Earlier this year at E3, I got my first look at what Sony was marketing as the definitive experience in Virtual Reality gaming. They showed off their lineup of titles, gave people the opportunity to try out the technology, and declared the price tag on these bad boys to be $399.99. Four hundred Washingtons was the price for the technology that seemed like little more than a myth when I was growing up.
Now if you don’t follow me on Twitter, you wouldn’t have seen my thoughts on PS VR, because I didn’t write a full post about it. I simply expressed during my live-tweets of the show that I felt $400 was WAY too pricey for technology that honestly did not appeal to me. I’m the kind of gamer who likes to have a controller in his hand. I don’t like Kinect and while I tolerated the motion controls on the Wii, it certainly wasn’t my favorite Nintendo console. While I certainly enjoy games that immerse me, I prefer to be immersed into the story, not necessarily to feel like I’m actually there getting shot at or whatever.
Well earlier this weekend, I got the opportunity to experience firsthand this technology I was badmouthing on the internet. How those circumstances came about it kind of a long story and honestly doesn’t matter. Here are the highlights: my wife got to try out a friend’s VR headset. She thought it was awesome. She encouraged me to try it. I was like “nah, I’ll pass.” But she was insistent, so I ended up going along with it.
So I go in, sit down in front of the TV, and she and her friend slip this crazy headset over my eyes. They showed me what buttons to push to make adjustments and soon I was relatively comfortable (the material gets pretty warm against your skin after awhile – I was definitely sweating by the end). I found myself staring at a floating menu. It looked pretty cool, although it was certainly disorienting – I lifted my hands in front of my face and of course could not see them, and I could hear people talking around me but when I turned there of course was no one there. However, the headset creates a virtual environment all around you. You don’t just turn around and a static image follows you wherever you go. If you’re in a room in a game, you might turn around and see a window behind you, or another part of the room. You seriously feel like you’re in another place.
The level of visual immersion I experienced seriously astounded me. It’s not like the graphics were so great that I couldn’t tell I was in a game. But the general consistency of it when you’re looking around- and the fact that you can’t see the real world beyond your visor – makes the game world seem real. Multiple times, I’d be in a setting where there was a table directly in front of me and I would attempt to rest my arms on the table, only to realize I was actually sitting on the edge of a bed and there was, in fact, nothing for me to prop my arms on.
I experienced two different games during my time with PS VR. I honestly don’t remember their real titles – I don’t think my wife’s friend ever told me what they were called. However, the first scenario was a seedy British tavern crime syndicate kind-of thing, and the second was a diving simulation where I got to check out some aquatic wildlife and then get attacked by a shark.
The first game was played with the Playstation Move controller, and that was a whole new experience for me. I’ve never used one before, and I didn’t get a chance to get a feel for the controller when I could actually see it – it was handed to me when I already had the visor on. This caused a little confusion at first. Luckily I didn’t have to learn every single button and function – I pretty much exclusively used the triggers. Still, the controller was probably the thing that broke my sense of immersion the most (technologically speaking – at any given time I had two or three people watching me do this and talking, and that of course changed the environment a lot). Often, the Move controller wouldn’t be in the right place for the sensor or whatever to pick it up, and I’d find my in-game hands randomly floating in my field of vision while I was trying to do other tasks. This happened most often with my off-hand, which I would typically just rest at my side when I didn’t need it for something.
During the heist scenario, I was able to do things like pick up objects and shoot at enemies. While shooting worked decently well, I really felt like picking stuff up was just fluff and it left something to be desired. I think a good next step for this technology would be some kind of glove that works as your “controller,” allowing you the ability to finely manipulate objects. Being able to use your hands like actual hands would definitely increase the immersion factor of the game.
The shark scenario didn’t involve me actually DOING anything – it was just designed to show off the potential of the technology and to make nervous folks wet themselves when it seemed a giant shark was about to take a bit out of them.
Oh, so something you should know about me before I continue: I startle easily. All it takes is for someone to make a loud sound when I don’t know they are around, or for me to turn around and suddenly see someone standing there that I didn’t realize was close to me. Games or movies that utilize jump-scares will definitely make me jump, even if I can predict them (and jumpscares are often predictable). So yeah, it doesn’t take much to get me to startle, and I know that about myself.
So imagine my surprise when I didn’t get startled while playing with PS VR.
Now granted, I didn’t play any games designed specifically to jump scare me. However, both games featured some moments definitely designed to make you flinch, and neither one managed to do so for me. And honestly, I think the biggest reason for that is the fact that I was never so immersed that I forgot I was playing a video game. I didn’t feel like the shark was gonna bite me. I didn’t think the large muscular guy with the cockney accent was really gonna punch me in the face. And so I didn’t react to those things.
I think the immersion factor could have been increased for me in a few ways. First off, you can play with headphones, and that definitely would have helped me a lot. Having the sounds directly in my ears rather than coming from a source outside of me would have been a huge first step. The friend who owns the VR headset was also telling me that they have a vest kinda thing that vibrates so that you can actually feel things happening as well, and that definitely would have made me more likely to react. Particularly when I was getting shot at. Finally, I think playing alone would have increased my immersion a lot. I knew people were watching me, I was talking to those people, I was making jokes; all of those things made me aware of the outside world. Conversely, playing alone in the dark, totally immersed in the sights, sounds, and feelings of the game would have made me a lot more likely to react to a giant shark rushing at me and tearing up the tiny iron bars keeping the two of us apart.
I had one very specific problem when playing with PS VR, a problem that only affected me out of the group I played with: motion sickness. This happened specifically during a car chase scene where I had to actively try to shoot bad guys while riding in a speeding vehicle and leaning out of the car door. I’m the kind of guy who put a parental lock on my 3DS so I don’t turn on the 3D by accident because the visuals make me sick. So there are certain VR experiences that my constitution just will not allow. Now that’s a relatively specific problem, but I know there are other folks out there who would have it. So if you’re thinking of trying out PS VR and you have a weak constitution, be careful what game you play.
Overall, I was pleasantly surprised with Playstation VR. Just based on my limited experience, I don’t see myself wanting to ever buy it. The price tag is way too high, and the experience for me felt like a fun alternative to a typical game rather than how I always want to play games. However, it was really fun for a temporary experience, and I found myself really enjoying how immersed I was in the games. If you have the opportunity to try out PS VR, I’d definitely check it out.
If any of you adventurers have tried out PS VR and you want to share your experiences as well, feel free to post them in the comments! And be sure to come back tomorrow, as I intend to post some ideas that I have for games I’d like to see get the VR treatment.