Virtual Reality

I’ve been on a spirited virtual reality kick for the past 3 months. My VR foray began maybe a year and a half ago with the purchase of a Playstation VR. I found some of the games to be interesting. Carolyn and I had fun with titles like Beat Saber and Super Hot. The system exhibited limitations, especially when it came to the motion controllers which were introduced during the PS3 era. The whole PSVR system is actually an amazing repurposing of discarded proprietary tech from Sony. Shortcomings revealed themselves in terms of tracking. I wasn’t a fan of movement in the worlds either. The motion controllers are joystick-less wands with buttons on them.

I was determined to get a bit more out of my PSVR before I trade it in toward a PS5 later this year, so I looked up a list of premier PSVR games and gave one of them a go. I landed on Blood and Truth: a first person action espionage game that offered visuals and mechanics well beyond what I had initially experienced on the PSVR. I was impressed. And then the motion controllers wouldn’t track. And I’d end of up being pissed. Despite these shortcomings, Blood and Truth opened my eyes to the fact that VR development had been quietly churning along, at least outside my purview, and improving vastly over the past few years.

As much as I happily drop money on awesome tech (I’m not rich people, but I’ll easily make calculations in my mind on how skipping out on meals can pay toward shiny toys, but I digress) I wasn’t going to spend $1200 on a Valve Index. When I was shopping around for VR systems, the Index was the best in terms of fidelity, but it required base stations for tracking, and I wasn’t convinced on how invested I really was in VR.

I settled on the Oculus Rift-S, which was a VR system that could plug into my gaming laptop, had decent fidelity, used inside-out tracking and didn’t require base stations. It also cost $400. I could tolerate the price tag, and it seemed like one of the more convenient options for an “all in” VR setup. It was difficult to find one to purchase online. They were sold out everywhere: a testament to the growing popularity of VR. I managed to get one with a little added premium, but 3 months later, I’m happy with my purchase.

In an unexpected turn of events, I’ve convinced my mother to buy an Oculus Quest, the PC-free version of VR. We frequently chat and play VR frisbee golf together. And to be honest, It didn’t take much convincing. She was hooked the moment I let her try the Rift-S. My dad’s first foray into VR boxing was unbelievably hilarious. I had to restrain him before he crashed through the TV, swinging at his virtual opponent. Observing the speed at which my parents adapted to using VR was astonishing for me. I’ve been nerding out on games since I was a child. We’ve never played games together. It made me realize that this tech will affect both the young and old, and it will encompass much more than niche gaming applications.

Along with catching up with Mom, I’ve been using my Oculus as part of my workout routine. I’ll pop in and do 15 – 20 minutes of shadow boxing in BoxVR. I purchased a 16lb weighted-vest that I wear and 1lb wrist wraps. These weight additions enhance my workout greatly. I’ve come to enjoy melee-based VR games like Until You Fall and Asgard’s Wrath. I’m definitely feeling a major physical workout after putting an hour into one of those games. The weights do an amazing job at heightening the sense of physicality in worlds where you are swinging swords and blocking blows with shields.

Asgard’s Wrath is a no-kidding RPG. There’s a full inventory system and side-quests. You play as the God of Animals and can possess a warrior called the Shield Maiden. In your colossal godly form, you can move huge objects out of the way for the other figurine-sized characters. You also have the ability to pick up animals and transform them into companions that will fight alongside you. I’ve played a few hours and it’s really a step above anything else I’ve played in terms of real video game mechanics and systems. Most VR games that I’ve played have had a relatively simple game loop as far as modern games go. I’m excited to see where the future of this technology leads.

In the spirit of VR, I recently read Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. I enjoyed the book a great deal. I’m not huge on the 80’s nostalgia factor, but I got most of the video game references and main movie and book references. I think my recent experimentation with VR tech provided analogs that helped me imagine the technology and environments being described in the book. I eagerly await the sequel to Ready Player One, which is, you guessed it: Ready Player Two, coming out in November of 2020.

I’m experimenting with VR development. I’ve dabbled with game development in the past in both the Unreal Engine and Unity, but there is something that blows me away when I create an environment in VR and can traverse around in it! More on this as I experiment more. I’ve been in touch with a VR researcher at URI and am signed up for a virtual Immerse-a-thon event coming up in late September. During this event, I will have the opportunity to work with a team to develop an educational VR or AR (Augmented Reality) app. I’m excited!