By Madison Reid
I recently went to a friend-of-a-friend’s house to try out their new HTC Vive, the virtual reality console that is facing off with Occulus Rift for title of best home futuristic gaming device. I will admit, I was indifferent to trying it. As the least tech savvy person on the team at MW, I tend to feel a bit underwhelmed or confused by some of the new gadgets I overhear staff talking about. On top of that, I’ve never been much of a gamer. But once in the presence of this $799 USD toy, I knew I had to try it out.
The Vive must be connected to a Windows computer, of which our host had a separate desktop unit setup specifically for the VR console, and a monitor for non-players to see what the gamer is seeing. Our holodeck consisted of approximately 80sqft of space, equipped with foam floor mats (sold separately). Apart from the price of the Vive, adequate floor space is a major factor that would hinder one’s desire to purchase one, because–despite 5ft x 6.5ft being the minimum space requirement–nobody wants to be limited to the 5 feet between their couch and TV and 6.5 feet between the wall and their dinner table. Space is especially a commodity in Vancouver, so having 80sqft of floor to jump around on was actually pretty considerate.
Two base stations are placed on opposite ends of our play area, which scan our space and enable for “360 degree room-scale motion tracking.” This lets you see the lines of your boundaries once the headset is on and avoid accidentally smashing your wireless controller into a bookcase.
My partner tried the Vive out first. He had his pupil distance measured before putting on the headset. We had a wide variety of Steam games to choose from (which I believe came with the console) and he had his heart set on trying Robot Job Simulator. Most of my entertainment at this part of the afternoon was watching him move around with his headset on and grab virtual cans of motor oil as he pretended to be a mechanic and fixed robots’ cars or ate virtual donuts. It looked like he was having a good time.
Be the incompetent employee you always dreamt of being. Image courtesy of Gamecrate.
The next Steam game my partner tried was The Lab, a compilation of games set in a “pocket universe.” He tried an archery game where I was informed after he played that when he pulled his virtual bow, his right controller would vibrate to simulate the tension one would feel if they were actually pulling on a bow. He also defended a castle against skeletons, where the majority of the time he’d express in disbelief “Are you guys seeing this?! Are you guys seeing this?!” I mean, yes, we could see it on the monitor, but I had a feeling that wasn’t doing it justice.
Eventually came my turn. My host had suggested that if I have glasses I should wear them, and though I do have a prescription I never wear my glasses, so he said that it will look just like “real life.” That means “slightly blurry like always.” He removed the foam pad from the headset to wash the sweat off it and gave me a fresh one. My pupils were also measured and finally I tried on the headset.
I became a believer once I put it on. The 3D perception and relativity to my actual surroundings felt completely accurate. When I moved the hand controllers in front of my headset the outlines would glow, perfectly representing distance to where they physically were in real life.
The only game I tried playing was the one I was most interested in: Google Tilt Brush. I’d watched the promo video and I guess the least I can say is the experience was pretty much exactly like that. The brush strokes I painted in thin air were in 3D space, so each one would never quite be the same distance as the last, giving a somewhat paper maché look. There were non-paint brushes I could try too; twinkling stars, falling snow. I painted them above me to make me feel like I was standing in some whimsical fairy dust.
Honestly, it doesn’t matter how imaginative I try to be when describing the experience. Unless you’ve tried out a Vive for yourself, you just wouldn’t understand.
Like everyone else who has seen videos and pictures of people looking delightfully dumb when wearing their virtual reality headsets, I laughed while watching my partner play his games and secretly filmed it (as he did to me). But when I was wearing the headset I could not have cared less about how stupid I looked while I painted circles around me in the void of nothingness; I’m experiencing a virtual reality in there and you’re not, so the joke’s on you!
Verdict: As a graphic designer, Google Tilt Brush felt like it could be an asset and a new artistic medium, not just a novelty. I am a fan of hand lettered typography and I was able to make large brush stokes using my entire arm, as opposed to being limited to my wrist. It was a freeing experience. As I said, I am not a gamer and am practical with my money, but when my partner and I left our host’s apartment that day we were already talking about spending $799 USD on our own Vives. If you have any connections to someone that has access to one, I suggest you offer to clean their apartment in exchange for some game-time. Or bring them some cookies. Cash-in those friendship chips now!