HTC launched pre-orders for its highly anticipated Vive virtual reality hardware package today. With it, you get the Vive HMD, two wand controllers that track your hands, and two lighthouse base stations that help track your movements within 3D space. Valve and HTC have been talking about the maximum 15 x 15-foot size of the tracked location for over a year now, but the fact that you don’t need that much space has been communicated fairly poorly.
Many people don’t believe they can use a Vive because they believe that they don’t have enough space for it. In reality, that’s probably not the case for most people.
Last week, we got our hands on a Vive Pre to start doing some early testing and evaluations of upcoming software. Like many of you, I don’t have a huge home with spare rooms to dedicate to VR, which makes my situation ideal, actually, for evaluating the real world use of a Vive. I have to deal with tight constraints, much like many of the people who would like to own a Vive for themselves. Fortunately, it’s really not too big of a problem.
HTC and Valve considered all variables while designing the Vive. The two companies didn’t start off with delusions that everyone has 15 x 15 feet of space in their homes available to play with roomscale VR. They recognized that many people, if not most, will be limited to much smaller spaces, so the system is built to scale down from that size as needed. The minimum space required for roomscale VR is 5 x 6.5 feet. Anything less than that, and you’ll be limited to seated and standing experiences only.
I live in a quad-plex house, which is basically a large bungalow that was sectioned into four separate dwellings. I’m not sure what the square footage of my portion is, but I was only able to carve a 6.5 x 6.5-foot space out of my living room to work with. I suspect that this small of a play space will be a common situation, and I’m happy to say it’s been working mostly fine, with the odd exception here and there.
Launch Titles In Smaller Spaces: Not Bad
There’s only a small selection of games and demos to try right now on the Vive, but from what I’ve seen, most of them will work in smaller spaces. The three launch titles in particular seem to handle smaller spaces well. For example, Tilt Brush is but a big open canvas. Your space is certainly limited, but what you can do within that space is not. You may be required to draw at a smaller scale for some things, but you can easily let your imagination run free in any size room while playing Tilt Brush.
Job Simulator is another great example of a game that doesn’t need much space. Owelchemy Labs has stated that the game will be coming out on all three premium VR platforms this year, and as such, the developers made it more akin to a standing experience, so you don’t miss out on anything by having a smaller area in which to play.
Not all games will adapt as well to a smaller space, but that’s not to say you can’t enjoy them without a full 15 x 15-foot room. Fantastic Contraption plays just fine in my small space, but it was easier to build things when I tried the game in a full-size room at the SteamVR Developer Showcase event. Being able to step back and look at the whole thing really helped, but you can definitely play the game just fine in a smaller space.
Space Pirate Trainer (currently my favorite VR game) is another good example of a game that plays great in a small space, but better in a larger one. The small space is no problem up to around wave eight, but it starts to get a bit dicey at higher levels. The confined area means you can’t dodge nearly as much as you can in a larger room. I can’t tell you how many times I was shot because I couldn’t go to the left another foot. I’m still having a blast with the game. It requires much more focus to dodge all of the incoming fire while thus confined, but it forces you to adapt your play with different techniques.
My current library of available Vive games is rather small, so we could very well see games that get released that require a full room, but so far the only experience that I have access to that I can’t play in my play space is Valve’s own Aperture Science Robot Repair demo. The demo requires that you recharge your controller on a charge station located just beyond where I can reach in my room. I’d have to reach my arm through a physical wall to start the demo, but every third-party app has worked to an acceptable degree.
Time will tell how many developers build their games to support more confined areas, but if the current crop of demo titles that have been shared with us are any indication of what’s to come, you can likely expect that most games will adapt to your play area size. You don’t necessarily need a 15 x 15-foot space to have a satisfying experience with an HTC Vive.