The VR Conundrum

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there's a frog in my snake oil
EDIT: Ok this changed from a 'Should I buy VR?' thread into an 'I BOUGHT VR!' one pretty quickly . Will now mainly be about games and tech from here on

REVIEWS: HERE
'ONE YEAR WITH VR': HERE
VIDEO PLAYLIST: HERE
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There are many VR conundrums. (Is putting your head in a box a good use of your time? Is this tech just a brilliant new Betamax? Is AR the real future of face candy, especially given the cheapy launches? Etc...)

My core conundrum here though is: Should I buy a gaming VR kit?

My criteria are:
  • I'm not too hyped for 'roomspace' gaming for now. Still seems uber gimicky, and difficult to pull off in a small flat. Seated 'classic' gaming and casual standing stuff is fine.
  • 3D interactive movie-style experiences could be cool down the line.
With the established but imperfect Rift on a six-week sale, and the budget Microsoft kits coming at the end of the year (including some decent advances)... I'm torn...

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IN THE RED CORNER: THE RIFT



PROS
  • Known entity. Works well with games I'm interested in.
  • Thanks to its cunning software my gaming rig can run it reasonably well.
  • Solid hand and head tracking once set up. Ideal for seated play.
  • Currently nearing affordability at £400 (!) for the sale bundle

CONS:
  • Glare is a known issue.
  • Resolution isn't ideal for reading small text.
  • The 'screen door effect' is noticeable.
  • Setting up for roomscale is not easy.

UNCERTAINTIES:
  • This price drop hasn't come from nowhere. Could be superior competitors on the horizon, could be their lawsuits mean they're in trouble...

IN THE BLUE CORNER: THE MICROSOFT ACER


^^First look - confirms most of the claims to date. Further Q&A here^^

PROS:
  • Plug and play, no external sensor set up, use easily in multiple locations
  • Has far lower minimum specs to run than current gen (in the vid above it was running on a 2012 graphics card). The official reason is that they can make big savings as they know their own OS so well. (The question is does it scale to the high end machines, allowing better gaming graphics than currently achievable).
  • Crisper text and images. Allows for eye roving.
  • Predicted to be in a cheaper band (approx £300 for the full kit).

CONS:
  • Unproven, no gaming pedigree as yet.
  • Cheaper construction shows in the headset not standing up well to quick head movements. Not ideal for involved gaming.
  • The 'screendoor effect' is noticeable, and appears in the periphery too.
  • The controllers will only work well when in your field of view, as they use the 'inside out' tracking from the helmet. Bit more limited than current gen.
  • Lower field of view than the current gen.
  • Also has 'god-ray' glare.
  • No in-built microphone.

UNCERTAINTIES:
  • Still so many unknowns about it's intended use, capabilities and software support.
  • A slightly higher quality model (HP) is coming, but dev kit not out yet.

EDIT: UPDATE:

The general roll of early dev impressions is suggesting I was in the right ballpark here. The release kit will probably be far more accessible than the current gen, but is ultimately aimed at a more casual user, and will need to populate it's software ecosystem etc. Interesting for the future but not in the game right now. EDITEDIT: Decent look at the Dell's pros and cons here and broader pricing (slightly pricier than forecast etc - the tracking aspects are definitely the bits that bug me the most though, despite the ease of set up). Decent general overview of the Windows kit, and test of the Acer, here. EDITEDITEDIT: Reasonable overview of all the Windows headsets here.

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Current conclusion:

Test a Rift kit in the wild here. If it suits my face, wait til the last week of the sale to see what else crops up about the MS kit, especially gaming tests with the controllers. Then make a call...
__________________
Virtual Reality chatter on a movie site? Got endless amounts of it here. Reviews over here



"Money won is twice as sweet as money earned."



The People's Republic of Clogher
Honestly?

I'd hold off until the second generation of the tech..... says he who has just bought a Switch.
__________________
"Critics are like eunuchs in a harem; they know how the Tatty 100 is done, they've seen it done every day, but they're unable to do it themselves." - Brendan Behan



there's a frog in my snake oil
Honestly?

I'd hold off until the second generation of the tech..... says he who has just bought a Switch.
That would absolutely be the sensible thing to do

Kit's going to depreciate like mad, and it's clear the visual experience still isn't that easy on the eye. I am still really intrigued though, and have been saving for well over a year, so these price drops mean I could jump in without toooo much pain.

Reckon it'll all come down to the hands on. 15 minutes in a John Lewis trialling the kit should be enough to see if this 'presence' business is worth the punt. I kinda feel like I'm aware of the downsides. Just need to see if the upsides live up to their claims



there's a frog in my snake oil
Hands-On Report:

First Impression:

Wow. Definite wow. This gen does make an impression!

Demo Tried:

The Climb



Detailed Impression:

First off I was just happy that the kit worked fine with my eyesight (which is eccentric, supposedly I need a monocle ). Popping the helmet on it was really pleasing to gauge the initial hub environment straight away and read all the the option panels etc.

The demo booted swiftly, with some standard cyber-fog transition, and then boom. I was in a sunny X-games mountain climb . (On a really narrow wooden plinth of course. The bastards.)

Really stood up to close inspection much better than I was expecting. Legibility of the (large) text was fine, the standard world convincers (shadows, light glimmer, textures etc) all looked genuinely at a decent level even if I shoved my face into them (although I'm not the pickiest in these regards). It was incredibly easy to buy I was in this (pseudo-real-looking, gamey) scenario.

I was looking for all the negatives, and they were there for sure. The screendoor was the most obvious when looked for, but didn't really bother me. It almost has a retro '80s view of the future' imperfectness to it, which almost feels fitting. It wasn't really distracting at all for this short session and I mainly wasn't aware of it. The field of vision does feel a touch tunnelled, but swinging your head around in this environment felt natural and fine. Didn't really feel enclosed at all, did feel like I was on the side of a mountain, with an expanse all around me. (The border warnings worked fine as a way of stopping you wondering off in the real world. Could see them being an issue if you were truly story immersed, but found it easy to work with them while still essentially feeling like I was in this situation).

The controllers are nifty, I dropped into the game aspect of it really easily. It was totally intuitive to climb up the mountainside, fathom the tip system, mess with the inputs and ephemera.

What's interesting is what drops away when you're focused on the game (or just hanging taking in the scene). I didn't notice that my hands were disembodied. Didn't notice or didn't care, probably because they responded really well to my actual hand movements. Didn't notice the light gap around my nose once I got going, which I'd observed at the start. Like didn't notice it at all, despite looking down on multiple occasions. Did notice the very genuine feeling of vertigo when I looked dowwwwwwwn

Caveats:

The Climb shows off all the kit's strengths and non of its weaknesses. A brightly lit scene with no really dark backdrops (so glare not apparent), no small text, no nausea-inducing world motion etc. The trial was probably 8 minutes tops too, so no endurance issues, or noticeable after-effects or disorientation. (I noticed a slight after-image of the screendoor effect possibly about 10 minutes after).

Definitely feels like an extended session, with more demanding games, would be needed to know for sure if my eyes and mind could get decent playtime out of this thing.

Conclusion?

Do I care if I never play The Climb again? Nah, not really. As an experience and a game it did get my heart rate up, did feel kinda fantastic to be on a faux jutting cliff side. Purely as a game it's hard to see where they can take the skill ceiling to make it engaging for long though.

Could this type of 'front facing' (but not fully 360) roomspace gaming be engaging? Yep. Could I set this type of 2mx2m floorspace up with 2 desk sensors in my flat relatively painlessly? Yep...

Do I want to try VR again? Hell yes . That is very much a take-home...

Specs:
GPU: GTX 1080, CPU: 'latest' i7, RAM: 32G (not really needed, reco spec = 8G)



The People's Republic of Clogher
First off I was just happy that the kit worked fine with my eyesight (which is eccentric, supposedly I need a monocle ).
That's encouraging from my point of view as well - I'm blessed with one eye significantly more short sighted than the other to the extent that I use one for distance and one for close-up. It's the result of being too vain to wear my mildly prescripted specs in school.



there's a frog in my snake oil
That's encouraging from my point of view as well - I'm blessed with one eye significantly more short sighted than the other to the extent that I use one for distance and one for close-up. It's the result of being too vain to wear my mildly prescripted specs in school.
That's essentially my situation too, so yeah it was really encouraging. (I've read that the lenses somehow prep your eyes for long-distance viewing, even though the actual info is super close. Was expecting one or the other aspect to be blurred).

I'd want more time with it to see if any strain issues emerged, but yeah off the bat it's a relief



there's a frog in my snake oil
The Tech Has Game, But Are There Any Games?

Ok, I'm pretty sold on the Rift kit. The questions about software spread, and game design that doesn't make you vom, definitely remain though...

The short story is: There are very few big titles that offer longevity, and although there's a decent back catalogue of slighter gaming, many of them suffer from interfaces and content that are either slightly unpleasant to use, or pared back to simplicity. Or both

The long story is...

Games I've Got:

Elite Dangerous:

Attack of the galaxy geeks



I'd be relying on this to be a mainstay. Despite the issues I'd have with text, jaggies, and lost-pretty on my rig, could see VR adding a big lease of life to the existing content (driving round the alien crash sites again, flying through the Arena architecture in small ships? in VR? Yes please ). And then there's hopefully years more content to come with my lifetime pass, including the unfolding alien invasion, and at some point, space legs...

Pulsar Lost Colony:



Still very much a work in progress on the VR front, with 'look to walk' locomotion, and a tilting flight deck that makes most people feel space sick. Could definitely do with more UI refinement to tackle that side. On the plus side, lots of content, lots of silliness potential


Games I'd Probably Buy:

Lone Echo (£30):



This just released, and does look pretty grand. Although at about 6 hours for some atmosphere and puzzling that's some poor bang for buck. The big selling point is that they seem to have nailed a locomotion system which is both flexible and fun to use. Here's a quick example of the handhold system in action. Does seem pretty cool.

Super Hot VR (£19):



Again not much game. But by all accounts, what a game

Esper 2 (£8):


Creative wee puzzler. Liking what I've heard.

Free Games:

There are almost too many to mention here, but a few that stand out as possibly having some legs...

Echo Arena: (free until Oct 2017)



Now a free spin-off from Lone Echo (probably to ensure a playerbase), this seems to be Ender's Game made real. Again the most interesting thing here is just how robust the motion system is. It looks odd from the outside, but they seem to have nailed a load of aspects which prevent your brain from rebelling, allowing for some pretty sweet zero G moves.

Portal Stories (free with Portal 2):



Apparently there's no actual portal-ing, but the teleport mechanic at least feels fitting here.

Vivecraft (free with Minecraft - works on the Rift):



Look I'd have to give it a go. Infamously nauseus classic locomotion system though. Bows work well tho

Rec Room



Wii Sports meets the birth of the internet. What's not to like? . (Well, the weird groping and general inter-net-ness, but aside from that the mini games and daftness seem great...)

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And then there's a ton of experiences, educationals, art programs, puzzlers, nonsense farms, novelty demos up the wazoo. The works. Can see my girlfriend swooping around in Google Earth and painting in Quills. Can see myself bopping various moles in all the different amusement parks.

Hopefully there'd be enough there to tide me over until some major releases gain form

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Current Status: I would actually jump right now if I wasn't just off on hols and unable to accept delivery. High chance I'm snagging one on return if the sale's still on. It's supposed to be. Guess I'll see



there's a frog in my snake oil
What Causes VR Nausea?

I've been looking into this, and finding it pretty intriguing. Because if there's a real block between presenting fantastical scenarios and the body then rejecting them (because they're fantastical), the whole tech is a dead end.

Thankfully it does seem there are solutions. There's been a lot of intrigue around the Echo games, as they seem to have solved a slew of issues. My amateur summary of the issues would be:

Problem:
  • If there are more sensory inputs contradicting (or failing to confirm) your perceived scenario than supporting it, you're going to feel nausea / discomfort.

Solutions:
  • Motion systems that give primacy to your inputs (instantaneous acceleration/deceleration, not allowing others to inhibit your motion suddenly) and encourage propulsion towards the area you're viewing solve many issues.
  • Visual guides that mask peripheral motion / 'vection' where necessary and focus vision into central areas solve some other 'car sickness' causes.
  • The body will accept analogues. If you moved laterally because of a big 'push' movement from your arm, your body will accept that as a reason to believe the movement and its direction.

It's way more involved than that though. For more colour, here's a big player discussion. And here's a fun perspective from a guy who works with vertigo on conflicting inputs. And great breakdown by a VR pro of what Echo Arena does right:

Since I study this stuff professionally (and Echo Arena is my new favorite case study):
  • Mission:ISS uses yaw (there is no up), which is the #1 cause of motion sickness. Someone I was playing with turned it on in Echo Arena and started getting sick. Echo Arena keeps you upright by default
  • Larger spaces are less sickness causing than small spaces, because your eyes see less vection.
  • The HUD gives a fixed point in front of you, which reduces motion sickness
  • The primary booster is an instant acceleration in the direction you are looking, at a time you decide. This minimizes motion sickness from acceleration since instant > gradual, forward > sideways, expected > unexpected.
  • Other players cannot unexpectedly change your directory. This would be extremely nausea inducing. Instead, it's whoever is being grabbed that has control. You can still get nauseous from grabbing onto someone because of this, but generally you're looking at the person you're grabbing, creating a large fixed point in your field of view. (Also note, grabbing someone instantly matches your velocities, minimizing acceleration)
  • If you are unfortunate enough to be using a 180 setup, snap turning works pretty well (instant turn rather than showing the vection + acceleration).
  • When you are playing, most of the time you are focusing on either the disk or the disk indicator, both of which are fixed points that distract you from your own motion.


Edit (comments on this post):
  • Sound played when bumping into objects/walls prevent motion sickness from the unexpected deceleration
  • Relatively plain textures (textures with too much going on increase vection, and can also cause other visual pain)
  • The hand jets are physically aimed, so you are expecting the movement (user activated) and are aiming it with actual motion (increased vestibular override). Additionally, the vast majority of the time you are using the hand thrusters to go the same direction you are looking.
As a bonus here's a Gamasutra piece on techniques used when speedy gameplay meant even a vehicular model needed aids. You can see the learning that's going on. This stops 'vection' nausea etc in an emergency:



But this does it better. And looks like a game



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**UPDATE**

How many people experience nausea on average?

A little round-up study I did:

Exact numbers are pretty hard to come by, given the range of potential causes.

Back in 2014, with the DK1, and early game prototypes, Oculus had the numbers at roughly:

20% of the population doesn't get motion sick
20% of the population gets motion sick and always gets motion sick
Maybe 60% of the population gets better over time
(source)
But things are probably better now, due to improved tech & software design. (See for example Onward-style controller-led motion for free locomotion & zero-G models like Echo Arena. Here are some interesting pro theories on why the latter works: [1],[2])

This reddit poll found much closer to a 50/50 split for 'nausea' vs 'none', dependent on game type. (I'm a bit suspicious of this being the hardy hardcore tilting the results a touch here, but could also show how design improvements and player adaption can help)

What's Changed over the Last Year?

Essentially devs have learned better techniques to avoid the main causes of nausea (prolonged acceleration curves, fast and input-controlled rotation, sudden cinematic removal of player control etc), or at least to use such things sparingly. Locomotion techniques such as 'controller led' (vid) are a gaming step up on the 'meh' that is teleportation too.

Plus people like me in the '60%' have also learned to adapt, and probably physically acclimatised to an extent. I can still feel woozy even in 'comfortable' game designs at times, but it's rarely an issue at the moment. (I suspect I am closing my eyes at key junctures to avoid being exposed to certain stimuli though . Such as decelerating suddenly when hitting a wall. It's all pretty intuitive )



there's a frog in my snake oil
Ach, what can I say, barring the sale ending earlier than expected (and I can't find any official source confirming the '6 weeks' that's been widely touted :/)... I'm getting me one of these beasts

They've got a big delivery backlog, so gonna risk ordering a week before my holiday ends and hope it doesn't actually get delivered too promptly (and end up in a puddle in my front yard...)

Computer says yes...



Caveats elsewhere say: You're gonna have to tinker like a fool, fool. But I'm cool with that

(Spotting that the two touted Echo games both have reco specs higher than my rig has been sobering. No doubt many future releases will be pushing that envelope :/)

And lord knows the hijinks to get 'off platform' games like Elite to play nice get properly meta. Many ways to do it wrong it seems, and get gnarled up in launcher wars and the like.

But hey, there was a minor Green Man Gaming offer on. I now own a game for a platform I don't own



*EDIT*

There's no fool like a 40-year-old fool :/



70% off on GMG, down to £12. I had to I tell you...



there's a frog in my snake oil
So I've been properly down the rabbit hole, trying to figure out what the gaming landscape of VR looks like. Found a beguilingly odd thing today:



It's not this lone dev's passion that's interesting. (Please, nobody try and sell me another procedural planet game :/). It's the way his passion is communicated through his bobbing head, body sways, and gesticulating hands, all while lugging a virtual camera around inside his own game.

It kinda feels like a mirror image of the 'presence' in game that everyone rabbits on about. Seeing presence 'projected' was intriguing, especially while he's able to tinker with his game at the same time (and show his wonderfully ludicrous interfaces, which include many giant levers that you can adjust 'by hand', a subject on which his passion really does brim over ).

I have no idea why he has giant blue balls.

I could currently rabbit on for ages about how intriguing this presence / interface / game potential stuff is, but for the sanity of anyone passing I'm going to keep this short

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On the gaming ecosystem, the short story is it's clearly subsisting on a ton of indie output, and a lot of the overall output has charged off down early dead ends or done the same old wave-shooter **** etc.

But there are definitely some glimmers of promise out there in indie land:

Rough looking parkour games that make you feel like you're actually belting through the air:



Asymmetric VR-vs-PC prison breaks with a minor Spy Party twists (God head tries to spot identical minion with spotlight and godly sniper shot)



A slow motion insurance super agent game? Sure why not:



The last of which is an hour long and costs £15 :/. Which also speaks volumes to where things are at. Even slightly intriguing conceits are often short yet pricey.

The Lone Echo release is definitely hopeful (AAA execution, inventive locomotion etc), and not at a crazy price point either. (Hell the online side is free thanks to sponsorship). Just about every other upcoming AAA does genuinely seem to be a wave shooter though. Most with elevator pitches like 'Imagine dinosaurs in SuperHot'. :/

What I've seen to date still suggests some pretty sweet stuff could actually happen in VR. In the ability to 'monkey see, monkey do' tinker, the ability to get subsumed into another world, in the 'personable online' aspects etc. It's still a punt whether it actually will tho

And dammit, I rambled on anyway :/



The People's Republic of Clogher
Superhot VR would probably be the first thing I buy, and I've seen DiRT Rally VR played - it looks one of the most solid VR driving experiences right now.

My buyers remorse on the Switch has totally started, now, and I'm constantly looking at stuff I could have spent that money one - This week it's either a VR kit or a super widescreen monitor.



there's a frog in my snake oil
Ach, if it helps, it's clear that this stuff is still in the early adopter stage, still finding its way. It'll involve much compatability and graphics tinkering (which you were getting bored of on PC), and it's hard to sift the gold from the trash on the gaming front. Also novelty on-foot gaming dominates . Coming to it later, when both the tech and the games have refined, is probably far wiser

(That said, if you're near a hub of civilisation where they're doing demos, def give it a go. Does look fine on a 1080 . And you don't have to staple anything to a wall to enjoy it )



We've gone on holiday by mistake
I hope for a day when you can jump in and play Elder Scrolls type games or Fallout in high quality VR.

Imagine if they could do it like Inception where you go and live a lifetime in a dreamstate then come back to reality and only a few hours has passed. Awesome but obviously fantasy.
__________________



there's a frog in my snake oil
I hope for a day when you can jump in and play Elder Scrolls type games or Fallout in high quality VR.

Imagine if they could do it like Inception where you go and live a lifetime in a dreamstate then come back to reality and only a few hours has passed. Awesome but obviously fantasy.
Hah, well Skyrim and F4 are coming to current day VR at the end of the year. (F4 for PC in Oct & Skyrim for PSVR in November. Might have to wait longer for the time dilation )

If the F4 execution is cool, and I can run it, I'll def jump in . Some of the sneak peaks look promising. Actual walking (hard to do right in VR), aiming down sights, teleporting dances in VATs etc. I doubt it'll be everything I want, but I'll def keep an eye on it



there's a frog in my snake oil
Must. Stop. This.





Hey, it was 15% off and they have fun plans. Plus it's an Early Access multiplayer indie game, what could go wrong

(Still like at least 2 weeks until my kit even ships :/. I now, perversely, live in fear of them not taking my money...)



there's a frog in my snake oil
'HOW TO REALISE VIRTUALITY?'
(Or how I'm going to keep trying to communicate an 8 minute demo )

Weirdly, this crappy footage of a 75-yr-old woman in The Climb is the closest communicator of that 'experience' I've seen yet



You can stop when the Benny Hill music starts . (Ok, maybe it's not the best example...)

It's interesting trying to communicate this ****. (I mean communicating that many of the games seem to be shoddy or slight is easy . But explaining what's redeeming about having your head and hands in the game, and having much of your vascular system go along for the ride, is a lot harder ).

The above footage is mainly daft, but I do like that people are still knocking out decent green-screen 'mixed reality' footage elsewhere (Unity games and Minecraft support it it seems. Explanation of the technique here). Does feel like the closest way to express the positives that I felt in the demo.

Here's an old school example. (Most of the modern footage is commentated by people you wouldn't want in your reality )



As the comments state there though, that's essentially Pong

I kinda like this (vid) example, from the hand waving dev of a previous post, as it gives a good feel of what being in the mix adds:



Even if that's not a game I massively want to mix with either . (Apparently that's 'Arm Swing' locomotion. I guess 'Duck Waddle' didn't stick . Those cartoon rubber maces do look kinda ace tho...)



there's a frog in my snake oil
Found this musing by an old VR hand to be intriguing:

Something I noticed last night while playing Rec Room was that I could throw an object, teleport, and catch it. This was something I had tried to do months ago when first starting Rec Room, but to no avail.
At some point through all my play of games with Teleportation, my brain had gained an automatic awareness of where it would end up, allowing a quick teleport and instant expectation of where a moving object would be in relation to my arms.
I wonder what gameplay changes will come out of increased VR embodiment in the userbase.
It is a fun idea that reflexes we take for granted in current games are still bedding in in VR, and might form a platform for future fun game designs.

(Just from that one could see various tropes combining: low G sports + teleport + 'self passing skill' etc. Could have it be that if you snag your own pass the ball gains a new power or whatever. Could be totally unplayable, could be neat )

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Also I just won a free copy of this oddity by just engaging too much with Reddit. Works for me



Seems a kinda odd use of scale (floating over giant planets one minute, and picking them up like cue balls the next...), but could be a good one to try on my old man I'm thinking...



there's a frog in my snake oil
Aha, one way to deal with a price-bloated market. Mods



That said, I've now scoured 100+ indie offerings. If it weren't for so many of them being Early Access numbers (with £25+ pricetags :/), and apparently stalled dev runs, would have mopped up quite a few. Plenty of fun ideas out there. Lots of freebies too, just don't want to mainline on jank :/

Someone stop me buying this 'Elite-like' speeder game:



And this strange one with very long arms...



(Really tempted by the flying / locomotion aspect in the latter. Looks like it inspired some more polished recent AAA output. Plus I love flying )



there's a frog in my snake oil
My trip down the rabbit hole is complete. I've found what the crypto-currency Metaverse guys are up to...





I can see how they think that's one step closer to Snowcrash land. Not my thing (and my imaginary money is on it being full of S&M vampires immediately), but could see it going a good distance. (Possibly further than the more traditional models, like the new Second Life etc, given that VR social hubs are crashing left and right at the mo)