For me, video games are both my favorite past time and my future career. It is a medium that I feel I connect with both as a consumer and a creator. So I want to play the latest and greatest both to have fun and to learn what techniques other developers are utilizing. Because of all this I often end up being an early adopter.
However there is one piece of gaming tech, that I held off on embracing. Virtual reality. In 2016, when PlayStation and other companies were releasing their first forays into VR, I watched with curiosity and a slow trickle of doubt. Critics and journalists of the time were split, some calling it a gimmick, others a revolution. The games demoed horribly on YouTube and there seemed to be a tonne of confusion around the differences between a VR game and a VR experience. Earlier in the year I did some work for Samsung, promoting their new Gear headset across Auckland. Many who I convinced to try it were initially dubious but overall wowed by the experience. I myself was still skeptical. Yes it was amazing to enter a world that engulfed you, but would it be enjoyable spending actual time in those worlds.
Later that year I tried VR for myself at the annual Armageddon Expo. I waited in a cue for almost 2 hours before getting a chance to try this tech in a measly 5 minute demo. I was within a shark cage, deep below the ocean’s surface. There were no controls, or player agency, merely a visual presentation of what it would be like in such a scenario. The headset felt sweaty from everyone who had come before, didn’t fit well and the lenses were foggy to an intense degree. I couldn’t tell if this was the fidelity of the tech or it just hadn’t been cleaned. Within 5 minutes of standing up with PSVR on my head, I felt like I wanted to hurl. The experience was interesting, but scarred with imperfections. I walked away and decided VR wasn’t for me.
A year later I reconsidered my decision, as various VR titles began to garner praise. I considered the idea of purchasing one for Christmas. Then I watched Andy from Kinda Funny throw up on video because of the degree of motion sickness he received, in just 15 minutes. I stepped away from the platform again and bought a Switch.
It’s been over 2 years since release, and now with more of my time invested in development, I became ever more curios to how devs were utilizing this platform, and so I bought PSVR.
I did my research. What games should you start with? What games should you initially avoid? What games will aid in acquiring VR sea legs, so that motion sickness becomes less of an issue?
Worlds I wanted to Spend Time In…
I ended up downloading the 5 – 10 minute VR demo created for The Last Guardian. The Last Guardian was such a special game for me. It was something so unique, so breath taking and magical in a child like wonder way, that this felt like the best VR experience to begin with.
I didn’t feel sick. Once it had been adjusted and cleaned, although there was still a little blur, it didn’t detract from losing myself in the world. I was in a room from the game. It was very recognizable, except for the fact that I was actually there, actually able to gage the scope of how high the ceiling really was. You couldn’t walk around, and are instead allowed to teleport to little markers around the room. In concept I thought this would take me out of the experience, in reality it made it far more accessible and once adjusted, natural too. I soon began to realize that the things we take for granted in console games, are what I wanted more of in VR. Jumping off ledges, riding animals and pulling levers. I’ve done those things for 15 years and yet stepping into the VR reality of The Last Guardian was quite unlike anything I’ve ever done before. Suddenly the dull mechanics I’d seen in trailers… became sort of exciting. Unlike my 5 minutes in the Shark Tank, I was able to relax, take my time, be enveloped, and enjoy living in this world. I really mean it when I say this. VR is a completely new frontier when it comes to playing games.
Motion Sickness? No Worries!
I’m naturally very prone to motion sickness. I get car sick unless I have a window down or am driving. I get sea sick if I don’t wear those silly pressure point bands from the chemist. I was incredibly worried VR couldn’t accommodate someone like me. However it wasn’t an issue. Although it was disorientating, I haven’t played a single game that ACTUALLY made me sick. I guess it’s like walking. When you watch someone using VR for the first time, and they play a high speed racing game, that was poorly optimized… it probably is going to go sour. However mechanics that initially put me off, like movement through teleportation, are doing a great job at culling the issue and helping people adjust over time.
There Is Something for Everyone
That’s another big fear that I had. I had no doubt when buying my PlayStation 4, because I knew that despite not having an abundance of titles at launch, those experiences would come. I didn’t however know how much support PSVR would receive. Sure there are a handful of great games, but most are short and they are few and far between. Did I want to pay the price of a console for a few hours of fun? Well a month after purchasing PSVR, I’ve already accumulated over 20 titles ranging from 5 minutes to 100 hours in length. What also surprised me, is that there is something for everyone. My grandmother and Mum loved The Last Guardian demo, because it was slow, beautiful and relaxing to interact with Trico. My older cousins on the other hand thought it was cool but a bit gimmicky. They all enjoyed Astro Bot: Rescue Mission far more, thanks to it both evoking nostalgia for their PlayStation 1 platforming days and blowing their minds through the sheer fidelity and creativity around how much games have improved since they were gamers. My brother, who’s a tough boy to please, exclusively plays action games and shooters. He wasn’t impressed with either Astro Bot or The Last Guardian. However 5 minutes with the Spider-Man: Homecoming experience quickly shifted his opinion. So not only is there plenty for me to play, but there is something for everyone else’s tastes too.
I don’t believe VR will replace traditional gaming for me, or the rest of the world. However it is truly a new way to play games, to experience stories. My Mum tried out the same experience. It was the first time I think she ever genuinely enjoyed playing a video game. It made me wonder, whether this will become the platform that non-gamers and gamers alike, converge into one.