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Thoughts on VR

During gamescom I had the chance to try out Oculus Touch as well as the final costumer version of Rift and Sony's Morpheus, while at GDC I experienced HTC Vive. All of this devices show similar problems.

Sebastian Weber, Blogger

August 10, 2015

4 Min Read

First of all, please don't get me wrong later on: VR is still an impressive experience for me every time I try one of the devices out there and the feeling of immersion is the best I got in my more than 20 years of gaming.

So currently there are three big players trying to conquer the crown in the highly anticipated and yet quite new market of VR. Oculus as one of the first companies to create a really well working VR device. Then Sony announced its Project Morpheus (which I tried at gamescom 2015 the first time). And of course Valve and HTC with Vive, which I tried at GDC 2015 and which really blew my mind back then.

Valve in my opinion still has the leading position here as their device does not only immerse the player by visuals and by tracking hand and body movement but also works fine in any kind of open space thanks to their Lighthouse system that can easily be configured to any room. Oculus of course also recognized movement and with Touch can simulate your hand movement but I am not yet sure about moving around in my living room only recorded by cameras while Valves laser based system surely can more easily recognize obstacles.

Morpheus on the other hand is up to know the least interesting device as the display seems to have a too low latency so that the image always seems to be a bit blurry and flickering.

Still, the feeling of immersion ist great for all three and even a third-person-game like Edge of Nowhere (which was showcased at the Oculus booth) works fine more or less with VR. I have to admit that in the first seconds I felt a bit confused but my brain/body got used to watching another person and experience a moving camera without moving yourself.

But this leads to the problem I have with all the VR experiences at the moment. Game Designers or at least a lot of them seem to try to just port their games that they do for PC and consoles to VR without thinking about proper design for this new kind of device. Palmer Lucky from Oculus said that a proper VR games should be designed with VR in mind from the very beginning, and he is absolutely right with that.

Those experiences that work best so far are done by the manufacturers of VR decives and are - in most cases - very simple, be it in terms of graphics or "gameplay". The topic of moving around in a virtual world alone seems to be very hard so that a lot of designers try to solve that by having the player teleporting himself around instead of walking around, just because the player's brain/body would not be able to differentiate between the virtual movement and the expectation of your brain of you moving around. This quickly leads to motion sickness and other problems which I was affected myself every once in a while.

On the other hand of course the industry educated its customers over the years. Players expect big AAA hollywood-like experiences with highend graphics, effects and action-packed gameplay. At the same time a lot of those things don't work in VR (yet). Some effects even lead to the game looking even more artificial, while on a normal display they are used to stylize the overall look (film grain for example or motion blur which makes you sick easily).

So the biggest problem VR does have at the moment (beside of some technical flaws or high costs that might be some kind of entry barrier for a lot of customers) is that there is not much out there yet that would be so great that people will adapt to the early devices. There is no "system seller" and at the same time there is not even a decision which device might "win" in the end - see Blu-ray and HD-DVD back in the days.

So I think it will take some more years to on the one hand have the designers learn how to make games for VR that are immersive, work great for anybody and at the same time fit the expectations customers might have. On the other I am not quite sure whether or not there has to be decision some day which device will be the leading platform or of some kind of universal API (which for example Razer is working on) might solve this problem. Because as always, especially if bigger companies start to be part of all this, only the platform with the biggest install base will convice to take the risk experimenting with a yet so unknown field like this.

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