The transition into VR gaming feels less like the last console generation’s inclusion of motion controllers, or 3DTV compatibility, and more akin to moving from 2D to 3D gaming. Playing EVE Valkyrie and RIGS for the first time feels like the first time you played Mario 64. It is a game changer. While some genres will need to adapt to these new ways of designing games, it is clear that many will lend themselves well to this new environment and entire new genres will likely be carved out in the years to come that best take advantage of 360° game design. I honestly do not think I could ever go back to playing a dog-fighting style game that was not in VR again. It would be like trying to play Call of Duty on a BBC Micro – you may be able to capture a simplified essence of the game but without the technology and hardware to back it up, it will just never feel quite right.
This generation of consoles did not really do anything radically different at the start of this console life-cycle. There was closer integration with sharing and streaming functionality but little in the way of a highly definable difference from the last generation of consoles – not in the way that HD or the introduction of CD or DVD had been in previous console generations. Arguably the introduction of 4K and HDR will be that next generational defining leap but I think it is becoming clear that VR (or more broadly 360° gaming, to include the possibility of upcoming AR technology) will be the defining technological upgrade of this generation of gaming for consoles and PC.
The VeRy comfortable halo design of headset
Prior to release, many talked of the PS VR headset being the poor second cousin of Oculus and the HTC VIVE but seeing it with your own eyes soon makes it clear that while it is a significantly cheaper VR option, it is not an equally significant technical downgrade in comparison. Prior to launch people speculated that the PS VR screen would not be good enough in comparison to its VR competitors, but this is partly down to an over-simplification of the screens’ resolutions, as it is often listed as “1080p” or “960×1080” which can look bad when listed alongside Oculus’ “2160×1200” or VIVE’s “2160×1200” but PS VR’s resolution is actually more accurately referred to as “1920x1080xRGB”. –
The PS VR headset has an RGB subpixel matrix and while my technical knowledge is limited to not really understanding what that exactly entails, I have heard that this is part of the reason there is less of a shortcoming when it comes to the comparing screen resolutions with other VR devices, particularly as this helps reduce the issue of the ‘screen door’ effect. The PS VR screen also has a higher refresh rate of 120Hz and this further adds to the comfort of the viewer.
ASWAD Simulator – DON’T TURN AROUND!!
The one real advantage that the HTC Vive has, and that the Oculus has on the way, is room scale VR. Playing Job Simulator, a game I had heard so many good things about at the launch of Oculus and Vive, was a disappointment on PS VR. It is still fun but had not been adapted to take into account that the PS4 Camera can not see the Move controllers when you have your body blocking the view of the camera. With the knowledge of the limitation it was generally something that you could work around with some unnatural contortions, but it does highlight the potential pitfalls of porting games directly across VR devices.
I was already accepting that I would not be able to play some of the room scale games that have been seen on the HTC Vive, with players crawling and manoeuvring around in a large area – but that does not fit in my life as easily. I do not have a room to dedicate to a holodeck style “VR room” and limiting myself mainly to games that were designed to be played from a seated position is no bad thing. As a console gamer without space for my own holodeck, the PS VR headset fits well alongside my existing gaming habits and I imagine many other console gamers with VR aspirations will be in a similar position.
Copy what now? What’s a PSVR?
PS VR is also generally widely considered the most comfortable of the three gaming headsets. The Vive and Oculus are both goggle style, with the screen strapped to the front of your face. The halo — feels necessary in gaming circles to clarify – as in ring of light above an angel halo as opposed to the big green Master Chief starring Xbox game — design of the PS VR headset, allows the weight to be distributed evenly across the head making it more comfortable, especially for longer play sessions. Judging by Microsoft’s recently announced VR headsets, it appears that the halo style design will be flattered by the number of VR headsets that will imitate this form going forward – to the point where I expect it to become so much the norm that I predict that we might even see revised headset designs from HTC or Oculus.
I have seen speculation that the electro-Daft-Tron-Punk styled headset will help wider audiences to be attracted to trying PS VR and that films such as Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One will help make VR more widely acceptable and desirable – but obviously this remains to be seen. Anything that makes more people likely to try PS VR will undoubtedly help. Trying VR is still the the only way to get someone to understand exactly the feelings that VR can induce or replicate. It is hard to convey in words or even video what the sense of overall immersion (or “presence” as it is often referred to) adds to the gaming experience. Friends that game less frequently (if at all) have been even more impressed than my video-gaming friends, with some inquiring about the cost of the headset and consoles. Having a console option for VR gives a whole new wider audience of gamers access to VR gaming.
Less point and click, more point and kill!
Batman Arkham VR shows both the limitations and potential of VR. Environmental immersion in the world of Gotham is phenomenal but character movement feels like a clunky compromise. Many VR developers seem to be taking the teleportation approach to player movement, citing that anything beyond that is too uncomfortable for the player. The consensus of opinion seems overwhelming but I fail to understand why I cannot walk around as Batman but do not have any issues rapidly running around an arena as a giant mech in RIGS. It remains to be seen if games such as Robinson the Journey will prove a place for AAA development level VR games and it will be interesting to see games such as Farpoint take on traditional twin-stick gaming genres armed with plastic peripherals for FPS VR gaming.
After a number of multiple hour gaming sessions in a number of PS VR games I have revised my thinking that PS VR will be best when limited to shorter gaming sessions – but still feel that limited but focused smaller games will play an important part in the software library of PS VR. Games like Thumper and ideally suited remakes like Rez Infinite have already helped smaller downloadable games bolster the launch lineup of PS VR to rival most console launches.
This guy has his VR legs already!
There are certainly more barriers to entry than other gaming mediums – beyond issues with people prone to motion sickness, you still need to gain your “VR Legs” by building up play time gradually and none of that takes into account getting over the initial social stigma of being entirely disconnected from the real world. The one advantage motion controllers had was a removal of traditional barriers to entry for gaming, such as complicated controller inputs. There are a few VR games that only use inputs from the headset as a control method but to most gaming without seeing your controllers will add another level of difficulty and the PS VR will likely be a harder sell as a result.
I am not saying that VR will supplant or replace your TV as a primary viewing device but it will be sitting comfortably alongside it for many years to come. Detractors have seemingly already written off VR as “this generation’s motion controls” but do not really seem to appreciate exactly what that means. VR has actually given a new lease of life to Sony’s Move controllers which were originally launched in 2010. Motion controls were one of the main motivating factors in driving the sales of the Wii – the best selling console of all time. Gyroscopic controllers are now in the hands of millions of new gamers in the form of mobile phones. If in seven years time, Sony can look back on PS VR as having a similar successful influence on the gaming industry, I think that they and VR gamers such as myself will be more than happy.
Tags: Batman Arkham VR, EVE Valkyrie, Farpoint, HTC Vive, Job Simulator, Oculus, PS VR, PSVR, Rez Infinite, RIGS, Robinson: The Journey, Thumper, vive, VR