I’ve kept this up for three whole weeks now, and I’m entirely certain that merits some sort of award. For bravery. I’m bravely putting my fatuous non-opinions online for the consumption of absolutely nobody. Firefighters eh, pft. I say this rather presumptuously too, as this is genuinely the first thing I’m writing, so if it gets too late or I get too bored, or something shiny in the corner of the room catches my meandering attention then we’re done for. Anyway.
I went to Rezzed a couple of weeks ago. I had a ball. Well sort of. When I went to Rezzed last, a couple of years back, it was in Birmingham, and it was quiet and spacious and intimate. I liked it a lot. It was Eurogamer Expo stripped right down to its cleavage. Ooer. I’m not good at Expos because of those People things they have there, but I think Rezzed, in its fleeting, whistle-stop, uniquely personal form, is my favourite. Or was. This year was fun, but there were lots of children talking over Valve’s Chet Faliszek and I remembered in that moment, for the 13th time that day, why I liked never to leave the house.
My first Rezzed was the first time I got to use the Oculus Rift. I played Surgeon Simulator, and it was brilliant, and genuinely as game-changing as everyone says it is. Of course, Oculus have sallyed up with Facebook now and nobody’s really sure if they’re going to want to put the headset on, if it’s going to have their friends lollygagging about in there as well. Or my friends at least. So Valve sighed and took over. I didn’t get to use their HTC Vive at Rezzed, disappointingly, but I did attend aforementioned talk with Mr. Faliszek, who, perhaps incidentally, made a point that stuck with me.
He candidly exposed that, during the process of creating the Vive, and eliminating that sea-sick feeling some people get when they try VR (the big girl’s blouses, eh) Valve began with indicators glued to their walls as reference points for their machine. They of course, eventually evolved past this, and created the two little black boxes that will come with the finished Vive, and that enable the thing to track you in 3D space. It’s one of the things that sets the Vive apart from its Oculus counterpart, and is ultimately an effort to allow you to move more accurately, more freely and realistically, in the game world. It’s supposedly incredible, but it doesn’t quite solve the problem, does it. Unless you have a Skyrim sized living room, you can’t wander around its immersive landscapes, taking in the vistas and beating seven shades out of the locals via the conveyance of your very own legs.
Of course walking around wide open spaces will be left down to the joypad, but that creates a level of discourse between what needs to be done on the joypad and what will actually be done on the joypad. A discourse I experienced at Rezzed. Which I’ll get to in just a moment.
You see, one way to solve, to some extent, this dilemma of moving great distances in the game world but getting the physical aspect of VR involved is with ACCESSORIES. While there’s been affluent disdain for the very concept of ACCESSORIES pretty much since the days of MadCatz shit Player 2 PS1 controllers, and especially since the Wii came out and flimsy plastic manufacturers everywhere started euphorically farting out even the most tentative of hackneyed wiimote extensions, the accessories required for VR are all the larger, and all the more exciting.
I’ve shared this before, but this video below surely presents one of the most exciting VR prospects.
Walk, run, turn, strafe; the full use of your very own LEGS in-game is possible with this thing. Back to wandering around Skyrim, with this Omni Treadmill, surely that’s an entirely feasible activity? That said, I’ve not used it myself, so I can’t vouch for how well it works in practise, it definitely turns all your gaming sessions into lung-piercing bouts of debilitating and evil ‘exercise’, it’s a bulky old thing, and who has the space or even wants to have this big old eyesore taking up a huge chunk of space in the living room?
Which brings us neatly to the Roto VR, which I tried at Rezzed briefly, and that tackles at least one of the aforementioned issues. Namely the exercise one. Because it’s a chair. A rotating chair, at that. Also I use the term briefly in the most generous manner imaginable; because the demo was Alien: Isolation, and I died in the space of about 30 seconds. So hoorah.
Essentially, the Roto VR is a VR accessory in the form of a chair, that comes with a couple of pedals and a high-tech spindle of sorts. You move forward and backward with the controller, but all other look and movement controls are possible with the combination of chair and headset. Now, my criminally short time with the machine puts me at a disadvantage in terms of really getting used to the thing, but during my abridged lifespan, I instinctively reverted to using the controller, even after I was told to attempt not to do this. It’s not a life-changing revelation, obviously I’m going to instinctively use the controller, but it was difficult to think of any other way of doing it. And if I wasn’t letting that instinct, repetitively woven and forcefully stamped into my intuition over the course of 20 odd gaming years, take over, I was simply failing to understand the limits of the chair. I put my left foot down to rotate my body left, but when I wanted to stop, my left foot just stayed there, planted firmly on the pedal. So I ended up circling past whatever it was I was going for, and sort of trailing my neck around to see where it went, as I continued to revolve in circles helplessly.
It was undeniably neat, and something I’m sure anybody who possessed even the slightest amount of gaming aptitude, who could survive on Isolation for longer than 30 seconds, would be able to get used to over time. The guys on the stand were super friendly, and really believed in the power the Roto has to transform VR into a true experience.
For me though, it didn’t click, certainly not right away, and whether the Omni Treadmill will do any better at that remains to be seen. What seems likely is that some sort of enormous accessory may be the key to unlocking the full potential of VR, affording the player a truer freedom of movement within the game environment. We’ll have to wait and see if it’s either of these two attempts, or something not yet dreamt about, that will perforate that barrier.