As you know, I got into virtual reality as well this month. Although it wasn’t my real first experience, that was with Google Cardboard, I call it my first because it was so different than what I remembered.
Modern VR headsets have gone a long way–improving comfort, screen resolution, be now have inside-out tracking system, more VR apps and games, including triple-A titles and more.
Not without its faults, the Oculus Quest 2 is a VR headset that came at the right moment and the right time. It’s comfort and untethered design, and price–made it welcome among many gamers around the world.
It became a technology that feels more reachable and accessible than ever before. Developers have accustomed to the required app design recommendations to make sure any VR app or game they made results in a comfortable and fun experience for users.
I still think, by lookin at many of the VR games on Steam and Oculus, that we have a long way to go. In terms of app selection, it’s much larger than I remember it, but still lacking more triple-A titles.
I recently finished playing Half-Life: Alyx (not entirely, finished the game but still playing again) and I start realizing how important is VR game design. I think it can be complicated to achieve if you want to achieve something novel and unique in VR. It takes a lot of testing and getting feedback from users, to see what works and what doesn’t. It’s very important in VR.
Even simple implementations like movement aren’t implemented properly in many VR games that I’ve tried. I see many devs sticking with simple mechanics, which I actually think it’s a smart way to do. Many of the popular Virtual Reality games and experienced are actually have very simple controls.
In my experience, I found myself enjoying those simple VR games that are easy to get into and those games whom mechanics have been simple but perfected for VR. Trying to make many things work requires a lot of time and effort. Yes, Valve did it (almost) perfectly with Half-Life: Alyx but again, this is Valve.
If I was a VR game developer, I would focus on a one or a few simple interactions and try to create a unique experience around it, or work the other way around, but making sure the gameplay mechanics remains simple to understand and use.
I mean, in the introductory app “First Steps” for Oculus Quest 2, I was just picking up objects, hitting a boxing bag, using a ping pong racket, enjoy a basic target-shooting VR experience—but it was so much fun that I found myself getting back to it to enjoy it a bit more.
Things like touching, moving things, picking up objects, throwing them, opening boxes and lockers, doing natural things felt so fun in VR. Especially considering the fact that you can just go crazy without actually causing any damage. This is why games like Surgeon Simulator and Job Simulator were so much fun. Sometimes we do have an urge to break the rules, and go a bit crazy, but in reality, there are harsh consequences for that, in VR, we can do whatever we like, and it feels good.
We let out little demons have fun–and it feels good. We want to break the rules, just a little bit or maybe sometimes more than that, but in VR–we are safe. In some cases, we experience things that without VR technology we probably wouldn’t.
We can live our fantasies in a well contained, private (kind of), and easily accessible way. This can of course can be used for therapy, allowing people instead of internalizing, to release things out, share their thoughts in a more private manner. With VR you can get out of the box and, with certain apps, keep being anonymous, while spilling out the things that bother you or your strong desire to share what’s on your mind with other people. VR is a great platform for that.
Immersion is so important in VR. This can be enhanced using force feedback controllers (e.g. SaberGrip), spatial audio and other technologies to close the gap between what virtual and what is real.
There was one unique occasion where I turned on my little fan in the room. At the same time, I was playing Half-Life: Alyx and I was walking outside in an outdoor environment. That feeling of moving air (wind) and enhanced the presence so much, I actually felt the air in the virtual world. It’s like it penetrated the virtual, although I was just experiencing it physically in the real world.
Simple things like that can make a difference and imagine having the option to chance the smell, control air using little fans programmatically, feeling textures in our hand and even feet, feel force when touched in our body and face, etc.
There are already VR suits and controllers that do part of these things, but they are either very expensive, not widely supported, or not comfortable enough for regular use due to bulky design. That being said, we are moving forward in that direction. In time, big companies like Facebook will have much more advanced controllers and other standard accessories to offer to users, but we are not there just yet.
When I use my Oculus Quest 2 headset, I can immediately feel the flaws and what needed to improve it. Even simple things like screen resolutions per eye and field of view that lead to tunnel vision can be improved a lot. I don’t want to have that kind of “pixelation screen” that prevents me from seeing a sharp image. I don’t want to see black borders like I am wearing a headset within the virtual world. I want that gone and this is so important for immersion and visual comfort that this is why these things will keep improving in future virtual reality headsets—they have to.
Having said all that, I am enjoying VR right here right now. Now doubt that in a few years time we’ll be in a much better place, as it always is with evolving technology. I enjoy the present and the present of VR is a joy to use. I still want more comfortable, smaller, lighter headsets, more high-quality VR title selection…more and more. That will come in time, until then, time to go back and dive into what the Oculus Quest 2 has to offer, and that’s a lot—Happy VRing!