I have some opinions to share, too.
At first, I was excited for VR too. Like, finally, it’s here!! The Metaverse! a new medium for gaming! But as time has passed, my opinion has tempered.
I saw this renaissance coming from a while, I read some articles (a bit before Carmack and Luckey times) that predicted the same, the convergence of technologies cheap enough to make mass market VR a reality. It makes sense, we have way lighter screens and with way higher resolution than 10 years ago thanks to the mobile industry, the same industry also provided of accurate motion sensors, etc etc. It was coming.
But there is a need to come back to the earthly reality. We are going to have VR, but it isn’t going to be the VR we know from scifi books, or tv series or films. We aren’t going to able the step in virtual world. It isn’t going to be the Metaverse, nor the Holodeck. Not even 0.1 version.
Why? Well, there is a big, obvious problem. You can’t replicate movement in that virtual world.
There are two ways to do movement in VR right now, at consumer level.
- You move in real life, like in the Vive demos in empty rooms of E3/Gamescon.
- You use the traditional controller while seated.
I don’t know about you guys, but from the center of the free space in the room I’m right now, I can walk two steps in any of the four directions (ok, three steps in one of the four).
The two things that occupy more space is the bed and the desk, and I can’t get out any of the two.
I don’t have a free room to use for VR, I’m not rich.
I don’t see myself buying in the future a big omni-directional treadmill.
With option number 2 there are two problems. One, from all the impressions that I’ve read, the “presence” feeling of the VR experience is greatly diminished. Like, it can’t be considered true VR, in comparison. And two, it’s too jarring for the brain to feel not moving thanks to the inner ear in reality (apart of the feeling of your own limbs that stay still!) and have your other sensory inputs to detect movement. This is why the demos they usually use to show off their devices are usually little demos where you can move around with a 1:1 correspondence (option 1).
The funny thing is, people didn’t even knew the VR sickness was so big of a problem until they started doing the DK1. People imagined it would be like playing a normal first person game where you also can look around (or at least that was my case). But even for people who doesn’t get sick in a FPS, which at this point most gamers, there is a super high chance of getting sick doing the same experience in VR, even one properly tailored (less speed, no head bob, etc). People talk of need several months of “vr training” to get immune, and even the it isn’t perfect, and once you get sick you can feel bad for several hours.
It’s for all this that several VR games in development are based in the concept of not moving from your place, but being closed in a 1-2 m2 area, with a concept of vignettes of small VR scenes, each one in a different place, but where you can’t explore at your own. Time Machine VR, Robinson The Journey, Sony London’s Heist, The Gallery, to mention a few examples. They will use hotspots or any other system to “move” from one scene to the other.
This is where I want to point out the great contradiction between the promise of VR (explore virtual worlds!!! total inmersion!!) and reality (more limited than normal video games like Skyrim).
Cockpit games seems to be safe from this problem. And even forgetting sim games, I’m sure there will be super cool games, that people didn’t think of doing before, even with the limitation of movement. So I’m not saying that VR is going to bomb.
But the inner ear is a “hard problem”, and one it isn’t going to be solved in a few years. So for now we will have to forget of exploring the next Fallout or the next Arma like if we were there in person.
Here’s the thing though… Wearing a VR headset makes anyone look stupid. It’s unwieldy. It’s uncomfortable for long periods. It’s tethered with cables and weird Borg protrusions. It’s a mess. It’s nerd gear that only nominally looks better than the Nintendo Power Glove.
Someday it will look better. I have no doubt about this. The tech will get better and the gear will get smaller, more fashionable…
I don’t think the aspect is a big problem. This isn’t a device intended for use in public! I’m not going to use it on the street! This isn’t Google Glass in that respect. It has cables yeah, like the headphones I use, which also goes into my head. Unwieldy? uncomfortable? Not the consumer version, from what I’ve heard.
Well, you can use GearVR outside, but it isn’t something I’m interested into.
But still, I see it as an obstacle that will slow down adoption. Not the aspect, but the fact that it cuts your vision, isolating you from the rest of the house, of your family. It’s going to be a bother getting the device in and out of your face every time you need to interact with someone or do something else.
Between these two big problems, movement that limit the actual experiences you can play, and isolation that is inconvenient for casual use, I don’t see VR going as big as to replace the traditional gaming medium, but coexisting.
Imagine getting home after work, you are going to start a game, but you are tired, and you only have 40 minutes before having to go prepare dinner. Are you going to bother with VR for daily gaming? I don’t think so.
But sometimes there are some games that are especially immersive, what I will play when I have more free time. I will close the door to have less outside noise, close the window blinds and drapes to be in the dark, and play. Games like Thief, like System Shock, like Amnesia. I can imagine doing the same with VR for special, designed from zero for VR, experiences.
It isn’t so different than cinema, in a way. You have the casual experience of watching whatever B-level movie they are putting on antenna in a boring evening, maybe while you are having lunch in the kitchen, and there is the premium experience of buying a great movie you were expecting, and planning the night for it, waiting until the right hour, closing down the drapes, tuning off the lights, and watching it in silence.