For my more general review of the HTC Vive and SteamVR systems, see this post.
Much like the previous post, this isn't going to be well defined or flow particularly well. I want to document my thoughts on what I think VR is at this moment in time, I apologise if you've decided to attempt to read this. There's going to be a lot of rambling.
Is it worth it?
Forget the personal and individual investments you have to make for high end VR at the moment, those are irrelevant. What I'm looking for here: is all of that investment, all of that interest and effort spent on VR by the industry at the moment worth it?
Is VR something that should be pursued? Should it be pursued now? Should it ever be pursued? I'm not particularly interested in the discussions around the human effects of VR (isolation, attachment to the virtual, etc), but I am interested in if we believe VR can be a truly compelling computing platform for a majority of the population.
I think it's pretty simple. I talked about how we have a long and clearly defined roadmap in the progression of VR, I think that alone gives us lots of confidence in the ability to get VR to where it needs to be to become another primary computing platform.
So when I say that VR already is compelling, despite the masses of development that still needs to be done, I am saying the pursuit is worth it. If, with what we'll soon look back at as a primitive solution using piggybacking off smartphone innovations, our current VR systems can deliver what they can today - then I'm happy to say "VR should exist and should be worked towards".
Notice my hesitation to say it will be a success. I still think it's too early to say whether or not this current era of VR will take off and be the success many expect it to be, but I do quite firmly believe that some form of virtual reality is an ultimate goal for so much of what we do today, I don't think it's a question of if, but when.
So the primary target for high end VR currently is gamers. Gamers have the computing hardware and the ability to support software ecosystems. Gaming is also the primary interest I currently have in VR.
My standout experiences in VR thus far, in games (I'll come to other kinds of experiences later on), have been those that invoke that sense of 'presence' that is often talked about. Presence can be described as moments where everything just falls into place, you don't necessarily forget you're wearing a VR headset and holding a pair of controllers, but that subconscious part of your brain reacts to things happening in the virtual reality as it would in real life.
I'm talking about meeting a character in an adventure game which is setup as a mysterious villain, them getting closer to you and despite you being fully aware of them having no ability to harm you, you feel slightly uneasy about them getting close to you - looking directly at you whilst they talk to you. Or being spotted in a stealth game, being surprised by being spotted and losing all sense of your surroundings and your 'fight or flight' instincts kicking in, often resulting in some messy situations in the real world.
Alternatively, in that same stealth game - being so caught up in a tense situation that you forget that virtual wall you're crouched next to isn't actual real, so to stand up you go to lean on it.. falling flat on your face.
But we can go further than that. Presence isn't just felt in 'human' situations (e.g. those invoking emotions), but those where you're doing simple mechanical actions like picking up a pool cue and playing pool, it's not quite the same feeling but it's something that cannot be replicated in any other medium. Pool Nation VR is what it sounds like, a pool game for VR - it may not be the best pool video game - (although it's the best I've played) but it's a game that has made me feel like no other non VR game has.
Standing around a pool table, seeing a representation of someone else I'm playing against online - their head and hand movements tracked perfectly and hearing them talk via the built in microphone of the headset is a strange experience. It's odd to stand next to someone you're playing pool with online, they can hear and see you (at least your head and hand movements).
These are all simple game mechanics that are enhanced massively by the characteristics of VR. These are just a few examples, but I'm attempting to keep this relatively short - I've attempted to write something about VR 4 or 5 other times and only ended up disappearing up my own arse rambling on about it, so I'm forcibly cutting myself short.
VR can be very compelling and it is worth developing, I'll be sad if this era of VR isn't the one to kickstart it - but I am convinced VR is compelling enough that we'll not only get there eventually, but we'll want to get there too.