I’ve been playing VR games on the Oculus Rift for almost two years, and on the HTC Vive for the past year. I’ve tried a variety of other VR experiences, including Razer’s OSVR HMD, and many augmented reality (AR) glasses as well, along with, of course, the Samsung Gear VR. But somehow I have never managed to try the Sony Playstation VR, until yesterday during the company’s showcase event at GDC (where Sony announced pricing and availability).
First a few general observations, and then some details about a few games that I played.
Sony had the final consumer hardware on display, and it doesn’t look much different than the units the company had for its showcase. As you can see, there’s a certain Sony style about it. Ultimately, a headset is just a goofy but necessary piece of hardware, no matter its color or space-aged design. It’s also about how it feels. I would have to have the big three HMDs -- Rift, Vive and PSVR -- together to really describe any noticeable differences. All of them are light, all of them fit well, all of them essentially disappear as you’re playing.
The PSVR HMD is advantaged in its simplicity, however. The push-button mechanisms to conform the HMD to your head and face remove some of the cumbersome strap adjustments I’ve experienced with other HMDs.
The Controllers (Not Included)
The Sony Move controllers also look very "VR age;" just take the Vive controllers and add a glowing, colored orb. In the games I played on PSVR, the trigger switch was the main focus of the controller, even in games that involved picking up objects. The Oculus Touch controllers, Vive controllers and the Sony Move controllers are all rather intuitive, and here again, it comes down to what you’ll do with them. I’m a little partial to the Oculus Touch controllers because they seem (admittedly based merely on my own speculation) to hold the most promise for precision hand tracking. Because of the way the Touch controllers conform to your hands, they tend to strike a balance between getting out of the way and being peripheral extensions of your hands.
Driven To Nausea
I’ll briefly discuss three different games I played, saving the best one for last (Until Dawn: Rush of Blood).
But let’s start with the worst: Driveclub. To be fair, calling it the worst is too harsh. The game was actually an immersive experience all around, from the haptic feedback in the steering wheel to the realistic audio. The problem is that it made me nauseous. I found the resolution on the upcoming turns (the version I tried was more Grand Prix-style) to be less than clear, sometimes so much so that I wasn’t sure if I was going to be turning left or right. The sharpness of the turns was also unclear, even — practically — as I was into the turns.
You can change your point of view, and I tried to go into third-person mode so that I could see the turns a little more in advance, but that just made things worse. In particular, I didn’t really sense any granularity in my deceleration, to the point where I had to put on the breaks to make sure I wouldn’t wreck on a turn.
In fairness to the makers of Driveclub, I may have made myself even more nauseous by going into third-person mode. But I also heard one other journalist talking about how the game made him sick as well. I’ve only ever felt truly nauseous one other time in VR, and the similarity is simply about the ability to feel and see where you are and where you’re going. How much visual latency plays a role is something that needs to be examined and measured, but game designers can also use techniques to minimize latency impacts.
I’d give it another try. I don’t like the idea that a single experience will dictate what I think of a game. If it doesn't make you sick, this could be a fantastic driving game.
Waltz Of The Wizard
I went from Driveclub to Aldin Dynamics' Waltz of the Wizard, which is a game (hmm, I’d call this more of an experience) that won’t induce motion sickness for most of us. Oddly, I was still feeling the effects of Driveclub, but I quickly got my bearings.
This is a wizard magic experience. Using the Move controllers, you pick up potions and place them in the cauldron in front of you, and that elicits magic spells. One such spell allowed me to touch any object around me (and there were several, including a bow and arrow, an eyeball, coins and so on) and levitate them. Another allowed me to transport myself into another environment that had weapons, and I got the haunting feeling that I was about to be attacked. So I grabbed a mace and prepared myself, only to find a cat approaching. (The demonstration attendant said I was the only person who didn’t try to attack the cat, to which I must ask: really people?)
Waltz of Wizard is the sort of game that promises to delight players of all ages. It is creative and colorful and full of surprises.
Zombies, Of Course
On the other end of the spectrum is Until Dawn: Rush Of Blood from Supermassive Games. This fantastic gore-fest of entertaining arcade-style shooter delights in an entirely different way. I played this game first, and instead of the usual short demo that usually accompanies these experiences, we got to play an entire level of the game. The game is actually finished, we were told, with just a few touch-ups needed before release. There will be seven levels, and approximately two hours of game play in all. My demo lasted at about 20 minutes, and I didn’t want to stop.
You’re placed into a roller coaster car, which is typically a harbinger of nausea to come, but the creators did a masterful job of removing any discomfort, even though you’re moving from dark to light in many places (another sure provocation of queasiness). You’re always aware of your horizon and your surroundings, so there aren’t many motion-induced surprises.
As you traverse the indoor madhouse, you’re approached by various scary zombies. And you shoot them. Flick the Move controllers to reload. And shoot some more. There are colored boxes along the route that contain various weapons — Uzis, grenades, etc. Each controller can be a different weapon, and some weapons work better in certain situations.
There are two sets of creatures that prove the most difficult to kill. The sisters (pictured above) are lightning fast and almost impossible to pin down. Graze them once or twice if you’re lucky, and they just keep coming back, darting in and out of range and view.
Psychoboss (pictured above) relentlessly tracks you down, refusing to be moved by whatever weapon you use on it. Turns out that you can slowly blast away at him by waiting for him to approach various red barrels in his path and shooting those. They blow up when you shoot them, sending Psychoboss reeling. Do this enough times, and at the right times, and he’ll die.
We’ll try to get more hands on time and play more games at various gaming conferences between now and the official launch. What we’ve seen so far seems promising for the PS4 crowd.