Much of the scepticism surrounding virtual reality has begun to take a toll most recently, and with all three of the big players (Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and PlayStation VR) set to launch this year, the enthusiasm for such technology has started to rise. While many remain convinced that 2016 will be the year of VR, I on the other hand see things differently, logically to be precise. For one, both the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive require high-end PCs in order to achieve their intended experiences. Remaining on the safe side of the things, PC gamers will no doubt want to push past these specifications since the most basic of VR games may not in fact require such monstrous graphics cards. But a few years down the line when developers start pushing the graphics envelope, it’s pretty much a given you’re going to be upgrading your hardware.
Secondly, consumer demand may well in fact be quite high but realistic expectations for how many people will be willing to part with their cash doesn’t seem plausible, as of yet. Given the officially listed prices for those already available (Oculus Rift, HTC Vive), as well as the expected price for those still to come (PlayStation VR), then virtual reality is largely out of most people’s budgets. 2016? I don’t think so. 2017? More likely. Plus there will be more games available. Having used both available headsets I can proudly say that I’m a firm believer in the technology and the experience it can deliver is indescribable. Do I think they’ll replace TVs? Not in the slightest. Do I think they’ll provide a reasonable alternative once they become standard within availability, technological requirements, and are reasonably priced? Well, given the fact that the technology has mad more strides in the last 4 years than what TVs have achieved within the last, then yes, I do.
"Games. And that’s where my concern lies with the Vive. Oculus Rift is set to deliver Lucky’s Tale, Chronos, and Edge of Nowhere. PlayStation VR is set to have Rigs and The London Heist, with many people speculating No Man’s Sky as an unconfirmed “No-brainer”."
Fact of the matter is, the very concept of virtual reality has provided more avenues for game design and creativity than our typical viewing screens have in decades. Higher refresh rates and increased pixel counts? That’s expected not innovative. Looking back to the launch of the Xbox One and the PlayStation4 while also taking in to account high-end PCs, the most these machines have done is draw more detail onto the screen, nothing that couldn’t have been achieved in the last generation of consoles. We’re still playing poor regurgitations of Gears of War, we’re still relying on retro throwbacks from one-hit-wonder indie titles, and we’re still facing an identity crisis attempting to embrace the qualities found within cinematography. It’s not necessarily a case of a stifled for creativity, it’s more so a case of the available technology limiting what’s viable for that creation.
“Well, what shall we create in this game, given the viewing format of how it’s supposed to be played?”Really and truly, there isn’t one game on this current generation of consoles that couldn’t have been achieved in the generation prior. Anybody can make the case for graphical detail but when you throw all that away, you’re left with the same ham-fisted, mundane game design that we’ve been used to playing on the Xbox 360. Great then, mundane now. Anybody who’s spent even a fraction of time in virtual reality will be able to tell you just how much potential there is for all that to change. Problem is however, it just can’t be described. And if you’ve yet to try it for yourself then it’s quite easy to see how one might write the technology off as just a fad, like 3D televisions. Having spent some time with the final build of the HTC Vive I’m in two minds of how I feel about the product in reference to its competitors.
Now, while it could be debated back and forth as to which of the headsets is better value for money and which of three provides the best experience and most powerful hardware, fact of the matter is the experience will be largely the same across all three devices. If you don’t throw-up, then it works. Given my perspective being that 2016 is not the year for VR, which is largely down to its early adopter price tag and the steep PC requirements, what then is the deciding factor? The same thing that accounts for every new piece of gaming device: Games. And that’s where my concern lies with the Vive. Oculus Rift is set to deliver Lucky’s Tale, Chronos, and Edge of Nowhere. PlayStation VR is set to have Rigs and The London Heist, with many people speculating No Man’s Sky as an unconfirmed “No-brainer”.
"While there’s many more titles on the horizon, some making their way to the Vive, Elite: Dangerous for example, it’s initial line-up doesn’t seem so appealing for gamers, at least."
While there’s many more titles on the horizon, some making their way to the Vive, Elite: Dangerous for example, it’s initial line-up doesn’t seem so appealing for gamers, at least. Tilt Brush, Fantastic Corporation, and Job Simulator. During a recent showing of the Vive I spent some time with a game known as Space Pirates Trainer VR. The game is a first-person-shooter with a neon aesthetic and a Sci-fi theme. Simple enough in geometry and not off the most realistic graphical styling, it plays well and is tailored around that which the Vive is geared towards: Open space. While the game is enjoyable and is largely comprised around shielding oncoming fire from enemy drones while dual-wielding pistols to fight back, the game encourages you as the player to take advantage of navigating an open space. And that right there is where I’m not entirely convinced by the Vive as a viable VR proposition, at this point in time.
The headset by standard is inherent upon the idea of space and while it’s most likely possible to hook up a controller and play as you would do with say, the Oculus Rift, the standard inputs for the device prove to be a blessing as much as it is a curse. The body tracking technique the Vive has opted for via the use of lighthouse posts do work well, and may ultimately prove superior over what the Rift has to offer in delivering similar experiences for the games that make use of full-room set-ups. But given what we know right now as well as the confirmed games being released for both headsets, outside of VR itself I don’t have much faith in full-room gaming experiences, with it being reminiscent of the Xbox Kinect.
Truth be told, I don’t really see a vast majority of people restructuring their lounge or building a dedicated room, especially with the line-up of games and from what I’ve played. Each to their own mind you and personal preferences aside, the games said to be shipped with the Vive are best described as tech-demos and tools for creationists. I have no doubt that future offerings will certainly appease gamers, especially with partnering of Valve. The double-edged sword to this partnering however is one I see potentially hurt the device, leaving it with the public perception of a sub-par experience. What am I referring to? The Steam marketplace. Valve’s curation of what’s considered eligible as a quality product is for lack of a better term, a laughing stock. So too is their customer service.
"The problem resides in the lack of a “Killer App” in order to make the case for what Valve and HTC are hoping to achieve."
Quite frankly, the moment a game releases on Steam, more times than none it’s a race to the end of a bottomless pit with no real care being given as to what’s classified as a solid, fully-functioning product, and what’s just another zombie-themed Minecraft rip-off. It’s two steps away from being a Google Play Store equivalent for PC gaming. And given the open nature of Valve which I do in fact respect, my concerns with a digital storefront for the Vive being anything remotely similar to Steam is one that’s fairly high. There’s three big dogs in this race, two of which are sure to have a loud enough bark when marking their territories. As for the Vive…well, unless they pull of some kind of wizardry and announce Half-Life3, then unfortunately, the cake is just a lie. And let’s face it, Half-Life 3 is not going to live up to expectations anyway, no matter how bad people want to see it.
Am I suggesting that Valve should abandon the full room experience in favour of something more traditional? Something more in-line with the Oculus Rift and its Xbox controller? Absolutely not, we need the differentiation. We need them in order to pioneer the technology. The problem resides in the lack of a “Killer App” in order to make the case for what Valve and HTC are hoping to achieve. Convince me.
We previewed the HTC Vive during the recently concluded PC Gamer Weekend.