VR may be stalling as a con­sumer toy, but it’s too much fun to write off yet

T3 India - - HYPE -

Peo­ple be­lieve if they don a VR hel­met they’ll start throw­ing up like the girl from The Ex­or­cist

There are few things that are more sad than yes­ter­day’s next big thing, and tech has a mil­lion of them. There are gad­get rem­nants that are like the Abba of tech, once mas­sive, now seen as a slightly camp joke. VHS, cas­sette tapes, Palm Pi­lots.

Then there are the things that seemed like they could be huge, but then, down the line, you could see why they weren’t. The Jamie T, Ex­am­ple and Flock of Seag­ulls of tech, if you will: the Wii U, MiniDisc, cloud gam­ing…

And then there’s stuff that is like the com­edy en­trant on X Fac­tor. The Wag­ner or Honey G of tech. We all know it’s es­sen­tially crap, but it’s di­vert­ing, and we’ll go along with it for a while, be­cause we know it will soon van­ish down the dumper. Like Google Glass, CD-ROM, Blue­tooth ear­pieces, and most things that are crowd­funded.

Where does VR fit into this tech-pop anal­ogy pan­theon, though?

Well, which is it?!

Al­though home VR can’t be said to have belly-flopped en­tirely, it’s hard to make a case for it as a run­away suc­cess.

Of course, pro­fes­sional uses for VR will likely con­tinue to thrive, in ev­ery­thing from mar­ket­ing to film-mak­ing (cre­at­ing vir­tual sets rather than mak­ing VR movies, though) to medicine to es­tate agency.

Mo­bile VR will prob­a­bly con­tinue to chug along nicely as well, but com­par­ing that to a head­set like Ocu­lus Rift, HTC Vive or PSVR is like com­par­ing a Kia to a Land Rover. Yes, they both do the same thing, but to such dif­fer­ing stan­dards of feel and per­for­mance that in fact they’re al­most com­pletely dif­fer­ing ex­pe­ri­ences.

VR, of course, has al­ready failed once. As a slightly more ‘ma­ture’ ob­server of the tech scene, it was quite weird for me see­ing Ocu­lus Rift et al be­ing talked up as some­thing new. I mean, haven’t peo­ple seen the smash hit movie Lawn­mower Man, in which Pierce Bros­nan is men­aced by a man with learn­ing dif­fi­cul­ties, who has be­come a dan­ger­ous mon­ster due to VR? That came out in 1992.

The prob­lems VR has faced this time are much the same as the ones it failed to over­come the first time around. The head­sets are bulky and ex­pen­sive, qual­ity soft­ware is in short sup­ply and a size­able chunk of the pop­u­la­tion re­ally be­lieves that if they don a VR hel­met they will start throw­ing up like the girl in The Ex­or­cist, and then go blind.

The new wave of VR has then added fur­ther bar­ri­ers to own­er­ship. Be­cause the tech now al­lows you to walk around in vir­tual space, you need a lot of ac­tual space, plus a grow­ing num­ber of cam­eras ar­rayed around you.

That is a sad state of af­fairs, as there are now, fi­nally, some ab­so­lutely stun­ning VR games com­ing out that ev­ery­one should ex­pe­ri­ence.

Lone Echo puts you in zero grav­ity, out­side a mas­sive space ship. You have to haul your way through the void, and it is an al­most over­whelm­ing sen­sory ex­pe­ri­ence. Play­ing it for the first time, I kept feel­ing like I was fall­ing over de­spite stand­ing still. It de­liv­ers on VR’s prom­ise of putting you in a world that you could never ex­pe­ri­ence for real.

Less am­bi­tious and/or nau­se­ain­duc­ing, Killing Floor has pretty much cracked mak­ing VR work in a first-per­son shooter through its sim­pli­fied move­ment con­trols, and by keep­ing the com­bat strictly close quar­ters and re­lent­less. It’s the most fun I’ve had this year.

Res­i­dent Evil 7 is an­other cracker. RE is the first re­ally big fran­chise to suc­cess­fully leap to VR, amp­ing up the de­ranged, creepy at­mos­phere of the game’s lat­est in­stal­ment to 11.

Yet, be­cause of the ex­pense, bulk and setup com­pli­ca­tions that are in­her­ent to VR, none of these games are likely to get the mass au­di­ence they re­ally de­serve.

Real­is­ti­cally, how can a VR head­set ever be any­thing other than bulky and spendy? The op­ti­cal and pro­cess­ing de­mands will keep the price high. The screens will al­ways have to be a cer­tain dis­tance from your eyes in or­der for us to be able to fo­cus on them, and ex­ter­nal stim­uli have to be blocked out. So head­sets can never re­ally shrink.

So I guess we’ll have to wait for the Lawn­mower Man era to pass, and the ar­rival of The Ma­trix epoch of VR. Al­though whether hu­mans will ever be quite ready to jack their cen­tral nervous sys­tems into their lap­tops to ex­plore vir­tual worlds re­mains to be seen.

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