At just about forty years old I have been around since the start of the digital age.
I remember as a kid playing Space Invaders for the first time and growing up in the coin op world of the arcade machine.
From a very young age I owned computers, and since having my first go at manic miner, I was hooked.
Over the next couple of decades, I would see tech explode and for me there have been a couple of major game changers along the way.
My first experience with such game changing technology was the first of the Next Gen home games consoles. I am talking about when arcade quality gaming was available at your home. No more pockets full of coins, no more trips to the arcade.
Then came the internet, high end CGI, broadband, smartphones and 4g, the list of once imagined tech brought to life just keeps coming.
But the one thing I have long anticipated over the years was Virtual Reality.
Now, as far back as the late 90s we saw attempts at creating virtual reality hardware but I never did see anything that was anything more than a neat little curiosity.
Until yesterday, when I had my first run on the HTC Vive.
I was fortunate enough to have a tech crazy client let me take it for spin and if you are in the same position, I would highly recommend it.
The HTC Vive will set you back about £650 – £700 and comes with:
One VR headset
Two wireless multi touch controllers
two tracking stations
You will need to provide the high spec PC that you need to run the VR software (see HTC VIVE website for specifications) but you could build a system for about £600.
Also it is recommended that you use the vive, with about 2 meters free space (I had slightly more than that and found it perfect).
I am told that the set up process is relatively simple but not without a few annoyances on initial set up.
Ok now for the best part, the first look into Virtual reality.
I was using Valves Steam VR platform and decided (on recommendation) to go to ‘The Lab’ first.
As soon as the Virtual Reality environment kicked in I was blown away. I was stood in a white warehouse style room that appeared to be about 2000 meters squared. For about ten minutes I just looked at the controllers in my hands and listened to a robot (that had just popped by) telling me how to use the different buttons and track pads on the controllers.
One of the instructions was how to see if I was coming too close to my real world boundaries (a blue grid appears if you get to close to your living room wall) and by this point I was totally comfortable moving around without the worry of walking face first into a wall.
The controllers appear in virtual reality as they would in real world. A good example of how accurate the visual tracking is, is to put the controllers on the floor stand up, look away and then go back and pick them up. I felt like I could quite easily throw them in the air and catch them (don’t worry Richard, I didn’t try).
I could write pages and pages about the next three hours but I will give a quick breakdown of four of the most memorable experiences inside of the VR Lab.
The Lab central hub.
When playing The Lab, which is a collection of mini experiences, all areas are accessed from a central laboratory.
There is plenty to look and interact with here, including a cool little robot dog, who likes to be fussed and play fetch (I spent ten minutes throwing a coffee cup for him to bring back to me).
The Lab is designed to look like Aperture Science labs (for portal fans) and has machinery busily working away and the gateways to the experiences.
This is a great little mini-game that is based on the popular tower defence games we all know and love.
You are stood on top of the battlements of a castle and are attacked buy an angry horde of little armoured figures. Armed with your trusty long bow, you fire arrow after arrow to hold the attackers at bay, whilst shooting target balloons to restore the health of your battered gates.
Whilst this game could get a little boring after a couple of sessions, it totally shows off the gaming capability of the Vive. The shooting feels accurate and the immersion of the world complete. After ten minutes I felt like I had had a very good workout.
The Secret Shop
The Secret Shop is another of the Labs experiences that really shows off the more graphically beautiful side to the game engine.
I won’t say too much about this one as I don’t want to spoil anything for you (since when do games have spoilers?) but it is a great environment that is full of suprises.
This one was really cool, if like me you are a fan of the portal series.
In this experience you are tasked with repairing the Peabody robot from portal. He marches into the room with you (I actually jumped out of the way for fear of him walking into me) and after releasing a few catches and levers you are exposed to an exploded view of the robot.
At this point I am not sure what I did, as all hell broke loose. Alarms starting blaring and voice announced ‘Reactor core breach’ which actually made me panic.
At the end of my time in virtual reality I came back to real life, and to be quite honest, it now seemed a little boring.
I did feel a little VR sickness (a term that will be more and more common) but it didn’t last very long (and I get motion sickness at the drop of a hat).
So, overall what was my opinion?
I was incredibly impressed with my first real experience in VR, it by far exceeded my expectations. Is it perfect? no, but its one hell of a leap in the right direction.
I think that over the next couple of years it will become the norm to pop on your headset grab your controllers and disappear in the virtual world for a couple of hours (days).