An energetic little dog ran up to me the other day and gave me his ball to throw. He was full of life and personality and I instantly wanted to keep him as a pet. He was shaped like a cone, had metal paws and a single blue eye, and did I mention? - I met him in ‘The Lab’ a Virtual Reality game designed by Valve for the HDC Vive.
Shortly after meeting, Fetchbot (the dog), I was transported to the top of a spectacular mountain range and could see for miles around. I began feeling slightly nauseous that I might fall, an experience comparable to a dream like state right before you wake up and realise it isn’t real. That, coupled with my partner jabbing me in the ribs whilst I had the VR headset on, made me feel very uneasy. My eyes and ears were telling me that I was in the hills, but my other senses were reminding me that I was in a demo room, trying out the Vive for the first time with my friends.
I found the whole experience incredibly exciting, an instantly thought, I’d love an open world game for this. The idea of being able to experience Skyrim or Breath of the Wild in VR just makes me want to give my money to developers. We play those types of games to escape our own reality and enjoy something we find much more appealing. Its great to have some form of existence in a world from the past, or a green world without electricity or industry, where magic is still real and life is still simple.
It's already common to hear about people whose lives revolve around MMO (Massively Multiplayer Online) games like World of Warcraft or who spend thousands of pounds on costumes for comic conventions or travel hundreds of miles for LARP (Live Action Role Play) events where they can spend a day in an alternate reality.
My favourite game on the Vive was when I was defending my keep with a bow and arrow. I was in an animated world, in a little castle with simple animated soldiers attacking my keep and It was my job to comically shoot them down. Being stood in an entirely animated environment was like that one step closer to a video game or animated film. It was like I had jumped throw my computer screen and into the game I was playing. I was holding an animated bow in one hand and an arrow in the other, I was standing on the turret of a computer game castle and I was looking around trying to spot my little enemies.
Virtual Reality really is similar to being in a dreamlike state. You know it's not real, but you can quickly be swept up by the experience and temporarily forget. There are problems, of course. You are, at first, completely aware that you are wearing a heavy headset and there is a slight ‘binocular vision’ effect around your field of vision. Then of course you cannot pick things up in the traditional sense, you essentially have to click on them (which can be a bit of a challenge at first). You are restricted to walking around within a 1-2 metre square zone, because there are thick cables leading back to the computer which you can either trip on or pull to far and disconnect yourself from the game (not to mention running the damage you could cause to your surroundings!).
It's not hard to imagine the future, technology will always inspire art, after all. I can see a future where the VR headset is wireless, just like a games console controllers are. I also expect the equipment will drop in size, weight and price, like mobile phones and laptops have over the last decade. Eventually, I expect the headset will be replaced with glasses or an eyepiece and the hand controllers will become gloves, 5-finger rings or even bracelets which are constantly scanning your hand’s movement.
I also think the in-game technology will improve. Jittery motion controls will be ironed out, and user feedback will keep getting closer and closer to reality. In game rendering will continue to increase in quality until the graphics match the latest VFX in films. The day will come when you can reach out to stroke that little dog on the floor in front of you and you’ll feel his fur brush against your fingertips. Then we can start talking about how Virtual Reality may become the main reality for many people of the future.