DJ Arruda ‘16 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
With more and more companies getting into the VR game, newer entrants are forced to innovate an already innovative technology in order to capture the player’s attention. The Oculus Rift, one of the most well-known and established entities in the VR scene, continues to be utilized by developers, allowing players to fully inhibit virtual worlds via headset. HTC’s Vive enters the field with an advantage that the stationary Oculus does not have, however. Movement. Once the headset and headphones are put on, players are allowed to roam the virtual worlds with clear indicators when they get too close to the wall. In doing so, the immersion becomes even more engaging, allowing players to explore the demos instead of just passively sitting and turning their head. With two controllers in hand, players are ready to begin, standing in a virtual hub with the Steam logo and demo tiles in front of them, and able to blow balloons with the Steam logo on them in their favorite color, which behave true to the physics of everyday life.
The demo showcased at the Boston Festival of Indie Games started in a shipwreck. Deep underwater, the ocean was alive with fish and debris, the sunlight seemingly miles away. The ship was a marvel to walk around, seeing shattered cannons and remnants from sailing days long past. There was even a plane crash off one side of the ship, showing such attention to detail and depths created to make the experience as real as possible. For all intents and purposes those few minutes in that ocean was the world, and the demo capped with an extraordinary encounter with a whale. Done to scale, the whale’s dinner plate sized eye illuminated the intelligence inside the massive creature as it swam by the ship, an experience that very few would actually be able to have in their life. Yet through the Vive demo the whale was there, and suitably intimidating, so real that when the fins passed by it felt like there was a danger of being knocked into the trench. To imagine an entire game set underwater with that same immersion, or to use the technology to show the ocean to people who could never see it like this, that is what VR is all about.
The next game was a drastic shift in tone, a job simulator for a gourmet chef with a cheeky robot NPC. Colorful and cartoony, the game listed ingredients on a chalkboard, which were scattered around the kitchen, making the player collect them and put them in a pot before serving them and moving onto the next one. There was something undeniably fun about the whole thing, even if it was a cooking simulator, as having to use hands without actually being able to see them holding the controllers was a unique experience. Again, the potential for an entire game is there, but it could also be used to teach actual recipes without the risk of ruining groceries. Then, taking another change, Tiltbrush was a beautiful little canvas, allowing the player to use one controller as a paintbrush and the other to choose what shapes and colors to use, even offering a rainbow. What was coolest about this game was how vibrant the colors were, and that the drawings were 3D, allowing the art to come alive in front of the player’s eyes.
Lastly, and appropriately so, came a demo of everyone’s favorite physics based puzzle game, Portal. Capturing the essence of the main games, this demo started with charging up the player’s controllers for use with the environment, resulting in some hilarious in-jokes about menial tasks and mini-verses. Then ATLAS and P-body, the duo from the second game, appeared, with the former walking into the room and forcing the player to get out of the way lest they bump into each other. The way in which the immersion makes the reactions the same as they would be in the real world are testament to the power of the device. As while trying and failing to repair the robot, the floor opens to drop the debris, and there is an actual sense of height, which may be problematic for players who fear heights. It is truly amazing how well the world of Portal is entered with the Vive, and GLaDOS’ appearance at the end brings a smile despite her villainy, locking players in a room for their failure, and turning off the lights.
Overall, the HTC Vive was an amazing experience. Even if VR is not a point of interest for some gamers, it is truly worth it to at least try out a demo. Despite some glitches with the controllers, as is to be expected with new technology, and some minor blurriness at times, the experience was smooth and engrossing overall. There is something to be said in what games do by transporting players to different worlds, but VR takes it to the next step and brings the senses there. The Vive is clearly innovating with the ability to move while still being in the game, and looks to continue make waves if the future continues as bright as the demo.