But space is also a top concern for another category of games. The best thing about room-scale VR is the whole “walking around” bit, and some devs have taken advantage of that in some fascinating ways. Unseen Diplomacy, for instance, casts you in the role of a spy trying to infiltrate an evil lair—clambering over laser beams, crawling through vents, and et cetera.
The problem? It’s designed in such a way that you basically go around in circles in an area without realizing you’ve been going in circles. And Steam tells me the minimum area required to play is four meters by three meters (a.k.a. 13 feet by 10 feet).
I live in a tiny San Francisco apartment. I just barely managed to clear enough of my bedroom to meet the minimum room-scale size of 1.5 by 2 meters (5 by 6.5 feet), and I cheated a little bit by including a bit of my bed in the “cleared space.” Unseen Diplomacy is literally unplayable in my current setup.
I never thought I’d see the day where I’d need to upgrade not only my computer, but my living space in order to play a game, but here we are. And what’s more: There’s currently no simple way for these “It’s one big room” developers to accommodate different room sizes. When I spoke to the Job Simulator developers recently they said they had to create three different room sizes by hand and then decide which to use based on what the user has calibrated. Some developers either can’t or won’t have the time to reconfigure their game three different ways to reach people with small San Francisco bedrooms.
It’s not an issue for every game, or even most games. Many of the best experiences (The Gallery, Cloudlands: VR Minigolf, Vanishing Realms) use modular constraints and teleportation so the game is playable in any space. But it’s a real issue to consider if you’re planning to purchase a Vive. Do you actually have enough open space?
Valve’s implementation of refunds for Steam games starts to look prescient.
Video games have been one long journey towards realism. First, it was more realistic 2D graphics. Then realistic 3D graphics, from the earliest days of ray-tracing (think Atari’s Star Wars arcade game) to the PS1/N64 to the incredible virtual environments artists assemble nowadays.
The Vive is the next step. Or, at least, it deserves to be. There are legitimate concerns here, though, from “How much room do I want to empty out for VR?” to “Oh wow, $800 for the Vive on top of a powerful gaming PC is a lot of money.”
And there are some launch-day specific concerns too, like “SteamVR seems a little unstable recently.” I’ve had Steam get stuck in a cycle of “Launch, Run SteamVR, Crash” a few times, and that’s not great as we head towards release. All we can do is keep an eye on it, and hopefully the Day One woes are ironed out soon.
But playing room-scale Vive experiences leaves me feeling giddy about gaming in a way I haven’t felt...well, since the earliest days of the Oculus. Walking around. Touching things with my hands. Truly inhabiting a space. These are logical next steps for virtual reality and for gaming, and it leaves the Rift looking backwards by comparison. Safe, even.
Oculus claims people don’t really want room-scale VR—that people are lazy (I know I am) and don’t have a lot of space (I know I don’t) and just want to sit and relax and enjoy their entertainment. But by that argument, I don’t think most people really want VR at all. Not yet, at least. Not until they’ve experienced it.
That shouldn’t stop us from trying. With the Vive, Valve and HTC have created what’s currently the most forward-thinking VR headset on the market. It’s wonderful.
If we chart the progression of video games from Spacewar and Zork all the way through to 2016, then the HTC Vive is the next logical step towards realism.
- Room-scale VR is incredible at enhancing experiences
- Base stations accurately track an area up to 15ft x 15ft
- Vive controllers borrow liberally from Steam Controller, with excellent results
- Headset design not as comfortable as Oculus Rift
- Needs lots of space to take full advantage. Space most people don't have.
- SteamVR, at least at launch, is unstable and crash-prone