E3 2015: My experience with VR

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My first experience with the Oculus Rift and Project Morpheus was at E3 last year. Like anyone who tries it for the first time, I was enamored with the tech, dumbfounded by the possibilities, and thirsty for more. But, like an estimated 20 to 30 percent of players, I was brought to my knees from the feeling of nausea and motion sickness.  Convinced that the reason behind my gagging came from my inexperience and developers who’s skills were not yet refined, I was excited to try VR again this year.

I was fortunate enough to see how a year’s worth of progression changed a title called The Assembly. In a short and speedy 12 month period the game switched from Unity to the Unreal Engine, ran on both Oculus and Morpheus dev kits, and revamped its approach to player agency. Polishing a VR game was in fact possible and the folks at the UK based nDreams were proving it.

 

The Assembly tells a dual-perspective story about a corporation running some questionable operations in a secret facility located beneath the deserts of Nevada. Taking on the roles of both an employed scientist and a captive citizen, The Assembly looks to challenge players with moral dilemmas, adding in the surrealism of making those decisions in a virtual reality setting.

The first chapter that I played introduced me to the setting by wheeling me through the environment as I lay helplessly strapped to a gurney. The head tracking capability of the Morpheus in conjunction with studio’s understanding of the tech brought about an achieved sense of immersion even though the chapter served as a bit of a tutorial.

Things got a bit more interesting in the next chapter as I was tasked with solving a murder mystery. The setting was a large dining room complete with long table, many mannequin guests, and a sinister host who’s voice boomed through my headphones as he watched me from box seats built towards the ceiling.  I was able to get a closer look at the environment by leaning forward and even the verticality felt true as I looked towards my spectator.

Capcom also had a VR presence in Sony’s Morpheus suite with their game/tech demo called Kitchen.  You’d be very wrong in assuming that this is the VR version of Cooking Mama. The horror genre, one that seems primed for its participation in VR, is the category that Kitchen falls into. You begin the demo tied to a chair and your bound wrists are simulated by the proximity of your actual wrists when holding the DS4.  You can knock things down with your hands, put your arms up as a gentleman in the room with you tries to cut you loose, and witness his gruesome murder first hand. I saw this as the evolution of a first-person view horror game like Outlast. The jump scares caused me to instinctively, and organically, defend myself from my zombie woman attacker.

Futuridium is a puzzle space shooter currently being ported to Morpheus and the game’s cockpit view is perfect for the new platform. More than anything else, this demo showed the practicality of simply using the Morpheus as just another monitor, a feature that we’ll hopefully see when it launches next year. There was no in game replication of your hands and feet and no head-tracking was necessary. It was simply an already awesome game being enjoyed in a new way, further quantifying the possibilities of Morpheus.

 

I’m hoping that I’ll eventually get over the motion sickness that has plagued my experiences with VR in my short time with the tech. For now, it seems to be confined to motion. If I’m moving my character with the left stick but sitting stationary in real life, I start to feel it. The same is true when I use manual controls to move the camera while my head remains fixed. When tech demos don’t involve either situation, I’m perfectly fine. Devs are aware of the phenomenon and comfort options are being explored. I’m excited to see what’s next for Morpheus.

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