Everything You Need to Know About VR Gaming
In 2018, the gaming industry reached $138B.
This number is up from $122B in 2017, and in fact has been growing steadily for many years. People love games because many of them are addictive. They’re an escape from a cold reality, where people can hang out with their friends online or show how talented they are at something. People can go on adventures or just kick back and play. People can get so immersed that they enter flow states, concentrating more on a silly game than they ever did on their SATs.
It’s not a surprise that gaming is the VR trailblazer that is making the future of the industry bright. This niche is, on its own, able to drive innovation in VR tech. Multinational conglomerates and researchers alike are investigating more immersive gaming technologies. They are designing hardware for higher-definition graphics, haptics, and other novel ways to get the players immersed.
Many of these technologies are being developed with gaming in mind, but they most certainly translate into business-to-business and other commercial applications.
VR gaming done right takes immersion to the next level entirely. It removes one key difference that has lingered between the real and virtual worlds since virtual worlds were created—it can only be viewed on a 2D screen. Gaming in VR satisfies the same needs as traditional gaming, but it has the potential to do it better. That’s why YouTube gaming channels about virtual reality are cropping up. And a whole new wave of influencers are being born.
One game on a lot of radars is Beat Saber. If you’re familiar with VR you have probably heard of this game. And in case you haven’t, we’ll give you a brief rundown. Think of it as a modern-day Guitar Hero, but instead of a guitar you have two lightsabers. And instead of droids you’re slicing blocks as they come blitzing towards you with the rhythm of the music.
Check out this Beat Saber gameplay. Credit to the YouTube channel Cas and Chary VR. They have a lot of great content about up and coming VR, so check them out!
Of course, Beat Saber requires a system with motion tracked controllers. If you want to try it out, the Google Cardboard and the Oculus Go won’t cut it.
You’ll need a full fledged 6DoF system like the HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, or PlayStation VR. These systems can range anywhere from $250 for the PSVR to $500 for the HTC Vive. You can level up to the Vive Pro for another $100 for an untethered experience!
Beat Saber was created by a relatively new indie studio called Beat Games. Beat Games is one of many indie studios breaking into the new VR playfield. But not all the companies in VR are indie—Bethesda Softworks has re-launched some of its big-name titles like Fallout 4 and Skyrim with VR versions. These quest-centric role-playing action games take immersion to the next level. They place the gamer in front of lifelike dragons and post-apocalyptic super mutants.
In order to make these games, Bethesda originally created their own game engine, aptly named The Creation Engine. Even with the existing 2D experience, porting their games to VR was certainly a mammoth of an endeavor. To save time and money, many indie companies choose to build their games off an existing game engine and pay whatever licensing costs or royalties necessary. Today’s most popular third-party game engines are Unity and the Unreal Engine 4. As an example, Beat Saber was built off the Unity engine.
Ben Plays VR has a Skyrim VR series with gameplay if you’re interested. His channel is also dedicated to new VR games, especially ones off the beaten path. His channel heavily focuses on quick “2 Minute Review” videos. These feature montages of gameplay while he talks about the game’s concept and ways the game could be improved. He also has several giveaway videos—so keep up with his channel if you want to win free VR things!
The big hitters in tethered VR—the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and PlayStation VR, all have 6DoF for head and controller tracking. The Rift and Vive manage this with sensors placed throughout the room, and the PSVR uses a camera. Both the Rift and Vive sets come with two sensors, but a third sensor is usually recommended for the Rift for optimal gameplay.
Oculus came out with its Oculus Touch controllers about nine months after releasing the Rift. If you purchased the Rift before these new controllers were available, you would have received an Xbox controller with your purchase. Rift sets purchased after December 2016 include Oculus Touch controllers. These controllers are essentially an Xbox controller split down the middle. They have been praised for their slick, light design and their comfort.
Contrary to the Oculus Touch, the HTC Vive controllers are bulkier and do not feel as natural in the hands. That being said, HTC is working on state-of-the-art controllers with knuckle tracking. No doubt, seeing every knuckle and joint on your hand in VR will take immersion to the next level. And this will pave the way towards much more precise interactions between the player and the virtual environment. We are still waiting on a release date for the final version of the Knuckle Controllers.
Undoubtedly, the input hardware will keep evolving—today’s VR is still very young.
Similar to the HTC Vive, its standalone counterpart, the Vive Focus, utilizes these bulky controllers. Right now, these are still the best controllers for the standalone experience. The Mirage Solo, despite being a 6DoF headset, only has a 3DoF controller. Similarly, the Oculus Go is 3DoF for both the headset and the controller.
The basic controllers that come with the Mirage Solo and Oculus Go limit the games you can play on these systems. Facebook headlines the Oculus Go to have more of a social presence than a gaming one. Still, the basic point-and-click controller is enough to power games like PokerVR, Bait!, and basic first-person shooters. For games that require more complicated input from the player, bluetooth gamepads can be paired to the Oculus Go and Mirage Solo sets.
One fun 3DoF game with a great concept is Virtual Virtual Reality, from Tender Claws. In this game, you are a human in the future where most jobs have been automated. The new purpose of humanity in this future? To serve Activitude, and provide human companionship to A.I. clients. What makes Virtual Virtual Reality REALLY neat is the Inception-like gameplay—you can put on different headsets to go deeper and deeper into virtual worlds.
Some games require very specific hardware. You would normally see these setups at VR arcades, which we covered in a previous update. Equipment like the skis in Ski Rodeo or the racing pod in Mario Kart VR take immersion to the next level. When movement in the game is synced with the movement of your skis or the cart you’re driving, the game can feel almost too real.
The Game Platforms
There are many different game stores for the headsets on the market—there’s the Oculus App for Oculus powered products, the Daydream app for the Daydream View and Mirage Solo, VIVEPORT and the Steam store for Vive users, and of course a PlayStation store for PSVR gamers.
Generally, a VR headset has a particular platform where you can purchase apps. But there are some ways to use a headset from one platform to play apps from another. Before buying a headset, you may want to investigate if this is an option.
What We Have to Look Forward to
VR is still very young. The HTC Vive and Oculus Rift were both released in 2016 and there is still so much more content to be created for virtual reality. Haptic technologies promise to bring the sense of touch to the VR gaming experience. And one day, we may even have full-body haptic suits we can wear when we game.
If you’re on a winter level you can feel cold. Or maybe you’re in the desert and the sun is beating down on your back. If you get shot, you can feel some discomfort. Or you can feel the touch of a fellow player on the other side of the world.
But that technology is far off for the average consumer. Higher definition and cheaper gaming is much closer, with companies like AMD, Nvidia, and Qualcomm slimming and optimizing their products for VR.
The big killer app—the turning point for VR—might be a game. And it could be right around the corner.
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