Will E3 Expo show us that Virtual Reality the Future of Gaming?
Finally got a good, long session with the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive today and I can tell you that without a shadow of a doubt that virtual reality is the (near) future of gaming. The ability of these devices to provide a fully immersive experience is now real. The interesting thing about the two devices is that they are for completely different use cases. The Oculus Rift is perfect for seated gaming; it’s a direct successor to sitting in your chair and playing Call of Duty, while using your controller to walk around, duck behind stuff, shoot things and blow things up. It is a truly fully immersive experience, with no lag. The VR of today is definitely ready for prime time.
The HTC Vive, on the other hand, is perfect for room-scale VR. Here, you can stand and walk around a specific space. The space is visible inside the headset, so that you don’t walk past the borders of the real-space, lest you bump into walls or anything. It’s not a far leap to think of a physical, multidirectional treadmill which rolls the ground under your feet and gives you the feeling of actually walking long distances. Unlike the Virtuix Omni, which has a ring to more or less hold you in place, future virtual treadmills will not require any kind of physical barrier (I think all we need to do is to make them bigger). I can easily see game rooms being transformed into room-scale VR spaces where you can literally experience a completely different time and place.
Once again, tech envisioned in sci-fi (the precursors to the Star Trek holodeck) and the VR rig that Wade Watts used in Ready Player One are becoming real. When you are in these alternate virtual universes the mind is truly tricked into thinking that they are somewhere else. I’d be very surprised if there isn’t a heavy push into VR at the E3 Expo, if not this year then definitely next.
The problem is, as it has always been, the software. If you think about it, immersive 3D gaming requires a completely different approach. It a much more difficult to develop a fully immersive realistic 3D environment for a complete game that it is to develop a 2D game, or even a 3D game. We will need to develop completely new interface paradigms (also we can always fall back on floating menus and the like), and we will have a period of transition where we simply use 2D constructs within the 3D game, because they are familiar. While inserting the users within the middle of the world is not that difficult (if you think about it, most games are currently rendering worlds that can be made more immersive simply by pushing more data about the world to the VR headset), adding the additional interaction layers can be challenging.
The hardware is ready today, but just like it took a “killer app” in the past to drive hardware purchases, I don’t think that we will see anything of that calibre at this year’s E3 Expo. While it’s tough to predict, I think we can safely say that either 2017 or 2018 will be the real “Year of VR”.
Of course, as a Star Trek fan, something like Bridge Crew looks super cool, and while it doesn’t seem all that exciting, it’s a great use case for the Oculus. After all, you don’t move around a lot when you are sitting on the bridge, manning a starship. Pretty innovative application, tailored to the strengths of the hardware. I can see a number of these kinds of titles – image a reenvisioning of Flight Simulator, or any number of simulators. Driving games would be a perfect use case for the Oculus as well, after all, all you are just sitting there, moving your hands and steering wheel. Love to see some of those at E3 Expo.
Come to think of it, the ultimate Call of Duty rig would be the Vive with the multidirectional treadmill. Actually, that might be the ultimate rig for everything. I can see people setting up the rig for gaming, and then using the power of the experience to telecommute (virtual meetings in a virtual space), travel (why go to Paris when you can experience a walk down the Rue des Barres in your own home) or even dating (meet your virtual mate and date virtually, no messy physical contact required).