR) seem to be very limited in scope. The most interesting games (to me) like Batman Arkham VR or Robinson seem to be very linear and relatively short, leading to a quick burn without a lot of replay value. As someone whose bread and butter is MMOs and open-world games, this makes me hesitant to pay premium prices for a game that is less than 10 hours long (Halo 5 notwithstanding).

On top of this, and linked to the previous section, a lot of VR games rightfully do what VR games are designed to do: focus on the level of immersion that the headset and control scheme can offer. To that end, however, it seems that a lot of time is spent on button pushing, examining surroundings, and engaging in puzzle-solving in ways that the control scheme allows us to. In a video for Robinson that I watched on YouTube, the player had to use an eye-scanner security panel. Normally, we’d expect to click on it to “simulate” our desire to use this scanner, but with a VR system, the player actually has to move his or her head closer to the camera which brings the avatar closer. In reality, this makes a lot of sense, but in an example of taking it to the extreme, a video I watched on the Batman VR game seems to focus on Batman the Detective, and not Batman The Reason Why People Like Him Because He Kicks Asses. There’s no free movement, but there is a lot of button pressing, picking up of things, scanning, and general interacting with environments. I didn’t see anything in the video that was overtly Batmanish.

Are these experiences what we’re going to come to expect from VR going forward? Mobile was lauded as the next great frontier of gaming, but we’re now thickly settled with tropes like slowly recharging energy that limits gameplay, friend codes, async PvP, collection and upgrade systems, and a sea of title-icons featuring screaming men in headgear.

hope to gawd that VR isn’t going to stop at the point where the entire experience relies on the “gee whiz” of immersion and instead tries to marry what we love about games currently with what VR can apply to enhance our experience. I understand that VR brings with it a whole new paradigm shift in how we think about the aspects of games that we take for granted, like movement, input, and immersion, but I don’t want it to become divested such that it becomes an entity unto itself. We shouldn’t have an Elder Scrolls game which features a Khajit re-arranging his cart, or a Star Wars game which has us using the Force to stack droids as high as possible. Those would probably be easier to make than, say, an open-world ESO game in VR, or a Star Wars RPG in VR, but it would probably be an albatross around the technology’s neck that it wouldn’t be able to shake at a point where it needs to convince nay-sayers about the segment’s viability.

I have high-hopes for VR because as a consumer I know where I’d like to see the technology go. I’d rather it parallel current PC/console game options, and stay away from the walled concept garden that’s turned mobile gaming’s promise into a swamp of dead ideas.

To do this, VR developers would need to merge VR with current generation gaming. FPS and MMO games practically beg for this, but other genres like MOBA or shmup’s could find ways to use technological aspects of VR like depth and FOV to enhance — but not replace for the sake of sexing things up — their gameplay. Remember that not everyone has or will be on board with VR, so allowing VR and non VR players to interact in the same game is going to be key. That means taking virtual reality in a whole new direction perpendicular to current games isn’t going to help sell the tech to people who love where they are right now and are skeptical about why they’d want to invest in VR.

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VR – A Window On The Future

Posted by on May 1, 2017 in Consoles, Hardware

VR – A Window On The Future

I’ve lived long enough to see commercial VR come and go, and then come again. Any comment thread on the subject of the current state of VR will be chock full of people who claim that VR is once again on the outs because the technology is too expensive, has too high a hardware bar for the masses, and that it suffers from a lack of software support.

All true, all true. The cheapest VR experience you can have will run you about $25 for Google Cardboard (assuming you have a capable smartphone which isn’t factored into the cost). This is VR in the way rollerskates are “a way” of commuting to work in the morning: yeah, you can do it, but not only is it horribly misrepresentative of the process, but you look stupid. The good news is that products like Samsung’s Gear VR can bring low-cost VR to the people, but the bad news is that the smartphone will never be able to give you the experience necessary to “sell” the skeptics — there’s only so many roller coaster simulations that people will try before realizing that such things are all that the low-cost option has to offer.

For the real deal, you need to shell out some coin. I recently put together a VR-ready PC which cost me about $1300. If I were to add a VR setup, that would add another $600-$800 to that. These configurations are the Real Deal, though — 1080×1200 per eye which is roughly on par with the current desktop monitor standard of 1920×1080, the sum of which is 2160×1200. While anecdotes relate that a VR headset isn’t as clear as a really good monitor, those numbers are nothing to shake a stick at. Still, no amount of technobabble about resolutions and refresh rates and polling intervals and tracking metrics is going to mean anything to the bulk of potential users if there’s no compelling reason to shell out for the PC and headset.

Right now, software is lacking — in the consumer space. Looking through Steam (Vive and Oculus have their own walled-garden storefronts that I don’t think are accessible outside of the visor) shows that yes, there are a good number of games out there made for or which support VR, but there’s nothing that’s getting traction on the scale of Mass Effect: Andromeda or Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds. What people do know about VR software is usually due to early reports on the technology-focused “gee whiz” proof of concept demos that were made to showcase the tech: Job Simulator, Google Tilt Brush, and a lot of other products which might work well with the concept of VR, but which have that air of “get something out the door so as to be considered to have been a pioneer in VR”. Basically, there’s no killer VR game out there that’s going to silence the nay-sayers, or of the games that are out there, there isn’t one that feels like VR was a logical and the only best way to realize the concept. There is no end to the number of titles that people will throw out as “if only they had a game like [GAME X] in VR, I’d be sold!”, but we’re not at that point quite yet. Eventually, sure, assuming there’s a level of interest that makes VR in the consumer space a continuously viable option.

Consumers like to preach about things from the bottom of their narrow wells (helloooooooo?) but aren’t usually apprised of the whole situation. For example, VR is apparently massive in training, medicine, and therapy. It’s being used to train surgeons on techniques, and psychiatrists are using VR to help people cope with PTSD. Obviously from our perspective here at LC (and presumably your own as you are reading this) gaming is an important aspect of VR, but even if gamers don’t end up adopting the technology, it’s not going to die because its potential for other industries who don’t care about adoption rates and publisher demands are too great.

So why this post now? Over the weekend I picked up a Playstation VR headset. It’s the lowest-cost gaming headset out there, although it only works with the PS4*. I opted to go with the PSVR rather than the Oculus or the Vive partly because of price, but also because the majority of software for the PSVR are actual games of some quality, something I attribute to the fact that the PS storefront isn’t as “Wild West” as Steam is currently. Of course, that means that there are far fewer options for the PSVR, which folks in the industry explain is a result of the lag between the introduction of working dev kits and the amount of time it takes to make a decent quality game (about 2 years minimum, or so the sages claim).

If you’ve never experienced VR, it’s actually difficult to explain its draw. Do we need it? No; I have a smartwatch which I also “don’t need”, but once I acquired it I found that it became far more useful than I could have imagined. The same goes for VR: it’s a “virtual reality”, and if we unpack that we see that we’re talking not just about another way to shove electrons into our eyeballs, like the difference between a 3DS screen, a 40″ 4K TV, or a massive movie screen. We’re talking about a new way of experiencing something. That’s the part that’s hard to get across in words, even with hand gestures. The first time you put on a headset and find yourself standing…wherever…and you move your head around, look down at your “hands”, or up at the sky, it doesn’t feel like you’re where you physically are. At least, until you start to move. The first game I tried, I almost toppled over when I started to move with the gamepad; it wasn’t motion sickness so much as vertigo, the feeling that I was moving while also not moving. There’s a real physiological effect there, meaning that for all the talk about resolution and refresh and cost and software, our senses treat VR as an actual reality. It’s right there in the name: virtual reality, but a reality nonetheless. We’ve only got one reality otherwise, which is really the draw of VR for me. Immersion is supposed to be a key element of great games, but we can’t imagine the level of immersion possible until we’ve put ourselves into a whole different reality.

Throwing VR under the bus because there’s nothing right now that speaks to us as individuals, or because we want to be able to earn street cred with the community says more about the naysayers than it does anything about the technology itself, and that’s really the way it should be: the tech should just keep on keeping on without paying any mind to those who have some kind of axe to grind for some kind of reason. I do agree that the requirements are too high; people should be able to use VR without having to upgrade their PCs. I also agree that the price is too high, but this is gen one, and that’s how technology always works. The software options will keep coming and will get better, but only if there’s a reason for them to do so. If people are adamant about not having VR this time around, then they won’t demand software. If there’s no demand, there will be no software. But it won’t mean that VR is going to end up in a shoebox at the back of the tech closet; it’ll continue in the industries where it’s valued for what it can do.

 

*As the lowest cost solution, the PSVR is a logical target for hackers, and there are already solutions in the works to get the headset working with the PC. The thing is, Sony is poised to be the cheerleader for VR due to the low price, but leaving it only on the PS4 is like leaving money on the table. If Sony were to make the PSVR officially PC compatible, I can easily imagine a much wider adoption of their product, and for VR in general.

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