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Hands-On With The HTC Vive

Let Them Eat Cake

This was the last demo I tried and was Valve and HTC’s pièce de résistance. As soon as the demo started, I knew exactly where I was. I was inside a Valve game, inside Portal, in a robot repair room at Aperture Science.

The fidelity of the graphics in this room where beyond anything else I had seen before, and a robot voice started giving me directions as to what to do. I was instructed to open a drawer, and, of course, there was more than one, and I wasn’t directed as to which one I needed to open. The wrong ones contained some funny Valve Easter eggs – one had a half-eaten moldy cake, and another one contained a miniature world of the black 2D stick-figures of the Portal 2 promotional videos.

I was then told to turn around and pull a lever to open a large door, and behind it was a robot – Atlas, the round robot from Portal 2, to be precise. He looked to be out of order, but he suddenly sprang to life and moved through the doorway into the room, in an ungainly fashion due to his state of disrepair.

The sight of this huge robot that was as tall as me (and much bigger-looking in person than he looked when playing Portal 2) coming towards me was a little unnerving. I backed away as he entered the room.The sense of scale that you get when using the Vive is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before. No matter how "big" something is, when you view it on a 24- to 32-inch monitor, it just isn’t the same.

The Atlas before me was incredibly detailed and realistic. I was told to pull another lever on him to start the robot repair, and all his internal components sprang out and were suspended in space in front of him. The detail on each of these individual animated parts was incredible. Later, I found out it was because this demo was running on Valve’s new Source 2 engine. You can see a short video clip from the demo over here.

I was then instructed that I had to repair Atlas, and I had a limited amount of time to do it. I don’t remember how long it was, but it felt like a minute at most. As I struggled to work out what to do, which I figured out involved rotating parts of the robot, the timer was ticking and the disembodied robotic voice’s instructions became more and more complex. I was destined to fail, even though the HTC rep walking me through my experience assured me that there had been only four people who did successful repair Atlas. (That could have been a lie though!)

And fail I did. The timer ran out, and Atlas’s parts fell to the floor, and the robot slumped down in a state of disrepair. Suddenly, the walls of the room began to fall apart around me. I guess failing this task wasn’t a good thing, and my electronic instructor began to berate me for my poor performance.

It was then that GLaDOS (Portal’s main antagonist) appeared. As her enormous robotic armature moved towards me, her robotic eye’s glare burning into me, I jumped back again in fear and awe, just as did when I encountered the whale. Again, the sense of scale was unparalleled. You can’t imagine how large GLaDOS until you actually (virtually) meet her.

It was this demo where I cried. Not because it was immeasurably better-looking (though it was) or more interactive than the others, but because it was the first time that the magnitude of what the Vive would allow hit me. Valve’s Half-life/Portal universe is one that I’ve be able experience for almost 20 years of my life, but it has always been as an outsider looking through a window into that world. I currently game using a triple monitor setup, headphones, and an insistence that I only play when there is nothing else to distract me to maximize my immersion into the game world. However, my current setup can’t hold a candle to the level of immersion I got when playing this demo.

For the first time, I felt like I was actually transported into a universe that I know and love. Being able to actually walk around and interact with a room in Aperture Science, rather than view it through a monitor, or (if I was using a competing VR solution) just look around it from a fixed position was absolutely mind-blowing. It felt real. I was there. Never for a minute did my subconscious doubt that. At the moment GLaDOS confronted me, I wasn’t experiencing a demo in Barcelona, Spain. I was there in a room with her, one of gaming’s greatest villains, staring down at me, wondering if I was about to live or die.

As GLaDOS was talking to me in her incredibly creepy monotone voice, the world was disintegrating around me, exposing the scale of the huge facility I was in. There were other platforms and areas off in the distance, both on the same level as me and above and below me. I was almost freaking out at the HTC demo rep, asking him to reassure me that the floor wasn’t going to drop from under me and I was going to fall to my death. I don’t think I could have handled that. There’s even a chance I would have lost control of some bodily functions -- it was that intense.

Thankfully, GLaDOS decided to spare me, and with that and the appearance of a Companion Cube, my time with the Vive ended.

  • CaedenV
    It is going to be pretty hard to figure out which VR headset to pick up next year. First I need to get a newer GPU to drive one though... no way my old GTX570 is going to be pushing two 1200p+ displays, especially at 90Hz lol.
    Reply
  • vertigo_2000
    I'm sold, take my money.
    Reply
  • spladam
    You cried? They moved you to tears with this tech? It sounds cool, but how do you know you are not still in VR?
    Reply
  • zerghumper
    Ok here's my question and no article on the Vive / Valve VR that I've read so far has answered it:

    Will games have to be written from the ground up to support the Vive, or like the Oculus Rift, can support be modded into a game? I know most of the features Vive brings to the table wouldn't be supported, but what about head-tracking? This is the one reason this decision is so difficult for me. I keep seeing developers being blown away by the Vive, but I wonder, will I be able to use it to go play minecraft, STALKER, Alien Isolation, and other games that already do support the Oculus?

    Either way this future excites me and I can't wait to see what games get made with this system in mind!
    Reply
  • DelightfulDucklings
    The main thing I want to know is if there will be a Vive that excludes the movement sensors as I personally don't have the space where my PC is setup to stand up and move around at all so I will be only able to sit. I'm sure they must have thought of this but I just haven't seen it mentioned much
    Reply
  • Hector M Torres
    Sitting inside a giant MecWarrior or flying a Space Fighter ( with simulated full 360 degree range of view/movement will be awesome ) , Tank battles , flying Jet fighters, i can see a few great games made so much better with this new tech,I can't wait !
    Reply
  • alex davies
    Ok here's my question and no article on the Vive / Valve VR that I've read so far has answered it:

    Will games have to be written from the ground up to support the Vive, or like the Oculus Rift, can support be modded into a game? I know most of the features Vive brings to the table wouldn't be supported, but what about head-tracking? This is the one reason this decision is so difficult for me. I keep seeing developers being blown away by the Vive, but I wonder, will I be able to use it to go play minecraft, STALKER, Alien Isolation, and other games that already do support the Oculus?

    Either way this future excites me and I can't wait to see what games get made with this system in mind!

    The Vive use's Valve's SteamVR platform, which is a set of APIs that any developer can support in their games, and any or all aspects of the platform can be incorporated. So if there is a game that just needs to use the Vive's head-tracking feature, there is no reason a developer can't just support that one feature.

    From what I understand the Vive is the first of hopefully many solutions built on SteamVR. There may be different versions of the Vive from HTC themselves (such as a kit without the controllers etc.), or there may be cheaper headsets from other manufacturers that are built on SteamVR.

    Either way, I think if one is questioning if games that currently support Oculus now will also support SteamVR in the future, I would say most definitely. That is, other than platform exclusives, which there surely will be a few of -- for example, I'm pretty sure EVE: Valkyrie will be Oculus and Morpheus only.
    Reply
  • alex davies
    The main thing I want to know is if there will be a Vive that excludes the movement sensors as I personally don't have the space where my PC is setup to stand up and move around at all so I will be only able to sit. I'm sure they must have thought of this but I just haven't seen it mentioned much

    I'm sure there'll either be a Vive starter kit minus the controllers, or another OEM will partner with Valve to make an entry-level SteamVR headset for sit down only gaming experiences.
    Reply
  • gaborbarla
    Interesting read Alex, I think now you need to quickly go and test the latest version of Oculus and give us feedback on it. I have disappointing review of the Vive before and glad to hear that you found the opposite. I really want this technology to succeed and we need fast and accurate tracking, high Hz, Hi-res screens, and no motion sickness. From your article it seems like they are on track with achieving this. Hope they don't scale it down due to commercial reasons. I rather spend 500-1000USD and get something decent. Anyways a comparison to the competitors from your perspective would be great. If I remember correctly the Vive requires some sensors/reflectors to be installed in the room where you use it which is something that we can get rid of eventually for sure.
    Reply
  • cats_Paw
    Ill wait untill there is a comparison by someone who I can call unbiased (dont know this reviewr, but Id better make sure).
    I will buy a VR, no doubt, but want the best one, even if I have to overpay a bit.
    I want to run it at high fps, no motion sickness, etc etc etc.
    Then I will fire up crysis for my unsuspecting new lady friend :D.
    Reply