The Steam/HTC VIVE Experience

In keeping with our philosophy of “work hard, play hard” we were lent a Steam/HTC VIVE for a week.

Immersion At Its Best

Immersion At Its Best

In keeping with our philosophy of “work hard, play hard” we were lent a Steam/HTC VIVE for a week. Lots of reviews are around the web and they will tell you precisely one thing: “You need to try this!” Martin Mull once said, “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.” And, how to describe the experience of the VIVE is similar: you have to actually wear one and try it out; it’s an experience you won’t forget. The biggest thing which can’t be communicated is the sense of space. You are really there in a very physical feeling way.

We played a lot, some in the office (space of 1.5x2 meters), but mostly at home (space of 3x4 meters) and tried a lot of games and demos. Standout experiences:

1. Tilt Brush is an amazing game from Google where you are an artist in 3d space. Not only can you walk around your creation, but the amazingly accurate controllers allow you to draw in that 3d space effortlessly. No art skills are required to do very cool things, but it could be a serious tool for a talented individual. Not to be missed!

2. The Lab is Valve’s in house demo with a series of six mini-games. The immersion effect is something which has to be experienced. They range from a scenario where you repair a Portal 2 robot to a shooting range where you have a bow and arrow and defend a castle from adorable (if armored) attackers. You can stroll around the side of a mountain with a cute robot dog without the risk of falling while the fear of falling remains quite intact! Or wander the Solar System with the ability to pick up the planets and throw them around.

3. Budget Cuts is a very cool demo which involves moving through an office of killer robots. It makes use of every VR trick from having you crawl between a drop ceiling and the roof, to peering around corners to check if the coast is clear. Throwing knives with the controllers is natural and the immersion is outstanding.

4. Eclipse – Defending the Motherland is a 360 degree shooter. Grab a minigun and fight aliens who attack from all sides. This one is definitely able to increase your heart rate and while I wish I was able to move a bit more to get to a corner of the room instead of fighting from the middle while surrounded, this is a lot of fun. It’s only a demo and the full game will be released sometime soon, but gives a great sense of what may be possible with future fighting games.

5. Waltz of the Wizard is a charming take on blowing up your office tower with spells. You mix ingredients and enjoy the results: fireballs, bring stuff to life, be a giant, etc. There are also a few portals to get to other lands where you can experience VR outside of the tower. A lot of fun for an hour of mixing and destroying stuff. Just be careful you don’t shoot the giant’s eye when he peaks in your tower window…

6. Minecraft works great in VR as well. I didn’t play much, but the kids loved it. Just be careful when mounting animals because the only way to get off is to hit “shift” on the keyboard since we couldn’t find any to map that command to the VR controllers. It was great for them to experience being inside the world they were building.

Overall, it was an amazing experience. Fun, immersive in a way which may just point to a very different future. But, at the end of the week, I’m ready to give it back. While a great experience, we didn’t find that we wanted to spend a ton of time inside. An hour here and there and we were ready for a break. There were a few, minor, issues with motion sickness, but nothing that prevented any enjoyment. It’s just that we didn’t find any killer apps which compelled us to come back again and again. But, the tech is fully functional and we are watching closely. There’s a lot of money behind the various VR solutions and they (hopefully) won’t go away any time soon. Great things may be in store for the future.

But, if you haven’t actually had a system strapped to your head, you are missing out. Go find one!

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