My second taste of crappy VR

I’ve been pretty skeptical about VR up to this point. Actually scratch that. At one time I was super-stoked for VR but that was back in the days of yore, when my first taste of crappy VR was the arcade game Dactyl Nightmare. It blew my mind. I know that sounds ridiculous now, but in its day is was amazing that you could enter this world and walk around. Here’s what it looked and played like:

I was so hyped on VR that I cobbled together my own VR rig using Sega’s 3D glasses and a Mattel Power Glove. I learned how to do this on CompuServe but here’s a post on putting such a system together. I still remember playing a VR handball game with that system and being dumbfounded that it actually worked. Back then we were all reading Neuromancer and listening to Jaron Lanier talk about our virtual reality future. I fully expected to have a VR port installed in the back of my head by the time I got old.

And then, of course, it all fizzled and I let go of my dreams of “jacking in to cyberspace.”

Fast forward 25 years or so and here we are, ready for VR again. This time it all seems a lot more viable, but now I’m old and curmudgeonly and I think I have a “fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me” kind of attitude towards VR. I also have physical concerns. I struggle with motion-sickness in non-VR games and I can’t imagine how much worse it would be in VR. Also I wear progressive bifocals and had a lot of concerns about how VR would work with them.

When Sony put the Playstation VR visor up for pre-order I jumped on it, just to kind of hold my place in line. I wasn’t, and am still not, sure I’d go through with the purchase. I realize Vive and Oculus both offer better experiences but neither is within my budget.

Anyway the biggest question was my glasses, so at the suggestion of someone on Twitter I ordered a Google Cardboard visor. It was on sale so cost me less than $11 delivered and it arrived a few days ago. The good news is, my glasses seem to work fine, or at least as fine as they work in the real world. Stuff low in my viewport is blurry but I only notice that if I deliberately look down. The more natural inclination is to move my head to look down and the everything is fine.

So one obstacle down. Motion sickness is harder to measure using Cardboard because it really is a crappy VR experience for me. Keep in mind my phone is 2 years old at this point; if I had a newer more powerful one the experience might be much better. With the default cardboard you have to hold the whole thing up to your face (Angela is already shopping for a plastic model with a head strap). It’s something I play with for minutes, rather than hours, at a time and basically I look around and have one button and that’s the extent of my interactivity. (The button on the Cardboard visor links to a bit inside that taps the screen via a conductive strip of some kind of foil or film.)

But hey, it was less than $11 so I’m not complaining.

My guess is that motion sickness will be an issue for me because even after a few minutes with cardboard I feel kind of a pressure in my head. What isn’t clear yet is whether I can adapt. When I spend a lot of time playing fast-moving FPSs (in 2D) I build up a tolerance and my motion sickness issues become much less severe. I’m hoping the same will happen with VR.

Cardboard has nudged me towards keeping my Playstation VR order for a few reasons. First I know that it should work fine with my glasses. Second, Angela tried it and was excited, so it wouldn’t just be me using the visor. And third and most importantly, cardboard rekindled a little of that excitement I had back in the early 90’s.

The strangest bit is, I don’t think I’d enjoy playing a FPS or any kind of fast-paced game in VR. I’m more leaning towards wanting “experiences” that are about exploring weird virtual worlds at a leisurely pace. That’s good news because I find it hard to believe the PS4 has the power to deliver a fast-paced VR game at frame rates high enough to prevent nausea. I also find it oddly pleasant to just sit back and watch 2D videos on a giant virtual screen.

I still have some concerns about the social aspects. As I said, you hold cardboard up to your face and I haven’t been bothering with headphones so it’s really easy to stay ‘connected’ with the outside world. I worry a little that using the PS VR will be kind of off-putting to whomever isn’t using it, but now that I’ve tried cardboard I find it hard to imagine we’d wear the PS VR visor for hours at a time. I think it’s going to be something you just dip into for 15 minutes now and then, and that doesn’t feel problematic.

So I think I’m tentatively on-board the VR bandwagon again. I think we’re still a long way away from it taking over our entertainment (if it ever does) and I’ve given up on my cyberspace neural implant, but as a kind of adjunct to gaming and a way to experience new worlds now and then, I think it’ll be cool. I’m still on the fence about whether it’ll be $400 worth of cool though. So now it’s all about the dollars and whether I think we’ll get enough use out of it.

4 thoughts on “My second taste of crappy VR

  1. I’m looking forward to psvr. Im a little bummed out that the main games I want to play on the PlayStation will only be usable in cinema mode. I’m hoping for at least head tracking in GTA sport. Overall I’m hopefull. I wonder if someone will make a flying, falling floating game ?.

  2. On the one hand, all I’ve read has given me the impression that anyone who experiences motion sickness outside of VR is guaranteed to feel it inside VR. So, sad to say, I doubt VR is for you even if it is “real” this time.

    On the other hand, I’ve seen interviews with VR software designers saying that it’s like having to learn how to design virtual experiences all over again. VR has its own rules, and many of them involve the disagreement between the eyes and the inner ear regarding movement. So the better developers are learning to design around that and it should be less of an issue in future games.

    Also, there are so many VR experiences now and a variety of genres, so some might be more accessible than others to people with motion sickness. The Arkham experience for Playstation VR starts out with you donning the gloves and cowl of Batman before looking in a mirror. That’s supposedly an impressive feeling by itself, and doesn’t rely much on motion.

    I noticed while browsing VR headsets on Amazon that many allow you to adjust both near and far focal points. So, conceivably, you could minimize the distance between them and perhaps minimize any sickness as well.

    I’m very curious about VR. But I’ve already blown my budget on Xbox games (plus No Man’s Sky on PC). So it will have to wait until next year. By then, maybe we will have more competition, more iteration, and more games.

  3. I’m kinda stoked about this round of VR after trying out the Samsung Gear VR.

    I found it a fairly comfortable headset that helped to block out most distractions, and it had adjustable focal length (though my lens power is apparently so large that it’s still slightly blurry when I hit the max it can adjust. So I end up with a choice of comfortable but not super-clear vision or struggle with the awkwardness of multiple lens in a tight space. I preferred the former in short bursts.)

    What I find stunning is the sense of presence – I watched the Invasion short film and I think some Assassin’s Creed game trailer. We seem to have enough processing power to make the screen sync up with head movements with less lag than what I remember from a decade or two ago playing the FPS Descent with a VR headset at a science museum. I definitely feel more situated and immersed into a world with this new gen of VR.

    I looked at the stills of the Dreadhalls app and want to try it eventually. That and Minecraft on the Gear VR. Just waiting on my budget to be able to afford a decent controller to give it a shot.

    I am semi-prone to motion sickness at certain FOVs – Half Life 2 was uncompletable for me at the dune buggy level on a flat monitor. Still, I found short spurts of VR quite tolerable, though I wouldn’t play it for hours – more concerning was the sense of eye strain, probably because the width of both lenes might not exactly match up to one’s width between the eyes, plus the imperfect focal length.

    But for a half hour experience here and there, I am pretty darned excited about what’s coming in the next five years or so.

    As of now, the content variety for VR is still not that great, but give it a few years, I think that will change.

    The biggest thing for me is waiting to see strides in getting rid of the screen door effect. It’s very noticeable on the Gear VR, but well, at that price tag and using a phone, I can’t really complain. I just wanted a taste of what might be coming.

    Give me an affordable headset that I can hook up to a powerhouse PC with zero screen door effect, and that would be my dream VR. I suspect it’s coming.

  4. Eye strain is a concern for me as well. Sometimes I pay the price for looking at my phone for too long. To have a screen within inches of my eyes for more than 20-30 minutes at a time sounds like a recipe for vision damage.

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