VR Workouts 1 Month In

As of this coming Thursday I will have been doing my VR workouts for a month. So far, so good.

I have lost a little weight (about 5 lbs) but a friend who is into fitness tells me not to worry about the scale but to worry about how I feel and how my clothes fit. I don’t know that my clothes feel any different but I definitely feel better. There’s more pep in my step, basically. And when work isn’t doing everything it can to destroy me, my mood has been better too.

The workouts themselves continue to be fun, and VR in general has been bringing me a lot of enjoyment.

I’ve also learned that VR workouts are a real thing and I don’t have to put ‘workout’ in quotes. In fact there are a bunch of fitness aps for the Meta Quest and PCVR platforms.

I started with Beat Saber and The Climb. I’ve added Pistol Whip and just recently, Audio Trip. I’ve so far avoided the actual fitness apps because I don’t really need them yet and I don’t want this to become a chore.

Beat Saber is starting to fail me as workout material because I’ve gotten too good at it. Let me explain. I can now do most of the original songs that came with the game in Hard mode. I can get S rank and sometimes not miss a single note. The problem is that Expert, the next logical step, gets so fast that you don’t really have time to swing your arms to cut the blocks and you have to start relying on a lot of wrist movement. As a game, this is still plenty of fun, but it’s less of a workout than taking big swings with your arms. That’s when I added Audio Trip and that game kicks my ass. As is so often the case with VR, it sounds very simple. You just have to touch incoming icons with a ‘ball’ you hold in each hand. Simple enough, but the game makes you stretch and bend and twist and it really gets my heart rate up.

Here’s an official trailer for Audio Trip. You can see it’s kind of a mix between aerobics and dance. I’m REALLY glad I don’t have to see myself playing this game because I’m sure it is a horrifying sight to behold, but like I said, it does get my heartrate up and the sweat flowing.

Oh and I learned the that Quest Move app will track you while playing Rift games through Air Link. I haven’t tested it with Steam VR via Air Link though. Tonight was supposed to be a ‘rest day’ but I was playing a Rift game that involved some fairly vigorous sword swinging and a decent amount of climbing and suddenly Move popped up to tell me I was half-way to my calorie goal. Accidental workout! By the time I was done I was near my goals so I ran through half a dozen Beat Saber songs just to hit them.

All in all, I’m really happy with my progress and that I’ve found a way to exercise that is fun and convenient. I’m gonna keep going. Let’s see if I can make it to 2 months!

By the way, the screenshot at the top of the post is from Drum Rock on Playstation VR2 and has very little to do with workouts, though it can get you a little sweaty. It’s like having the drum kit from Rock Band, only in VR so you don’t have the storage hassles. Drum Rock is pretty fun but you don’t get licensed music, only covers. I get why…it’s a $20 indie title and I’m sure they couldn’t afford licensed songs. But I can dream, right?

Steam VR With Meta Quest 2 via Air Link

So I finally got around to testing out playing Steam VR games using the Meta Quest 2 via Air Link. Let’s unpack that a bit.

The Meta Quest 2, of course, is Meta’s stand-alone consumer VR visor that runs on a mobile chipset and has its own app store. This is what I use to do my VR workouts and it’s a great product for that and in generally a really nice VR system.

Oculus, back before Meta bought it, made a tethered PCVR headset called the Rift S. To use it you’d install an Oculus app on your Windows machine. This app had its own store. A few years back Meta stopped making the Rift S, but they started selling a $70 “Link Cable” that let you use the Meta Quest 2 as a tethered PCVR headset so you could still play (and purchase!) Rift games. (Rift games won’t run natively on the Quest 2, and vice versa, though some games are ‘cross-buy’ and you get both versions for one cost.)

Then 3rd party modders, and eventually Meta themselves, introduced Air Link which let you ditch the cable and use the Quest 2 as a PCVR headset via WiFi. Lots of caveats about the quality of your WiFi network and all that. But it works, at least for me, and not only does it eliminate having a cable to get tangled up in, it means you don’t need to be near your PC to play, though you probably want to be pretty near a WiFi access point. (I play VR in the living room and it just so happens the Google Fiber WiFi router is about 6 feet from where I play.) I set this up a week or so ago without much effort. The only very slight annoyance is I have to manually switch my audio output (on the PC) to “Oculus Virtual Device” before I start playing, or I get no sound.

SteamVR, of course, is Steam…in VR. Steam sells VR titles including what some would argue is the best VR title available, Half-Life Alyx. (I have no opinion on that…yet.)

So with all that out of the way, here’s what the experience is like for me.

I put on the Quest 2 and I get the Quest 2 home dashboard and access to my Quest 2 games. Then I open Settings and tap a button to connect to my PC via Air Link. When I do that the Quest 2 dashboard goes poof and I switch to the Oculus PC/Rift dashboard and I can play my Rift games. So far this has been a great experience. Once I hit some lag but so far, only once.

Going further down the rabbit hole, I can also access my PC desktop via the Rift Dashboard. Once I do that I can load Steam VR just as if I was sitting at my desk. When I do that, the Oculus Rift dashboard goes poof and the Steam VR dashboard appears. For some reason when it first appears it flickers for about 5-10 seconds but so far it has always stabilized. And from there I can run Steam VR games, and at some point I apparently bought Half-Life Alyx, and that’s what I used to test tonight.

I didn’t get very far, but boy it was pretty breathtaking. You start out on a balcony overlooking a city where those big strider things are ambling around, and various drones are hovering overhead while down below in the streets people mill about. All I did, since dum-dum me decided to start this experiment after 11 PM on a work night, is kind of wander around and throw cans at pigeons and stuff, so no comments on the gameplay but it was sure pretty and ran smooth as can be.

So yeah, pretty happy about how well this all works and now I can finally see what all the fuss is about in Half Life Alyx.

More VR Noodling

For the past couple of nights I’ve been using the Meta Quest 2 for my ‘workouts’ and the Rift S for VR gaming. I really have very few complaints about the Quest 2. Yes, the image quality isn’t as sharp as PC VR games but that was something I was fully aware of going in. It’s a question of a mobile processor vs a beefy GPU in the PC.

I have prescription lens inserts for it so glasses aren’t an issue and a third party strap for additional comfort over what came in the box. I also got a nicer interface (the bit that presses against your face) that is easy to clean after a sweaty session.

The Rift S is actually quite comfortable but it is of course a tethered solution. For me that means running a cable from my gaming PC located in the corner, across the room to the spot in front of the TV where I have clear space for VRing. (Is VR a verb?) It’s a pretty beefy cable that eventually splits into 2 at the PC: one strand for display port and the other a USB cable. It’s kind of a hassle because the cable will knock things off tables and stuff as I route it around loveseats, lamps and doggos.

Additionally I don’t have prescription lenses for the Rift S so I have to cram my glasses in there which, honestly, isn’t THAT big a deal once I got used to it. And I could always order a set of lenses.

But the Rift S is older tech. It has a lower resolution (1,440 x 1,280/eye) than the Quest 2 (1,832 x 1,920/eye) and a lower refresh rate (80 Hz vs 120Hz for the Quest 2).

So tonight I decided to try out linking the Quest 2 to the PC. Originally this required a long USB-C cable that was fairly expensive ($80 from Meta) but a while back some clever person figured out how to do this link via WiFi. Originally it was kind of a hack but at some point Meta added it to the software.

I’m pretty old school when it comes to WiFi and gaming. In other words, I’m a skeptic. I have all my gaming consoles and my PC hardwired to Ethernet. But before I spent $80 on a Link Cable I decided to try it “Air Link” as it is called. It was pretty easy to do. I ran into 2 issues. First was I had the Oculus app on my PC enrolled in a ‘Public Test Channel’ and had to back out of that for some reason. Second was that I had disabled the Oculus Virtual Audio device when I was futzing with sound issues. Without that the Quest 2 got no sound.

Once those two very minor issues were sorted, it just kind of worked. You put on the Quest 2 and you see your usual Quest 2 UI. Then you go into settings and turn on the Link and you get the Oculus PC UI. I fired up the PCVR game I’ve been playing and off I went. Tetherless PCVR gaming, yay!

Or mostly yay. It ran pretty smoothly until it didn’t. At one point I had a little glitch where I hit a pocket of lag and then everything caught up. Normally this wouldn’t have been too big an issue but in VR it was pretty nauseating. It only happened once but I was only testing (aka hacking undead skeletal soldiers with a broadsword) for 30 minutes or so. So we’ll see.

I do think if the Air Link doesn’t work out, I may spring for that $80 cable so I can just retire the Rift S. Maybe find someone to sell it too. It’s kind of silly to have both when the Quest 2 can cover all bases.

What I haven’t tried yet is Steam VR with any of this; that’s the next thing on my list to get sorted.

Edge of Nowhere: A VR experiment that doesn’t really work

Last night I spent an hour or so playing Edge of Nowhere, a VR title from Insomniac that came out a few years ago. The premise of the game is a kind of Saturday matinee adventure tale. It is 1932 and your gal (“gal” since it is 1932, y’see) has gone missing in a remote location, along with the rest of the expedition she was with. You’re on your way to rescue her when the plane you’re in crashes (of course); undaunted you start following the trail left by the expedition.

The premise of the meta-game is, what happens when you try to do a 3rd person action game in VR. The whole game kind of feels like an experiment; one that, for me at least, ultimately failed.

The biggest problem is the way third person is handled. The camera tags along behind the character, maybe 2 meters back. You can’t manually move the camera but of course you can look around. I was playing in a swivel chair which seemed ideal. It all works OK as long as you are moving forward, but if you ever want to backtrack, big issues crop up.

So imagine you are the camera and you’re looking at a character 2 meters in front of you but facing away. That’s the default situation. Now the character turns around. You can see his face. He starts walking forward. You, the camera, start floating backwards to maintain a fixed distance. But you can’t see where the character is going, so you turn around. Now you can see where the character is going, but you can no longer see the character. Big problem. If you could move the camera even a quarter circle around the character it would’ve helped a lot.

If that was sorted it would help, but really there doesn’t seem to be much reason for this to be a VR game. You can play it with Rift controllers but it is designed to be played with a gamepad. The only motion controls are your character’s head, which strangely turns as you turn your head. So turning your head means both you look to the side and so does the character, which really only matters when you’re in a dark place using a headlamp. Then you have to swivel your head around to shine the light everywhere.

There is a LOT of climbing using pick-axes (the environment, at least at the start, is all ice and snow). I think the intent was to have these segments be harrowing but the 3rd person perspective reduces that. I’ve played plenty of VR games where looking over a cliff almost produces vertigo, but those were all 1st person. Here you can gaze down into an abyss and not feel anything more than you’d feel in a flatscreen game. It doesn’t help that at times the camera floats out over a cliff edge, reinforcing the fact that you can’t fall. In fact, if the character does fall, you just watch him. The camera doesn’t follow him down or anything.

Anyway I could go on and on. If this wasn’t a VR game, it would be a pretty shallow experience. LOTS of climbing sequences. then some sneaking past/fighting creatures. A tiny bit of exploration but mostly you just follow a path. There’ve been plenty of simple games that are made special by the addition of VR (eg Job Simulator) but here the VR doesn’t add very much.

Edge of Nowhere came out in 2016 and VR is advancing so quickly that what was probably new and innovative then just seems “OK” today. I bought it on sale for $10 and I’m not sure I’ll bother playing more than that initial hour. Word on the Internet says it is only about 4 hours long so I’m guessing I’ve seen about a quarter of it.

Update: I got stubborn and finished playing it. I had some issue with rock throwing and the controller near the end (rock throwing is a big part of the game…you use it to distract monsters so you can sneak past them) so had to finish using the Oculus controllers. So that’s another strike against the game.

In the end, nothing changed my “meh” opinion. I’m really glad I only spent $10 on it. Finished, deleted, moving on.