VG Tribune

I Experienced VR For The First Time And It Blew My Mind

May 17, 2016 / 8:00 AM

By: Poorna Shankar

How do you describe something that is inherently indescribable? This question is the reason why it’s taken me so long to write this piece for you. I’ve pondered this question for three days to no avail.

I tried to understand how I would describe sight to a blind man. It’s an inherently futile task. Certainly, someone much more capable and much more adept in wordsmithing could be up for the task, for I desperately lack that skill.

Perhaps, I thought, maybe instead of describing sight, I could describe what sight feels like. It’s certainly not the same thing, but it is the closest description one can call upon without actually having the ability to see.

This is how I’ve approached describing to you all my first experience with VR.

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The Alienware PC running the Vive demo sported an i7 Skylake, a GTX 980, and 8 GB DDR3 RAM

This past Saturday, myself and fellow VG Tribune Co-Editor In Chief Matt Williams went to our local Microsoft store to check out the HTC Vive. HTC actually has several of these demos set up around the country, so I strongly encourage everyone to go check them out.

The total demo was about ten minutes long — even though the time I personally spent was longer — and contained several different experiences.

But before I got into the demos, I had to put on the headset and adjust it to my liking. I have to be honest, I didn’t get to adjust it entirely to my liking, but I chalk this up to limited demo time. What I can say, however, is that the Vive is very easy to adjust and is quite comfortable. The straps do a great job distributing weight across your head. Major credit goes to the industrial design team for their engineering choices.

The controllers also feel light and are fiendishly simple. One trackpad (not too dissimilar to the Steam Controller trackpad) and one trigger per controller. That’s it. As soon as you hold one, you know how to use it. A major barrier of entry — complicated control schemes — is instantly shattered. Based on the demo, the trackpad is used to navigate menus, whereas the triggers are used to select an item or perform the necessary action. I cannot praise this simplicity enough.


A look at the two Lighthouse sensors used to demarcate the playable virtual area

After I had the headset adjusted and was handed the controllers, my first experience began. The first demo was designed to acclimate me to the Vive and its controls. A fairly simple demo, it involved inflating balloons with one controller and batting them around.

But even this simple demo was enough for me understand just how accurate and responsive the Vive is. When I turned my head, my virtual head responded instantly. When I moved my controllers around, my virtual controllers moved instantly. For someone who is keenly aware of latency (I’m an enthusiast PC gamer after all), I cannot make this more clear: there is no latency in the Vive.

The next demo was more of an experience. That word — experience — is perhaps the best descriptor for what I was about to partake in. Standing on the bow of an underwater ship in theBlu, I was completely transported. I looked off the edge and saw the ocean floor fall away below me. Looking up, the ocean surface was far above me, the sun shimmering off the dynamic surface.

This was the moment when I fell in love with VR. I knew the numbers I had researched about VR. I knew the resolution, I knew the framerate, I knew the response time. I knew that everything I was experiencing, everything I was seeing was just a game. In other words, I fundamentally knew the theory. I knew what I was experiencing wasn’t real.

But in that instant, the logical part of my brain — the part of me I consider to be my greatest strength — simply failed.

I wasn’t in the Microsoft store. I was on the bow of this ship. I was reaching out to swat at the nearby fish. I was experiencing real vertigo, something I never experience, whilst looking over the ship’s railing towards the ocean floor. I was gazing upwards, awestruck by the beauty of the sun streaming in through the surface of the ocean. I was reaching out, waving to the blue whale as it swam by. I felt the real urge to explore every inch of this sunken ship that I was standing on.

I was there.

There are no words in the English language I can bring forth to accurately describe what I experienced, what I felt. Or perhaps those words exist, and I simply lack the skill and fortitude to conjure them for you now.

Whatever the case may be, I have never felt a true sense of presence like I have with VR. Keep in mind, VR isn’t new. In fact, it’s over twenty years old. The Virtual Boy was technically VR, albeit primitive. VR is re-emerging because we finally have the technology to fully realize it today. I’m trying to think of another recent monumental shift in our industry to compare this to, but time and again, I come up short.

Perhaps the closest comparison would be the jump from 2D graphics to 3D. By introducing a third dimension, games transformed from a simply left or right, up or down affair into a truly omnipresent experience. Whole new avenues opened up for game development. Full worlds could suddenly be realized. Players could become much more immersed. Gaming simply changed forever.

I genuinely believe modern VR dwarfs that paradigm shift. A true sense of presence is achievable. Players can now literally get lost in whole new worlds. The barriers of control are completely shattered. If I want to take cover behind something, I don’t need to press a button. I simply walk to a wall and literally crouch.

VR will allow us to finally embrace what we’ve been striving to reach for so long: instinctual immersion.

When I was in VR, I didn’t think twice about how I should interact. I simply did. It is this base instinct that is now legitimately achievable. What worlds unexplored, what experiences unexperienced are simply waiting for us, just there, around the corner?

We are at a fundamental paradigm shift in this industry. I for one cannot wait to see what lies ahead.

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About the author /

A highly opinionated avid PC gamer, Poorna blindly panics with his friends in various multiplayer games, much to the detriment of his team. Constantly questioning industry practices and a passion for technological progress drive his love for the video game industry. He pulls no punches and tells it like he sees it.

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