Impact At EGX – Virtual Reality

At EGX this year virtual reality (VR) was the hot new technology which some of the big companies were showing off. PlayStation, Occulus and HTC were all showing off their tech, and although I was unable to play the PlayStation VR I was able to play the other two.

The Occulus Rift I used was sadly not the most modern version, but instead the second developer kit. This meant that there was a large problem with pixel density (I could see the individual pixels on the screen). Even so, I had an excellent experience with nDreams demo The Assembly. In this game the player is dragged around on a gulley and, although there is no interaction, it proved the success of the VR tech. There was a feeling that although I knew I was on a stall in EGX, I actually thought I was moving with it when the gulley started moving backwards. This non-interactive demo at least in my mind proved the worth of VR tech.

Obviously having a non-interactive experience didn’t really prove how successful this new technology would be in gaming. NVidia were running a demo for the HTC Vive where the player was put in a large darkened room, given the headset and then given controllers. These were not unlike the Wii’s controllers, with touchpads instead of buttons on top of the remotes. There were four demos shown, but two really stuck out in my mind.

“Even so, I had an excellent experience with nDreams demo The Assembly

One was a painting demo, where your controllers get turned into paintbrushes. This allows you to paint in a 3D space, which although doesn’t seem special is mind-blowing when you paint away from yourself, then moving around and seeing that it is a 3D object. This demo was also special because it proved how much the brain can be convinced that the in-game objects exist. I didn’t want to walk through them, because my brain was convinced that I couldn’t do it. The old TV show Knightmare came to mind, but instead of dodgy animations and a blinded child I could actually interact with objects.

The other demo which was amazing was one based in the Portal universe. This involved a section where Glados looks into the room you’re standing in and moves towards you. I was watching my friend play this demo and he basically ended up standing by the wall leaning back – just so he wouldn’t be touched by something created by his mind. Also in this demo the floor starts to fall away so my friend frantically tried to find floor space that wouldn’t move away. He knew in his mind the floor was still there, but of course his eyes were telling him something different.

“This demo was also special because it proved how much the brain can be convinced that the in-game objects exist”

Neither of the demos I played used more standard controllers (such as the Xbox’s Gamepad) so I am unsure how well the brain will deal with using a standard controller when the mind can’t see their own hands. There is also the problem with the NVidia demo in that most people don’t have space to have a VR room in which they can walk around without interference. I’m yet to be convinced these issues are going away, but even so, the technology I tried out certainly convinced me that VR tech is worth the investment.

Tim Spencer

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