One Week of Vive
If you've been following me on Twitter, you'll notice that I've very recently taken to virtual reality. Headsets like Oculus Rift, Samsung GearVR, Playstation's VR effort, and HTC Vive have just hit the consumer market and so now is a good time for developers to start experiencing VR and getting acquainted from a coding perspective. Even better is that Mozilla (Firefox), Google (Chrome), and Microsoft (Edge) are enthusiastic about the WebVR spec. Mozilla even leads a huge open source project called A-Frame which allows web developers like you and I to create VR experiences with just HMTL. VR is just getting started and I didn't want to miss the craze, so I bought a gaming PC and a HTC Vive.
Why HTC Vive over the other options? Easy: I wanted room scale experiences, meaning I wanted to be able to physically move around the room instead of using gaming controllers to navigate. Call me an elitist but I wanted true virtual reality, not just to wear an expensive headset. The Vive came last week, I bought a bunch of games, and I wanted to share with you my experience after one week.
I have mixed feelings on setup. Installing the two base stations (sensors) in two different corners of the room was easy, as was piecing together the headset and all of its wires (...lots of them). The difficult part, at least for me, was getting the monitor (TV, in my case) connected with the headset. It turns out that the Vive requires both the Vive HDMI and your monitor to be plugged into the video card -- if you use your motherboard's onboard GPU for the monitor, the Vive headset wont work. Unfortunately the gaming PC I ordered had only one HDMI and one DVI cord so I needed to buy a DVI-to-HDMI cord so I could connect my TV to the graphics card.
With the Vive and TV both working properly, I ran Vive software setup which was fun. Room setup included tracing around your room with a controller to let the Vive know what size your room could be. With room setup run, it was time to play!
Getting Started & Quality
When you want to use the Vive, you start out by running the SteamVR app on the PC, which can be really spotty. I'd say 30% of the time I need to restart the PC because some component between SteamVR and Steam itself isn't connecting properly -- these software error messages get really frustrating.
Assuming SteamVR runs properly, you put on the headset, press a button on one of your Vive controllers, and the controller becomes a laser pointer-like function. You can navigate with ease through Steam with that controller and choose whichever game or experience you'd like.
The controllers are easy to use and the tracking is unbelievable. As an example, my wife tossed a controller to me and I caught it with the headset on, right on the handle. The headset quality is very good but you have to be careful to position the headset properly on your head otherwise things get a bit fuzzy. I'll also note that I wear glasses, which you wont want to wear with the headset on, but the headset is so clear that I don't need to wear contact lenses -- nice! The wires from the headset are long enough that you can move throughout your entire room, though it will be nice when Vive goes wireless. The on-Vive microphone is excellent and convenient.
Games & Experiences
Let me briefly give my impressions of the games and experiences I've purchased:
Free but I'd pay $20 for it. I can't get enough of the longbow mini-game; the physics are excellent and it's a perfect introduction to VR gaming. The warehouse mini-game is also good.
I can't pry the headset off my wife's head due to this game. Being able to use your own music for the game makes it all the more fun. Not much room movement but throwing your arms will give you a great workout.
Addicted to this game. There are only 4 game modes but as far as arcade sports games go, it's super fun.
The best $5 you could ever spend. Holoball is a handball-style game but against a sliding cyber wall which talks smack to you. Like Hoops VR this game is arcade-style with a visual look like it came from the 1980s. This game takes full advantage of room scale as you'll need to shuffle left and right to reach the ball. And if you play on Expert level...you'll find yourself in a pool of sweat. This is a must own game.
Holy shit. This is a big investment at $40 but it's very immersive and intense. Turning around to see a robot in your face about to hit you will make you jump back, which coincidentally, will help you dodge the robot's assault. This type of battle makes you realize how VR is miles different than playing a shooter on X-box.
Rec Room is an amazing set of mini-games with an emphasis of "social" gaming. You can play dodgeball, shield soccer, paintball, paddleball, frisbee golf, or just hang out. The game reminds me of wii Sports in that the graphics aren't meant to be impressive but instead focus on gameplay. Paintball takes room scale VR to the limits: hiding behind objects, ducking, crawling, looking around the corner, firing over an object while you duck to avoid getting hit...what an experience!
This experience lets you walk around a shipwreck or ocean floor while fish, turtles, stingrays, and jellyfish swim around you. It's actually quite breathtaking and my 3 year old loves it.
A wacky game where you play tennis...by yourself. You hit the ball, then you're morphed over to the other side of the net to hit it back, all while you're hitting the tennis ball people around the court. Lots of achievements to earn, loads of fun.
Pool Nation VR
You feel as though you're in a pool hall -- the environment is very real and the developers somehow make playing pool without a real table fun. You can also sneak off in between shots to play darts, air hockey, ski-ball, dominos, or pour yourself a drink.
Zombie Training Simulator
I wasn't sure what to make of this game at first; you shoot zombies that look like cardboard cutouts which in and of itself isn't scary, but you turn on "hardcore mode" (the light shut off) and you realize how scary this game can get.
Dig For Destruction
The weirdest first person shooter in the world -- you dig around the map to find weapons and your foes. I know that sounds lame but multiplayer is incredibly fun. You leave the game thinking "this is way more fun than I thought it would be." Finally, an unconventional first person shooter that gets it right!
Lightblade VR and Trials of Tatooine
Both are lightsaber games (though ToT is arguable more an experience) which you'd think would be great but the only function of the lightsaber is repel laser gun shots -- you don't get to have a true light saber battle which is disappointing.
Paddle Up and Ping Pong Waves
Standard table tennis games. Nothing too exciting but fun if you're into the sport.
As mentioned in the introduction, as a web developer, I'm getting really excited for WebVR. Remember how for years we relied on Real Player, Flash, and browser plugins to play media on a webpage? We now know that these types of plugins are very bad and we have the advantage of creating the WebVR API just as devices hit market, so we wont make those same plugin mistakes.
I've created a WebVR Art Gallery using A-Frame. I can put on my Vive headset to place myself in the art gallery; I showed my three year old and he loved the experience. Look forward to more awesome WebVR / A-Frame posts and experiences from me!
First Week Impression & Moving Forward
I'm very impressed with the HTC Vive. Software problems aside, I'm incredibly happy with the experience, and of course you should be for a roughly $3,000 total investment. Although it's early days, there are a good volume of quality games and experiences that ensure you'll get use out of it right way. We'll see more games and experiences coming out daily so I'll continue to explore this new world of VR, both in native games and on the web.
Have questions for me about the Vive? Want to chime in on a game or experience I should get? Share in the comments below!